Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara J. Heath

Committee Members

Walter E. Klippel, Elizabeth J. Kellar, Christopher P. Magra


During the second half of the 17th century Chesapeake society was in flux. European immigrants were expanding their settlements up the rivers and creeks that fed the great bay while simultaneously pushing local Indians to ever-shrinking parcels of unclaimed land. Thrown into this cultural mix were African slaves imported to work the tobacco fields of planters in Virginia and Maryland. The conflict and intimate contacts that stemmed from these encounters forced the reconsideration and construction of important aspects of European, Native, and African identities including class, gender, and race which would have major effects on society in the region that continue to resonate today. This dissertation examines the coalescence of ideas about manhood among European colonists in the Potomac River Valley of Virginia from 1645-1730, focusing on how material culture, combined with unique political and demographic circumstances, was used to construct, reinforce, and challenge manly authority and identity in the Early Modern period in this region of Virginia. The primary question this dissertation begins with is: Did concepts of manly authority and identity change among English colonists in the 17th-century Potomac Valley of Virginia? I then move to questions concerning the details of these changing concepts of authority and identity, their relationship to gender, and the role of material culture in the intersection of these two topics. In order to address these questions I examine the archaeological remains from seven sites occupied from 1647 to 1747, the biographies of the inhabitants of those sites gleaned from primary documents, and both primary and secondary resources related to significant conflicts over authority in the region, specifically Ingle’s Rebellion and Bacon’s Rebellion. The analysis of these datasets reveals that social status, varying economic strategies, and community connections all played major roles in determining how men defined and practiced their identity, showing that identity in the region had not solidified even into the early-18th century. Ultimately, this dissertation illuminates the ways in which colonists were engaging in trans-Atlantic discourses about Englishness, manhood, and womanhood through their actions and through their consumption and use of everyday items.

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