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Conclusion: Toward the Eighteenth Century I seem'd not to Mourn that . . . it was an Offence against God and my Neighbour; but I mourn'd that I was to be punish'd for it. DANIEL DEFOE, Moll Flanders ( 1722) EI GHTEENTH - C E NTURY Virginia planters William Byrd II and Landon Carter often sat as magistrates in their local county courts; but unlike their seventeenth-century counterparts, they seemed to encounter few brabbling women in their courtrooms. Neither man commented extensively on the appearance of women in public spaces such as courtrooms. Much to their irritation, however, both found their households full of disorderly women. Carter, for instance, wrote dis­ dainfully about his slave, Nelly, calling her "Mrs. Impudence" and concluding that she was so bad-tempered that "no husband will keep to her long. " 1 For his part, Byrd complained frequently of the tempes­ tuousness of his wife, Lucy Parke Byrd, and their arguments. His slave women ran away and pilfered his goods, and he often had them whipped for their "abundance" of faults.2 Such turmoil, while clearly apprehended by household dependents, was often-although not al­ ways-shielded from public view.3 As Virginians moved from the seventeenth to the eighteenth centuries, their households continued toward the privatization of domestic life. As a result, the voices of dis­ orderly women in eighteenth-century Virginia are screened more through private documents such as the diaries of Carter and Byrd and less through the court records examined in the pages of this book. In eighteenth-century Virginia, women were less likely to use brab­ bling speech to empower themselves or find that such speech was pub­ licly effective. While declining mortality rates and more even ratios of men to women had improved everyday existence for most women, the formal public sphere of politics and courtrooms increasingly margin­ alized white women, free blacks, and, of course, slaves. Single women 140 Conclusion I4I such as Ann Collins, free or indentured, still faced legal punishments for fornication and out-of-wedlock pregnancy; but the courts exhib­ ited less concern for their partners or their words. Slave women such as Mary Aggie found avenues to freedom even more sharply curtailed and more laws to regulate and constrain their movements. Free black women such as Jane Webb met with increasing hostility, marginalized status, and poor ability to protect their offspring. Widows such as El­ isheba Vaulx who headed households found their control over prop­ erty lessened. The voices of women were unlikely to emerge in or matter to public culture until the Revolution, and they had fewer le­ gal avenues to resist their conditions. If the import of women's brabbling speech diminished in eigh­ teenth-century Virginia, some women found alternative venues for political expression. In 1 699, Virginia's burgesses barred women from voting or holding public office; Virginia was the only colony in British North America that did so explicitly.4 Still, free white women were able to translate their legal liabilities into avenues of agency but not as their seventeenth-century counterparts had done: through brab­ bling speeches and by raising hoes at authorities. On local levels, how­ ever, women, both wittingly and unintentionally, continued to play key roles in local electoral politics and in the formal public. In elec­ tioneering, candidates' wives (and their slaves) could and did en­ gage in illicit activities and, by doing so, protected husbands from charges of impropriety.5 In elections as well, women's property be­ came critical to the enfranchisement of their husbands; and elite women used their property to expressly enfranchise male heirs.6 Whether or not they intended to do so, women could have an influ­ ence on the political fortunes of men. The American Revolution ush­ ered in an era of extensive political activism on the part of free white women: high-ranking women could be significant political actors; un­ married women had influential political voices; and many women en­ gaged in meaningful, if often gendered, political activity such as boycotts and fundraising.7 These activities did not challenge male dominance or patriarchy but, like the enfranchisement just discussed, aided male efforts.8 Yet while women were political participants in the Revolution, they did not challenge gender roles in the same ways as their seventeenth-century counterparts, who hefted their hoes at the colony's leaders. The days of that sort of insurgent female politi­ cal action were gone. But even as women were relegated to increas­ ingly private...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801469930
Related ISBN
9780801440526
MARC Record
OCLC
857065590
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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