Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This is a study of the cultural problem of consumerism. It examines the complex, rich, and multi-varied world of consumer goods in eighteenth-century Anglo-America, when traditional notions of hierarchy were increasingly challenged by new patterns of social and geographical mobility and changing measures of human worth. It was also a time when more and more consumer goods came into the lives of average men and women.;Few historians have scrutinized the role of those goods or the means and motives for their acquisition. Objects become an important part of the story of consumerism, however, by examining affordability (commodities and value), availability (local and long-distance access) and desirability (a complex bundle that includes differentiation or solidarity of group, formation of identity, and symbolism). Studying the retail trade of Britain and Virginia further focuses on how goods moved from manufacturer to consumer, and the environment and behavior of shopping.;This study then asks how the world of goods, often defined by elites and the fashion system in England, extended even to the fringe of the empire in backcounty Virginia. Careful examination of the merchant John Hook in Bedford County reveals an intensely competitive retail trade. Hook worked hard to attract and keep customers--middling and poorer men and women, free and enslaved--through his stock of high-quality, fashionable goods.;Everyday purchase choices--a ribbon or nails, rum or tea--demonstrate how men and women responded to larger Anglo-American changes and how local and market economies intertwined through trading home production and personal services for imported goods and groceries. It was the purchase of small, inexpensive items coupled with slowly-changing behaviors within an inherited cultural shell that defined backcountry consumerism. Thus, while many in the middling ranks of Bedford society fought and drank in small log-built structures, they also added small items of household comfort and dressed with an eye to fashion. Ultimately, Virginians below the economic elite and far from the cultural core were part of the hegemony of fashion-makers, but also chose to reject them through locally determined consumer choice.



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