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Sexual Revolution in Early America / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
Godbeer's is the first serious assessment of the role of sex in Puritan thought and behavior.

— Edmund S. Morgan

Journal of American History
Sexual Revolution in Early America does bring our focus back to the most basic aspect of human behavior, and it does so in the proper and revealing context of social relations. It also adds a new dimension to the strain of early American historiography that emphasizes the persistence of English folk beliefs.

— Daniel R. Mandell

American Historical Review
Godbeer's holistic approach to early American sexual attitudes makes this study fresh. His knowledge of Puritan sexual mores informs his lovely reading of the sensuality of Puritan spirituality and illuminates Puritan sexual subjectivity.

— Kathleen Brown

William and Mary Quarterly
Drawing on and synthesizing an impressive array of scholarly and archival sources, Godbeer reconstructs an early American sexual geography that is best characterized, not by a topography of liberation and repression, but by divisions along three overlapping axes of power... The payoff in Sexual Revolution in Early America lies in the details.

— Bruce Burgett

Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
Richard Godbeer has crafted a well-woven narrative on the ever popular and riveting subject of human sexuality... Sexual Revolution in Early America will stand as a foundational text for the history of sexuality in early American studies.

— Janet Moore Lindman

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
This is a landmark study of early modern sexual attitudes and behavior; it is eloquently written; and it is an important contribution to a growing body of scholarship on early American sexuality... Once again he [Godbeer] proves to be a master at distinguishing between the thoughts and desires of social eleites and the urges and behavior of ordinary folk.

— Debra Meyers

Choice

Readers under the misapprehension that the sexual revolution was one of the many new movements that changed the US in the 1960s should run to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of Godbeer's Sexual Revolution in Early America. Taking his cue from the numerous historians who have researched and written on the new social history of early America, Godbeer mined innumerable primary and secondary sources to create an accurate portrayal of sex in Colonial America... An excellent narrative of life in early America.

New England Quarterly
Important... Godbeer pays meticulous attention to the details of cultural meaning and practice... The book's regional and chronological range is impressive... and the author's facility with such a wide variety of sources touching on typically private and thus seemingly inaccessible matters might serve as a model for scholars.

— Elizabeth Reis

New Republic
Richard Godbeer challenges our traditional stereotypes of colonial America by recovering a remarkable volume of sexual discussion and debate, prosecution and evasion... In both their sexual excesses and anxieties, Godbeer's colonists seem surprisingly modern and accessible.

— Alan Taylor

Religious Studies Review
An astute, wide-ranging analysis... This is an excellent piece of scholarship. Based on extensive research in all sorts of printed sources and private documents, and covering much of the territory of British North America, it will likely remain the most detailed treatment of the subject for years to come.

— Douglas A. Sweeney

Journal of the American Medical Association
The first comprehensive history of sexuality in early America. It is based on daunting archival scholarship, particularly in legal records, and attention to the details of social life, but is written with such verve and humanity that many of the personages the author considers here come alive off the page. Many of the sexual dramas Godbeer relates will seem familiar to the modern reader: adulterous lovers, the sexual experimentation of youth, the shame of vice revealed for all to see. But early American society was far more densely leavened with the yeast of Puritanism and moral surveillance than America of the 21st century, so that the contrasts with contemporary sexuality emerge in striking fashion.

— Robert A. Nye

Early American Literature
Godbeer offers a fresh view of the 'moral and cultural architecture' of early America and the American Revolution through his analysis of sexual mores and behavior... Godbeer's readings are important to readings of early American captivity narratives... [and] has clear implications for feminist literary scholars and queer theorists who focus on questions of agency and transgression.

— Lisa M. Logan

Washington Times
Colonial history will never quite be the same. Sexual Revolution in Early America is the most thorough compendium of sexual incidents, attitudes, laws, and literature in British America before 1800.... This work will be the central reference point for our understanding of sexuality in early America for many years to come. The book has much to offer both the casual and the thoughtful reader.

— Evan Haefeli

Washington Times - Evan Haefeli
Colonial history will never quite be the same. Sexual Revolution in Early America is the most thorough compendium of sexual incidents, attitudes, laws, and literature in British America before 1800.... This work will be the central reference point for our understanding of sexuality in early America for many years to come. The book has much to offer both the casual and the thoughtful reader.
Early American Literature - Lisa M. Logan
Godbeer offers a fresh view of the 'moral and cultural architecture' of early America and the American Revolution through his analysis of sexual mores and behavior... Godbeer's readings are important to readings of early American captivity narratives... [and] has clear implications for feminist literary scholars and queer theorists who focus on questions of agency and transgression.
New England Quarterly - Elizabeth Reis
Important... Godbeer pays meticulous attention to the details of cultural meaning and practice... The book's regional and chronological range is impressive... and the author's facility with such a wide variety of sources touching on typically private and thus seemingly inaccessible matters might serve as a model for scholars.
New Republic - Alan Taylor
Richard Godbeer challenges our traditional stereotypes of colonial America by recovering a remarkable volume of sexual discussion and debate, prosecution and evasion... In both their sexual excesses and anxieties, Godbeer's colonists seem surprisingly modern and accessible.
H-Women, H-Net Reviews - Joan R. Gundersen
Richard Godbeer's book on sexuality in colonial British America has been eagerly awaited by those of us who had heard or read parts of this project in conference papers or articles. Those presentations had been filled with fresh insight and careful research. His full study has lived up to its promise. His careful, nuanced study is by far the best discussion of colonial sexuality available to scholars. While not slighting discussions of theory, Godbeer has avoided opaque jargon and balanced the theory with vignettes that bring the period and its people to life.
Journal of the American Medical Association - Robert A. Nye
The first comprehensive history of sexuality in early America. It is based on daunting archival scholarship, particularly in legal records, and attention to the details of social life, but is written with such verve and humanity that many of the personages the author considers here come alive off the page. Many of the sexual dramas Godbeer relates will seem familiar to the modern reader: adulterous lovers, the sexual experimentation of youth, the shame of vice revealed for all to see. But early American society was far more densely leavened with the yeast of Puritanism and moral surveillance than America of the 21st century, so that the contrasts with contemporary sexuality emerge in striking fashion.
Religious Studies Review - Douglas A. Sweeney
An astute, wide-ranging analysis... This is an excellent piece of scholarship. Based on extensive research in all sorts of printed sources and private documents, and covering much of the territory of British North America, it will likely remain the most detailed treatment of the subject for years to come.
American Historical Review - Kathleen Brown
Godbeer's holistic approach to early American sexual attitudes makes this study fresh. His knowledge of Puritan sexual mores informs his lovely reading of the sensuality of Puritan spirituality and illuminates Puritan sexual subjectivity.
Journal of American History - Daniel R. Mandell
Sexual Revolution in Early America does bring our focus back to the most basic aspect of human behavior, and it does so in the proper and revealing context of social relations. It also adds a new dimension to the strain of early American historiography that emphasizes the persistence of English folk beliefs.
William and Mary Quarterly - Bruce Burgett
Drawing on and synthesizing an impressive array of scholarly and archival sources, Godbeer reconstructs an early American sexual geography that is best characterized, not by a topography of liberation and repression, but by divisions along three overlapping axes of power... The payoff in Sexual Revolution in Early America lies in the details.
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society - Debra Meyers
This is a landmark study of early modern sexual attitudes and behavior; it is eloquently written; and it is an important contribution to a growing body of scholarship on early American sexuality... Once again he [Godbeer] proves to be a master at distinguishing between the thoughts and desires of social eleites and the urges and behavior of ordinary folk.
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography - Janet Moore Lindman
Richard Godbeer has crafted a well-woven narrative on the ever popular and riveting subject of human sexuality... Sexual Revolution in Early America will stand as a foundational text for the history of sexuality in early American studies.
New York Review of Books - Edmund S. Morgan
Godbeer's is the first serious assessment of the role of sex in Puritan thought and behavior.
Choice
Readers under the misapprehension that the sexual revolution was one of the many new movements that changed the US in the 1960s should run to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of Godbeer's Sexual Revolution in Early America. Taking his cue from the numerous historians who have researched and written on the new social history of early America, Godbeer mined innumerable primary and secondary sources to create an accurate portrayal of sex in Colonial America... An excellent narrative of life in early America.
Booknews
Godbeer (history, U. of California-Riverside) explains that the early English colonists in North America brought with them a debate concerning sexual conduct that was raging in the mother country at the time. Among his topics are popular sexual mores, Anglo-Indian sexual relations, and sexual freedom in post-independence Philadelphia. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801878916
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Series: Gender Relations in the American Experience Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 638,224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

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

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Sex, Marriage, and Moral Order in Early America 1
I Passionate Pilgrims
1 "Chambering and Wantonising": Popular Sexual Mores in Seventeenth-Century New England 19
2 "A Complete Body of Divinity": The Puritans and Sex 52
3 "Pregnant with the Seeds of All Sin": Regulating Illicit Sex in Puritan New England 84
II Sex and Civility
4 "Living in a State of Nature": Sex, Marriage, and Southern Degenerates 119
5 The Dangerous Allure of "Copper-Coloured Beauties": Anglo-Indian Sexual Relations 154
6 "The Cameleon Lover": Sex, Race, and Cultural Identity in the Colonial South 190
III The Sexual Revolution
7 "Under the Watch": The Metamorphosis of Sexual Regulation in Eighteenth-Century New England 227
8 "A Hint to Young Ladies": Courtship, Sexual Danger, and Moral Agency in Revolutionary America 264
9 "Martyrdom to Venus": Sexual Freedom in Post-Independence Philadelphia 299
Afterword 335
Notes 341
Index 415
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    A Bizzare Must

    Godbeer stitched together quite long lists of ideas from very few sources. As an expert on the subject that he writes on, it appears as though all is in.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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