Gentility and Consumerism in 18th Century Newport: A Widow's Story

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Scholar Christina Hodge will discuss her new book Gentility and Consumerism in Eighteenth-century Newport: A Widow’s Story. Focusing on the life of Newport widow and shopkeeper Elizabeth Pratt, Hodge will explore the role of the developing American middle class in colonial Newport and the groundwork it laid for future generations.

Between 1733 and 1734 Elizabeth Pratt finds herself battling a series of lawsuits in the courts of Newport surrounding years of consumer purchases of everything from silk riding hoods to silver spoons. Pratt, once a shopkeeper and tastemaker in Newport society, eventually finds herself losing her business, her home on Spring Street, and her freedom. Worse yet, Pratt loses her status in the “middling sorts:” the class of property-owning entrepreneurs who begin to expand colonial America’s class system, eventually leading to the rise of the middle class.

Through the study of court records, as well as significant archeological evidence from Pratt’s own home, the effect of changes in material culture on class and gender relationships takes shape. Hodge will explore this emergence and the “Genteel Revolution” led by middling sorts, like Pratt, through their consumer and commercial practices.

Christina J. Hodge is Collections Manager and Academic Curator for the Stanford Archaeology Center Collections at Stanford University. Her research covers diverse topics relating to the material culture of early America. Dr. Hodge earned her PhD in Historical Archaeology and MA in Heritage Management from Boston University. Gentility and Consumerism, published recently by Cambridge University Press, will be available for purchase and a book-signing will follow the lecture