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George Higby Throop, 1818-1896
Bertie: or, Life in the Old Field. A Humorous Novel
Philadelphia: A. Hart, 1851.

Summary

George Higby Throop, who wrote under the pseudonym Gregory Seaworthy, worked as a tutor for the children of Cullen Capehart, who owned a plantation in Bertie County, North Carolina. His three published books all have autobiographical elements that draw on his experiences with the Capehart family. Throop's second book, Bertie: or, Life in the Old Field: A Humorous Novel, was published in 1851, after he had left the Capeharts and moved to Philadelphia. Bertie is more fictionalized than his first work, Nag's Head, and is grounded in North Carolina "local color." Bertie is in many respects a continuation of Nag's Head. The narrator is still Gregory Seaworthy, although his character history has been somewhat altered. Bertie's Seaworthy has been thoroughly "Yankeefied" by time spent in the North and aboard sailing ships, and he is now the nephew of Colonel John Smallwood, an actual wealthy planter in Bertie County. The other members of the Smallwood family are fictionalized versions of The Capeharts, and Cypress Shore, the Smallwood's estate, is undoubtedly based on Scotch Hall, the Capeharts' Bertie County residence. While Bertie focuses on the romantic entanglements of six different couples, large sections of the novel are given over to observations about antebellum North Carolina plantation society, as is Nag's Head. Throop describes the Smallwood plantation and the neighboring estates in detail, elaborating on their agricultural operations and yields. Throop includes scenes from holiday festivities and again a summer trip to Nags Head.

Throop also evaluates the southern plantation economy and the relationship between the North and South. Throop funnels this commentary through—and centers much of the romantic action on—the novel's central character, "Professor" Funnyford Matters. Matters is a "Practical Hydrologist" employed by area plantations to build drinking-water cisterns (p. 242). Throop presents Matters as a broad Yankee caricature. He is cranky, arrogant, meddlesome, and full of negative assumptions about the South. For example, he complains that plantation agriculture, while profitable, is still primitive by northern standards. Matters also worries that southern planters are too dependent on northern merchants and manufacturers.

Finally, Matters also weighs in on slavery. He concludes that northern claims about slavery's cruelty and injustice are greatly exaggerated. The Smallwoods' slaves are all happy and contented, and Matters reports that the few stern overseers that do work on nearby plantations are actually from the North. In fact, Matters asserts that southern masters are too tolerant with their slaves.

Bertie was the high point in Throop's brief and unhappy literary career. An article by historian Richard Walser quotes A Godey's Ladies Book reviewer who gushed, "This is one of the best American novels of the day" (p. 28). Neither sales of Bertie, nor Throop's third novel, Lynde Weiss; An Autobiography, however, could sustain him. Throop's work disappeared almost completely in the North, and it received almost no notice in North Carolina, even on its initial publication.

Works Consulted: Powell, William S., ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996; Walser, Richard, "Introduction," Nag's Head and Bertie: Two Novels, By George Higby Throop, Charlotte, NC: Heritage House, 1958; Walser, Richard, "The Mysterious Case of George Higby Throop (1818-1896); or, The Search for the Author of the Novels Nag's Head, Bertie, and Lynde Weiss" , North Carolina Historical Review, 33:1 (1956): 12-44.

Michael Sistrom

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