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Aristocratic Gentlemanliness and Revolutionary Masculinities among Virginia’s Delegation to the Continental Congress, 1774-1776

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Jewett, Amanda Averall. “Aristocratic Gentlemanliness and Revolutionary Masculinities among Virginia’s Delegation to the Continental Congress, 1774-1776.” (Under the direction of Dr. Craig Thompson Friend.)

There was never one type of manhood practiced in Virginia during from 1774 to 1776. Instead, different masculinities blended and overlapped to reflect changes in culture and society. While elements such as public validation and an honorable reputation persevered across gender constructions, they meant different things to different men in the early years of revolution.

The American Revolution unleashed democratic, military, regional, and intellectual impulses that gave impetus to forms of manhood that helped to erode aristocratic gentlemanliness. Militant, intellectual, and southern men absorbed some ideals of aristocratic gentlemanliness like honor and public virtue, while abandoning others including submission and restraint. The Revolution and meetings with other men in the Continental Congress contributed to the dismissal of these principles as Virginians responded to changes in their political and social roles on a larger stage.

Ultimately, the need for public approval ties all of these Virginians together. Validation of one’s gender and class from outside observers, be it fellow Virginian planters or delegates from other colonies, is the most permanent aspect of masculinity during these years. While other types of manhood—military, Enlightenment, and southern—broke from or changed several traits of aristocratic gentlemanliness, the requirement of public confirmation for status endured.

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