We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Ladies and Gentlemen on Display

Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis

Publication Year: 2001

Each summer between 1790 and 1860, hundreds and eventually thousands of southern men and women left the diseases and boredom of their plantation homes and journeyed to the healthful and entertaining Virginia Springs. In Ladies and Gentlemen on Display, Charlene Boyer Lewis argues that the Virginia Springs provided a theater of sorts, where contests for power between men and women, fashionables and evangelicals, blacks and whites, old and young, and even northerners and southerners played out—away from the traditional roles of the plantation. In their pursuit of health and pleasure, white southerners created a truly regional community at the springs. At this edge of the South, elite southern society shaped itself, defining what it meant to be a "Southerner" and redefining social roles and relations.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (83.5 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.6 KB)
p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (31.0 KB)
p. viii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (132.1 KB)
pp. ix-2

A lot of people have been waiting a long time to see this book finished. I, too, have been waiting a long time to thank a lot of people for their advice, assistance, and support.
Sifting through thousands of letters and diaries for this project would not have been so fruitful without the help of efficient and knowledgeable staffs at numerous libraries and archives. I would like to thank particularly...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (83.8 KB)
pp. 3-12

"Here I am amongst the throng, who... are visiting these mountainous regions, some in search of health, others of pleasure, some travelling because they are tired of home and others because they are tired of themselves[,] some to make a display and others to see it.’’ So wrote Samuel Mordecai from the Virginia Springs in 1817.1 The attractions...

read more

Part 1 The Scene

pdf iconDownload PDF (121.0 KB)
pp. 13-16

In the late 1700s Capt. Hancock Lee, who suffered from chronic gout, recognized the value—both medicinal and monetary— of a mineral spring that he found in Fauquier County, Virginia. Lee purchased the property and built a wooden lodge for himself and the few invalids already visiting the healing waters. He later sold the property to...

read more

‘‘Solidity, Strength, and Grandeur’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (146.5 KB)
pp. 16-31

The southern elite’s search for pleasure, health, and a cooler climate reflected a general trend among the nation’s elite. Beginning around 1800, wealthy men and women throughout the United States increasingly traveled for pleasure as well as health. A nascent tourist industry quickly arose to meet the demand. Travel guidebooks began touting scenic sites. Enterprising...

read more

‘‘A Country More Wildly Picturesque’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (57.4 KB)
pp. 31-36

The settings of the Virginia Springs juxtaposed controlled landscapes with uncontrolled nature.Wild disorder surrounded tamed order. Rows of rugged mountains, multitudes of cascading streams, and expanses of deep forests formed the resorts’ perimeters and contrasted sharply with the refined and well-tended grounds and buildings within their confines. The few valley...

read more

‘‘At Great Trouble and Expense’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.6 KB)
pp. 36-49

The Virginia Springs proprietors who envisioned, constructed, and operated the resorts led difficult lives. Their backgrounds, property holdings, and occupation gave them an ambiguous place in southern society. Yet these men and their establishments played an important role not only for planter society, but also in their Shenandoah Valley neighborhoods. Resort...

‘‘Bribe High and You Live High’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.9 KB)
pp. 49-56

read more

Part 2 Healing Waters

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.0 KB)
pp. 57-59

"In the course of my life... these healing waters have exerted the happiest effects uponmyhealth and constitution,’’seventy-one- year-old John Hartwell Cocke Sr. recorded in his journal during a trip to the Virginia Springs in 1851. He had come to the springs, as on earlier visits, to improve his ‘‘enfeebled health.’’ Cocke made his first trip over the...

read more

‘‘King Cure All’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.7 KB)
pp. 59-68

As some of the first chroniclers of life at the Virginia Springs noted, most people who traveled to the springs resorts were not invalids. From the late eighteenth century through 1860, visitors came not so much to search for a cure, but—in addition to seeking pleasure—to continue the relatively good health that they already enjoyed. In 1829 George Harrison and his wife Isabella...

read more

‘‘They All Drink the Waters without the Advice of Any Medical Man’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (75.2 KB)
pp. 68-78

Examining the attitudes about health and treatment held by visitors to the Virginia Springs and their correspondents provides an intriguing glimpse at popular medical beliefs and practices. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most people held ideas about health and appropriate...

read more

‘‘Every Day Var[ies] a Little’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (125.5 KB)
pp. 78-85

Whether or not they were ill, all of the springs visitors bathed in or drank the waters. While mid-nineteenth-century orthodox medicine regarded and treated the sexes differently, men and women at the Virginia Springs shared the same routine, drinking the waters at the same times and often in the same quantities.1 Doctors prescribed, and experienced visitors...

read more

‘‘The Most Delicious Sensations’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (139.2 KB)
pp. 85-98

The new sensations of and constant attention paid to the body constituted a major component of the Virginia Springs experience for every visitor— whether in search of health or pleasure. All of the visitors, male and female, closely monitored the function and appearance of their own bodies and often of others’ bodies as well. They focused primarily on what went into...

read more

Part 3 Community and Competition

pdf iconDownload PDF (65.6 KB)
pp. 99-104

When Jane Caroline North and her relatives alighted from the stage at Warm Springs, their first stop on the Virginia Springs circuit, she ‘‘felt a little scared ’’ at the fashionably dressed visitors staring at her and the other ‘‘dusty[,] weary & travel worn’’ newcomers. The South Carolinian feared, as well, the sight her unkempt group would make in the...

read more

‘‘A Never Ceasing Scene of Stir, Animation, Display, & Enjoyment’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (149.5 KB)
pp. 104-119

The Virginia Springs environment highlighted and intensified the characteristics prized by the southern gentry. The exclusivity of the resorts and the orderliness of life there strongly appealed to the visitors. Guests relished the amusement and leisure that pervaded the spot. The exclusivity and dedication to order, refinement, and gentility also created an easy and...

read more

‘‘Forming Violent Friendships in Three Days Time’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (127.9 KB)
pp. 119-127

Most studies of plantation life suggest that, outside of their immediate families and households, elite southerners possessed few opportunities and little desire to interact with the opposite sex, much less to form close friendships. These historians conclude that a vast emotional gulf between men and women and a sharp segregation of daily lives prohibited mutual...

read more

‘‘You Might Have Supposed Them All Quite Intimate’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.5 KB)
pp. 127-142

Even though men and women who visited the Virginia Springs shared a remarkable mutuality, their experiences differed in some ways; women enjoyed more leisure than men and experienced a sharper contrast with their lives at home. At the springs, planter women enjoyed a release from...

read more

‘‘You Are Now Just Entering upon That School of Life’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (127.2 KB)
pp. 142-151

The atmosphere at the springs provided the perfect place where young men and women could, perhaps for the first time, socialize with a large group of their peers from across the South. These ‘‘beaux’’ and ‘‘belles’’ became the pulse of the resorts, the driving force behind most of the social life and competition. A season at the springs served for many planter children as a...

read more

‘‘A Great Deal Is Affected, but Nothing on the Heart in It’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (178.5 KB)
pp. 152-175

Most wealthy visitors regarded the Virginia Springs as a place of pleasure and leisure, yet their very presence made the resorts places of intense ritual and competition. While visitors eased some rules of gender relations, they did not relax their general expectations for proper southern ladies and gentlemen. If anything, the demands of such roles became clearer. At the...

read more

‘‘Love-Making May Fairly Be Set Down as One of the Amusements of the Virginia Springs’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (73.1 KB)
pp. 175-186

As the springs environment intensified the good and the bad characteristics of southern gentility, it also exaggerated the gender expectations and roles of young adults in ways that could produce conflicts. Belles and beaux knew the importance of a good performance at the springs, and they played their parts of ladies and cavaliers to the fullest extent. In the romantic atmosphere...

read more

‘‘They Seemed to Sink into the Deepest Insignificance’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (165.1 KB)
pp. 187-200

Part of southern gentility involved constructing rigid boundaries that demarcated fashionable white society. At the resorts, the elite defined itself by whom it accepted into the inner circle and whom it shunned. Despite the feelings of community, intimacy, and harmony at the Virginia Springs, the lines that elite men and women drew between themselves and others prevented excluded groups from exercising any real social influence at the...

read more

‘‘Honor to Those Days of Chivalry’’

pdf iconDownload PDF (123.3 KB)
pp. 200-208

The ‘‘southernness’’ of the Virginia Springs appeared in its most explicit form in a series of special events that brought together and revolved around all of the characteristics of the southern gentry. After about 1830, elite southerners, influenced by romanticism, increasingly linked themselves...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (56.1 KB)
pp. 209-214

In early July 1861 Mary Boykin Chesnut arrived at Fauquier White Sulphur Springs with a large group of women and men, including her husband James, Robert Barnwell, Mrs. John Preston, and other members of Confederate President Jefferson and Varina Davis’s inner circle. Across the lawn they saw former Supreme Court Justice John A...


pdf iconDownload PDF (248.6 KB)
pp. 215-264

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (97.4 KB)
pp. 265-284


pdf iconDownload PDF (926.7 KB)
pp. 285-293

Series Information

pdf iconDownload PDF (24.0 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780813921990
E-ISBN-10: 0813921996
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813920795
Print-ISBN-10: 0813920795

Page Count: 293
Illustrations: 21 b&w illus. (21 redacted), 1 map (1 redacted)
Publication Year: 2001

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Springs -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Virginia -- History -- 1775-1865.
  • Virginia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Plantation life -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Virginia -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Health resorts -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social classes -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access