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Book Review, NRJ 61.1

February 15, 2016 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

Patroons & Periaguas: Enslaved Watermen and Watercraft of the Lowcountry

Lynn B. Harris

Small watercraft, especially logboats, make wonderful subjects for models (Irwin Schuster’s recent presentations in the Nautical Research Journal illustrate this well). They are simple to build, their size allows for construction at a large scale, and, above all, they are readily identifiable within their cultures.

Dr. Harris’s new book is a splendid illustration of the interconnection between material culture—in the form of working watercraft in South Carolina—and the societies that generate it. It is a fascinating combination of archaeological reportage, watercraft documentation, traditional historical documentary research, and iconographic presentation woven together to reveal a totally absorbing account of the complexities of South Carolina’s lowcountry society in the era of slavery.

A remarkable feature of this book is the author’s ability to go beyond the traditional historical approach by including a substantial body of very personal narratives from the enslaved watermen of the period. This lends her story a powerful immediacy that is utterly compelling and engaging, and is unusual.

Overall, this is a most impressive work. It is occasionally obvious that Dr. Harris’s grasp of the nuances of nautical terminology (or perhaps that of her editor) is a little less than complete (for example, the stern sheets noted on page 97 have nothing to do with sails), but this is a minor point when compared to her achievement.

  • Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014
  • 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”, hardcover, ix + 146 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95
  • ISBN: 9781611173857

Reviewed by George Mason, Raleigh, North Carolina

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