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Virginia Cary and the Others

Virginia Cary and the Others

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Published by Matt Cromwell
A Post-Structuralist Analysis of the Writings of Virginia Randolph Cary.
A Post-Structuralist Analysis of the Writings of Virginia Randolph Cary.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Matt Cromwell on Dec 09, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Virginia Cary and the “Others”Page 1 of 17  Matt CromwellThursday, December 8, 2011
Virginia Cary and the “Others”:
 A Post-Structuralist Analysis Highlighting Religious Otheringin the Writings of Virginia Randolph Cary
By Matt CromwellHIST 630 with Professor Eve KornfeldDecember 8, 2011“Emma” invited Virginia Cary to her home as a guest to be introduced to Emma’sseventeen year old foster-daughter “Emilia”. The slaves had cleaned the dining table and roomand prepared the living room for evening family worship. Mrs. Cary thought it remarkable howattentive and crisply dressed the slaves were. When asked about them, daughter Emilia tells Mrs.Cary that “when we teach our servants to serve God… they serve us of course, for obedience totheir earthly master is one branch of their duty to their heavenly King.” Mrs. Cary would laterlearn that many considered Emma’s servants to be the best behaved in the country.Mrs. Virginia Cary wrote down this episode in a series of letters to a young womannamed Mary. It is unclear whether “Mary” was a real young lady or just a medium for Mrs. Caryto get her thoughts out. Either way
 Letters on Female Character 
was Mrs. Cary attempt toinfluence the Virginian concept of the role of women and mothers in society.Religious thought and practice is most often conceived of as an intimately personal thing.This is one reason why the framers of the First Amendment to the United States Constitutionestablished the free exercise of religion and expression. For many, that amendment isfoundational to what it means to be a free citizen in the United States. Students of religioushistory also recognize the extreme costs the U.S. has expended in extending and protecting thatfreedom. Religious freedom allowed white Southerners to use their Christian interpretations of 
Virginia Cary and the “Others”Page 2 of 17  Matt CromwellThursday, December 8, 2011
the Bible to justify slavery of African Americans. Of course, white Northerners interpreted theBible differently.That is the simplistic narrative of Antebellum America that most are familiar with. Butthis narrative provokes immediate questions in its language alone. By calling them “Southerners”and “Northerners” we “otherize” them from ourselves thus flattening the details of who theywere. We liken them more to sports teams; the “Northern Blues” and the “Southern Greys”;rather than to families with children. Children tend to complicate reality. In this case, it is hardfor our modern minds to comprehend how white Southern parents would teach their childrenreligious and moral truths based on Christianity justifying and even glorifying slavery.In this essay, I will highlight family religious teaching through the particular lens of Virginia Randolph Cary. We will explore the ways in which she understands her society as anordered hierarchy. We will see how she otherizes worldly men and women, servants, and evenwomen themselves. Summarily, I will argue that Cary, as part of the declining white gentry eliteof Virginian society, sought to use her dwindling influence to mold and shape the role of theVirginian woman and mother according to her religious ideals.
Virginia Randolph Cary belonged to what historian Cynthia Kierner calls the class of decaying gentry of the Virginia plantation society.
The Randolph family was very influential inpost-revolutionary Virginia. In 1782, the Marquis de Chastellux commented that “whentravelling in Virginia, you must be prepared to hear the name of Randolph frequently
Kierner, Cynthia
"The Dark and Dense Cloud Perpetually Lowering over Us": Gender and the Decline of theGentry in Postrevolutionary Virginia
. I lean heavily on this work for the major details of the Randolph and Caryfamilies and lifestyles.
Virginia Cary and the “Others”Page 3 of 17  Matt CromwellThursday, December 8, 2011
mentioned,” because “this was one of the first families of the country… but it is also one of themost numerous and wealthiest” (Chatellux). This significance, though, was slowly and steadilydecreasing. The upheavals of war, falling tobacco prices, and emerging politics of the newlyestablished country all impacted negatively on the financial security of southern plantationowners.Virginia Randolph was the youngest of 13 children to Thomas Mann Randolph and AnneCary Randolph, wealthy tobacco plantation owners. In an effort to maintain their family cloutand wealth, Virginia married her cousin – the great nephew of President Thomas Jefferson,Wilson Jefferson Cary, a slave-trader. Despite her family wealth, and Mr. Cary’s lucrativeprofession, Virginia was left very poor after her husband’s death. Each of her siblings, both themen and women, suffered similar financial ruin by the end of their lives. Though they were eachconsidered “ladies” or “gentlemen” in their time, by the end, they had each known what hungerwas, and the difficulty of securing honest labor. The Randolph family legacy was a primeexample of the declining financial state of the Virginian plantations before the Civil War.In the same year Cary lost her husband, her home was also destroyed by fire. In herpoverty and in the depths of so much loss she wrote
 Letters on Female Character: Addressed toa Young Lady on the Death of Her Mother 
. It is a collection of thirty letters, each addressed onlyto “Mary”. The topics range from modesty in fashion choices, to spiritual practices, to themanagement of servants. The following year she published
Christian Parent’s Assistant: or Tales, for the Moral and Religious Instruction of Youth
. This work is a series of fictionalizedstories, strongly resembling typical families and individuals in Cary’s surrounding, each of which illustrate the negative consequences of not adhering to some of Cary’s favorite religiouscolloquial teachings. Both of these works are considered “advice books”. As a member of the

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