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Ladies and Gentlemen on Display

Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790–1860

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 293
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  • Book Info
    Ladies and Gentlemen on Display
    Book Description:

    Each summer between 1790 and 1860, hundreds and eventually thousands of southern men and women left the diseases and boredom of their plantation homes and journeyed to the healthful and entertaining Virginia Springs. While some came in search of a cure, most traveled over the mountains to enjoy the fashionable society and participate in an array of social activities.

    At the springs, visitors, as well as their slaves, interacted with one another and engaged in behavior quite different from the picture presented by most historians. In the leisurely and pleasure-filled environment of the springs, plantation society's hierarchies became at once more relaxed and more contested; its rituals and rules sometimes changed and reformed; and its gender divisions often softened and blurred.

    In Ladies and Gentlemen on Display, Charlene Boyer Lewis argues that the Virginia Springs provided a theater of sorts, where contests for power between men and women, fashionables and evangelicals, blacks and whites, old and young, and even northerners and southerners played out-away from the traditional roles of the plantation. In their pursuit of health and pleasure, white southerners created a truly regional community at the springs. At this edge of the South, elite southern society shaped itself, defining what it meant to be a "Southerner" and redefining social roles and relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2199-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-1)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    “HERE I AM AMONGST THE THRONG, WHO . . . ARE VISiting these mountainous regions, some in search of health, others of pleasure, some travelling because they are tired of home and others because they are tired of themselves[,] some to make a display and others to see it.” So wrote Samuel Mordecai from the Virginia Springs in 1817.¹ The attractions of the springs resorts amidst the mountains and valleys of Virginia drew a multitude of visitors from across the country, especially the South. Each season between 1790 and 1860, hundreds and eventually thousands of southern men and women left...

  6. PART 1 The Scene
    (pp. 13-56)

    IN THE LATE 1700S CAPT. HANCOCK LEE, WHO SUFFERED from chronic gout, recognized the value—both medicinal and monetary—of a mineral spring that he found in Fauquier County, Virginia. Lee purchased the property and built a wooden lodge for himself and the few invalids already visiting the healing waters. He later sold the property to his son, Hancock Lee Jr., and his son’s partner, Thomas Green. Envisioning a full-scale pleasure resort along both banks of the Rappahannock River similar to the ones flourishing in Europe and developing west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the new owners purchased three thousand...

  7. PART 2 Healing Waters
    (pp. 57-98)

    “IN THE COURSE OF MY LIFE . . . THESE HEALING WATERS have exerted the happiest effects uponmyhealth and constitution,” seventyone-year-old John Hartwell Cocke Sr. recorded in his journal during a trip to the Virginia Springs in 1851. He had come to the springs, as on earlier visits, to improve his “enfeebled health.” Cocke made his first trip over the mountains in 1799 when he was just nineteen. At that time, he remembered many years later, the baths had “operated like a charm in restoring me to good health.” His future wife, Louisa Maxwell, also visited the springs in the...

  8. PART 3 Community and Competition
    (pp. 99-208)

    WHEN JANE CAROLINE NORTH AND HER RELATIVES ALIGHTED from the stage at Warm Springs, their first stop on the Virginia Springs circuit, she “felt a littlescared” at the fashionably dressed visitors staring at her and the other “dusty[,] weary & travel worn” newcomers. The South Carolinian feared, as well, the sight her unkempt group would make in the dining room. Luckily, everyone else had already eaten. During the rest of her long stay at the springs, North always appeared among the company fashionably dressed and achieved the desired results, noting on one occasion that “the effect seemed to meet...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-214)

    IN EARLY JULY 1861 MARY BOYKIN CHESNUT ARRIVED AT Fauquier White Sulphur Springs with a large group of women and men, including her husband James, Robert Barnwell, Mrs. John Preston, and other members of Confederate President Jefferson and Varina Davis’s inner circle. Across the lawn they saw former Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell and his family, “disconsolate” since resigning his seat “for a cause that he is hardly more than half in sympathy with.” Even as Chesnut and her party enjoyed the effects of the water, they suffered—with great “selfcontrol under such trying circumstances”—the company of various...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 215-264)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 265-284)
  12. Index
    (pp. 285-293)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-294)