Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia

Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia

by Kathleen M. Brown




Kathleen Brown examines the origins of racism and slavery in British North America from the perspective of gender. Both a basic social relationship and a model for other social hierarchies, gender helped determine the construction of racial categories and the institution of slavery in Virginia. But the rise of racial slavery also transformed gender relations, including ideals of masculinity. In response to the presence of Indians, the shortage of labor, and the insecurity of social rank, Virginia's colonial government tried to reinforce its authority by regulating the labor and sexuality of English servants and by making legal distinctions between English and African women. This practice, along with making slavery hereditary through the mother, contributed to the cultural shift whereby women of African descent assumed from lower-class English women both the burden of fieldwork and the stigma of moral corruption. Brown's analysis extends through Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, an important juncture in consolidating the colony's white male public culture, and into the eighteenth century. She demonstrates that, despite elite planters' dominance, wives, children, free people of color, and enslaved men and women continued to influence the meaning of race and class in colonial Virginia.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807823071
Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/25/1996
Series: Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press
Edition description: 1
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.44(d)

About the Author

Kathleen M. Brown is associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments Illustrations and Tables Abbreviations and Notes on the Text Introduction

Part I: Gender Frontiers

Chapter 1. Gender and English Identity on the Eve of Colonial Settlement Chapter 2. The Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier Chapter 3. "Good Wives" and "Nasty Wenches": Gender and Social Order in a Colonial Settlement

Part II: Engendering Racial Difference

Chapter 4. Engendering Racial Difference, 1640-1670
Chapter 5. Vile Rogues and Honorable Men: Nathaniel Bacon and the Dilemma of Colonial Masculinity Chapter 6. From "Foul Crimes" to "Spurious Issue": Sexual Regulation and the Social Construction of Race Chapter 7. "Born of a Free Woman": Gender and the Politics of Freedom

Part III: Class and Power in the Eighteenth Century

Chapter 8. Marriage, Class Formation, and the Performance of Male Gentility Chapter 9. Tea Table Discourses and Slanderous Tongues: The Domestic Choreography of Female Identities Chapter 10. Anxious Patriarchs

Afterword Notes Index


1. Colonial Virginia in the Middle of the Seventeenth Century
2. The Powhatans and Their Neighbors in 1607


1. Pocahontas
2. Indian Woman
3. Captain John Smith
4. Powhatan Addressing His People
5. Bastardy Cases Attributed to White Servant Women by Decade, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties
6. Inventory of Edward Nicken Signed by Mary Nicken
7. Westover Floor Plan, circa 1726
8. Lucy Parke Byrd
9. Virginian Luxuries

1. Successful Tax-Exemption Petitions, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties
2. Slander Cases, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties
3. Reported Runaway Servants and Slaves, 1643-1675, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties
4. Punishments for Bastardy by White Female Servants, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties
5. Interracial Bastardy Offenses by White Servant Women, 1660-1729, Norfolk, Lancaster, and York Counties

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Meticulously researched, carefully reasoned, and gracefully written, this book should be on the reading list of every historian.—American Historical Review

Kathleen Brown has written an important book that is going to revolutionize our understanding of colonial Virginia, of the origins of slavery, and of the role of gender in the evolution of early American society. . . . An admirable combination of sophisticated conceptual design and richly textured and original data . . . that will have a major intellectual impact across the fields of American history.—Drew Gilpin Faust, author of Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War

Kathleen Brown's magnificent book, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs, places gender at the center of early Virginia history for the first time. Her interpretations are persuasive because they are informed by judicious use of feminist theories and by an insistence that early Virginia was a changing tri-racial society.—Allan Kulikoff, Northern Illinois University

Should be a standard purchase for all academic libraries with holdings in U.S. history.—Choice

An ambitious work, elaborate in construction and prodigious in research. . . . It could reshape profoundly our understanding of the history of colonial Virginia. . . . This big book is intriguing, provocative, and deeply unsettling.—Journal of Southern History

One of the most important and interesting books ever published about colonial Virginia history.—Virginia Libraries

In the early days of women's history, its practitioners promised that the study of women would one day change the way we look at history itself. Arguing that gender and sexuality were central to the development of both slavery and the eighteenth century's plantation elite, Kathleen Brown makes good on that promise.—Suzanne Lebsock, University of Washington

This book is . . . crucial to our understanding not only of gender but of race and power in colonial Virginia.—Journal of Southwest Georgia History

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews