Polygamy An Early American History Sarah M. S. Pearsall

Publication date:
22 Oct 2019
Yale University Press
416 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
28 b-w illus.
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A groundbreaking examination of polygamy showing that monogamy was not the only form marriage took in early America

"A richly sourced, elegantly written, and strikingly original interdisciplinary study of the diverse practices of polygamy in American from ca.1500 to 1900.”—John Witte Jr., Journal of Law and Religion

Today we tend to think of polygamy as an unnatural marital arrangement characteristic of fringe sects or uncivilized peoples. Historian Sarah Pearsall shows us that polygamy’s surprising history encompasses numerous colonies, indigenous communities, and segments of the American nation. Polygamy—as well as the fight against it—illuminates many touchstones of American history: the Pueblo Revolt and other uprisings against the Spanish; Catholic missions in New France; New England settlements and King Philip’s War; the entrenchment of African slavery in the Chesapeake; the Atlantic Enlightenment; the American Revolution; missions and settlement in the West; and the rise of Mormonism.
Pearsall expertly opens up broader questions about monogamy’s emergence as the only marital option, tracing the impact of colonial events on property, theology, feminism, imperialism, and the regulation of sexuality. She shows that heterosexual monogamy was never the only model of marriage in North America.

Sarah M. S. Pearsall teaches the history of early America and the Atlantic world at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of the prizewinning Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Eighteenth Century.

“Sarah Pearsall’s work is stunningly original, riveting, shocking.  If anyone still thinks of early modern polygamy as a thread that ran intermittently along the fringes of the Reformation, they have another think coming: African, Native American, Catholic, and, finally, Mormon marital practices upend comforting platitudes about ‘traditional’ marriage in early America.”—Sarah Barringer Gordon, University of Pennsylvania

"By taking polygamy seriously, Sarah Pearsall illuminates the long, tangled history of marriages across four centuries and many cultures in North America.  We see diverse American families in fresh and provocative ways thanks to Pearsall's wide-ranging research and vivid prose."—Alan Taylor, author of American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804

“An innovative and thought-provoking book. Sarah Pearsall uses polygamy as a point of entry to the broader world of marriage and the gender roles that attended to it, making a strong argument that such matters were intertwined with the expression of power at all levels in early America.”—Christopher Hodson, Brigham Young University

“Sarah Pearsall shows great intellectual range and a wonderful ability to communicate complex ideas elegantly.”—Kathleen Brown, University of Pennsylvania