On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures during the War (1892), written by famed New South journalist and folklorist Joel Chandler Harris, is a fictionalized memoir of Harris's adolescence during the Civil War (1861-65). It is both an idealized portrait of plantation life on Turnwold, the estate of Joseph Addison Turner in Eatonton (Putnam County), and a sanitized treatment of the war. Purchased by publisher S. S. McClure in New York for $2,500, the narrative was first serialized in several national newspapers, beginning in 1891. A year later On the Plantation appeared as a book published by D. Appleton and Company, the same firm that had published Harris's first volume of Uncle Remus stories. On the Plantation never achieved the popularity or critical acclaim of the Uncle Remus folktales, however, and most scholars subsequently ignored it.
Origins and Influences
Born in Eatonton in 1845
Portrayal of War
On the Plantation closely parallels Harris's adolescence on Turnwold Plantation between 1862 and 1866. In this semiautobiograph
Historical marker outside of Turnwold Plantation, northeast of Eatonton, Putnam Co., GA. Joseph Addison Turner (1826-1868) was a cousin (obviously, a long-dead one).
The ways in which Harris chose to remember his Civil War experience and, in turn, to fictionalize it often do not conform to reality. Many salient aspects of Harris's life on the home front are omitted and/or significantly downplayed, creating an account that does not accord with the memories of most middle Georgians who lived through similar experiences. Although On the Plantation chronicles life on Turnwold during the Civil War years, Harris does not introduce details of the conflict until well into his work, and when he does, they receive cursory treatment. Particularly surprising, considering the magnitude of the event for both whites and blacks, is Harris's scant attention to Union general William T. Sherman's march to the sea. The left wing of Sherman's army—led by General Henry Slocum—did, in fact, raid areas of Putnam County in November 1864. Turnwold was invaded on November 20-21, 1864, and Union soldiers stole horses and other valuables from the plantation. Neighboring properties suffered more extensive damage; however, Harris, through Joe Maxwell, characterizes these invaders as good-natured and sometimes even benevolent. Few, if any, Georgians would have concurred with Harris's depiction of Sherman's troops, and the reader has little sense of the hardships and deprivations that Georgians suffered during the war.
The existing house of Turnwold Plantation, Putnam Co., GA.
While writing On the Plantation and numerous other stories, Harris doubled as an associate editor for the Atlanta Constitution. Along with Henry W. Grady, his close colleague and friend, Harris was a significant voice for the New South. Together, as highly placed journalists, Harris and Grady promoted racial and especially regional reconciliation, hoping to soften northern animosities toward the South. Harris's arguably sanitized portrayal of the Civil War in On the Plantation may have helped to foster some harmony between the North and South at a time when it was most needed.