Date of Award
Master of Arts
Eighteenth-century Virginia was strikingly agrarian. Tobacco planting on the plantations and farms created an ever-increasing need for new land. The growth of a dispersed rural society reacted against the formation of urban focal units and a middle class. This society did create, because of the endemic loneliness of the country, a people who desired companionship and proved to be gregarious and convivial.
The hospitality for which Virginians are well known was very much in evidence at this period and served in a subtle way to offer diversion to both guest and host. Travelers were invited to the plantations and farms at day or night during all seasons ot the year and experienced warm receptions.
Leisure time activities evolved from or were closely related to the agricultural environment of the people. The salubrious climate and the demanding tasks of farming created a robust people who not only worked hard, but who played hard also.
The horse to the Virginian was not only a "tool" of work, but a means of pleasure and recreation. Hunting for game provided meat and provisions for the planter's table and necessary relaxation after an arduous day's work. The Virginian's great pride in horses led him, quite naturally, to challenge others to horse races, with money or tobacco as the victor's reward.
Cultural and recreational activities were inextricably mixed in the Old Dominion. There seems to have been little social activity relating to the churches and religious organizations. Most Virginians found their diversions in their homes among their families; others sought entertain ment at public events. Music and dancing appealed to almost all of the people, while a lesser number found reading and the theater rewarding recreational pastimes.
The competitive spirit of Virginians ran the gamut of all their activities. They enjoyed varied games among which were billiards, cards, cockfights and bowls. Sports and related amusements were accompanied by considerable gambling in homes, taverns and throughout the country. Drinking was evident at almost every occasion, public and private, for the Virginian's love of the rum "toddy" and other strong drinks was universally known.
The annals of the lower classes are poor and few, but the writer desires to show that their forms of leisure were remarkably similar to those of the gentry. The lesser planters and the poorer farmers were also known for their sociability and hospitality. They shared in the gentry's love of hunting and horse racing, of music and dancing and other pastimes. The writer also desires to show that the Negro affected some forms of diversion enjoyed by the planters and even contributed some forms of his own making which the master's family found entertaining.
Diaries of great men suoh as George Washington and William Byrd II offer a keen and perceptive insight as to the manner in which the wealthy planters lived and passed their leisure hours. These diaries also depict the manner of life and leisure time of the people with whom the planters associated whatever their station in life.
Accounts written by travelers to Virginia offer revealing and informative descriptions of Virginians, the nature of their activities, their social structure, and how they appeared in their everyday lives to a stranger.
Johnson, Andrew Jackson, "Leisure time in eighteenth-century Virginia" (1964). Master's Theses. 220.