Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


History (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Richard Godbeer

Second Committee Member

Michael Bernath

Third Committee Member

Mary Lindemann

Fourth Committee Member

Ashli White

Fifth Committee Member

Jeffrey Shoulson


This dissertation explores interrelated conceptions of gender, labor, and virtue in early Georgia, focusing on the Trustee period and in particular upon the ways in which the founding goals of the Georgia Trustees, in combination with the cultural values held by the colony’s non-elite settlers, fostered largely collaborative gender roles. “Gender, Labor, and Virtue in Eighteenth-Century Georgia” illuminates the existence of a gender order very different from the more power-based models historians have described among the southern elite in colonies such as South Carolina or Virginia. Although Georgia’s officials and colonists certainly favored a gender hierarchy that, in most instances, placed men above women, this patriarchal order was tempered by an emphasis upon mutual obligation and respect. The value that the Georgia Trustees placed upon spiritual and moral virtue likewise challenges ideas about religion in the colonial South. In more established southern colonies religion has often been downplayed or portrayed as a tool utilized by the plantation elite to reinforce their hold over the social hierarchy. In Georgia, religion was an essential component of the founders’ settlement plan that encouraged all colonists to play an active part in encouraging order and virtue in their community. Concerned that England’s citizens – including those in its southernmost North American colonies – were succumbing to the temptations of idleness, sin, and luxury, the Georgia Trustees sought to create a new colony that would serve as a model of industry and moral virtue. In order to ensure the success of their goals, they banned slavery and sent ministers to instruct the people in religious piety. Without slave labor, the physical work of all family members was necessary to establish and maintain successful farms and businesses. And because the Trustees and their supporters associated hard work with moral reform, there was little or no stigma attached to either sex performing even the most strenuous labor. Men and women also worked collaboratively to encourage religious virtue in their families. Although not all of Georgia’s colonists agreed with official efforts to promote labor and moral reform, most shared in the view that mutual collaboration between the sexes was essential to the colony’s success. By demonstrating the existence of a southern colony featuring gender ideals based upon mutual responsibility, hard work, and religious models of respect and cooperation – all characteristics associated by recent scholars with gender norms in England, New England, and the Middle Colonies – my work challenges distinctions often drawn between the northern and southern colonies in the eighteenth century. In part, such ideals can be attributed to the unique reform goals of the Georgia Trustees. But they also reflect broader values shared among non-elite whites in the colonial South, whose beliefs are often obscured in the historical record. The sources left by Georgia’s founders, because of their reform-minded interest in ordinary people’s behavior and welfare, provide unprecedented access into the lives of non-elite white colonists in the eighteenth-century South.


colonial Georgia; gender; religion; culture