Sexual Revolution in Early America

Front Cover
JHU Press, Apr 5, 2002 - History - 430 pages
6 Reviews

In 1695, John Miller, a clergyman traveling through New York, found it appalling that so many couples lived together without ever being married and that no one viewed "ante-nuptial fornication" as anything scandalous or sinful. Charles Woodmason, an Anglican minister in South Carolina in 1766, described the region as a "stage of debauchery" in which polygamy was "very common," "concubinage general," and "bastardy no disrepute." These depictions of colonial North America's sexual culture sharply contradict the stereotype of Puritanical abstinence that persists in the popular imagination.

In Sexual Revolution in Early America, Richard Godbeer boldly overturns conventional wisdom about the sexual values and customs of colonial Americans. His eye-opening historical account spans two centuries and most of British North America, from New England to the Caribbean, exploring the social, political, and legal dynamics that shaped a diverse sexual culture. Drawing on exhaustive research into diaries, letters, and other private papers, as well as legal records and official documents, Godbeer's absorbing narrative uncovers a persistent struggle between the moral authorities and the widespread expression of popular customs and individual urges.

Godbeer begins with a discussion of the complex attitude that the Puritans had toward sexuality. For example, although believing that sex could be morally corrupting, they also considered it to be such an essential element of a healthy marriage that they excommunicated those who denied "conjugal fellowship" to their spouses. He next examines the ways in which race and class affected the debate about sexual mores, from anxieties about Anglo-Indian sexual relations to the sense of sexual entitlement that planters held over their African slaves. He concludes by detailing the fundamental shift in sexual culture during the eighteenth century towards the acceptance of a more individualistic concept of sexual desire and fulfillment. Today's moral critics, in their attempts to convince Americans of the social and spiritual consequences of unregulated sexual behavior, often harken back to a more innocent age; as this groundbreaking work makes clear, America's sexual culture has always been rich, vibrant, and contentious.

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bezoar44 - LibraryThing

A delightful and illuminating survey of competing and evolving views of sexuality in British colonial North America. In a series of chapters that could easily stand alone (and, in some cases, probably ... Read full review

Review: Sexual Revolution in Early America

User Review  - Marc - Goodreads

An exceptionally enlightening, thorough and substantial account of colonial society that would otherwise go unexplored; Godbeer's interwoven analysis that frontier society must accommodate its margins to ensure survival makes this a model for academic literature Read full review

Contents

II
1
III
17
IV
19
V
52
VI
84
VII
117
VIII
119
IX
154
XI
225
XII
227
XIII
264
XIV
299
XV
335
XVI
341
XVII
415
Copyright

X
190

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Page 419 - Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973); Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860," American Quarterly 18 (1966): 151-74.
Page 419 - David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971...

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About the author (2002)

Richard Godbeer is a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.

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