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The Adolescence of Gentry Girls

The Adolescence of Gentry Girls in Late Eighteenth-Century Virginia

by Cathleene B. Hellier

Lucinda Lee Orr is familiar to most historians interested in southern colonial women. The daughter of Thomas Ludwell Lee, a well-to-do Northern Neck planter, and his wife Mary Aylett Lee, her 1787 journal has been available in print since 1871. The journal provides an account of a two-month sojourn to the homes of various relatives, with descriptions of neighborly visits received and returned, novels read and walks taken, and the arrivals and departures of relatives and beaux. Lucinda Lee, an unmarried adolescent with time on her hands, portrayed her life as filled with carefree days and little responsibility. She was not unique. In the second half of the eighteenth century, many Virginia gentry parents allowed daughters in their late teens a time of considerable freedom before they assumed the adult responsibilities of marriage.1

Adolescence has been a fertile topic among scholars seeking to understand life phases in past societies. Whether particular societies recognized a period of adolescence and how they delineated the entry and exit from this phase of life are absorbing research issues. The Virginia gentry of the second half of the eighteenth century clearly recognized adolescence as a distinct life phase, at least for girls. Teen-aged girls were not expected to take on all of the responsibilities of adults, yet their duties and roles differed from those of their younger sisters. Their adolescence appears to have begun somewhere between ages ten and twelve, when their training in housewifery and gentility began in earnest, and, for most girls, adolescence ended with the acceptance of adult responsibility at marriage. For Virginia gentry girls, adolescence consisted of two subphases, usually divided by the completion of their academic educations and characterized by different degrees of social freedom. During the first subphase, parents or guardians sought to prepare girls for adult life by providing, in addition to basic schooling, training in the housewifely arts and the social graces. After most girls had left the schoolroom, they were sent on one or more rounds of visits, mainly to the homes of relatives. This period of visitation was the social institution that completed their acculturation into the adult world of the Chesapeake gentry.2

A gentry girl’s academic education began when she was about six and ended at about age sixteen. 3 The educational process lasted many years, but because its goals were modest, instruction proceeded at a leisured pace. Philip Fithian’s descriptions of the educational progress of the Carter girls under his tutelage at Nomini Hall provide some idea of the academic expectations for young gentry girls in the 1770s, though in an era before age-graded curricula, the correlation between age and achievement remained somewhat fluid. Harriet, at age seven, said all her letters for the first time. Nancy, at thirteen, was reading out of the spelling book, none too well, and beginning to write (presumably with a pen, having learned to write on a slate at an earlier age). Priscilla, at fifteen, was reading the Spectator and learning multiplication and division. Reading and writing English, simple arithmetic, and occasionally French, comprised the typical curriculum for girls educated at home, before the proliferation of academies after the Revolutionary War.4

Although their education was long and slow, young girls’ daily use of time was carefully regimented and monitored. Thomas Jefferson’s instructions to his eleven-year-old daughter Patsy while she was at school in Philadelphia were designed to keep her constructively occupied from 8:00 a.m. until bedtime, with only an hour’s respite at 2:00 p.m. for dinner.5 Young girls educated on the plantation were kept to a school schedule that was varied at the discretion of their parents or tutor. Philip Fithian noted the following daily schedule for the Carter children:

7:00 begin school for the day
8:00 breakfast
9:00 return to school
12:00 school dismissed (He called the period between noon and dinner “school play hours.”)
2:00 dinner
3:00 return to school
5:30 school dismissed for the day

This is essentially the same schedule over which eleven-year-old Maria Carter, daughter of Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, moaned a letter to her cousin:

Now I will give you the History of one Day the Repetition of which without variations carries me through the Three hundred and sixty five Days, which you know compleats the year. Well then first begin, I am awakened out of a sound Sleep with some croaking voice either Patty’s, Milly’s, or some other of our Domestics with Miss Polly, Miss Polly get up, tis time to rise, Mr Price is down Stairs, & tho’ I hear them I lie quite snugg till my Grandmama uses her Voice, then up I get, huddle on my cloaths & down to Book, then to Breakfast, then to School again, & may be I have an Hour to my self before Dinner, then the Same Story over again until twi-light, & then a small portion of time before I go to rest, and so you must expect nothing from me…

Perhaps Maria’s grandmother Maria Byrd, with whom she was living at Westover, was more strict about her school schedule than the Carters at Nomini Hall were. Fithian’s female charges missed school for music and dance lessons, to pay short visits to neighbors, because of illness, and to prepare for special occasions, such as balls. School for all of the children at Nomini was often dismissed early in the winter, perhaps because of failing daylight. During the time allowed for leisure within this schedule, the girls rode on horseback for exercise with other family members or with their tutor, took walks in the garden or to the fields, or in bad weather, stayed inside and did needlework or other indoor activities. After supper, the family often gathered for conversation, music, or games. What becomes clear upon examining Fithian’s diary is that the schoolgirls, during school time and leisure hours, were almost always in the company of one or more adults. They were closely supervised.6

During the early subphase of adolescence, most girls were acquiring the “female accomplishments” prized by genteel society. Dancing and instrumental music were the most common of these. Although some girls began taking dancing lessons during the pre-teen years, a few as young as age nine, most girls began lessons in dance at about twelve or thirteen. At about the same time, they were eligible to attend balls with their parents. Both Catherine (“Kitty”) Tayloe of Mount Airy and Nancy Carter of Nomini Hall attended balls at age thirteen in 1774, but none of the younger Carter daughters did so that year. Few girls began their lessons after sixteen, probably because instruction in dance was deemed important in establishing genteel body carriage, because the evening social dancing at dancing schools was important preparation for the etiquette of assemblies, and because the ability to dance was essential to courtship in Virginia society. Fithian reported that seventeen-year-old Jenny Washington, daughter of John Augustine Washington of Bushfield and niece of George Washington, “had but lately had opportunity of Instruction in Dancing,” but he praised her dancing ability even in the difficult minuet, so that perhaps she had had earlier instruction that had been interrupted. The age at which young women received musical instruction varied widely, however. Perhaps because music teachers did not generally offer group lessons on a given circuit as dancing masters did, opportunities for learning were more limited. Most young women learned dancing before learning to play an instrument, probably for the reasons stated above, and several Virginia girls learned harpsichord or guitar in their late teens.7

Most young girls appear to have begun and completed their training in housewifery during early adolescence as well, although some began training in the pre-teen years. Girls learned household skills from their mothers or, if motherless, from a mother-substitute, such as a stepmother, aunt, or older sister. Thomas Jefferson wrote to his twelve-year-old daughter Mary and asked if she knew how to make a pudding, cut out a beef steak, sow spinach and set a hen. Mary replied, “My cousin Boling and myself made a pudding the other day. My aunt has given us a hen and chickens.” In 1804 Jefferson sent his granddaughter Anne Cary Randolph, then thirteen, some poultry to raise, and the next year supplied some to her nine-year-old sister Ellen. In 1726/7, William Byrd described his nineteen- and twelve-year-old daughters as “up to their elbows in housewifery.” At Nomini Hall, ten-year-old Betty Carter and her eleven-year-old sister Fanny had just begun to knit in imitation of their sister Priscilla, age fifteen. By age fifteen, Judy Carter was performing some of the housewifely duties at Sabine Hall, and by seventeen she was supervising the dairy.8

Reference to sixteen as the accepted age for ending education and beginning increased social activity for genteel females is found in both Virginia and English sources. For example, a female advisor of fourteen-year-old Virginian Maria Nourse wrote her in 1796, “[Y]ou must know that I have pictured to myself that you will make an accomplished Charming girl by the time you are sixteen.” The following exchange between a gentleman and a young noblewoman is found in the novel Cecilia (published in 1782) by Frances Burney:

“And what else,” said Mr. Delvile,… “need a young lady of rank desire to be known for? your ladyship surely would not have her degrade herself by studying like an artist or professor?”

“O no, Sir, I would not have her study at all; it’s mighty well for children, but really after sixteen, and when one is come out, one has quite fatigue enough in dressing, and going to public places, and ordering new things, without all that torment of first and second position, and E upon the first line, and F upon the first space!”

Although Virginia women do not appear to have ceremonially “come out,” and “public places” in Virginia were few, the end of education meant the beginning of increased social activity for Virginia girls as well, usually in the form of visiting.9

Visiting was a common activity for Virginia gentry families. Visiting encompassed anything from an afternoon with the neighbors to a stay of several months with relatives. Visiting was particularly significant to gentry adolescent girls, who were expected, as they matured, to increase their participation in the ritual of visiting, beginning with simple social calls at neighbors’ homes. There are few recorded incidents of girls younger than ten years old visiting the neighbors for dinner, and preteen girls seldom dined abroad. Betty Landon Carter, of Nomini Hall, ten years old, accompanied her mother and older sisters only twice on visits such as these in the space of a year. Her eldest sister Priscilla, at fifteen years, made seven visits to the neighbors within the same time period, twice staying overnight. While on extended visits with her relations, Lucinda Lee paid nine neighborly visits in a little less than two months and was invited two additional times, but did not go. Young girls began their social maturation with brief visits to the neighbors, and it was expected that these visits would increase in frequency as the girls grew older, even when the girls were not living in their parental households.10

In contrast to the close supervision of young adolescents, older teenagers were permitted to go about unaccompanied by adults. They could attend the neighbors in pairs or groups, but occasionally they went alone, or perhaps accompanied only by a servant. A survey of George Washington’s diaries from 1760 through 1770 indicate that several pairs of young women arrived at Mount Vernon for dinner or brief visits lasting more than a day, and that a Miss Manley and Miss Betty Dalton were the only dinner guests on occasion. At many other times, young single women dined with the Washingtons in company with other guests to whom they do not appear to have been related, and thus might not have traveled with them to Mount Vernon. Although unmarried women in their late teens or early twenties were usually escorted by a male or older female family member on longer journeys, they sometimes traveled alone or with only a slave. Lucy Carter of Sabine Hall at age twenty-four rode alone at night from a dance at an ordinary to a planter’s house for accommodation, and her twenty-three-year-old sister Judy returned to Sabine Hall from a visit to her brother at Bull Run in the company of her father’s slave Nat.11

Gentry girls of all ages also spent extended periods in the homes of relatives. Girls without mothers, like Maria Carter mentioned above, were often raised by married sisters, aunts, or grandmothers. Some lived with relatives to take advantage of educational opportunities. For example, Maria Carter’s daughter and son lived with their grandfather to study with the tutor employed for their cousins. Ten-year-old Betsey Braxton took dance lessons from a Williamsburg dancing master while visiting her aunts and grandfather. Families also found it useful to have young female visitors assist during illness, lying in, and other stressful situations. Yet these more practical visits differed in intent from the extended social visits made by girls who had completed their schooling. These extended social sojourns lasted a month or more in the home of a married sibling, aunt, or cousin; sometimes they consisted of a series of stays of relatively short duration in the homes of several relatives.12

The sorts of peregrinations undertaken by Lucinda Lee and other gentry girls were social in nature. When a host family was neither paying nor receiving neighborly visits, the time could pass rather mundanely, as Lucy Armistead of Hesse wrote to her mother, while visiting her married sister Mary Byrd in 1788:

[Y]ou ask me why I did not say more of our neighbours Mrs Braxton is the best we have as for Mrs Page we have never seen her since October We see the inhabitants of Berkeley as often as we do those in the neighborhood

We rise about seven o clock and as soon as we are dresst we go to work [presumably needlework] or read and about eight breakfast comes in as soon as it is over Sister Byrd goes out about her family affairs and while she is out I amuse myself either with playing with little [Tico] or reading. Mr Byrd rides and we work till dinner which comes in at three when the weather is good we generally take a walk when we return we drink either tea or coffee at night we work while Mr Byrd reads to us at nine we go to bed[.]

Most girls, however, enjoyed the company of a house full of hosts, fellow long-term visitors, and drop-in neighbors. The following is a typical entry from Lucinda Lee’s journal:

When we got here [Bushfield] we found the House pretty full. Nancy was here. I had to dress in a great hurry for dinner. We spent the evening very agreeably in chatting… About sunset, Nancy, Milly, and myself took a walk in the Garden [it is a most butifull place]. We were mighty busy cutting thistles to try our sweethearts, when Mr. Washington caught us; and you can’t conceive how he plagued us—chased us all over the Garden, and was quite impertinent.

These visits enabled young women to enlarge their acquaintance among women of their own generation and social rank. Lucinda met Milly Washington of Bushfield for the first time in her travels, and the two agreed to correspond.13

Primarily, however, these rounds of extended visits served to put young women into the marriage market. Maria Carter Beverley was explicit about this when she wrote her cousin who was visiting a married sister in New England:

How can you my Dear Cousin listen to such a vast alteration amongst your Sex without enlisting your self in their Number? I cannot beleive the young Gentlemen of New England are so vastly depraved in their way of Thinking as not to have made you many applications of that Sort. They must by such an omission impeach themselves undoubtedly they cannot be blessed with any great Degree of Penetration to let so many Charms rest unobserved. But why do I run on at this Rate? I remember my grandmama told me you had a great variety of suitors. I should be sorry to you had accepted any of their offers because by that means I should be deprived of any Prospect of seeing you here as a neighbor—but I do not dispute you but your own prudence will direct you in a proper choice.

The whirl of formalized social activities, such as balls and “entertainments,” that characterized these travels were designed to bring young men and women together. During Robert Bolling’s courtship of Anne Miller, she moved from one relation’s house to another in fairly rapid succession. Within six weeks during January and February 1760, the couple participated in six such organized social activities. His description of one of these occasions follows:

The Company [Miss Miller and a group of her relations] went, the next day, to Bolling Starks, as was proposed: and on the 14th to Bob Walker’s, who had prepared an Entertainment. Miss Miller was my Partner. I never in my Life passed Time more to my Satisfaction. Every Part of my Nancy’s Behaviour to me was as I cou’d wish it: and she publicly declared, that, of all Mankind, she chose me for her next Admirer. The Sun arose on our Mirth. My Transports were so great, that I scarce felt any of that Lassitude, which generally attends long Watching and great Exercise…

The young people themselves, either men or women, often planned these activities, but not always. In 1765, William Byrd wrote his neice:

I & the rest of your Relations here beg the Favour of you and Mr. Armistead to spend your Christmas at Westover, where many young People are to make merry. give our Love to your Sisters, & bring them with you. Our Coach shall attend you anywhere at any time.14

The young women also had many opportunities to spend time with young men in more casual circumstances. Lucinda Lee wrote:

It is in the evening. There are two Beaus just come. Mrs. Pinkard tels me I must go and let her introduce them to me. The first I am acquainted with: he is homely, but a mighty worthy Man. The second I never saw before—he is tolerably clever. Nancy and I are going to pore out tea.

She also noted an informal evening of dance:

Two Beaux dined here. Mr. James Thomson and Mr. Ford. In the evening two more came—Mr. Beal and Mr. Joe Thomson. We are all preparing to dance. Adieu: I hear the Fidle.

Mixed groups of young people sometimes moved from house to house. As noted by Robert Bolling, Anne Miller and a group of her relations went on January 13 to Bolling Starke’s and on the fourteenth to Bob Walker’s. On the fifteenth, they returned to Starke’s, where they remained for another day, and on the seventeenth, they were at Herbert Haynes’s. Less than a week later, Bolling and Anne Miller were at Broadway (another Starke plantation) with at least two others, and on the thirty-first, they were in company there with another courting couple, Bolling’s sister, and a young friend of his sister’s. This group went by boat from there to Bolling’s mother’s house, where Bolling and the young ladies spent the greater part of the night in his chamber. Anne Miller conversed at length with him upon the bed. Clearly courtship for gentry girls consisted of many informal contacts and considerable freedom of movement.15

Nor were courting couples routinely chaperoned. Bolling described several occasions when he and Anne Miller were alone together. He recorded two private conversations concerning their relationship. More sexually charged encounters were recorded as well. At the sale of her father’s household effects, in preparation for his departure to Great Britain, the couple “retired unobserved into the Room called the Nursery,” where they spent nearly two hours. On another occasion, at an entertainment at his mother’s home:

I did indeed endeavour to behave to her with indifference; but, coming by Accident into a Chamber, where she was sitting, extremely pensive, on a Bed: I cou’d no longer withhold, but overcome by an Excess of Passion, I threw myself thereon, and pressed her to my Bosom, with a Rapture, which can scarce be conceived… While we were together on the Bed I overlaid and broke a Fan of hers: a Necklace too had already fallen a Sacrifice to my Caresses.

At a later date, in the home of a mutual relative, he attended her to her room when the family retired at night and “continued some time in Conversation…” He “took Leave after the warmest Embraces.” Opportunity for sexual contact of varying degrees of intimacy existed because young men and women were not continually watched over by the persons with whom they were staying. Although some of Bolling’s tete-a-tetes with Anne Miller were conducted with the knowledge of the relatives under whose care she was, other were clearly “stolen moments.” Some relatives were probably less careful than others. Elizabeth Carrington, the former Elizabeth Ambler of Yorktown, wrote a piece of advice to her sister based upon her own experience:

And here an opportunity presents itself of advising you never to leave your daughters a hundred and fifty miles from you with any but a Mother or a Sister. Our relations were Amiable and respectable but believe me that relations however amiable and respectable generally are either too much engaged or too negligent to have charge of thoughtless girls.

That young women sometimes engaged in sexual intercourse in the homes of the relatives they visited was attested to by Richard Randolph, who maintained that he had had intercourse with Elizabeth Taliaferro at the home of her uncle George Wythe.16

Not surprisingly, many of the young men with whom the girls consorted were blood relatives. These extended visits by young women in the homes of their relations facilitated the widespread practice among the Virginia gentry of marriage between cousins. Robert Bolling described how he had fallen in love with his distant cousin Anne Miller: “…the great intimacy, between Relations in this Colony, permitting many Freedoms; I found it impossible to have this Lady in my Arms for Hours together, without feeling such Emotions, as are the unavoidable Consequence of much Familiarity between the Sexes.” In other words, familiarity bred romance.17

The Virginia gentry seldom discouraged marriages between cousins. Landon Carter refused to allow his daughter Judy to keep company with her cousin Reuben Beale, but his primary reason was a personal grudge. On the contrary, the gentry took pride in their interrelatedness and recognized in it a source of power. An immigrant at mid-century recorded the following:

… John Randolph in speaking of the disposition of the Virginian, very freely cautioned us against disobliging or offending any person of note in the Colony we were going to: for says he, either by Blood or marriage, we are almost all related, or so connected in our interests, that whoever of a Stranger presumes to offend any one of us will infallibly find an enemy of the whole nor right nor wrong, do we ever forsake him, till by one means or other, his ruin is accomplished.

Some twenty years later, the same watchword was echoed by William Reynolds, a merchant of Yorktown, in describing his friend John Hatley Norton, the son and Virginia agent of London merchant John Norton:

…to be sure he has a most difficult part to act[.] [A] Man situated as he is to collect money, and at the same time solicit consignments must be posses’d of a great deal of patience & moderation[,] not sometimes by an unguarded Expression to disoblige, for you must well know the family Connections in this Colony are so numerous, that if a Person offends one they dont know where it may stop…

In a culture where gentry solidarity was jealously guarded, cousin marriage served a hegemonic function.18

Adolescents’ long social visits also served to integrate gentry girls into adult society. Becoming part of a household not their own allowed them to see intimately how other women, besides their mothers, managed households and entertained genteelly. Paying and receiving visits to relatives’ adult neighbors increased the girls’ acquaintance among Virginia society, while providing additional models of female management and behavior.19

Besides facilitating courtship and social training, these rounds of visits served other purposes as well. This practice appears to have preserved both parents and girls from some of the thornier issues of parental control during adolescence by allowing the girls a “safe” period of freedom away from their parents between early adolescence, which was characterized by a significant amount of parental control, and the assumption of adult responsibilities upon marriage. The period was “safe” in that the young women were under the care of responsible relations. Yet as we have seen, the girls were allowed considerable freedom as well, and in the cases of married siblings and young aunts and uncles, the responsible relations might have been only a little older than the girls themselves.20

In addition, these extended visits ensured that the exit from adolescence was not controlled only by the parents, in that courtship (marriage being the key to adulthood for most young women of the period) was supervised by the relatives with whom young women temporarily resided. Although parents reserved the right of refusal if they did not approve of the prospective bridegroom, they seldom vetoed the daughter’s choice. The power to grant or refuse exit from adolescence was, therefore, diffused over a larger kinship network.21

Daniel Blake Smith has demonstrated that for most gentry families, parent-child ties were strong. Parents viewed their children with great affection, and children returned their regard. The very nature of this affection might have made it difficult for adolescent girls, never strongly encouraged to be autonomous during childhood, to cut their ties to their families of origin. Parents, too, seem to have found separation emotionally difficult. Charles Carter of Cleve appears to have suffered when his daughter Maria was visiting his daughter Judith and her husband in New England. Addressing Maria in January as “My dear Molly,” he expressed the hope that the family would see her again in September. His advice against vanity (“I hope my Molly will put a deaf Ear to the flattering Speeches of the world…”) couched his fear that she, too, would marry in New England. Some parents felt neglected when their daughters did not write. Mary Byrd attempted to smoothe over such a situation between her visiting sister and their mother:

Lucy is extremely hurt at your thinking she meant to neglect you; and declares she never more will be guilty of any thing that can possibly have that appearance. She is determined to be a very correspondent in future not only to yourself, but the girls also. Indeed my Dear Mama I think I may with truth affirm that she loves you with the utmost warmth & tenderness.

Clearly, affectionate parents found separation painful.22

Relinquishing close physical supervision of their daughters was difficult for parents as well. Many expressed anxiety for their daughters’ well-being when they were beyond the reach of immediate parental care. Charles Carter’s parting benediction in his letter to his daughter Maria (“pray God bless my Dear Child and keep her from all Dangers of Every kind & Sort”) reflected genuine concern for her safety. Maria Armistead expressed similar disturbance over her inability to obtain reliable transportation to bring her daughters home from a long visit to their sister:

It is useless to mention my concern on the occasion, it is obvious. Commit yourself to Providence—and may he guard, guide and protect you all is more than the wish of a parent who feels too sensibly to be expressed.

The granting of freedom to adolescent daughters produced some disturbance in the minds of parents.23

The system by which Virginia gentry parents managed the adolescence of their daughters allowed for training succeeded by practical application, close supervision succeeded by the freedom desired by youth and, for a time, decreased responsibility. Their practice of encouraging extended visits in the homes of others served to diminish parent-child conflict during adolescence, preserving the affectionate relationship that characterized gentry parents and children, while giving parents and their daughters a time to “let go” of one another in preparation for the young woman’s final departure from the nuclear family. That sharing adolescents among a larger kinship network worked so well for gentry families is attested by the fact that they continued the practice through the antebellum period.24


1Lucinda Lee, Journal of a Young Lady of Virginia: Lucinda Lee, 1787 (Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson for the Robert E. Lee Memorial Association, Inc., 1976).

2An excellent brief summary of recent research issues in the study of adolescence is Barbara A. Hannawalt’s “Historical Descriptions and Prescriptions for Adolescents,” Journal of Family History, 17 (1992), 341-51. In reference to the question of whether the term “adolescence” is appropriate to use for the life phase between childhood and adulthood before the twentieth century, I concur with her conclusion that it does not have to be laden with presentist meanings. She also makes the point that historians tend to generalize that the female and male experienced adolescence similarly, without looking at the differences.

This paper does not attempt to address the deeper issues of the adolescence of Virginia girls, such as self-identity. It deals with the prescribed activities of gentry girls and the purposes those activities served within the culture.

3Daniel Blake Smith, Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), p. 63. states that girls completed their education at around age ten. This might have been true for lesser planters, whose limited means restricted the amount of time their daughters had to acquire the rudimentary education allowed to girls.

4Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, ed. Hunter Dickinson Farish (Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., 1943), pp. 26, 34, 58, 83 and 99. Fithian also noted (p. 120) that Miss Turberville had an English governess who was to teach her French. Martha Jefferson also learned French. See Thomas Jefferson to Patsy Jefferson, 28 November 1783, published in Edwin Morris Betts and James Adam Bear, Jr., eds., The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc., 1986), p. 19. For changes in education for women that reflected the ideal of the Republican woman after the Revolution, see Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1980), pp. 199-231; Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980), pp. 256-87. For a summary of additional subjects offered to Virginia girls after the Revolution, see Tori Eberlein, “To be Amiable and Accomplished: Fitting Young women for Upper-Class Virginia Society,” M.A. thesis, College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1982, pp. 12-16.

5“With respect to the distribution of your time the following is what I should approve.

from 8. to 10 o’clock practise music.
from 10 to 1. dance one day and draw another
from 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter the next day.
from 3. to 4. read French.
from 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
from 5. till bedtime read English, write &c.”

Thomas Jefferson to Patsy Jefferson, 28 November 1783, Family Letters, p. 19.

6Fithian, Journal, passim.; Maria Carter to Maria Carter, 25 March 1756, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.

7Smith, Inside the Great House, p. 65, also identifies age twelve or thirteen as the age when girls “worked on refining their skills in music or dancing.” The author’s own survey of the known students of dancing masters Frances Christian and William Fearson corroborates this. See Cathleene B. Hellier, “Dance in the Virginia Gentry Household: A Tutor’s-Eye View in the 1770s,” presented at the Congress of Research in Dance conference, November 1989. Fithian, Journal, pp. 163, for description of Jenny Washington and p. 200 for Kitty Tayloe’s attendance at a ball. Her tombstone inscription, William and Mary Quarterly, first series, volume 11, p. 127, provides evidence of her age. For the significance of dance to Virginia gentry, see Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1982), pp. 77-79, and 81-87. For girls who learned guitar or harpsichord in late teens, see Landon Carter, The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, 1752-1778, ed. Jack P. Greene, 2 vols. (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1987), p. 336; Robert Wormeley Carter, memorandum book, 5 April 1785, Carter Family Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Maria Carter to [Landon Carter], 2 June 1765, Carter Family Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.

8Thomas Jefferson to Mary (“Maria”) Jefferson, 11 April 1790, Family Letters, p. 52; Maria Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 23 May [1790], Thomas Jefferson to Anne Cary Randolph, 9 January 1804, and Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 6 November 1804, Family Letters, pp. 57, 251, and 263; William Byrd II to John Boyle, 2 February 1726/7, published in The Correspondence of The Three William Byrds of Westover, Virginia, 1684-1776, Marion Tinling, ed. (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia for the Virginia Historical Society, 1977), p. 361; Fithian, Journal, p. 68; Carter, Diary, pp. 250 and 324.

9Nourse Family Papers, 22 November 1796, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia; Frances Burney, Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, ed. Peter Sabor and Margaret Anne Doody (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 935; Joseph F. Kett, Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America 1790 to the Present (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1977), p. 41, also found sixteen to be the usual age at which girls “began to keep company with young men” in early America, 1790-1840.

10George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, 1748-1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, 4 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), I: 346, 348, and 377 notes Nancy Carlyle, aged 8 in 1769, dining with the Washingtons twice that year and once the year following. Fithian, Journal, pp. 49, 56, 63, 120, 147, 265, and 270; Lee, Journal, pp. 10, 12, 14, 15, 23, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, and 56. Nancy Tomes, “The Quaker Connection: Visiting Patterns among Women in the Philadelphia Society of Friends, 1750-1800,” in Friends and Neighbors: Group Life in America’s First Plural Society, ed. Michael Zuckerman (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), pp. 174-195, notes that unmarried Quaker girls in Philadelphia also paid brief social visits, mainly among a group of unmarried girl friends, but that they also paid one another overnight visits, and “enjoyed lengthy stays in the households of friends and kinfolk.”

11Washington, Diaries, 1748-1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, I: 141, 265, 277, 283, 294, 302, 328, 333, 341, 343, 346, 364, 387, and 455. Among the young women appearing as a sole dinner guest at the Washington table in 1768 and 1769 was Sally Carlyle, born 4 January 1756 (Family Bible, John Carlyle House, Alexandria, Virginia). She was the youngest girl I found who appears to have traveled alone. Lee, Journal, pp. 16, 24, 25, 34, 35, 45, 48, 49, 51, 57; Maria Armistead to William Cocke, 31 May [1788], Maria Armistead to Jane Armistead, 9 April 1789, and Maria Armistead to Jane Cocke, 26 April 1790, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Carter, Diary, pp. 659 and 680.

12Susannah Nelson Page, biography of Lucy Grymes Nelson, Dr. Augustine Smith Papers, 1799-1843, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.; York County, Virginia, will of Betty Randolph, Wills and Inventories 23, p. 4; Elizabeth J. Ambler to Nancy Fisher, 10 October 1798, Elizabeth J. Ambler Papers, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.; Carter, Diary, pp. 410-521, 688; A[nne] Blair to [Mrs. Mary Braxton], 21 August 1769, Blair, Banister, Braxton, Horner, and Whiting Papers, 1765-1890, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Robert Beverley to Landon Carter, 28 March 1773, 16 May 1774, Robert Beverley of Blandfield Letters, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.; Francis Baylor Hill sewed clothing, apparently funeral attire, for the daughters of a woman who had died, as well as performing the other duties described; see Francis Baylor Hill, The Diary of Frances Baylor Hill of “Hillsborough,” King and Queen County, Virginia (1797), ed. William K. Bottorff and Roy C. Flannagan, published in Early American Literature Newsletter 2, no. 3 (Winter 1967): 14-15, 18, 26-31, and 42-46. It is sometimes difficult to say whether or not a long stay in one home was a social visit, or one in which the girl was expected to help out. Judy Carter of Sabine Hall, however, spent eleven months with her brother’s family at Bull Run, the purpose of which was at least partly social. She was courted there by Reuben Beale. See Carter, Diary, p. 680. Lucinda Lee, Anne Miller, and Frances Baylor Hill all paid visits in which they moved from house to house.

13Lucy Armistead to Mrs. Maria Armistead, 10 February 1788, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Lee, Journal, pp. 9, 14, 34, 38, 44, 52, and 56.

14Maria Beverley to Maria Carter, 20 April 1764, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Robert Bolling, “A Circumstantial Account of Certain Transactions, that once greatly interested the Writer and which terminated at Flower-de-Hundred, on the sixteenth of September, 1760, as such juvenile Transactions do frequently to the Satisfaction of Nobody,” Tucker-Coleman Papers, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., published in J. A. Leo Lemay, ed., Robert Bolling Woos Anne Miller: Love and Courtship in Colonial Virginia, 1760 (Charlottesville: University Press of Va., 1990), pp. 52-56; William Byrd to Maria Carter, 25 November 1765, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va. Tomes, “Quaker Connection,” p. 180, notes that unmarried Philadelphia Quaker girls spent more time exclusively in the company of women than did married Quaker diarists, and that contact between the unmarried girls and men was fairly limited.

15Lee, Journal, pp. 32-33 and 36; Lemay, ed., Robert Bolling, pp. 52-55.

16Lemay, Robert Bolling, pp. 58 and 55; Elizabeth Carrington to Nancy Fisher, 180[9], Elizabeth J. Ambler Papers, Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Va.; Ann Cary Randolph Morris to St. George Tucker, 2 March 1815, Tucker-Coleman Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va. Although Virginia gentry girls were not closely chaperoned, their rate of bridal pregnancy seems very low. Bridal pregnancy among this group has not been specifically studied. Lee A. Gladwin, “Tobacco and Sex: Some Factors Affecting Non-Marital Sexual Behavior in Colonial Virginia,” Journal of Social History 12 (1978), pp. 57-75, asserts that in Richmond County, Virginia, from 1710 through 1769, “the upper classes were experiencing an increase in premarital pregnancies relative to a decrease among the lower classes.” He defines as “upper classes,” however, those owning or renting 250 acres or more, or possessing the equivalent in personal property; therefore, his upper classes would have included many families of lower status than those discussed here. Daniel Scott Smith and Michael S. Hindus, “Premarital Pregnancy in America, 1640-1971: An Overview and Interpretation,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 5 (1975), pp. 556-564, finds an inverse relationship between economic status and bridal pregnancy in their eighteenth-century New England sample. I suspect the same is true for Virginia. My informal survey of the family Bible records of the Grymes, Nelson, Carter, Cary, Hay, Burwell, Beverley, Randolph, Tayloe, and Wormeley families showed no pregnant brides. Although Anne Cary Randolph became pregnant during her visit to her sister’s home in 1791 or early 1792, the pregnancy was concealed to prevent scandal, indicating probably that premarital pregnancy among her social group was not typical; see William Cabell Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773-1833, 2 vols. (1922; reprint ed., New York: Octagon Books, 1970), 2: 275-283, which reproduces correspondence between John Randolph and Anne Cary Randolph Morris, the originals of which are in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia. Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction 1300-1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 296-298, shows that unchaperoned contact between courting couples was common from at least Chaucer’s time to the present.

17Lemay, Robert Bolling, p. 52.

18Carter, Diary, p. 680. Louise P. du Bellet, Some Prominent Virginia Families (Lynchburg, Va.: 1907), p. 767, contains the full account of Daniel Fisher’s adventures in Virginia. William Reynolds to George Flowerdew Norton, 25 May 1775, Norton Family Papers, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia. A more complete discussion of cousin marriages in the Chesapeake can be found in Allan Kulikoff, Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680-1800 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1986), pp. 252-255. Trevor Burnard, “A Tangled Cousinry? Associational Networks of the Maryland Elite, 1691-1776,” Journal of Southern History 61, no. 1 (February 1995): 17-44, has found a lower incidence of cousin marriage among the Maryland gentry outside Prince George’s County. For a full discussion of the gentry and hegemony, see Isaac, Transformation, passim. For gentry interrelatedness translated into political power, see also Charles S. Sydnor, Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Washington’s Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1952), and Jack P. Green, “Foundations of Political Power in the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1720-1776,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 16 (October 1959): 488-490.

19Jane Armistead to Maria Armistead, 10 February 1788, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.; Lee, Journal, pp. 10, 14, 34, 40, and 42.

20Roger Thompson, “Adolescent Culture in Colonial Massachusetts,” Journal Of Family History 9 (Summer 1984), p. 140, suggests that the New England system of “putting out” of adolescents into other families might also have been a means of reducing generational conflict. Michael B. Katz, The People of Hamilton, Canada West: Family and Class in a Mid-Nineteenth-Century City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975) finds a period of semi-autonomy between schooling and marriage, during which period adolescents boarded or worked as servants in other families. Perhaps this system might have served a similar purpose, in addition to economic purposes. Ilana Krausman Ben-Amos, Adolescence and Youth in Early Modern England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994) discusses the experiences of young people in the lower and middling groups of society between 1500 and 1700, large numbers of whom were away from home as servants or apprentices. Kett, Rites of Passage, pp. 14-42, also identified “semidependence” as a characteristic of late adolescence.

21Lemay, Robert Bolling, pp. 62-70; Smith, Inside the Great House, pp. 143-50.

22Smith, Inside the Great House, pp. 53, 60-61; Smith maintains that gentry parents encouraged autonomy in their children, but his examples, except for small infants, were mostly boys. Girls were trained to be pleasing, winning, and self-sacrificing. Except in the area of housewifery, where a woman was expected to be competent and confident, autonomy was actively discouraged by advice literature. That the advice literature was taken seriously by Virginia parents is evinced by Mary Ambler, who copied this portion from James Fordyce’s Sermons for Young Women for the use of her daughter:

If to your natural softness you join that christian meekness, which I now preach; both together will not fail, with the assistance of proper reflection and friendly advice, to accomplish you in the best and truest kind of breeding. You will not be in danger of putting your-selves forward in company, of contradicting obstinately, or affecting a superiority to any present, of engrossing the discourse,of listening to yourselves with apparent satisfaction, of neglecting what is advanced by others, or of interrupting them without necessity.

“Diary of M. Ambler, 1770,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 45 (1937), p. 170; Charles Carter to Maria Carter, 25 January 1764, and Mary Byrd to Maria Armistead, 1 September 1788, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.

23Charles Carter to Maria Carter, 25 January 1764, and Maria Armistead to Jane Armistead, 9 April 1789, Armistead-Cocke Papers, College of William and Mary in Virginia, Williamsburg, Va.

24Joan E. Cashin, “The Structure of Antebellum Planter Families: ’The Ties that Bound us Was Strong,” Journal of Southern History 56, no. 1 (February 1990): 55-70.