Through Others' Eyes: Published Accounts of Antebellum Montgomery, Alabama

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NewSouth Books, Sep 17, 2014 - History - 224 pages
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Through Others' Eyes includes descriptions of traveling to and from Montgomery, but it focuses on the travelers' descriptions of Montgomery itself. The published accounts included in the book were written between 1825 and 1861 by Americans and Europeans with a variety of backgrounds. A few are as objective as can reasonably be expected considering the short durations of the writers' visits. Some are prone to display their preconceptions and prejudices. Most exaggerate -- they had to make their books marketable. The accounts are sometimes insightful or incredulous, often humorous and colorful, always giving the reader a vicarious experience of being there. 

For most of its forty-year antebellum history, Montgomery was a frontier river town. These accounts of it do not reveal moonlight and magnolias, but a rather coarse culture. The touring authors don't mince words about slavery; after all, their readers expected commentary about the most peculiar of Southern institutions. However, the writers' diverse views of slavery are as complicated and contradictory as was the institution itself.

Together, these accounts sketch a fascinating world populated by individuals and with customs that would have inspired Charles Dickens had he overcome his prejudices and ventured further south than Richmond in 1842. The "Epilogue" provides a description of the first capital of the Confederacy.


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About the author (2014)

Jeffrey Benton, a retired Air Force colonel, has taught history and English at the University of Maryland Far East Division, The Citadel, the Air War College, Auburn University Montgomery, Troy University Montgomery, and The Montgomery Academy. His research interests are currently focused on local history. He has written extensively on Montgomery and its environs, including more than two hundred newspaper articles. His books on local history are A Sense of Place: Montgomery’s Architectural Heritage, 1821–1951; The Very Worst Road: Travellers’ Accounts of Crossing Alabama’s Old Creek Indian Territory, 1820–1847; and They Served Here: Thirty-three Maxwell Men. He received his BA from The Citadel, as well as master's degrees in English, political science, and history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Auburn University Montgomery, and Auburn University. He and his wife, Karen, have two daughters, Carolina and Catherine.

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