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Book Review: Masters Of Small Worlds By Stephanie Mccurry

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Masters of Small Worlds by Stephanie McCurry

The book Masters of Small Worlds by Stephanie McCurry concentrates on one very specific time and place in history. The time is pre-Civil War and the place is the Low Country in southern South Carolina. This area is particularly interesting because of the interaction between the planters and the yeomen in the area. The author explores the similarities and differences between these two distinct social classes. The author also brings gender relations into the equation. Her overall idea, as the title implies, is that the men of this era and this part of the country demanded control of each and every aspect of life. For every institution, there is a set hierarchy. This book is very well researched and the author is clearly an expert on this particular topic. It would be next to impossible for a naive student such as myself to argue against all the evidence put forth in this book.

Much of the beginning of the book focuses on the 1827 Fence Act. This made it law to have a clear boundary on one's property. This law was a modern incarnation of a similar law passed in 1694. The law passed in the seventeenth century was implemented basically for the sole purpose of protecting the livestock grazing in the area. (McCurry, 10) The 1827 version was put into place not to protect any livestock, but rather to protect the staple crops and other interests of the wealthy planter society. The right for anybody to forage or hunt, though legal in general, was limited to land not enclosed in fences. According to McCurry, it is this Fence Act that provided increased amounts of power to the man of the household and ultimately was responsible for shaping the foundation of society in the early nineteenth century. The juries were in favor of the rights of the property owners. "The juridical retreat from common rights was slow and steady." (McCurry, 11)

The advent of the Fence Act was not the only force responsible for shaping the community. The institution of slavery was equally to blame. "There can be no doubt that slavery gave shape to plantation households." (McCurry, 16) In fact, it was also responsible for shaping yeoman households as well. The gender and class relations would suffer just as they did in the planters' households. The yeoman settlements closely bordered those of the planters. These close proximities allowed for the interaction of these two very different social classes. The yeomen, in general, yearned to be a part of the planter's class. It was this undying hope that helped to pit this otherwise completely different class of people, with the wealthy plantation owners of the area. One of the many aspects of society that set these two classes apart was the ownership of slaves. This also set the scene for the influx of racial inequalities. The blacks in the area were overwhelmingly landless slaves. Even the yeomen, who greatly outnumbered the elite planters, suffered from inequalities.

The ideas McCurry presents also have a great deal to do with gender relations in this time. The overall theme is always that of the master. White males in this place and time seem to possess an incredible



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