Picturing United States History Logo

“For a Noble Man, a Prince”: Images and Identity in Colonial America

Phyllis Hunter, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Paul Staiti, Mount Holyoke College

More on the Subject

Books and Articles

T.H. Breen, The Marketplace Of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (Knopf, 1992).

Phyllis Whitman Hunter, Purchasing Identity In The Atlantic World: Massachusetts Merchants, 1670-1780 (Cornell University Press, 2001) .

Margaretta Lovell, Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution. (Harvard University Press, 1986).

Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti, John Singleton Copley in America with contributions by Morrison H. Heckscher, Aileen Ribeiro, Marjorie Shelley (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995) .


John Singleton Copley: Copley was the foremost portrait painter in colonial America. This website from the National Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian discusses both artistic conventions and the social connections of Copley’s sitters presenting a visual representation of Anglo-American gentility in colonial elites prior to the American Revolution.

A Colonial Parlor: This web resource from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a re-creation of a parlor fitted out for an affluent colonial family near New York. The objects in the room reflect the imported and local consumer goods that functioned as markers of Anglo-American gentility.

Eighteenth-Century Furniture To see how a fancy chair was carved.

Eighteenth-Century Clothing: This website at Colonial Williamsburg offers detailed information on clothing in colonial America. It includes an interactive exercise where students can select the (http://www.history.org/History/teaching/Dayseries/webactivities/dress/dress.htm) appropriate clothing for different status groups, thus demonstrating how clothing functions as a marker for status and gender.

Body Etiquette: Colonial ladies and gentlemen also behaved differently across class and race boundaries. Explore some of the behaviors required of the elite class, and then use the “Character Collage” function to see the gendered differences in behavior: Clothing: Rebecca Boylston is shown informally at home, wearing extravagant amounts of satin, velvet, and lace. She is also en negligee, that is un-corseted in a satin gown. Compare her to the more formally dressed Elizabeth Oliver Watson Women of Boylston’s class typically visited a millinery shop in order to be outfitted properly; take a walk through Colonial Williamsburg’s millinery shop:

The Elizabeth Murray Project: This website explores the life of a successful female merchant in colonial Boston. The site includes a rich selection of primary source documents related to Murray and explores the activities of merchants in an important port city and also raises questions about gender roles and how women such as Murray defied expected behavior.

Mapping Colonial America: An excellent site from Colonial Williamsburg that discusses and demonstrates early mapping techniques used to chart the increasing knowledge of the New World and colonial America.

Birmingham [England] Museums and Art Gallery: A website designed for schoolchildren that has portraits of English elites-a wealthy philanthropist, a merchant banker, and an early British feminist. The portraits are by noted artists and provide interesting comparisons to the Boylston and Gardiner pictures.