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All Our Relations: Blood Ties and Emotional Bonds among the Early South Carolina Gentry. (Reviews).

All Our Relations: Blood Ties and Emotional Bonds among the Early South Carolina Gentry. By Lorri Clover (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. vi plus 206pp.).

Lorri Clover looks at kinship ties and sibling relationships among South Carolina's dozen or so most elite, powerful families during the eighteenth century. She takes this approach nor only to undercut what she sees as a misconceived notion of patriarchy as dominating elite families in this pivotal southern state, but also in order to suggest what historians might understand by exploring the texture of family bonds, social position, and gender.

At less than 150 pages of text, this volume amounts to a long essay on this complex topic, drawn from a wide reading of secondary sources as well as from personal letters and other family writings housed at two major archives in South Carolina. The picture that emerges of the sheer economic and political power in the hands of the Izards, Middletons, Manigaults, Laurens, Rutledges, and other fully interlocked and highly networked families, will not surprise historians familiar with the character of public life in South Carolina. But Clover puts some thoughtful interpretation and clear writing to her task, raising important questions about how an elite in such a setting complicates any easy distinction between "private" and "public" power.

Glover is especially interesting on the close relationships among siblings throughout these family networks, which among them controlled most of the planting and mercantile wealth and much of the political office-holding of South Carolina from the colonial decades through the Revolution into statehood. In three of her chapters she gives fresh consideration to the implications of the extensive intermarriage among the families, and she deepens our sense of family relationships by showing how sisters and brothers characteristically helped each others' careers and callings. Close sibling relationships, at times, even offset (or, at any rate, distracted) parental authority, leading Clover to conclude that our sense of "patriarchal" power in this society must be sharply qualified by the reality of family politics and the emotional warmth found among siblings. Brothers and sisters seem to have enjoyed a particularly free letter-writing relationship, suggesting an emotional easiness and welcome vulnerability not ofte n found within, say, marital couples. In advancing this view, Clover usefully draws on studies of family behavior from the social sciences to frame questions about how gender and birth order might comport with what she sees as an "egalitarian" impulse underlying relations among siblings.

Two further chapters on the economic and political influence of the families are somewhat more familiar in their scope and argument, pointing out the degree to which the developing slave economy, the very definition of "planter class," and the relation of these to the politics of the Revolution, followed family lines in almost every important characteristic of social organization. Although her discussion is well-evidenced and insightful, Glover does not always make clear how an analysis of "kin" differs from an analysis of "siblings." Each frame of analysis holds family relations at a slightly different angle, and this book has more new things to say on the importance of siblings than it does on the importance of kin more generally. Moreover, Glover seems to downplay conflict among families as an anomaly rather than a core experience of family relations, sisters and brothers not excepted. At times, especially with respect to gender, the book tends to sidestep the significance of how brothers and sisters, desp ite happily bantering or giving one another serious advice, nonetheless inhabited importantly different (and only sometimes equivalent) realms of identity in this social world. "Womanly" and "manly" remained terms of severe and ultimate judgment of a person thought to have too much or too little of the quality he or she should have.

Overall, however, this is a thoughtful and interesting book which deserves a reading. At its most suggestive, the book reaches toward the antebellum era with two ironies which Glover sees at the core of elite family life in South Carolina. First, the very social exclusivity which allowed elites to organize their resources and prosper before and immediately after the Revolution was the same exclusivity which ultimately isolated them and impaired their foresight in the nineteenth century. And, second, their most cherished values of "cooperation, mutuality, and loyalty" (p. 139), which Glover sees as deriving from sibling relationships, similarly turned the elite in an increasingly debilitating, inward-looking direction. Thus, what many times in these pages seems a surprisingly "modern" sensibility ended up a cast of mind and a set of exhausted expectations which aided the undoing of this powerful class.
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Author:Stowe, Steven M.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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