Historian Richard S. Dunn *52 *55 has spent the last 40 years constructing a portrait of the final decades of slavery. In A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Dunn draws a richly compelling history of the lives of three generations of slaves at the Mesopotamia sugar estate in Jamaica and the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia.
“Slavery caused terrible suffering to the black people in both regions,” Dunn writes, “but in strikingly dissimilar ways.” At Mesopotamia, Dunn found, life was marked by deadly work regimens, rampant disease, and dependence on the slave trade for new laborers. At Mount Airy, families often were broken up as “surplus” slaves were sold or moved to other work sites. More than 200 of the estate’s slaves were sent 800 miles away, Dunn found in his study of the papers left behind by the owners. Dunn provides a detailed account of the lives of two enslaved women: field hand Sarah Affir from Mesopotamia and Winney Grimshaw at Mount Airy.
The New York Times Book Review calls A Tale of Two Plantations“a substantial achievement. That it is the product of four decades of exacting research and deliberation comes through in each of its many details.”