New Men: Manliness in Early America

By Thomas A. Foster | Go to book overview

6
“Banes of Society” and “Gentlemen
of Strong Natural Parts”
Attacking and Defending West
Indian Creole Masculinity

NATALIE A. ZACEK

A text that sheds much light on the social life of the West Indian colonies at the height of plantation prosperity and that has received almost no attention from historians is “Account of Travels” by Henry Hulton (1731– 1790), an autobiographical account of the life of a British customs official whose travels took him throughout Europe and the American colonies, and who spent several years resident in Antigua as deputy collector of the customs in the island’s capital, St. John’s.1 Hulton’s text—composed in the mid-1780s, when he had retired to England and wished to create a record of his experiences for the benefit, particularly in moral terms, of his five sons—deals extensively with his experiences in Antigua, and especially with his evaluation of the character of the island’s white society. The text is particularly useful for the study of ideals and practices of masculinity in this context, as he was a metropolitan Englishman who spent enough time living on the island to make well-informed evaluations of this colonial community; moreover, he was a worldly, well-educated man who was already fairly well traveled by the time he arrived in the islands, and he appears to have approached Antiguan society with a relatively open mind.2 Throughout his text, Hulton is concerned, perhaps even obsessed, with evaluating the characters of the island’s white men, and although the concluding chapter of the “Account” includes some barbed comments regarding the evils of West Indian society and the great potential for even virtuous individuals to be corrupted by this environment, his actual descriptions in the chapters relating to his time in Antigua include some very favorable evaluations of the characters of individual island residents, as well as more negative depictions thereof. A careful reading of Hulton’s text, then, complicates and contradicts long-held

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