- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
After four years in England, fifteen-year-old Vincent Wingfield, who supports slavery but not brutality toward slaves, returns to Virginia and serves courageously under Lee and Jackson through many of the famous battles of the Civil War.
A Virginia Plantation
"I won't have it, Pearson; so it's no use your talking. If I had my way you shouldn't touch any of the field hands. And when I get my way—that won't be so very long—I will take good care you sha'n't. But you sha'n't hit Dan."
"He is not one of the regular house hands," was the reply; "and I shall appeal to Mrs. Wingfield as to whether I am to be interfered with in the discharge of my duties."
"You may appeal to my mother if you like, but I don't think that you will get much by it. You are too fond of that whip, Pearson. It never was heard of on the estate during my father's time, and it sha'n't be again when it comes to be mine, I can tell you. Come along, Dan; I want you at the stables."
Vincent Wingfield turned on his heel, and followed by Dan, a negro lad of some eighteen years old, he walked towards the house, leaving Jonas Pearson, the overseer of the Orangery Estate, looking after him with an evil expression of face.
Vincent Wingfield was the son of an English officer, who, making a tour in the States, had fallen in love with and won the hand of Winifred Cornish, a Virginia heiress, and one of the belles of Richmond. After the marriage he had taken her to visit his family in England; but she had not been there many weeks before the news arrived of the sudden death of her father. A month later she and her husband returned to Virginia, as her presence was required there in reference to business matters connected with the estate, of which she was now the mistress.
The Orangery, so called from a large conservatory built by Mrs. Wingfield's grandfather, was the family seat, and the broad lands around it were tilled by upwards of two hundred slaves. There were in addition three other properties lying in different parts of the state. Here Vincent, with two sisters, one older and one younger than himself, had been born. When he was eight years old Major and Mrs. Wingfield had gone over with their children to England, and had left Vincent there for four years at school, his holidays being spent at the house of his father's brother, a country gentleman in Sussex. Then he had been sent for unexpectedly; his father saying that his health was not good, and that he should like his son to be with him. A year later his father died.
Vincent was now nearly sixteen years old, and would upon coming of age assume the reins of power at the Orangery, of which his mother, however, would be the actual mistress as long as she lived. The four years Vincent had passed in the English school had done much to render the institution of slavery repugnant to him, and his father had had many serious talks with him during the last year of his life, and had shown him that there was a good deal to be said upon both sides of the subject.
"There are good plantations and bad plantations, Vincent; and there are many more good ones than bad ones. There are brutes to be found everywhere. There are bad masters in the Southern States just as there are bad landlords in every European country. But even from self-interest alone, a planter has greater reason for caring for the health and comfort of his slaves than an English farmer has in caring for the comfort of his laborers. Slaves are valuable property, and if they are over-worked or badly cared for they decrease in value. Whereas if the laborer falls sick or is unable to do his work the farmer has simply to hire another hand. It is as much the interest of a planter to keep his slaves in good health and spirits as it is for a farmer to feed and attend to his horses properly.
"Of the two, I consider that the slave with a fairly kind master is to the full as happy as the ordinary English laborer. He certainly does not work so hard, if he is ill he is carefully attended to, he is well fed, he has no cares or anxieties whatever, and when old and past work he has no fear of the workhouse staring him in the face. At the same time I am quite ready to grant that there are horrible abuses possible under the laws connected with slavery.
"The selling of slaves, that is to say, the breaking up of families and selling them separately, is horrible and abominable. If an estate were sold together with all the slaves upon it, there would be no more hardship in the matter than there is when an estate changes hands in England, and the laborers upon it work for the new master instead of the old. Were I to liberate all the slaves on this estate to-morrow and to send them North, I do not think that they would be in any way benefited by the change. They would still have to work for their living as they do now, and being naturally indolent and shiftless would probably fare much worse. But against the selling of families separately and the use of the lash I set my face strongly.
"At the same time, my boy, whatever your sentiments may be on this subject, you must keep your mouth closed as to them. Owing to the attempts of Northern Abolitionists, who have come down here stirring up the slaves to discontent, it is not advisable, indeed it is absolutely dangerous, to speak against slavery in the Southern States. The institution is here, and we must make the best we can of it. People here are very sore at the foul slanders that have been published by Northern writers. There have been many atrocities perpetrated undoubtedly, by brutes who would have been brutes wherever they had been born; but to collect a series of such atrocities, to string them together into a story, and to hold them up, as Mrs. Beecher Stowe has, as a picture of slave-life in the Southern States, is as gross a libel as if anyone were to make a collection of all the wife-beatings and assaults of drunken English ruffians, and to publish them as a picture of the average life of English people.
"Such libels as these have done more to embitter the two sections of America against each other than anything else. Therefore, Vincent, my advice to you is, be always kind to your slaves—not over-indulgent, because they are very like children and indulgence spoils them—but be at the same time firm and kind to them, and with other people avoid entering into any discussions or expressing any opinion with regard to slavery. You can do no good and you can do much harm. Take things as you find them and make the best of them. I trust that the time may come when slavery will be abolished; but I hope, for the sake of the slaves themselves, that when this is done it will be done gradually and thoughtfully, for otherwise it would inflict terrible hardship and suffering upon them as well as upon their masters."
There were many such conversations between father and son, for feeling on the subject ran very high in the Southern States, and the former felt that it was of the utmost importance to his son that he should avoid taking any strong line in the matter. Among the old families of Virginia there was indeed far less feeling on this subject than in some of the other States. Knowing the good feeling that almost universally existed between themselves and their slaves, the gentry of Virginia regarded with contempt the calumnies of which they were the subject. Secure in the affection of their slaves, an affection which was afterwards abundantly proved during the course of the war, they scarcely saw the ugly side of the question. The worst masters were the smallest ones; the man who owned six slaves was far more apt to extort the utmost possible work from them than the planter who owned three or four hundred. And the worst masters of all, were those who, having made a little money in trade or speculation in the towns, purchased a dozen slaves, a small piece of land, and tried to set up as gentry.
In Virginia the life of the large planters was almost a patriarchal one; the indoor slaves were treated with extreme indulgence, and were permitted a far higher degree of freedom of remark and familiarity than is the case with servants in an English household. They had been the nurses or companions of the owners when children, had grown up with them, and regarded themselves, and were regarded by them, as almost part of the family. There was, of course, less connection between the planters and their field hands; but these also had for the most part been born on the estate, had as children been taught to look up to their white masters and mistresses, and to receive many little kindnesses at their hands.
They had been cared for in sickness, and knew that they would be provided for in old age. Each had his little allotment, and could raise fruit, vegetables, and fowls for his own use or for sale in his leisure time. The fear of loss of employment or the pressure of want, ever present to English laborers, had never fallen upon them. The climate was a lovely one, and their work far less severe than that of men forced to toil in cold and wet, winter and summer. The institution of slavery assuredly was capable of terrible abuses, and was marked in many instances by abominable cruelty and oppression; but taken all in all, the negroes on a well-ordered estate, under kind masters, were probably a happier class of people than the laborers upon any estate in Europe.
Jonas Pearson had been overseer in the time of Major Wingfield, but his authority had at that time been comparatively small, for the Major himself personally supervised the whole working of the estate, and was greatly liked by the slaves, whose chief affections were, however, naturally bestowed upon their mistress, who had from childhood been brought up in their midst. Major Wingfield had not liked his overseer, but he had never had any ground to justify him making a change. Jonas, who was a Northern man, was always active and energetic; all Major Wingfield's orders were strictly and punctually carried out, and although he disliked the man, his employer acknowledged him to be an excellent servant.
After the Major's death, Jonas Pearson had naturally obtained greatly increased power and authority. Mrs. Wingfield had great confidence in him, his accounts were always clear and precise, and although the profits of the estate were not quite so large as they had been in her husband's lifetime, this was always satisfactorily explained by a fall in prices, or by a part of the crops being affected by the weather. She flattered herself that she herself managed the estate, and at times rode over it, made suggestions, and issued orders, but this was only in fits and starts; and although Jonas came up two or three times a week to the house nominally to receive her orders, he managed her so adroitly, that while she believed that everything was done by her directions, she in reality only followed out the suggestions which, in the first place, came from him.
She was aware, however, that there was less content and happiness on the estate than there had been in the old times. Complaints had reached her from time to time of overwork and harsh treatment. But upon inquiring into these matters, Jonas had always such plausible reasons to give that she was convinced he was in the right, and that the fault was among the slaves themselves, who tried to take advantage of the fact that they had no longer a master's eye upon them, and accordingly tried to shirk work, and to throw discredit upon the man who looked after the interests of their mistress; and so gradually Mrs. Wingfield left the management of affairs more and more in the hands of Jonas, and relied more implicitly upon him.
The overseer spared no pains to gain the good will of Vincent. When the latter declared that the horse he rode had not sufficient life and spirit for him, Jonas had set inquiries on foot, and had selected for him a horse which, for speed and bottom, had no superior in the State. One of Mrs. Wingfield's acquaintances, however, upon hearing that she had purchased the animal, told her that it was notorious for its vicious temper, and she spoke angrily to Jonas on the subject in the presence of Vincent. The overseer excused himself by saying that he had certainly heard that the horse was high spirited and needed a good rider, and that he should not have thought of selecting it had he not known that Mr. Vincent was a first-class rider, and would not care to have a horse that any child could manage.
The praise was not undeserved. The gentlemen of Virginia were celebrated as good riders; and Major Wingfield, himself a cavalry man, had been anxious that Vincent should maintain the credit of his English blood, and had placed him on a pony as soon as he was able to sit on one. A pony had been kept for his use during his holidays at his uncle's in England, and upon his return, Vincent had, except during the hours he spent with his father, almost lived on horseback, either riding about the estate, or paying visits to the houses of other planters.
For an hour or more every day he exercised his father's horses in a paddock near the house, the Major being wheeled down in an easy-chair and superintending his riding. As these horses had little to do and were full of spirit, Vincent's powers were often taxed to the utmost, and he had many falls; but the soil was light, and he had learned the knack of falling easily, and from constant practice was able at the age of fourteen to stick on firmly even without a saddle, and was absolutely fearless as to any animal he mounted.
In the two years which had followed he had kept up his riding. Every morning after breakfast he rode to Richmond, six miles distant, put up his horse at some stable there, and spent three hours at school; the rest of the day was his own, and he would often ride off with some of his school-fellows who had also come in from a distance, and not return home till late in the evening. Vincent took after his English father rather than his Virginia mother both in appearance and character, and was likely to become as tall and brawny a man as the former had been when he first won the love of the rich Virginia heiress.
He was full of life and energy, and in this respect offered a strong contrast to most of his school-fellows of the same age. For although splendid riders and keen sportsmen, the planters of Virginia were in other respects inclined to indolence; the result partly of the climate, partly of their being waited upon from childhood by attendants ready to carry out every wish. He had his father's cheerful disposition and good temper, together with the decisive manner so frequently acquired by a service in the army, and at the same time he had something of the warmth and enthusiasm of the Virginia character.
Good rider as he was he was somewhat surprised at the horse the overseer had selected for him. It was certainly a splendid animal, with great bone and power; but there was no mistaking the expression of its turned-back eye, and the ears that lay almost flat on the head when anyone approached him.
"It is a splendid animal, no doubt, Jonas," he said the first time he inspected it; "but he certainly looks as if he had a beast of a temper. I fear what was told my mother about him is no exaggeration; for Mr. Markham told me to-day, when I rode down there with his son, and said we had bought Wildfire, that a friend of his had had him once, and only kept him for a week, for he was the most vicious brute he ever saw."
"I am sorry I have bought him now, sir," Jonas said. "Of course I should not have done so if I had heard these things before; but I was told he was one of the finest horses in the country, only a little tricky, and as his price was so reasonable I thought it a great bargain. But I see now I was wrong, and that it wouldn't be right for you to mount him; so I think we had best send him in on Saturday to the market and let it go for what it will fetch. You see, sir, if you had been three or four years older it would have been different; but naturally at your age you don't like to ride such a horse as that."
"I sha'n't give it up without a trial," Vincent said shortly. "It is about the finest horse I ever saw; and if it hadn't been for its temper, it would be cheap at five times the sum you gave for it. I have ridden a good many bad-tempered horses for my friends during the last year, and the worst of them couldn't get me off."
"Well, sir, of course you will do as you please," Jonas said; "but please to remember if any harm comes of it, that I strongly advised you not to have anything to do with it, and I did my best to dissuade you from trying."
Vincent nodded carelessly, and then turned to the black groom.
"Jake, get out that cavalry saddle of my father's, with the high cantle and pommel, and the rolls for the knees. It's like an armchair, and if one can't stick on on that, one deserves to be thrown."
While the groom was putting on the saddle, Vincent stood patting the horse's head and talking to it, and then taking its rein led it down into the inclosure.
"No, I don't want the whip," he said, as Jake offered him one. "I have got the spurs, and likely enough the horse's temper may have been spoiled by knocking it about with a whip; but we will try what kindness will do with it first."
Excerpted from With Lee in Virginia by G. A. Henty, Gordon Browne. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 20, 2010
Fifteen-year-old Vincent Wingfield is the son of an English gentleman who came to America, married the daughter of a Virginia planter, and settled down on her family estate of the Orangery, just outside of Richmond, VA. As the book opens, Vincent returns from four years of schooling in England, and while he favors slavery he does not support brutality towards slaves. Therefore, when he was returning home from visiting friends, he intervened when Andrew Jackson, the son of his neighbor, was mercilessly beating a slave named Tony. To prevent retaliation, Vincent helps Tony escape to England. When Mr. Jackson sells Tony's wife Dinah and her baby in revenge, Vincent secretly buys her and keeps her at the Orangery.
Then the American Civil War breaks out, and Vincent signs up in the cavalry under Col. (later Gen.) J. E. B. Stuart. After being badly injured at the first battle of Bull Run, he is taken prisoner during the second battle of Bull Run and imprisoned at Elmira, NY, but escapes, makes his way to St. Louis, MO, disguised as a minister, and while making his way to his unit through Tennessee saves a young lady named Lucy Kingston from northern bushwhackers. However, he is seriously injured again in the process, but after his recuperation, he escorts her to safety with relatives in Georgia before returning to his home. Meanwhile, his neighbor, Mr. Jackson, has conspired with the Wingfield's former overseer Jonas Pearson to kidnap Dinah and take her to South Carolina, so Vincent must rescue her before rejoining the army for the battle of Chancellorsville. However, he is captured while spying out the Northern defenses and is to be shot, but it just so happens that Tony had returned, joined the Union army, and was present to help him escape again. Pretty soon, the war ends and Vincent marries Lucy.
This is my least favorite Henty book so far because of Henty's obvious sympathies with the Confederacy. He seems to go a bit overboard in painting a picture of happy, contented, carefree slaves in the South, even making fun of Harriet Beecher Stowe and her Uncle Tom's Cabin, and in depicting the Northern armies as mean, nasty, bullying ogres. You can read the writings of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman to get a first-hand view of Southern slavery as opposed to the quaint, sanitized view of Henty. This book seems to have a lot more drinking of alcohol that other Henty books we've read; even the underage Vincent imbibes quite a bit. And in imitating the Southern Negro dialect, there are several usages of the word "Lor'" as an interjection. At the same time, the book is well written with a lot of excitement and adventure. And like other Henty boys, Vincent is still a model of honesty and integrity. He engages in deception as part of his service in the army during warfare, but he refuses to lie just to save his own skin. Also he encourages Tony not to seek personal revenge on the Jacksons. And he urges his mother to free their slaves before the end of the war and make the necessary provisions for them. So far as history is concerned, Vincent meets not only the Southern generals Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and, of course, Robert E. Lee, but also the Northern generals George B. McClellan and Philip Sheridan. Finally, there is the advantage that since most Civil War novels for children are written from a Northern viewpoint, this is one book that does portray the Southern side of the issues.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2014
My second read from G.A. Henty. A good, wholesome story that the entire family can enjoy. The action and battles in all likely reel in the attention of adventurous boys.
"With Lee in Virginia" is the story of a young man who faces many decisions over the course of the Civil War. He must choose what he believes in, even when it sways from his family, and must fight honorably. I certainly enjoyed the book myself!
Posted June 27, 2012
Posted December 21, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted November 25, 2010
No text was provided for this review.