The Johns Hopkins University Press

Early America: History, Context, Culture

Joyce E. Chaplin and Philip D. Morgan, Series Editors

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Early America: History, Context, Culture

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The Baptism of Early Virginia

How Christianity Created Race

Rebecca Anne Goetz

In The Baptism of Early Virginia, Rebecca Anne Goetz examines the construction of race through the religious beliefs and practices of English Virginians. She argues that the seventeenth century was a critical time for the development and articulation of racial ideologies. Paramount was the idea of “hereditary heathenism,” the notion that Africans and Indians were incapable of genuine Christian conversion. In Virginia in particular, English settlers initially believed that native people would quickly become Christian and would form a vibrant partnership with English people. After those hopes were dashed by vicious Anglo-Indian violence, English Virginians used Christian rituals like marriage and baptism to exclude first Indians and then Africans from the privileges enjoyed by English Christians—including freedom. Resistance to hereditary heathenism was not uncommon, however. Enslaved people and many Anglican ministers fought against planters’ racial ideologies, setting the stage for Christian abolitionism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Using court records, letters, and pamphlets, Goetz suggests new ways of approaching and understanding the deeply entwined relationship between Christianity and race in early America.

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Every Home a Distillery

Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake

Sarah Hand Meacham

In this original examination of alcohol production in early America, Sarah Hand Meacham uncovers the crucial role women played in cidering and distilling in the colonial Chesapeake. Her fascinating story is one defined by gender, class, technology, and changing patterns of production. Alcohol was essential to colonial life; the region’s water was foul, milk was generally unavailable, and tea and coffee were far too expensive for all but the very wealthy. Colonists used alcohol to drink, in cooking, as a cleaning agent, in beauty products, and as medicine. Meacham finds that the distillation and brewing of alcohol for these purposes traditionally fell to women. Advice and recipes in such guidebooks as The Accomplisht Ladys Delight demonstrate that women were the main producers of alcohol until the middle of the 18th century. Men, mostly small planters, then supplanted women, using new and cheaper technologies to make the region’s cider, ale, and whiskey. Meacham compares alcohol production in the Chesapeake with that in New England, the middle colonies, and Europe, finding the Chesapeake to be far more isolated than even the other American colonies. She explains how home brewers used new technologies, such as small alembic stills and inexpensive cider pressing machines, in their alcoholic enterprises. She links the importation of coffee and tea in America to the temperance movement, showing how the wealthy became concerned with alcohol consumption only after they found something less inebriating to drink. Taking a few pages from contemporary guidebooks, Every Home a Distillery includes samples of historic recipes and instructions on how to make alcoholic beverages. American historians will find this study both enlightening and surprising.

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Groundless

Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier

Gregory Evans Dowd

Why did Elizabethan adventurers believe that the interior of America hid vast caches of gold? Who started the rumor that British officers purchased revolutionary white women’s scalps, packed them by the bale, and shipped them to their superiors? And why are people today still convinced that white settlers—hardly immune as a group to the disease—routinely distributed smallpox-tainted blankets to the natives? Rumor—spread by colonists and Native Americans alike—ran rampant in early America. In Groundless, historian Gregory Evans Dowd explores why half-truths, deliberate lies, and outrageous legends emerged in the first place, how they grew, and why they were given such credence throughout the New World. Arguing that rumors are part of the objective reality left to us by the past—a kind of fragmentary archival record—he examines how uncertain news became powerful enough to cascade through the centuries. Drawing on specific case studies and tracing recurring rumors over many generations, Dowd explains the seductive power of unreliable stories in the eastern North American frontiers from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The rumors studied here—some alluring, some frightening—commanded attention and demanded action. They were all, by definition, groundless, but they were not all false, and they influenced the classic issues of historical inquiry: the formation of alliances, the making of revolutions, the expropriation of labor and resources, and the origins of war.

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Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624–1783

Matthew Mulcahy

Hurricanes created unique challenges for the colonists in the British Greater Caribbean during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These storms were entirely new to European settlers and quickly became the most feared part of their physical environment, destroying staple crops and provisions, leveling plantations and towns, disrupting shipping and trade, and resulting in major economic losses for planters and widespread privation for slaves. In this study, Matthew Mulcahy examines how colonists made sense of hurricanes, how they recovered from them, and the role of the storms in shaping the development of the region's colonial settlements. Hurricanes and Society in the British Greater Caribbean, 1624–1783 provides a useful new perspective on several topics including colonial science, the plantation economy, slavery, and public and private charity. By integrating the West Indies into the larger story of British Atlantic colonization, Mulcahy's work contributes to early American history, Atlantic history, environmental history, and the growing field of disaster studies.

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Performing the Temple of Liberty

Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760–1850

Jenna M. Gibbs

Jenna M. Gibbs explores the world of theatrical and related print production on both sides of the Atlantic in an age of remarkable political and social change. Her deeply researched study of working-class and middling entertainment covers the period of the American Revolution through half of the next century, examining controversy over the place of black people in the Anglo-American moral imagination. Taking a transatlantic and nearly century-long view, Performing the Temple of Liberty draws on a wide range of performed texts as well as ephemera—broadsides, ballads, and cartoons—and traces changes in white racial attitudes. Gibbs asks how popular entertainment incorporated and helped to define concepts of liberty, natural rights, the nature of blackness, and the evils of slavery while also leading to widespread acceptance, in America and in Great Britain, of blackface performance as a form of racial ridicule. Readers follow the migration of theatrical texts, images, and performers between London and Philadelphia. The story is not flattering to either the United States or Great Britain. Gibbs's account demonstrates how British portrayals of Africans ran to the sympathetic and to a definition of liberty that produced slave manumission in 1833, yet incorporated an increasingly racialized sense of cultural superiority. On the American stage, the treatment of blacks devolved into a denigrating, patronizing view embedded both in blackface burlesque and in the idea of "Liberty," the figure of the white goddess. Performing the Temple of Liberty will appeal to readers across disciplinary lines of history, literature, theater history, and culture studies. Scholars and students interested in slavery and abolition, British and American politics and culture, and Atlantic history will also take an interest in this provocative work.

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Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans

Jennifer M. Spear

A microcosm of exaggerated societal extremes—poverty and wealth, vice and virtue, elitism and equality—New Orleans is a tangled web of race, cultural mores, and sexual identities. Jennifer Spear's examination of the dialectical relationship between politics and social practice unravels the city’s construction of race during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Spear brings together archival evidence from three different languages and the most recent and respected scholarship on racial formation and interracial sex to explain why free people of color became a significant population in the early days of New Orleans and to show how authorities attempted to use concepts of race and social hierarchy to impose order on a decidedly disorderly society. She recounts and analyzes the major conflicts that influenced New Orleanian culture: legal attempts to impose racial barriers and social order, political battles over propriety and freedom, and cultural clashes over place and progress. At each turn, Spear’s narrative challenges the prevailing academic assumptions and supports her efforts to move exploration of racial formation away from cultural and political discourses and toward social histories. Strikingly argued, richly researched, and methodologically sound, this wide-ranging look at how choices about sex triumphed over established class systems and artificial racial boundaries supplies a refreshing contribution to the history of early Louisiana.

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