Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp

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Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp
Stowe Dred first edition.jpg
Title page of the first edition
AuthorHarriet Beecher Stowe
CountryUnited States
PublisherPhillips, Sampson and Company (first edition)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages329 (vol. I, first edition), 370 (vol. II, first edition)

Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp is the second popular novel from American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was first published in two volumes by Phillips, Sampson and Company in 1856. Although it enjoyed better initial sales than her previous, and more famous, novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, it was ultimately less popular. Dred was of a more documentary nature than Uncle Tom's Cabin and thus lacked a character like Uncle Tom to evoke strong emotion from readers.

Plot summary[edit]

Dred is the story of Nina Gordon, an impetuous young heiress to a large southern plantation, whose land is rapidly becoming worthless. It is run competently by one of Nina's slaves, Harry, who endures a murderous rivalry with Nina's brother Tom Gordon, a drunken, cruel slaveowner. Nina is a flighty young girl, and maintains several suitors, before finally settling down with a man named Clayton. Clayton is socially and religiously liberal, and very idealistic, and has a down-to-earth perpetual-virgin sister, Anne.

In addition to Harry (who, as well as being the administrator of Nina's estate, is secretly also her and Tom's half-brother), the slave characters include the devoutly Christian Milly (actually the property of Nina's Aunt Nesbit), and Tomtit, a joker-type character. There is also a family of poor whites, who have but a single, devoted slave, Old Tiff.

Dred, the titular character, is one of the Great Dismal Swamp maroons, escaped slaves living in the Great Dismal Swamp, preaching angry and violent retribution for the evils of slavery and rescuing escapees from the dog of the slavecatchers.

Character list: Nina Gordon- mistress of Canema plantation, bad at handling bills and financial accounts, spendthrift in beginning, lived in New York awhile before resettling back home, in love with Edward Clayton the moralistic lawyer, Nina becomes religious after Miss Sue die and spends time learning from Tiff, Nina dies of cholera later in the novel

Tom Gordon- drunkard, rascal, disrespectful, 25 years old or about, terribly mistreats the slaves

Harry Gordon- Nina and Tom’s half-brother. They all share same father- Colonel Gordon- but Harry’s mother was a mulatto. Harry looks almost white. He fights with Tom.

Colonel Gordon- owner and father of the estate Canema plantation. Dead before plot begins.

Aunt Nesbit- selfish, cares only about her own needs, rude and condescending to the slaves, does not do much around the plantation.

Milly- Aunt Nesbit’s servant, Milly is very religious and strong believer in Jesus.

Uncle John Gordon- rich white man, brother of Colonel Gordon, owns property and slaves.

Mrs. Stewart- Colonel Gordon’s sister- she leaves property to son George, who marries a mulatta character Cora, when George dies, Cora- gets all the property in Mississippi. This however is taken away from her.

Cora- mulatta, married George, gets the property, however it is taken away from her bc she is a mulatta

Edward Clayton- righteous, pious lawyer with strong moral compass. Fights for injured slaves, and on his property he educates the slaves.

Anne Clayton- similar abolitionist views as brother Clayton.

Judge Clayton- Edward’s father- decides on the appeal to reverse trial courts order and let Mr. Barker go free of charge despite shooting at and injuring Milly.

Dred- a fugitive, a composite of Denmark Vessey and Nat Turner, he lives in the Great Dismal Swamps and is very religious, almost prophetical.

Old Tiff- faithful and good-nature servant to the Cripps family. Nina enjoys his company.

Volume 1.

Chapter 1- Nina, the mistress on Canema plantation , has a conversation with her Harry (whom she does not at this point realize is her mulatto half-brother), and Nina talks about the three gentlemen who love her (Mr. Carson, Mr. George Emmons, and (the future winner) Mr. Edward Clayton). Nina has the option to her husband. Nina also reveals evidence about herself that she is unreliable with money management; she is spendthrift. She gives these expensive clothing and merchandise bills to Harry, hoping he will manage her expenses and accounting.

Chapter 2- Edward Clayton, the lawyer, talks with friend Frank Russel. Clayton talks about his lust and interest in Nina. Clayton admits Nina is "a very pretty little sinner", that she causes trouble here and there, but he loves her. Clayton also expresses his aversion to the lawyer profession because it forces him to "pick a side", and he thinks as a good Christian he should at the least educate his slaves, free them, and give them a wage.

Chapter 3- Clayton family is introduced. Edward's sister, Anne, is educational and wants to educate her slaves. She is also hypercritical of Edward's love for Nina. Edward says he is not trying to educate or gentrify Nina- he likes her as she is.

Chapter 4- The Gordon family farm is not profitable- it is degrading in economic value. Harry however is an excellent overseer- responsible, reliable, focused. When Colonel Gordon, he left the entire estate to his daughter, Nina. Nina's brother, Tom, had a lavish upbringing with opportunities and education, but he was disrespectful to everyone- he even "stik(ed) his teacher in the face". Tom also has a drinking problem. Aunt Nesbit is also introduced- the sister of Colonel Gordon- and she is sanctimonious (exaggeratedly religious) and cheap with her slaves. She tries to physically hit Tomtit (a male slave)because he was acting impertinent. Aunt Nesbit also owns another slave, Milly, who is female. Milly is physically beautiful, and superior looking; she also has mulatto features. Milly's children, beforehand, were sold away, like "merchantable articles".

Chapter 5- Harry's cabin is away from the farm, on the outskirts. His wife, Lisette, enjoys taking care of the cabin/house and makes a cute little splendid dinner for her husband, Harry. Harry explains to Lisette how they need to use their personal savings to compensate for Nina's increasing debt, in order to save Nina and her estate. Harry also tells her that he is Nina's brother! Same father, different wife. Harry admits his frustration as not being accepted by either the Whites, or Blacks, but in the liminal space between.

Ch. 6- Before this chapter, Nina wrote to Mr. Carson and to Mr. Edward Clayton saying she wants to see them. In this chapter, Nina tries to get to the post office to cancel delivery to Mr. Carson. Nina proves incapable of getting Old Hundred (a slave in charge of the carriages), to get her a carriage and start moving! Nina relies once again on Harry to control her slaves.

Ch. 7- Nina consults Harry on how to act when Mr. Carson arrives. Harry tells her, "just be perfectly true and open".

Ch. 8- This chapter shows the poor white family, the Cripps. John Cripps is a poor white who drinks alcohol too much, and his wife is Miss Sue and she is dying in bed. Their slave, Old Tiff, is a male, and he is very helpful and faithful to them. He takes care of Miss Sue the whole time.

Ch. 9- Miss Sue dies in her deathbed.

Ch. 10- Harry, Nina and Aunt Nesbit contemplate the sad fate of Miss Sue. Miss Sue married John Cripps who was a drunkard, and her life when downhill from there. They call the poor white people living in the peripheries of large estates, "squatters", and they have disdain for them. Harry explains how their poor way of living is a cause of the large estate system and income disparity.

Ch. 11- Carson, Aunt Nesbit, Clayton and Nina all interact. Have dinner. During conversation- Clayton speaks his interest in gender equality, and states that history books should be written so that they are fun to read, and so that women could enjoy them like they enjoy novels.

Ch. 12- Miss Sue's funeral finally takes place. After, Nina expresses concern with southern states and how they lack public school systems. She says Miss Sue's children will grow up uneducated. Nina finally rejects Carson. Nina falls harder for Clayton- he gives her what she wants- freedom to do as she pleases. Tom (Nina's drunk, rude brother) comes home and acts like a jerk. Nina is comforted by the slave Milly; Milly says to have faith in Jesus.

Ch. 13- Tom is extremely rude and disrespectful to Harry. Tom sees Lisette, and tells Harry that he is going to buy her. Nina wants to stop this devilish plan. She goes to Lisette's owner, Madam Le Clere (whose plantation is also in a degraded state), and Nina buys Lisette from her.

Ch. 14- Gordon farm is doing terribly financially. Milly is hired out to another farm to do work and make a wage, and is expected to give the money to Aunt Nesbit. Tom, Nina, Clayton, Carson, and Tom's friend/lawyer buddy Mr. Jekyl, talk about how slavery must function. Tom says more whipping. Mr. Jekyl explains how religion is used to keep Blacks accepting slavery and having Masters. Clayton says to educate the slaves and free them.

Ch. 15- Mr. Jekyl explains how he can get property and money for the Gordons. He explains how Colonel Gordon had a sister, Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Stewart had a son, George, who ended up marrying one of his slaves, Cora (who is a mulatto) (she also treated him when he was sick). George moved to Ohio with Cora, and had her papers done so she was a free woman. George later dies, and Cora inherits all the property to her name, and the property is in Mississippi. However, Cora's emancipation papers from Ohio are useless in Mississippi. Mr. Jekyl explains how he can use the law to deprive her of all her property and transfer it to Gordon family.

Ch. 16- Milly's story, she had 14 children, all sold away. Except one, Alfred, who was shot and killed for answering back when working on farm.

Ch. 17- Uncle John, Nina's uncle, he does not like the poor white squatters on his property.

Ch. 18- Harry is disrespected and physically hit by Tom. After leaving, Harry is confronted by Dred. Dred is an outlaw fugitive living in the Great Dismal Swamps. He tells Harry, "you must fight back!". Milly appears, and she tells Harry not to fight. Harry is conflicted.

Ch. 19- Stowe describes Dred as precocious child growing up, and his insurrection and rebellion tendencies. The Great Dismal Swamp is also described as this wild place.

Ch. 20- Uncle John does not like the poor white squatters. Nina explains how life in the North is better; work is more egalitarian, less social class differences, more widespread education.

Ch. 21- a camp-meeting is about to happen- a religious revival event taking place where white preachers preach the Bible. Blacks attend as well. Everyone goes.

Ch. 22- explanation about "camp-meetings". These are Christianity focused.

Ch. 23- Father Dickson preaches. He condemns slavery as anti-Christian.

Volume 2.

Ch. 1- Swamps are described as wild place. Dred is a wild man with endurance and strength. He is also very biblical, and makes prophesies. He always carries the bible with him- his one possession, and claims that Christianity is on his side.

Ch. 2- Nina, Clayton and others reminisce about the religious camp meeting. Anne, Clayton's sister, did not like it- she believes religion should be more private. Clayton and Nina liked it.

Ch. 3- before this chapter, Milly was hired out for work to Mr. Barker. She did not act subservient on one occasion, and he shot her in the arm as she ran away.

Ch. 4- Clayton defends Milly as her attorney in court. He gives an excellent speech explaining how slave-owners are suppose to look out for the good of the slave, and that cruel punishment like Mr. Barker gave is against this. Clayton won the jury verdict in favor for him. He won at trial.

Ch. 5- Nina goes to spend time at the Clayton's estate- Magnolia Grove. It is a beautiful and organized estate, the slaves are happy, it is well run. The difference at their estate the slaves are entrusted- there are not keys or locks. Also, the slaves are educated to read and write. Mr. Bradshaw, a local, rides over and says how this education is causing other whites to gossip and be angry at the Claytons.

Ch. 6- Anne's slaves sing for and praise Edward Clayton as he returns home.

Ch. 7- Nina goes to Old Tiff (the male slave once for the deceased Aunt Sue), and she finds his little area as prosperous- he grows abundantly in his garden. He is happy.

Ch. 8- Cora writes to her brother, Harry, how Tom is going to sell her property and enslave her. Dred also prophesies impending danger. Also, in the newspaper, cholera is outbreaking in the North.

Ch. 9- Nina enjoys Tiff's company, and she becomes interested in religion.

Ch. 10- Judge Clayton, Edward's father, rules on the appeal from the trial court. Here, on appeal, the trial court's decision is reversed and judgement entered for Mr. Barker. Judge Clayton admits he was against this decision, but had to apply the law where "master has absolute control" over servant, including punishment even if severe.

Ch. 11- Cholera spreads to southern states. Nina decides to stay on plantation and manage it with Harry. Nina’s selflessness shows a change in character.

Ch. 12- Clayton hears Dread’s voice from the wilderness; Dred speaks prophetically of impending “doom”.

Ch. 13- Nina dies from cholera.

Ch. 14- Without a will, Nina’s property is left for Tom to get. Tom confronts Harry. Tom hits Harry. Harry hits him back harder, then runs away to the Swamps.

Ch. 15- Clayton is resolute on being an outspoken Abolitionist. He aims to persuade the priests and religious authorities to be more like him.

Ch. 16- Tiff is happy at his cottage, but John Cripps, his old master, returns and is rude and mean.

Ch. 17- Dred takes Tiff and his wife, Fanny, away to live in Swamps.

Ch. 18- Several priests meet, and Clayton joins them. They talk about how the church can influence change on slavery.

Ch. 19- the priests and Clayton talk about the difficulties of slave abolition and the interests of various groups of people- white, westerners, low class, middle class, etc.

Ch. 20- Harry writes to Clayton, explains the injustices of being a slave, and a mulatto.

Ch. 21- Life in the swamps. Harry is there, Tiff is there, Fanny, Dred, among others, and they are living, and surviving and interacting.

Ch. 22- Dred and Hannibal (another fugitive slave) speak.

Ch. 23- Clayton and Frank Russell talk about the difficulties of changing the slave laws.

Ch. 24- Tom Gordon has the plan with his buddies to ruin an anti-slave meeting at the local church.

Ch. 25- Tom and his mob attack the local church. They whip father Dickson, the anti-slavery preacher. Clayton comes and stops them.

Ch. 26- Tom hits Clayton.

Ch. 27- description of life in the Swamp. Dred speaks prophetically.

Ch. 28- Tom gets his mob excited. They are committed to slave hunting and causing terror against abolitionists.

Ch. 29- Clayton is still dazed and confused from being hit by Tom, and he wakes up in the Swamp. Dred and Harry and others are taking care of him. In this chapter, Tom begins the attack on the Swamp; him and his followers, along with dogs, rush in the Swamp attempting to kill the fugitive slaves. Dred is wounded with an arrow shot, and dies.

Ch. 30- Dred is buried.

Ch. 31- the fugitive slaves hiding in the Swamp decide to make a collective escape- using the underground railroad probably.

Ch. 32- Clayton’s peers (other wealthy white landowners) tell Clayton to stop educating his slaves because it is against the law. They said educating slaves will ruin the institution of slavery and cause insurrection. A pro-slavery mob attacks the school house on the Clayton’s property and burns it down. Frank Russell, Clayton’s attorney friend, appeases them and sends them away.

Ch. 33- Harry and his wife Lisette, with their two children, and Old Tiff, get on a boat and sail to New York.

Ch. 34- The once fugitive slaves are happily living in New York. Tiff gets “officially” married, Milly takes care of many destitute children, and Harry and his wife are happy.

Major themes[edit]

The response to Stowe's first work greatly impacted her second anti-slavery novel. Uncle Tom's Cabin drew criticism from abolitionists and African-American authors for the passive martyrdom of Uncle Tom and endorsement of colonization as the solution to slavery. Dred, by contrast, introduces a black revolutionary character who is presented as an heir to the American revolution rather than a problem to be expatriated. Dred can thus be placed within an African-American literary tradition as well as a political revision of the sentimental novel (see David Walker's Appeal (1829) and Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave (1852)).

Dred himself is a composite of Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, two real leaders of slave insurrections. Stowe included a copy of Nat Turner's famous confessions as an appendix to the novel.[1]

One often-overlooked subplot involves Judge Clayton, who issues a proslavery opinion that absolves the man who attacked Cora's slave Milly of liability. This judge was constrained by the law from providing relief; this fit with Stowe's belief that law and judges—and religious leaders, too—could not be expected to help end slavery. It was humane sentiments rather than the rule of law that would be the lever for antislavery action.[2]

The novel is also interesting in the historical context of runaway slave communities surviving for a long time in swamp areas. Swamps were places where runaway slaves could hide, and therefore became a taboo subject, particularly in the south. The best hiding places were found on high ground in swampy areas. The novel also contains detailed descriptions of the wetlands in the "Dismal Swamp" and is therefore also interesting in the context of the way in which African Americans relate to the natural environment.

References and further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Kevin Cherry. Summary of "Dred". Documenting the American South. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, "Over and above ... There Broods a Portentous Shadow,—The Shadow of Law: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Critique of Slave Law in Uncle Tom's Cabin", Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 12, No. 2 (1995–1996): 457–506; Alfred L. Brophy, "Humanity, Utility, and Logic in Southern Legal Thought: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Vision in Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp", Boston University Law Review 78 (1998): 1113-61.
  • Adams, John R. (1963). Harriet Beecher Stowe. Twayne Publishers, Inc. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 63-17370.
  • Delombard, Jeannine Marie. "Representing the Slave: White Advocacy and Black Testimony in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred." New England Quarterly 75.1 (2002): 80-106.
  • Grant, David. "Stowe's Dred and the Narrative Logic of Slavery's Extension." Studies in American Fiction 28.2 (2000): 151-78.
  • Hamilton, Cynthia S. "Dred: Intemperate Slavery." Journal of American Studies 34.2 (2000): 257-77.
  • Karafilis, Maria. "Spaces of Democracy in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 55.3 (1999): 23-49.
  • Levine, Robert. Introduction. Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York & London: Penguin Books 2000. ix-xxxv. ISBN 0-14-043904-8
  • Otter, Samuel. "Stowe and Race." The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ed. by Cindy Weinstein. Cambridge Companions to Literature (Cctl). Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2004. 15-38. ISBN 0-521-82592-X (pbk.)
  • Newman, Judie, and Cindy Weinstein. "Staging Black Insurrection: Dred on Stage." The Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Cambridge Companions to Literature (Cctl). Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2004. 113-30. ISBN 0-521-82592-X (pbk.)
  • Rowe, John Carlos. "Stowe's Rainbow Sign: Violence and Community in Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856)." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 58.1 (2002): 37-55.
  • Smith, Gail K. "Reading with the Other: Hermeneutics and the Politics of Difference in Stowe's Dred." American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 69.2 (1997): 289-313.

External links[edit]