Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era

Title Details

Pages: 216

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 04/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5546-7

List Price: $26.95


Pub Date: 10/10/2016

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4996-1

List Price: $54.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era

New historical perspectives on what it means to be middle class in America

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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

Too often, says Jennifer L. Goloboy, we equate being middle class with “niceness”—a set of values frozen in the antebellum period and centered on long-term economic and social progress and a close, nurturing family life. Goloboy’s case study of merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, looks to an earlier time to establish the roots of middle-class culture in America. She argues for a definition more applicable to the ruthless pursuit of profit in the early republic. To be middle class then was to be skilled at survival in the market economy.

What prompted cultural shifts in the early middle class, Goloboy shows, were market conditions. In Charleston, deference and restraint were the bywords of the colonial business climate, while rowdy ambition defined the post-Revolutionary era, which in turn gave way to institution building and professionalism in antebellum times. Goloboy’s research also supports a view of the Old South as neither precapitalist nor isolated from the rest of American culture, and it challenges the idea that post-Revolutionary Charleston was a port in decline by reminding us of a forgotten economic boom based on slave trading, cotton exporting, and trading as a neutral entity amid warring European states.

This fresh look at Charleston’s merchants lets us rethink the middle class in light of the new history of capitalism and its commitment to reintegrating the Old South into the world economy.

The author provides valuable insight into the values, which form middle-class identities in an ostensibly classless society. . . . The interesting parts of the book deal with the intrepid entrepreneurship of the merchant class in Charleston in responding to shifting market conditions, such as those caused by blockades and foreign and domestic tariffs. Goloboy's book tackles an impalpable topic and provides an interesting jumping-off point for further discussions about the cultural and economic distinctions of class.

—Ben Moise, Post and the Courier

Jennifer L. Goloboy seeks to reevaluate the history of the American middle class by exploring how market forces defined middle-class identity. . . . Goloboy’s study offers an important challenge to the vision of a static middle-class identity that has emerged from scholarship on the antebellum North. Instead, she argues that we should view the middle class as dynamic and rapidly evolving in response to market forces.

—Nora Doyle, Journal of Southern History

Goloboy is effective in portraying Charleston’s eighteenth– and nineteenth-century commercial development through the lens of middle-class merchants. She displays illuminating characteristics of middle-class men and presents an interesting hypothesis of how they constantly shifted their values to render the greater economic success.

—Vaughn Scribner, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The fresh insight her book provides on Charleston’s commerce in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries should recommend it to readers.

—Huw David, South Carolina Historical Magazine


George C. Rogers, Jr. Book Award, South Carolina Historical Society

About the Author/Editor

JENNIFER L. GOLOBOY is an independent scholar based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, specializing in the history of the early American middle class. She is the editor of Industrial Revolution: People and Perspectives. Goloboy earned her PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University.