Slaveowner Thomas B. Chaplin kept a journal of his life, the people he lived among, and his daily experiences out on his St. Helena Island Tombee plantation from 1845 to 1866. Before his death in 1890, he did some updating about the ultimate fate of some of his former slaves and revised some of his former statements. In 1986, award-winning biographer Theodore Rosengarten’s examination of Chaplin’s diary was a critical success.
- From Publisher’s Weekly, 1987:
Thomas B. Chaplin (1822 - 1890), heir to a fortune in land and slaves, was 22 when he became master of the 376-acre Tombee Plantation on St. Helena Island, S.C. There, with a wife and four children, he lived extravagantly, managed poorly and sank deeper into debt and opium addiction, ultimately losing everything when federal troops arrived in 1861. Rosengarten's book, in two parts, opens with a well-researched biography of Chaplin, who was always cash-poor and struggling to keep up appearances while battling a much-hated stepfather for his mother's wealth. The second half, edited with the assistance of Susan W. Walker, is the daily journal kept by Chaplin for 15 years to make sense of his life of "loss and disappointment." Through the story of this planter and his family, the author illuminates innumerable aspects of the planter's way of life on the eve of the Civil War.
- From Thomas J. Davis’s review published in Library Journal, 1986
The first runs about 300 pages and is a biography of Chaplin, owner of the Tombee Plantation on South Carolina's St. Helena Island. The second runs over 400-odd pages and is Chaplin's diary from 1845 to 1866. Together they portray not simply an antebellum planter; they richly depict daily life on a sea island plantation. They show intimate aspects of family and social life, sickness and death, slavery, civil war, and defeat.
- From Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s comments in the New York Times Book Review:
Why should anyone wish to read a biography and journal of a feckless cotton planter who knew little about himself and less about the society around him?
Based on Chaplin's entries around Christmas, he did not enjoy the holidays very much, particularly since by local tradition, the enslaved got the day off to enjoy themselves while as a plantation and slave owner he felt that left out of opportunities to frolic or be light-hearted by his unsavory circumstances.
In 1845, he wrote: "Dec. 25th. Thursday, Christmas Day. Dull. Dull. Dull. No rain but very thick & foggy, do not think we will be able to go down to the Island. Capt. & J.L. Chaplin came over in the morning to go -- the latter pretty well corned. [i.e, drunk]. Very sorry for it, but do not know what to do with him. If we go will have to take him down with us. Killed 2 beefs for the Negroes this morning. Looks a little like clearing -- wind NW. Got a very early dinner & started for the Island. Got down & pitched our tent by dark. Cloudy all night, but we slept very comfortably. Not very cold."
Two years later, he noted that "So far Merry Christmas is rather on the other extreme. But there is a party tonight at Pope's, I expect some amusement. Once upon a time, Christmas was to me a very jolly time, fun & frolic for a week, but times & disposition have both greatly changed." Unfortunately, his subsequent entries do not mention whether or not he enjoyed Pope's party. Odds are, he did not since he sent Isaac [his slave] to town for liquor on the 26th. Chaplin wrote that he had a hangover on New Year's Eve "from too much liquor yesterday."
His disposition was even more glum, two years after that. In 1850 he wrote: "Dec. 25th. Wednesday -- Christmas. Merry Christmas, yes, merry to all the world but me. Here I sit moping at home all day, no pleasure, & I care for none but to see the children enjoy themselves, which they appear to do every other day as well. I will try and amuse them by setting off a few little fireworks Webb sent up tonight. I only wish the Negroes were at work. I had nothing to give them but a few turnips, but they are satisfied and I suppose will enjoy themselves, though I don't.
The dull theme arises again in 1851: "Dec. 25th. Thursday. Christmas Day, clear, and devilish dull."
But, in 1853, the White Christmas seemed to distract him a bit from his customary grumping: "Dec. 25th. Sunday. Christmas Day. The ground is covered with snow this morning but not thick, trees covered icicles. Clear but bitter cold. Saxby & I rode up to Farmer's. Took him up & went on to Minott's. We all returned & dined with Mother. She had a very fine dinner, too much in fact. (I hear that the snow or sleet & cold weather extended to the Island.)"
You can check out copies of Tombee: portrait of a cotton planter by Theodore Rosengarten; with the journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890) edited and annotated with the assistance of Susan W. Walker from the local history sections, call number LH B CHAPLIN.
The BDC also has A subject index for the plantation journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (as found in Tombee : Portrait of a Cotton Planter by Theodore Rosengarten) by Michael Trinkley , call number SC 975.7 TRI that is keyed to index the journal section of the McGraw-Hill first paperback edition of 1987 with ISBN number 0070538212.
Holiday Schedule Reminders:
- The Beaufort District Collection Research Room has shortened hours on Dec. 22nd and 23rd. Charmaine will be on hand to assist customers 10 am – Noon; and 1 pm – 5 pm on each of those dates. The Research Room will be closed from Noon to 1 pm.
- The entire Beaufort County Library system is closed Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th and Christmas Day, Dec. 25th.
- Regular hours resume on Fri., Dec 26th except for the BDC Research Room. The BDC Research Room is closed Fri., Dec. 26th due to staff shortage.
- The Library system will close at 5 pm on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31st.
- The Library system will be closed New Year’s Day, Jan. 1st, 2015.
- Regular hours resume Jan. 2, 2015.