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Palmetto-Leaves

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(1873)

A memoir and travel guide written by Harriet Beecher Stowe about her winters in the town of Mandarin, Florida. Already famous for having written Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Stowe went to Florida after the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). She purchased a plantation near Jacksonville as a place for her son to recover from the injuries he had received as a Union soldier and to make a new start in life. After visiting him, she became so enamored with the region she purchased a cottage and orange grove for herself and wintered there until 1884, even though the plantation failed within its first year. Parts of Palmetto Leaves appeared in a newspaper published by Stowe's brother, as a series of letters and essays about life in northeast Florida.

Scion of New England clergy, Stowe keenly felt a sense of Christian responsibility that was expressed in her letters. She considered it her duty to help improve the lives of newly emancipated blacks and detailed her efforts to establish a school and church in Mandarin toward these ends. Parts of the book relate the lives of local African-Americans and the customs of their society. Stowe described the charm of the region and its generally moderate climate but warned readers of "excessive" heat in the summer months and occasional cold snaps in winter. Her audience comprises relatives, friends, and strangers in New England who ask her advice about whether or not to move to Florida, which at the time was still mostly wilderness. Although it is a minor work in Stowe's oeuvre, Palmetto Leaves was one of the first travel guides written about Florida and stimulated Florida's first boom of tourism and residential development in the 1880s.


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