Famous Butler Authors

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Traci Roller as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2018.

Famous Butler Authors historical marker was dedicated on June 17, 2008. View the Famous Butler Authors historical marker listing.

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1. Alonzo Chappel, Fanny Kemble, 1873 http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/LOCEON_1039794935.

2. Johnson Fry & Company, Fanny Kemble (Butler) as Isabella, 1859, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania: Furness, P/Ke650.4 ML, Large Box. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/SS36790_36790_39614299.

3. Wageman, T. and Woolnoth, T. Frances Anne Kemble as Euphrasia in The Grecian Daughter, 1830. Engravings. University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/AUIUCIG_10313253157.

4. G.E. Madeley, Frances Anne Kemble as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Lithographs. University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/AUIUCIG_10313251755.

5. Mrs. Kemble’s handkerchief when she last read Hamlet. Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania: Furness, A/Ke650.1 A, Drawer. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/SS36790_36790_39616077.

6. Henry Brintnell Bounetheau, North American; American, 1797-1877, Thomas Sully, North American; American, 1783 England-1872 USA, ca. 1833. Frances Anne Kemble. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA, Gift of Mrs. Henry Du Pré Bounetheau, 1946.3.18. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/AMICO_SAAM_103809521.

7. Butler Island Plantation, GA. Former Home of Fanny Kemble. 1900-1969. Postcard. Okefenokee Regional Library System, Waycross, Georgia.   http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/cgi-bin/meta.cgi?userid=public&dbs=meta&action=retrieve&recno=16&rset=001&format=dlg&h2=pos

8. Harpers Weekly, Mrs. Kemble’s Life on a Georgian Plantation, Review, August 22, 1863. Image Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript LibraryUniversity of Georgia Libraries. http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/thisday/cwhistory/08/22/harpers-weekly-printed-yet-another-review-of-fanny-kemble-journal.

9. Portrait of Frances Anne Kemble. Photomechanical print. University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/AUIUCIG_10313251729.

10. Portrait of Frances Anne Kemble.1893. University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. http://0-library.artstor.org.library.scad.edu/asset/AUIUCIG_10313253156.

11. Traci Roller, Famous Butler Authors Historical Marker, Butler Plantation. 2018.

12. Traci Roller, Col. T.L. Houston House, Butler Plantation, 2018.

13. Traci Roller, View of Butler River, Butler Plantation, 2018.

14. Traci Roller, Remains of Butler Plantation Rice Mill, 2018.

15. Correspondence, 1931. Julia King to Mrs. Majette, Georgia Historical Society Archives. MS1070. Folders 1 and 2.

16. Advertisement for Fanny Kemble and Frances Butler Leigh’s books. Savannah Morning News, Books About the South: The Beehive Foundation, Mother’s Day Advertisement. Sunday May 6, 2018. A13.

17. Letter Correspondence to Theodosius Bartow from Fanny Kemble, declining an invitation (front). Georgia Historical Society Archives, Edwin Parsons Collection 1759-1862, MS0608, Folder 1, No. 202.

18. Letter Correspondence to Theodosius Bartow from Fanny Kemble, declining an invitation (back). Georgia Historical Society Archives, Edwin Parsons Collection 1759-1862, MS0608, Folder 1, No. 202.

19. Artwork of Fanny Kemble and the Famous Butler Authors, created by Susie King Taylor School’s 4th grade class. 2018.

20. Sketch done by Traci Roller, “Fanny Kemble” 2018.

The following essay is by SCAD student Traci Roller, 2018.

Introduction

The Historical Marker, Famous Butler Authors, located south of Darien, Georgia, sits in front of old crumbling rice mills from the former years of the famous Butler Plantation. This marker sheds light on the writings of some members of the Butler family, but neglects to mention the complex life and literary legacy of Frances Anne Kemble, known as Fanny. Kemble’s writings from the 1800s are perhaps the best known firsthand account of life on a Georgia plantation; her journals recorded bitter observations and poignant accounts of the daily struggles of the plantation owners, workers, and enslaved population she encountered. Kemble’s detailed writings regarding the horrific treatments of the slaves on her husband’s plantation, and her subsequent persistence in helping the slaves and giving them a voice, followed her into her later years of life and ultimately inspired future generations. This research project endeavors to add Kemble’s name and written record to that of the other Butler Authors (including her husband Perce and daughter Frances) recorded on this marker in order to complicate and enrich the story of authorship from this region.

Early Life

Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble is a significant figure in abolitionist and feminist history. Born on November 27, 1809 in London, England, to parents Charles Kemble and Marie Therese, Fanny Kemble began her life enveloped in acting. Becoming prominent in London’s bohemian society, Kemble broke into acting success in October 1829 with the role of Juliet in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet at the Covent Garden theater in London (Figure 4). Ambitious in her writing, Fanny became an affluent writer of plays, journals, poetry and letters.[i]

During the fame and excitement of Kemble’s early career, she staged multiple tours around Europe, most significantly traveled to America with her father Charles. Kemble wrote memoirs on her travels to New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Niagara Falls.[ii] During her two-year American tour she was introduced to many political and cultural public figures including business tycoon, Pierce Butler, who had become enamored with Kemble’s theatrical performances. In 1834, Fanny Kemble married Pierce Butler and retired from acting to begin her life in Philadelphia.[iii]

Pierce Butler and Butler Island

Pierce Butler was born in 1806 to a prominent Philadelphia family. He was the grandson of Major Pierce Butler, a senator from South Carolina, whom owned two plantations in Georgia, producing rice and cotton.[iv] Major Pierce Butler was also the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave cause, whose ideas he reinforced into his grandson. Eventually, Pierce Butler inherited the Butler Plantation and St. Simons Island Plantation when his grandfather died in 1836. With this inheritance, Butler and Fanny Kemble became the largest slaveholders in the state of Georgia.[v]

Butler Plantation is located south of Darien, Georgia, just off the Altamaha River and Butler River. The plantation’s production of rice, with over five hundred slaves, kept the family’s lifestyle afloat. The other plantation, on St. Simons Island, was known as “Five Pound” and was where the production of “Sea Island” cotton took place. The St. Simons Island plantation was built upon the marsh; climate and living conditions were extremely difficult. Slaves who were disobedient at the Butler Plantation were sent to do their punishment on St. Simons Island and were treated in horrific conditions.[vi]

Life on a Georgian Plantation

Kemble, eager to know more about how the plantation business operated, convinced Butler to let her visit the Butler Plantation after her first child, Sarah, was born in 1835.[vii] When Kemble arrived in Georgia she was overcome by a foreign environment and difficult new living conditions. The climate of coastal Georgia was unbearable to Kemble, as written in her letters to friends and family:

I spend generally about three hours a day pottering in my garden, but, alas! My gardening consists chiefly of slaughter. The heat of the climate generates the most enormous quantity of insects, for the effectual prevention or destruction of which the gardeners in these parts have yet discovered no means.[viii]

I spend generally about three hours a day pottering in my garden, but, alas! My gardening consists chiefly of slaughter. The heat of the climate generates the most enormous quantity of insects, for the effectual prevention or destruction of which the gardeners in these parts have yet discovered no means.

Frances Anne Kemble, Records of a Later Life. Henry Holt & Co. 1882. 33.

Here Kemble was unable to recreate her life of luxurious gardens that flourished back in England, and the American northeast, but she was persistent in making the plantation land more welcoming. Unfortunately, life was difficult at the plantation and Fanny began to notice more brutal conditions. The conditions and treatment of the slaves at the Butler Plantation shocked and appalled Kemble. As England had abolished slavery in 1831, Kemble was accustomed to the ideas of equality and freedom.[ix]

Kemble’s documentation of harsh slave conditions in Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839 shed new light on slavery in the 1800s. When Kemble arrived on Butler Plantation one of the first things she witnessed was the conditions of sick and injured slaves. Kemble soon established a hospital that included a nursery; she was horrified by the commonplace deaths of expectant and nursing mothers.[x] Teaching slaves to read and write was a mission of Kemble’s. She established an area that was surprisingly approved by Butler, on St. Simons Island to recite and teach the Bible to the enslaved population. Unfortunately, not all of the slaves were approved by Butler to be taught by Kemble. Aleck, a young slave that was the Butler’s waiter, was forbidden from learning.[xi]

Even with Kemble’s efforts to help the slaves at the plantations, her endeavors at ameliorating the horrible conditions did not always prove fruitful. Tensions between Kemble and the plantation’s manager and caretaker of the slaves, Roswell King Sr., were exacerbated by observations of King’s harsh treatment of the slaves:

They are hard worked, poorly clothed, and poorly fed; and when they are sick, cared for only enough to fit them for work again; the only calculation in the mind of an overseer being to draw from their bones and sinews money to furnish his employer’s income, and secure him a continuance of his agency.

Fanny Kemble, Dearest Emily, Butler’s Island Plantation, February 8, 1839.

Kemble consistently beseeched her husband to plead for each of the slaves’ safety. One of Kemble’s accounts describes the brutal lashings of Theresa, a slave on Butler Plantation, who was stripped of her clothing and flogged by the caretaker.[xiii] Butler soon grew tired with Kemble’s attempts at persuading him on behalf of the slaves and refused to hear anymore of her pleadings. Kemble’s frustration had grown and she continued to document her views in her journal while handing out scraps of flannel and meat to the slaves. Eventually Kemble, distraught over the horrific conditions and unsuccessful in her attempts to persuade her husband, fled Butler Plantation in the middle of the night on a rowboat, only to return shortly for the sake of her children.[xiv] Even though Kemble could not turn a blind eye to life at Butler Plantation, she eventually left for Philadelphia in 1839. Upon her leaving Georgia, Kemble and Butler became estranged. Butler filed for divorce in 1848. The couple officially divorced in 1849 leaving Butler with complete custody of both children, Sarah and Frances.[xv]

What happened to the Butler Plantation?

Fanny Kemble returned to traveling, writing, and acting after her divorce, while her and her youngest daughter, Frances, were estranged. Frances disagreed with Kemble and stayed loyal to her father’s beliefs on slavery. Over time, Butler lost his fortune due to reckless gambling and poor investments in the stock market. His fortune was soon overtaken by assessors, who determined his valuables to be the Butler Plantation slaves.[xvi] These slaves were brought to the Ten Broeck Race Course, just outside Savannah, and were auctioned off to help recoup Pierce Butler’s financial loses. Taking place on the first and second of March in 1859, this horrific tragedy became known as the “Weeping Time,” the largest slave sale in Georgia history.[xvii]

After the sale of Butler Plantation’s slaves, the Civil War broke out in 1861 and life at Butler Plantation halted. Kemble saw this as an opportunity to publish her journal, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839 in 1863 to shed light on the horrendous nature of slavery.[xviii] Her work ignited controversy, but also became a determining factor regarding English citizens’ opinion on the war. Cutting off all commerce and business to the South, England strongly took a stance against the southern United States’ slave industry.[xix]

When the war ended, Pierce Butler returned to Butler Plantation to find former freed slaves living on the land. Butler made a deal with the former slaves to be sharecroppers on his land. Butler and his daughter, Frances, attempted to restore the plantation to its former glory. Their recovery efforts failed, and Butler passed away in 1867 due to malaria. Eventually, Frances, who wrote “Ten Years on A Georgia Plantation,” abandoned the plantation in 1876 for England.

Fanny Kemble continued her writing into the 1880s and died peacefully on January 15, 1893 in London.[xx] Ancestors of the former slaves of Butler Plantation and St. Simons Island can be found today dispersed across the United States, particularly including the locations of Darien, Brunswick, St. Simons Island, Savannah, Charleston, Memphis, and New Orleans.[xxi]

Butler Plantation Today and Fanny’s Influences

Butler Plantation today is now a state wildlife preserve.[xxii] Col. T. L. Houston, who bought the plantation land from Frances Butler Leigh, built a grand house on the land. The home still stands and was used as headquarters for the Nature Conservancy: Altamaha River Bioreserve. It is now abandoned and has been left for wildlife and nature to grow around it (Figure 12). With the land now a preserve, the location is overwhelmed by foliage with only a dock for launching kayaks onto the Butler River as a reminder of the previous inhabitants.

Fanny Kemble inspired many readers through her writings on theater, poetry, and travel, but most notably, her firsthand accounts of slavery on the plantations of southern Georgia ignited a powerful response. Kemble’s dedication to helping the slaves and supporting the cause to end slavery has continued to inspire many to this day. Many of her journals are still being published and can be seen in advertisements as gifts for inspiring women (Figure 16). Her journals are heavily cited by scholars aiding further research regarding life and slavery in the 1880s, including Anne Bailey’s writings on the Weeping Time, The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History. Kemble’s story is also depicted in the 2000 film, Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble starring Jane Seymour as the inspirational Fanny Kemble.  During Kemble’s time and today, not all readers have been welcoming to the ideas and writings of Fanny Kemble. Decedents of Roswell King Sr., the former caretaker at the Butler Plantation, accused Kemble of destroying the King name. This resentment can be seen in letter correspondence from Julia King to Mrs. Majette written in the 1930s (Figure 15).[xxiii]

My personal motivation for researching Fanny Kemble began with the possibility of my being related to the Butler family. My family is an avid group of genealogy fanatics who found common ancestors from Georgia with the name of Butler, notably a Thomas Butler. Further investigation has revealed that our Thomas Butler was not the relative that we had thought to have common ancestry with Fanny, yet I still feel a strong bond to Ms. Kemble due to her easily-accessible published journals. Her persistence through horrendous atrocities carried out in her husband’s name prevailed with publications of her journals that still can be seen in the hands of modern women today. Fanny Kemble will forever be remembered as a woman who worked against injustice. Her firsthand accounts of slavery describe and document atrocities we must continue to remember. My creative response to Kemble’s inspiration is a drawing of her in her youth, with rice cascading from her gown (Figure 20).

[i] PBS, “Africans in America: Judgment Day, People and Events: Fanny Kemble and Peirce Butler 1806-1893.” PBS Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1569.html.

[ii] Frances Anne Kemble. Journal, Volume II. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1835. 286-287.

[iii] Fanny Kemble and Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. 77.

[iv] PBS.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Catherine Clinton, “History and Archaeology: Antebellum Era 1800-1860, Fanny Kemble (1809-1893),” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 09 September 2014, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/fanny-kemble-1809-1893.

[vii] Fanny Kemble and Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. 3.

[viii] Frances Anne Kemble, Records of a Later Life. Henry Holt & Co. 1882. 33.

[ix] Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. 3.

[x] Ibid, 14.

[xi] Winifred E. Wise. Fanny Kemble: Actress, Author, Abolitionist. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1966. 183-184.

[xii] Frances Anne Kemble. Records of a Later Life. 141.

[xiii] Ibid, 148.

[xiv] Fanny Kemble and Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. 15.

[xv] Ibid, 5.

[xvi] PBS.

[xvii] DeGraft-Hanson, Kwesi. “Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale.” Southern Spaces, Emory University. 18 February 2010, https://southernspaces.org/2010/unearthing-weeping-time-savannahs-ten-broeck-race-course-and-1859-slave-sale.

[xviii] Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. 5.

[xix] DeGraft-Hanson, 6.

[xx] PBS.

[xxi] DeGraft-Hanson, 5.

[xxii] Catherine Clinton.

[xxiii] Georgia Historical Society Archives: Correspondence, 1931. Julia King to Mrs. Majette, Georgia Historical Society Archives. MS1070. Folders 1 and 2.

Armstrong, Margaret. Fanny Kemble A Passionate Victorian. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938.

Berry, Stephen W, “History and Archaeology: Colonial Era 1733-1775, Butler Family,” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 03 September 2014, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/butler-family.

Clinton, Catherine. Fanny Kemble’s Civil Wars. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Clinton, Catherine, “History and Archaeology: Antebellum Era 1800-1860, Fanny Kemble (1809-1893),” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 09 September 2014, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/fanny-kemble-1809-1893.

David, Deirdre. Fanny Kemble: A Performed Life. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

DeGraft-Hanson, Kwesi. “Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale.” Southern Spaces, Emory University. 18 February 2010, https://southernspaces.org/2010/unearthing-weeping-time-savannahs-ten-broeck-race-course-and-1859-slave-sale.

Dillman, Caroline M. “History and Archaeology: Antebellum Era 1800-1860, Roswell King (1765-1844).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 16 September 2014, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/roswell-king-1765-1844.

Kemble, Fanny, and Catherine Clinton. Fanny Kemble’s Journals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Kemble, Frances Anne. Records of Later Life. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1882.

Kemble, Frances Anne. Journal, Volume II. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1835.

PBS, “Africans in America: Judgment Day, People and Events: Fanny Kemble and Peirce Butler 1806-1893.” PBS Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1569.html.

Sullivan, Buddy. “Geography and Environment: Geographic Regions, Little St. Simons Island.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 20 July 2017, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/little-st-simons-island.

Wise, Winifred E. Fanny Kemble: Actress, Author, Abolitionist. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1966.