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The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family

The Tuckers of Virginia, 1752–1830
Phillip Hamilton


BUY Ebook · 296 pp. · ISBN 9780813924038 · $35.00 · Apr 2003
BUY Paper · 296 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927442 · $21.50 · Jan 2008

In mid-April 1814, the Virginia congressman John Randolph of Roanoke had reason to brood over his family’s decline since the American Revolution. The once-sumptuous world of the Virginia gentry was vanishing, its kinship ties crumbling along with its mansions, crushed by democratic leveling at home and a strong federal government in Washington, D.C. Looking back in an effort to grasp the changes around him, Randolph fixated on his stepfather and onetime guardian, St. George Tucker.

The son of a wealthy Bermuda merchant, Tucker had studied law at the College of William and Mary, married well, and smuggled weapons and fought in the Virginia militia during the Revolution. Quickly grasping the significant changes—political democratization, market change, and westward expansion—that the War for Independence had brought, changes that undermined the power of the gentry, Tucker took the atypical step of selling his plantations and urging his children to pursue careers in learned professions such as law. Tucker’s stepson John Randolph bitterly disagreed, precipitating a painful break between the two men that illuminates the transformations that swept Virginia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Drawing upon an extraordinary archive of private letters, journals, and other manuscript materials, Phillip Hamilton illustrates how two generations of a colorful and influential family adapted to social upheaval. He finds that the Tuckers eventually rejected wider family connections and turned instead to nuclear kin. They also abandoned the liberal principles and enlightened rationalism of the Revolution for a romanticism girded by deep social conservatism. The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family reveals the complex process by which the world of Washington and Jefferson evolved into the antebellum society of Edmund Ruffin and Thomas Dew.

Reviews:


"Phillip Hamilton has written a concise, gripping study that depicts how the American Revolution affected an elite southern family, largely for the worse.

Journal of Southern History

"This excellent study is both eminently readable and educational, and it is an important contribution to understanding the dynamics of leadership and of family life in Virginia following the American Revolution.

Virginia Libraries

"Much more than a family history, this volume adds to our knowledge of the social, economic, and political landscapes of the Old Dominion from the late colonial era through the antebellum period. This book is recommended for those interested in the history of Virginia, the early republic, the South, and family history.

North Carolina Historical Review

The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family is an interesting and carefully crafted study of the family dynamics of the Tuckers in the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary generations. Phillip Hamilton’s questions about how families respond and shape new strategies for maintaining their economic power and social position are vitally important in any consideration of post-Revolutionary Virginia.

Herbert E. SloanBarnard College, author of Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt

Phillip Hamilton's The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family: The Tuckers of Virginia is a readable and suggestive look at one elite Virginia family's (mostly failed) attempts at refashioning themselves into a republican elite. It combines a look at economic pressure, Revolutionary ideology, slavery, religion, and sentimentalism in describing how the Tuckers moved from the optimistic, moderately antislavery, enlightenment vision of St. George Tucker to the conservative, defensive, proslavery views of his stepson John Randolph and his son Nathaniel Beverley Tucker.

Randolph Scully, Assitant Professor, George Mason University

About the Author: 

Phillip Hamilton is Associate Professor of History at Christopher Newport University.

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