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

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With few exceptions, sex is noticeably absent from popular histories chronicling colonial and Revolutionary America. Moreover, it is rarely associated specifically with early American men. This is in part because sex and family have traditionally been associated with women, while politics and business are the historic province of men. But Thomas Foster turns this conventional view on its head. Through the use of court records, newspapers, sermons, and private papers from Massachusetts, he vividly shows that sex—the behaviors, desires, and identities associated with eroticism —was a critical component of 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, held ultimate responsibility for sex—not only within their own marriages but also for the sexual behaviors of dependents and members of their households. Foster then examines the ways sex solidified bonds in the community, including commercial ties among men, and how sex operated in courtship and social relations with women. Starkly challenging current views about the development of sexuality in America, the book details early understandings of sexual identity and locates a surprising number of stereotypes until now believed to have originated a century later, among them the black rapist and the unmanly sodomite, figures that serve to reinforce cultural norms of white male heterosexuality.

As this engrossing and surprising study shows, we cannot understand manliness today or in our early American past without coming to terms with the oft-hidden relationship between sex and masculinity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
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

"Saucy . . . Foster argues that our view of colonial America is much too chaste. You might not know it from reading those blockbusting biographies of the founding fathers, but sex was everywhere." —Matthew Price, New York Times Book Review

"For both what it shows and what it suggests, Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man casts its eye on a fascinating and pivotal place and time. It's a book sure to add a new dimension to readers' understanding of masculinity's myriad forms." —Michael Bronski, The Guide

"Vital reading for anyone seriously interested in American history or gender studies." —Publishers Weekly

"An important work that deserves a home in every academic institution in this country . . . a fascinating and engaging read for any fan of American culture or the history of sexuality."—Michael G. Cornelius, Bloomsbury Review

Publishers Weekly
This compelling study of 18th-century male gender mores and sexuality is filled with engrossing historical details, demonstrating that 18th-century American ideas about masculinity were complexly tied to religion, economics and the body. For example, a 1746 newspaper article proposed a tax on single people, since they "promise no help to the future generation"; American colonists understood male effeminacy to be as much a sign of wasteful consumption as sexual deviance; and in 1742 Rev. John Cleveland referred to God as "his first husband." Foster, assistant professor of history at DePaul University, has mined a variety of primary sources, including letters and diaries of colonial men, 18th-century Boston newspapers and moral guidebooks such as Daniel Lewes's 1725 The Sins of Youth, many of which have not been analyzed before. He uncovers intriguing and historically important examples that provoke rethinking of the history of gender in America, and he also makes some bold claims including debunking Michel Foucault's famous dictum that before modernism, sexuality was defined by actions not identities. This is vital reading for anyone seriously interested in American history or gender studies. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807050392
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/3/2007
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,012,608
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

Introduction     ix
"He Is Not a Man, That Hath Not a Woman"     3
Sex and the Shattering of Household Order     23
Rape and Seduction: Masculinity, Misogyny, and Male Sexuality     53
Sex and the Community of Men     77
"Half-men": Bachelors, Effeminacy, and Sociability     101
"When Day and Night Together Move": Men and Cross-Cultural Sex     129
"The Paths of Monstrous Joy"     155
Conclusion     175
Acknowledgments     181
Notes     183
Index     219
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2013

    This monograph is a much needed addition to the history of Ameri

    This monograph is a much needed addition to the history of America. Foster opens up his work explaining that sex in early America did in fact occur, although one would not realize it from the texts taught in most U.S. History courses. I chose Foster's book for a critical book review in a History of Sexuality university course. It was an engaging read that did not speak over my head, nor was it too simplistic. Foster's argument is sound and his source material is rich and creative. With exerpts from diaries, letters, official documents, and newsprint Foster shows the depthfulness of male sexuality in eighteenth century America. Beyond simply telling the reader that men in eighteenth century America had sex, Foster shows the reader how the sexuality of these men connected to their political, economic, and social lives. Highly recommended read for students and professors of American history...and anyone else interested in learning what the founding fathers were up to behind close doors.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2006

    good read

    This is a smart and interesting account of what colonial men thought about sex and how it was part of their daily lives and their identities as men. Eighteenth-century people were surprisingly openly about sex. This was definitely not part of my college history class! The book covers a lot of topics including marriage, homosexuality, race, and courtship. I recommend this book to people interested in the history of homosexuality, sexuality, or colonial America. I learned a lot about eighteenth century America while being entertained by interesting stories about colonial relationships. I love the stories depicting 'courtship' and divorce. It was interesting to see how some of these ideas still carry forward to today.

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