Summer Book Club, Week 5

Brown GWNWWelcome to the semifinal edition of the Junto Summer Book Club! Before we head into the closing week, let’s pause at Chapters 8 and 9 of Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs, to remember the ladies—and gentlemen—who invested in creating Virginian society. Continue reading

Summer Book Club, Week 4

Brown GWNWAfter a hiatus for Independence Day Week, we’re back today for chapters six and seven of Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs. These chapters guide us into the eighteenth century, showing how an increasingly recognizable racial order, predicated on the authority of white householders, took shape in Virginia.

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Summer Book Club, Week 3

Brown GWNWThis week in the Junto Summer Book Club we’ll be looking at chapters 4 and 5, in which Brown looks first at the beginnings of Virginia’s slave system in the mid-seventeenth century, and then at the memorable—and highly teachable—events of Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1670s. Continue reading

Summer Book Club, Week 2

Cover ImageWelcome to the second installment of the Junto Summer Book Club! We discussed the introduction and first chapter of Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs during Week 1. This week we’ll consider Chapters 2 and 3. With these chapters, Brown transports us across the Atlantic Ocean, shifting her focus from early modern Britain to the early years of English settlement in Virginia.

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Summer Book Club, Week 1

Welcome to the Junto Summer Book Club, where over the next six Fridays we will be reading and discussing Kathleen Brown’s 1996 book, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, & Anxious Patriarchs. Each week, a Junto representative will write a brief post on that week’s chapters to offer a few opening remarks and raise some questions to get the discussion started. We will then open up the comments section for you to address any topic related to the book—its argument, Brown’s use of sources, the historiography, using it in the classroom or in a public setting, to name just a few. We look forward to a lively conversation and to seeing how it develops over the next several weeks.

This week, we begin our conversation with the Introduction and Chapter 1, “Gender and English Identity on the Eve of Colonial Settlement.”

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Announcing the Junto Summer Book Club

With summer upon us, many of us are turning our attention to reading lists, whether for upcoming graduate exams, syllabus preparation, research, or pleasure. For many, it’s an opportunity to catch up on new work that sat neglected during the push through the final weeks of the semester and exams, but it’s also an opportunity to return to more classic books that have shaped the field and deserve reconsideration. Plus, we at the Junto love nothing more than to discuss and argue about history. Therefore, we would like to introduce a new feature: the Junto Summer Book Club.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Sunday! With the excitement from March Madness still ringing through the halls at The Junto, we look forward to bringing you more great content on a wide range of issues in early American history in the coming weeks (including an interview with Mike Jarvis, our champion!). In the meantime, let’s head right to this week’s links!
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Just How Free Was Religious Life in the Early American Republic?

Religious liberty, perhaps, is the key legacy of the Revolutionary generation. The new United States was a society where slavery was a growing economic force, gender inequality was becoming entrenched, and the new nation’s expansion relied on the exploitation and expropriation of Native Americans. If there was one freedom, however, on the march in the early republic it was religious freedom. The progress of religious freedom in the United States was also the progress of religion itself. “[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the state” noted James Madison, that famous advocate of religious liberty, in an 1819 letter.[1] Religious freedom, then, is the American freedom. This has been the animating assumption behind most scholarship on the religious development of late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Continue reading

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

George Wythe represented the best of the Revolutionary-era Virginia gentry. Wythe, as a law professor, instructed and inspired many of the leading lights of the Patriot movement, including Thomas Jefferson. Wythe was also a racial liberal. After his wife’s death he freed the family’s slaves and even went as far as to adopt and pay for the education of one of their number, a young man named Michael Brown. By the opening years of the nineteenth century Wythe served as chancellor of Virginia’s court of equity where he handed down a monumental decision in the case of Wright v. Hudgins, which held that the burden of proof in cases of runaway slaves rested with the enslaver – not the accused runaway.

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The American Dilemma

The influence of Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia is inarguable. For such a lean volume it casts a long shadow upon our understandings of colonial Virginia, the development of slavery in the American South, the relationship between racism and equality, and a variety of other interpretative problems large and small. Scholars since the book’s publication have revised and extended its arguments—into questions of gender and class consciousness—and more than a few have sought to topple its conclusions but Morgan’s central contention that “[r]acism made it possible for white Virginians to develop a devotion to the equality that English republicans had declared to be the soul of liberty” remains more or less intact.[1] During my graduate education, at both the master’s and doctoral levels, Morgan’s arguments have served as the starting point in many a seminar meeting’s discussion of America’s long history of racial inequality. Few interpretations of any historical question can claim such sustained influence.

The question I pondered, as I reread American Slavery, American Freedom for this essay, is simple: why? Why has Morgan’s interpretation of colonial Virginia survived, despite the many shifts in the historiographical winds over the last thirty-eight years, when many other powerfully argued interpretations have withered and died? What gives this book its continuing appeal to the historical profession? Continue reading

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