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Sexual Revolution in Early Americaby Richard Godbeer
Synopses & Reviews
"Colonial history will never quite be the same... 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." — Washington Times
Book News Annotation:
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)
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.
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
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