Slavery on Trial: Law, Abolitionism, and Print Culture

By Jeannine Marie Delomnard | Go to book overview

6 THE SOUTH'S COUNTERSUIT: William MacCreary Burwell's White Acre
vs. Black Acre

In its notice of Dred, the influential Southern periodical DeBow's Review presented Stowe's novel as “another exhibition of abolition spite and spleen, which, as it is productive of the cent and dollar, makes very good charity, religion, and philanthropy in that quarter.”1 This view of abolitionist print propaganda as a cynical moneymaking enterprise is humorously exhibited in a work featured in the same “Book Notices,” White Acre vs. Black Acre, a Case at Law. Lauded by DeBow's as an “admirable burlesque,” this odd proslavery novel does not appear to have reached Stowe's audiences in the North and abroad.2 It was, however, puffed by the Southern Literary Messenger as an “allegory” that “relates with great humour the history of the quarrel between the North and the South with reference to slavery.”3 And the following year, the novel appeared alongside such proslavery classics as J. H. Van Evrie's Negroes and Negro “Slavery” (1853), Albert Taylor Bledsoe's Essay on Liberty and Slavery (1856), and George Fitzhugh's Cannibals All! (1857) in the “list of Works relating to Slavery and the South” that DeBow's followed the New Orleans Delta in recommending “to Southern men…for theirlibraries.”4

Appearing the same year that Dred was displayed in bookshops on both sides of the Atlantic, White Acre vs. Black Acre was written by William MacCreary Burwell.5 Having spent his childhood at Monticello (his father was Thomas Jefferson's personal secretary) and his college years at the University of Virginia (he was Edgar Allan Poe's classmate), Burwell pursued a career that comprised both political and literary pursuits, serving for two decades in the Virginia legislature, founding a Whig daily, the Virginia Patriot, and eventually replacing James D. B. DeBow in the editor's chair at DeBow's Review.6

Part of the surge of proslavery and Southern responses to Uncle Tom's Cabin that deluged transatlantic print culture throughout the 1850s, Burwell's allegory cannot, strictly speaking, be counted among the thirty-plus anti-Tom novels that have attracted critical attention in recent years.7 Published in Rich-

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Slavery on Trial: Law, Abolitionism, and Print Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Banditti and Desperadoes, Incendiaries and Traitors 33
  • 1: The Typographical Tribunal 35
  • 2: Precarious Evidence 71
  • Part II: At the Bar of Public Opinion 99
  • 3: Eyewitness to the Cruelty 101
  • 4: Talking Lawyerlike about Law 125
  • 5: Representing the Slave 151
  • 6: The South's Countersuit 177
  • Conclusion - All Done Brown at Last: Illustrating Harpers Ferry 199
  • Notes 223
  • Bibliography 277
  • Index 309
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