Puritans and Adventurers: Change and Persistence in Early America

By T. H. Breen | Go to book overview

VIII
Horses and Gentlemen: The Cultural Significance of Gambling Among the Gentry of Virginia

THIS ESSAY INVESTIGATES the cultural implications of social and demographic change for Virginia's great planters. In the previous chapter I explained that during the last quarter of the seventeenth century the character of the colony's labor force became more African and less free. It was during this same period that the members of the Virginia gentry began to organize quarter-horse races, wild sprints on which the planters waged extraordinary sums of money. These two occurrences, I contend, were not unrelated. Indeed, powerful gentlemen evolved a new form in which to express old values. As I explained in the volume's general introduction, change and persistence were closely interconnected, and the horse race provides surprising insights into the ways that the great planters maintained dominance in an expanding, biracial society.


I

In the fall of 1686 Durand of Dauphiné, a French Huguenot, visited the capital of colonial Virginia. Durand regularly recorded in a journal what he saw and heard, providing one of the few firsthand accounts of late seventeenth-century Virginia society that have survived to the present day. When he arrived in Jamestown the House of Burgesses was in session. I saw there fine-looking men," he noted, "sitting in judg-

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