Staunton Hill and Its Original Owners
The Plantation Negro as a Freeman
In 1887 Bruce moved to Richmond as secretary and treasurer of the Vulcan Iron Works, of which his brother Thomas Seddon Bruce was president. By 1890 Bruce had joined the editorial staff of the Richmond Times. His varied work included articles critical of women in the pulpit and editorials on race relations and economic development. Drawn toward historical scholarship, Bruce left the newspaper in 1892 to become corresponding secretary and librarian of the Virginia Historical Society. The following year he helped start the society’s quarterly historical journal, the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. During Bruce’s five-year tenure as the founding editor, the magazine published historical documents and genealogical accounts focused on the leading colonial families, an agenda that continued for decades.
In his own research Bruce combined a nostalgia for the traditions of the Old South, the boosterism of the New South, and a new interest in the earliest period of Virginia’s history. He conceived of a three-part project intended to demonstrate that the idealized society of his youth had its basis in the seventeenth century. The first fruit of this research was Bruce’s two-volume Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based upon Original and Contemporaneous Records (1896), which made significant contributions to understanding Virginia’s early economic history and the rise to wealth of its great landed families.
On October 19, 1896, Bruce married Elizabeth Tunstall Taylor Newton, a Norfolk widow. They had one daughter. Resigning from the Virginia Historical Society in 1898, Bruce made the first of several extended research trips to England. While there he publicized the New South gospel and tried to explain to British readers his views on race. Before publishing the results of his further research on seventeenth-century Virginia, Bruce wrote The Rise of the New South (1905), a work that established him as a leader in a school of historical scholarship that sought the origins of the New South in the ruins of the Old. Characterized by high optimism, it reads like an industrial gazetteer of the South and became one of the capstones of the New South crusade, one facet of which was. Modifying his stern views of two decades earlier, Bruce acknowledged a limited but useful place for black laborers in southern industry.
Bruce moved to Norfolk in 1907. He had inherited more than 1,400 acres of land from his parents’ estate in Charlotte County, the income from which enabled him to engage in historical scholarship for the remainder of his life. In 1907 Bruce published the second part of his series on seventeenth-century Virginia, the one-volume Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Higher Planting Class, together with an Account of the Habits, Customs, and Diversions of the People. Its focus on the “higher planting class” fit the then-current notions of social history. Bruce sought the origins of the present in the past and attempted to discover how Virginia’s great early planters evolved into the celebrated colonial squirearchy and its commercial leaders, the forerunners of the New South.
Historical Publications by Philip Alexander Bruce
The stereotype of the Old South took firm root in Bruce’s memory of his own childhood, his views of the past, and his scholarship. This vision is clearly evident in the laudatory popular biography ofthat Bruce published in 1907 and in Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers (1916), both reflecting his lifelong allegiance to the and to the mythology and symbolism of the Old South. In 1916 Bruce moved to Charlottesville as centennial historian of the University of Virginia. Working in the library and from the university’s archives he wrote the five-volume History of the University of Virginia, 1819–1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man (1920–1922). Bruce treated the university as both an educational and a cultural institution. The subtitle summed up his belief that ‘s influence had been pervasive throughout the university’s history and that in turn the university’s influence had been profoundly significant in the history of Virginia.
Statewide Recognition of Philip Alexander Bruce
Bruce’s works of popular history and on the(1861–1865) have long been forgotten, and most of his scholarly works have been superseded. His writings on race and on elite whites are no longer persuasive, but his five volumes on the economic, institutional, and social history of seventeenth-century Virginia are still cited as important works of scholarship. Bruce did painstaking research in colonial land and court records and grounded his work in the available primary sources. The volumes have all been reprinted and have influenced subsequent textbook authors, giving his most important scholarly work an enduring place in the literature of Virginia’s history.
Bruce received honorary doctorates from the College of William and Mary in 1907 and from Washington and Lee University in 1908, and he was a vice president of the Virginia Historical Society from 1918 to 1933. After 1930 he was often ill. Bruce died at his home in Charlottesville on August 16, 1933, and was buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery in that city.
- The Plantation Negro as a Freeman: Observations on His Character, Condition, and Prospects in Virginia ( 1889)
- Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based upon Original and Contemporaneous Records (2 vols., 1896)
- A School History of the United States (1903)
- The Rise of the New South (1905)
- Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Higher Planting Class, together with an Account of the Habits, Customs, and Diversions of the People (1907)
- Robert E. Lee (1907)
- Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Religious, Moral, Educational, Legal, Military, and Political Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records (2 vols., 1910)
- Pocahontas and Other Sonnets (1912)
- Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers (1916)
- History of the University of Virginia, 1819–1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man (5 vols., 1920–1922)
- The Virginia Plutarch (1929)
- Virginia: Rebirth of the Old Dominion (1929)