The Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life of the Old South

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This compelling collection of original documents and current scholarship sheds considerable light on the underside of the poor white experience in the antebellum South. In 1859, the Georgian Edward Isham, convicted in North Carolina of murdering a Piedmont farmer, dictated his life story to his court-appointed defense attorney. The autobiography left behind provides a rare look at the world of poor whites from the viewpoint of a member of this most elusive of the Old South's social groups. A selection of essays accompanying the autobiography examines the meaning of the document from a variety of perspectives: crime, frontier life, gender relations, labor, and the genre of nineteenth-century confessional literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Takes the remarkable autobiography of a confessed murderer and examines it from a variety of perspectives. Each of the essays that follow the Isham autobiography contributes to the mosaic of poor white life in the South. The violence that characterized Isham's life is astonishing. Many previous scholars have commented on the violence in the Old South, but rarely has one been able to see it through the lens of a single, brutish life."—Jeffrey J. Crow, director of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History

"The Confessions of Edward Isham, a cleverly conceived and adeptly executed essay collection, is a rich addition to our ever-growing understanding of that shadowy world of southern poor whites. The range of insights and meanings these scholars have teased out of the life of Edward Isham, known only through his brief biographical statement, makes this book extraordinary. It is an example of how much skillful historians can make of single lives and even single incidents, particularly given the dramatic and even chilling story they focus upon here."—John C. Inscoe, author of Mountain Masters: Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820320212
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Pages: 216

Meet the Author

Charles C. Bolton is professor and head of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Scott P. Culclasure is an international baccalaureate coordinator for the Guilford County, North Carolina schools.

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Table of Contents

1 Autobiography of Edward Isham, Alias "Hardaway Bone" 1
2 Edward Isham and Poor White Labor in the Old South 19
3 A Stereoscopic View of the Frontier: George Swain, Edward Isham, and the Resettlement of the Cherokee Country 32
4 "I Have Killed a Damned Dog": Murder by a Poor White in the Antebellum South 45
5 Edward Isham and Criminal Justice for the Poor White in Antebellum North Carolina 71
6 Mothers, Lovers, and Wives: Images of Poor White Women in Edward Isham's Autobiography 85
7 The Worlds of Nineteenth-Century Condemned Men 101
App. A: Maps 117
App. B Superior Court Judge Robert R. Heath's Statement of the Case State v. Hardaway Bone 121
App. C Newspaper Accounts Relating to Edward Isham 128
Notes 133
Contributors 185
Index 187
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