Sex and the Eighteenth-century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America

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Beacon Press, 2006 - History - 223 pages
4 Reviews
Sex is noticeably absent from our contemporary obsession with histories chronicling the founding generations, the Revolutionary War, or the struggles of the early colonists. Moreover, it is rarely associated with colonial men. After all, most would assume that masculinity is the stuff of politics, commerce, or hard physical labor. But Thomas Foster turns this conventional portrait on its head. Vividly using court records, newspapers, sermons, and private papers from Massachusetts, he shows that sex—understood as a mix of behaviors, desires, and identities associated with eroticism—was a crucial component of the colonial understanding of the qualities considered befitting for a man.

Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man begins by examining how men, as heads of households, ultimately held responsibility for sex within marriage and the sexual behaviors of dependents and household members. Foster then turns to how sex solidified bonds in the community, including commercial ties among men. Starkly challenging current views, the book details early understandings of sexual orientation and a surprising number of stereotypes until now believed to originate a century later, including those of the black rapist and the unmanly sodomite—figures that underscore norms of white male heterosexuality.

As this engrossing study shows, we cannot understand the problems associated with the idea of manhood in America today without coming to terms with our past.

"This is an innovative contribution to our growing knowledge of sexual identities in eighteenth-century America. Foster frames a discussion of same-sex sexuality in the context of a rich body of evidence for such 'nascent sexual types' as the effeminate fop, the bachelor and the sodomite. The gems he has found in Massachusetts newspapers and court testimony make this an absorbing, well-argued work."
—Alfred Young, author of Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier

"In this thoroughly researched and well-crafted book, Tom Foster shows convincingly that American notions of sexuality and manliness have long been linked in complex ways. He has uncovered a history that we need to know—a history that exposes the roots of many contemporary attitudes toward masculinity."
—Mary Beth Norton, author of Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society

"Thomas Foster's intriguing book reveals what sex meant to eighteenth-century men. He argues persuasively that all matters concerning sexuality, including premarital fornication, marital sex, infidelity, same-sex intimacy, desire, impotency, sexual violence, and interracial sex, were linked to ideals of masculinity. Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man shows impressive range."
—Elizabeth Reis, author of Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England

"Tom Foster has given us a bold new interpretation of the importance of male sexuality to Puritan society. Sex, he reveals, was at the center of eighteenth-century understandings of ideal and deviant manhood—presenting a world where ideal manhood was constructed against nascent sexual types of the sexually suspect bachelor, the dangerous black rapist, and the effeminate sodomite - and demonstrating that 'inner states of desire' contributed to the identities early American men fashioned for themselves. Skillfully researched and gracefully written, Sex and the Eighteenth- Century Man makes an important contribution to the history of sexuality and the historical study of manhood in America."
—Clare A. Lyons, author of Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution

"Such rich rhetorical material makes it clear that Foster chose his evidence with an eye toward not only illuminating readers, but—rarity of rarities in the historical profession—entertaining them as well."
—The Texas Observer, review in the January 12th issue

Thomas A. Foster teaches in the department of history at DePaul University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - snash - LibraryThing

Includes many quotes from court cases, sermons, and newspapers to illustrate the attitudes of Massachusetts people in the 1700"s to what a male's sexual role was supposed to be, much of that ... Read full review

Review: Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America

User Review  - Donald - Goodreads

Reading, I thought to myself this was more like a doctoral thesis. Sure enough ... Read full review

About the author (2006)

Thomas A. Foster is an Associate Professor in the department of history at DePaul University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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