Rare First Edition (1863) copy of Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 by Frances Kemble. (four copies of the First Edition are owned by this collection) Born in England to a family of actors and actresses -- the famous theatrical Kemble family. Frances Anne "Fanny" Kemble (1809-1893) followed her family’s theatrical tradition, though she disliked acting. Her aunt, Sarah Kemble Siddons, won acclaim as "the greatest actress the world has ever seen." When she came to the United States in 1832, she did not come to sightsee; she came to save the family fortune. For Kemble's father, a part owner and manager of Covent Garden, had lost a great deal of money, and after her successful acting debut in London, he decided they could make more money touring in America. Fanny was reluctant to go on the trip but enjoyed drama and adventure, and she quickly earned fame. A very spirited woman, she threw her heart into her craft, glorying in her triumphs in front of the American audiences or wallowing in defeat. This zest for action carried over into her life. Kemble always ran or hiked ahead of the group, rode the fastest horse and climbed to the highest point. Her enthusiasm won the heart of Pierce Butler, a wealthy Philadelphia bachelor she married impulsively in 1834. Unknown to her at the time of her wedding, Pierce Butler stood to inherit two plantations in Georgia. The inheritance became a reality in 1838. By that time, their marriage had already become strained over a difference in taste and temperament, a rift that was to deepen after they ventured South.
Kemble was an intelligent, independent woman who abhorred slavery and was not shy about speaking out against it. These abolitionist views did not sit well with her husband; yet she still strived to make the marriage work. When Butler inherited the Georgia plantation upon his grandfather's death, she moved to Georgia with him. From December 30, 1838 to April 17, 1839, Kemble kept a journal of what she witnessed. Although she spent just over sixteen months of her life in Georgia, the result was a powerful piece of historical literature—Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839. Kemble, a committed libertarian was horrified with the fact her husband "owned" people. Butler never understood Fanny's ethical stand and they were later embroiled in an ugly and bitter divorce that deprived Fanny of both her children and her home. At first, Fanny Kemble refrained from publishing her text, though the manuscript was repeatedly revised and circulated among her friends (Katharine Anne Sedgwick, for one, was an enthusiastic reader). During the next eight years, Fanny often summered by herself in Lenox, Massachusetts (Kemble Street was named after her), and she spent one year abroad by herself. She finally left her husband in 1846. Unable to reconcile their differences, Butler and Kemble were divorced in 1849, with Butler retaining custody of their two daughters. During the Civil War she published the journal she had kept some twenty-five years before, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation. The two-volume work provides an account of her travels in the United States and it was met with severe reviews both in England and America. "This uncomfortably gauche work's indiscretions offended numerous prominent Americans," said one reviewer. Her descriptions of the horrifying treatment of slaves is credited with doing much toward maintaining British neutrality during the Civil War, when for economic reasons many favored the South—which produced cotton for British textile mills. If the British had cast their lot with the South, the war could have easily turned against the North. This is a very influential and unheralded book that may have played an important role in the winning of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
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