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Vol. 23, No. 3: Things

These Golden Balls Down Yonder Tree

Oranges and the Politics of Reconstruction in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Florida

by Shana Klein

In the years following the Civil War, famed author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe painted a number of canvases of Florida oranges. One in particular resembles the view from Stowe’s window, displaying a cluster of fruit cascading down a leafy tree. Stowe completed this painting after 1867, when she purchased an orange grove in Mandarin, Florida—a move southward that might have seemed a curious decision for an ardent abolitionist. But purchasing southern land and transforming former plantations into smaller cotton farms and orange groves was considered at the time a charitable act to revitalize the devastated region and transform its political climate. Florida, in particular, was in need of revitalization; the state was dismissed as a primitive swamp and cultural wasteland made worse by the Civil War. Many northerners, Stowe included, believed an orange industry would inspire a cultural awakening in Florida and foster a more egalitarian atmosphere that would supplant industries tarnished by slave systems. For Stowe, the orange represented the promise of a “New South,” and her artistic activism demonstrates how an object as familiar and innocuous as a canvas of oranges held broader implications for Reconstruction in Florida.

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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