Brothers of a Vow
Secret Fraternal Orders and the Transformation of White Male Culture in Antebellum Virginia

Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch

Masculinity and markets in the urban South


“Well researched and written, Brothers of a Vow advances the current historiography in important ways. It is a timely addition to the scholarship on masculinity in the American South.”
—Timothy James Lockley, author of Welfare and Charity in the Antebellum South

“Pflugrad-Jackisch offers a nuanced and powerful reconsideration of how class and masculinity were constructed in the Old South. Her imaginative exploration of a rich array of sources brings to light the secret world of Virginia’s fraternal societies.”
—Lorri Glover, author of Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation

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In Brothers of a Vow, Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch examines secret fraternal organizations in antebellum Virginia to offer fresh insight into masculinity and the redefinition of social and political roles of white men in the South.

Young Virginians who came of age during the antebellum era lived through a time of tremendous economic, cultural, and political upheaval. In a state increasingly pulled between the demands of the growing market and the long-established tradition of unfree labor, Pflugrad-Jackisch argues that groups like the Freemasons, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Sons of Temperance promoted market-oriented values and created bonds among white men that softened class distinctions. At the same time, these groups sought to stabilize social hierarchies that subordinated blacks and women.

Pflugrad-Jackisch examines all aspects of the secret orders—including their bylaws and proceedings, their material culture and regalia, and their participation in a wide array of festivals, parades, and civic celebrations. Regarding gender, she shows how fraternal orders helped reinforce an alternative definition of southern white manhood that emphasized self-discipline, moral character, temperance, and success at work. These groups ultimately established a civic brotherhood among white men that marginalized the role of women in the public sphere and bolstered the respectability of white men regardless of class status.

Brothers of a Vow is a nuanced look at how dominant groups craft collective identities, and it adds to our understanding of citizenship and political culture during a period of rapid change.



Page count: 176 pp.
8 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $44.95

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List price: $22.95

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Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch is an assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan-Flint.