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Colonial Virginia Books

Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (1996)

Brown explores the interplay between race and gender in this fascinating and challenging book. In places the argument is complex, but the narrative lying beneath the argument is both readable and compelling. Readers looking for a detailed and authoritative survey of the laws and attitudes surrounding race and gender in colonial Virginia will be rewarded.

Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975)

This classic exploration of Jamestown and colonial Virginia attempts to explain the evolution of a colony paradoxically committed to both slavery and freedom. It is academic but highly readable—its provocative analysis is contained within a well-paced and fascinating narrative.

Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (1982)

In this Pulitzer Prize winning book Isaac explores life and society in Virginia during the second half of the eighteenth century. This is not straightforward narrative or political history. Instead Isaac takes on a wide range of subjects including the organization and use of space, festive culture, religious belief, and community experience. Isaac advances an important argument about the egalitarian challenges to the Virginia's old order emerging after 1740. But the book's subject matter and structure allow readers with less time to selectively explore various slices of colonial Virginia life.

Charles Sydnor, American Revolutionaries in the Making: Political Practices in Washington's Virginia (1952)

This is an old book, but students interested in a short and provocative introduction to Virginia's distinctive political culture will find it useful. Portions of Sydnor's argument have been challenged by more recent scholarship. But the book's description of Virginia's political processes—including the election-day tradition of "swilling the planters with bumbo"—remains unsurpassed.

Donald Mathews, Religion in the Old South (1977)

This book ranges beyond Virginia and the eighteenth century. But it remains the best introduction to southern religion available. It is particularly good in exploring the disruptive impact of evangelicalism on southern society and struggle within evangelicalism over slavery.

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