Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation takes readers back in time to what is often considered a more genteel civilization, only to shock them into realizing that the past is not always as idyllic as some make it out to be. Landon Carter was born into an affluent Colonial Virginia family and lived long enough to witness the revolution that transformed the American colonies into an independent nation. Judiciously selecting entries from Carter’s copious diaries, historian Rhys Isaac tells of Carter’s constant travails in attempting to control his own rebellious family members and slaves, seeing in the plantation owner’s struggle a microcosm of King George’s efforts to deal with his American subjects.
Organizing his work topically, Isaac first explores the idyllic life of the Virginia plantation at mid-century, noting how Carter was a careful recorder of weather and crop information, a man of his time in keeping meticulous records that would help him improve his life and those of the people who depended on him for sustenance. A series of chapters describe Carter’s contentious relationship with his eldest son and daughter-in-law, whom he felt failed to appreciate his magnanimity. Other chapters describe his dealings with the dozens of slaves toward whom he exhibited alternatively a loving, patriarchal affection and a stern, unrelenting demand for productivity in the fields and stockyards.
Throughout the book, Isaac traces a common theme that binds Carter’s story with that of the nation: the inevitable rebellion of children against patriarchal authority—and authority that, in Carter’s day, was considered divinely ordained. The revolution Isaac describes is, therefore, not simply a revolt of sons against fathers; it is the story of the transformation of ideology that brought about a new way of thinking, and ushered in the age of participative democracy in Western Europe.