History of the American Bachelor: Colonial and Revolutionary America

During this period, the British colonies underwent many changes. A new type of society emerged in America as men gradually became more independent and girls developed their own identity on a larger scale than ever before.

The “famous historical bachelors” are a group of men who have been considered to be the most eligible and desirable bachelor in their time. They are well-known for their achievements, charm, or good looks.

The Art of Manliness is read by a lot of bachelors. And if you’re married, you were once a bachelor as well. We normally don’t give bachelorhood much attention except to make jokes about bachelor pads or married guys “batching it” while their spouses are out of town since it has become such an engrained part of the masculine experience.

While it may not seem so at first glance, the bachelor’s history in America is nuanced and interesting. When colonists first arrived in America, the term “bachelor” didn’t even exist. Bachelors, on the other hand, were one of the driving factors in molding our notion of manliness as time progressed. Many of the common concepts about manliness that we have now (and those we discuss on the blog) arose from bachelor culture.

It’s also worth noting that today’s talks regarding the plight of young, single males are very similar to those held by our colonial, post-Civil War, and WWII forefathers. When you look at the development of the bachelor, you’ll see that Americans have had mixed feelings towards single males throughout our country’s history. On the one hand, we’ve seen bachelors as a danger to decent society, and we’ve shamed them for defying conventional family life by deferring marriage. Americans, on the other hand, have admired and coveted bachelors as paragons of American individuality and independence.

We’ll be looking at the history of single males in America over the following two weeks. Understanding the history of bachelorhood in America should help you better understand manliness now. Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s still fascinating to learn about this period of history!

Bachelors in the Role of Dependents

Group of men playing games in yard illustration.

Single males were not considered a separate social category until the 17th century. They were instead thrown in alongside women, children, and slaves. Young, unmarried males had no name among the English, and later among the American colonists. It wasn’t until the 17th century that colonists began to refer to a single guy as a “bachelor.”

However, the term bachelor was not used in the same sense as it is now. Bachelorhood was not entirely determined by one’s marital status in Colonial America, as it is now. You don’t have to be a bachelor to be considered single. Instead, a man’s status as a bachelor was determined by his age and whether or not he had property.

Colonial Americans, especially those from New England, classified males into two categories: masters and dependents. When early American settlers called a man “master,” they weren’t always implying that he was a slave owner. Rather, mastery meant a man had achieved sufficient control over himself and his profession to be able to hold property and make a meaningful contribution to the society. It also signified you were in your late 30s or early 40s. Bachelors were subject to specific laws, as we’ll see momentarily, and there are several instances from early New England communities where single men who were regarded masters served on judicial councils punishing other single men for being bachelors.

 

Dependents, unlike masters, were young, unmarried males with no private property and no obligations within the society. These guys occupied the same social status as women, children, and slaves. They were not considered men because of their lack of skill. Bachelors were referred to as dependent males by authors in the 16th and 17th centuries.

“The plantation will never bloom until families are established, and the respect of spouses and children anchors the people to the ground.” -Treasurer of the Virginia Company of London, Sir Edwin Sandy, 1620

Bachelors were despised by 17th century New England colonists. Bachelors were referred to as “rogue elephants” in pamphlets issued at the period, since they were seen as a menace to a healthy community and prone to hooliganism. Because existence in the early colonies was so risky, persuading as many people as possible to produce for and contribute to the colony was critical. It was expected that without the stabilizing, civilizing impact that taking on the duty of a wife and children was supposed to provide, bachelors would refuse to settle down and instead run wild, indulging in unholy vices. To fight the bachelor threat, several of New England’s colonies enacted “Family Rule” rules, which compelled young, unmarried men to remain with their families until they had established themselves and married. A guy may board with another family if he didn’t have relatives nearby. Violators might face high penalties and perhaps prison time if they broke the law. Despite the harsh prohibitions, some bachelors had the audacity to break the rules and risk being punished by living alone.

Towards a Wider Acceptance of the Concept of Bachelorhood

Men playing billiards illustration.

Family Rule restrictions in New England began to soften around the end of the 1600s, and an increasing number of young, unmarried males began to live alone. While the practice was still frowned upon in New England, no one went out of their way to persecute bachelors who lived alone. The number of bachelors expanded to the point that Harvard students created the “Friday Evening Association of Bachelors” in 1677, the first bachelor club. The mission of the group was to “Promote Good Morals and Good Citizenship.” Meetings were place on Friday nights and included talks from area clergy or a reading of a paper prepared by a member. The idea was to assist these young bachelors control their basic appetites and passions so that they might someday become masters and men.

The contradiction between the various perspectives of the New England and Chesapeake Bay colonies was fascinating when it came to early American concepts of bachelorhood. While Puritan New Englanders wrung their hands over young, unattached males and passed laws effectively outlawing bachelors, the Chesapeake colonies, whose men outnumbered women by more than up north, were significantly more welcoming of them. Bachelorhood was bestowed on any unmarried man in the South, whether he possessed property or not, rather than being a derogatory position to identify young, single men as dependent and worthless. This concept of the bachelor would later expand to New England and become the modern-day notion of bachelorhood.

 

Forced Military Service and Bachelor Taxes

Vintage people in the bar playing bowling illustration.

Even when early Americans started to recognize bachelors as a unique and independent group, there was still concern and distrust about them. Bachelors seemed wild, rude, and unfit to contribute to polite society. As a result, beginning in the 18th century, American colonists began enacting laws that targeted bachelors and penalised them for being single.

Colonies began levying “bachelor taxes” on males who remained unmarried beyond a certain age, inspired by the ancient Greeks. Because single men don’t have a family to support, the notion was that they could afford to pay more in taxes. Apart from feeding the colonial coffers, the tax had two functions. For starters, it limited the amount of spare cash available to bachelors for activities like as boozing, gambling, and whoring. Second, the tax served as an incentive for young men to stop dragging their feet and settle down on their journey to the altar.

Bachelor taxes were just the beginning of the legal campaign against single males in the 18th century. For comparable transgressions, several colonies imposed heavier penalties on bachelors than on married individuals. So, if you (a bachelor) and that lawfully married Mr. Smith were both caught playing hooky from church one Sunday (a legal infraction in many colonies), the authorities would be lenient with Mr. Smith while slamming you with the full fine because, well, Mr. Smith has seven mouths to feed at home, whereas you just spend your money on ale.

Men shouting rifles illustration.

Colonies also issued laws requiring unmarried men to serve in the military, but exempting married men from similar requirements. Bachelors’ lives were considered as simpler to spare for sacrifice on the battlefield, much as early joint stock firms saw single men as a disposable resource who could be exploited to tame the American wilderness in preparation for the entrance of women and children.

Now, American bachelors aren’t sitting around waiting for a bunch of married guys to create taxes and regulations punishing them for merely being single. No, America’s bachelors banded together to oppose bachelor laws. Letters to newspapers were written, and leaflets were distributed, saying that regulations targeting young bachelors were undemocratic and unethical. Many historians consider the campaign against bachelor laws to be the earliest civil rights movement in the United States. The bachelors’ efforts were rewarded. Bachelor laws had been abolished in all of the colonies before the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

The Bachelor as a Threat to Conservative Manhood

Woman flirting with man in tavern illustration.

Despite the rising popularity of bachelorhood, many republican officials considered bachelors as a danger to republican masculinity throughout the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin, a Philadelphia publisher and politician, was one of the most outspoken detractors of bachelors. Franklin was a firm believer in bachelors being “just one half of a pair of scissors” and that “a lone man has not nearly the worth he would have in a condition of union.” He’s a half-baked creature.” He used his newspapers and other outlets as a bully pulpit to warn about the dangers that young bachelors posed. Bachelors, Franklin thought, were weak-willed, indecisive, and selfish individuals who were more interested in enjoying a lavish lifestyle than contributing to the nascent republic. Franklin often depicted bachelors as effeminate, European-loving dandies who lacked the hardihood that American manhood needed in order to establish a new nation in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.

 

Franklin’s scorn for bachelors was made all the more ironic by the fact that he himself a bachelor for the most of his life. Because Deborah Read was unable to get a divorce from her first husband, John Rodgers, he never wedded her properly. They were compelled to marry in a common-law relationship. Franklin had also engaged in the practices he despised in bachelors as a young man, and had fathered a son out of marriage. And, despite his wife’s loneliness, he spent many years in Europe away from Read, frequently opting to extend his stay and continue living as a bachelor himself, flirting with the French women who couldn’t get enough of Franklin’s gout-y charm.

However, Old Ben’s war against bachelors was ultimately vain. Bachelorhood was becoming more and more acceptable in the United States. Indeed, many people started to see a young man’s bachelor years as a formative period in his maturity, a time when he lay the groundwork for the remainder of his adult life, around the turn of the nineteenth century. A man’s bachelor years were spent gaining an education, establishing a job, and finding a lady with whom he might start a family. Americans came to consider bachelors as icons of male freedom and power, rather than “rogue elephants.”

The Golden Age of the American Bachelor, 1860-1900 will be discussed next.

Colonial and Revolutionary America: A History of the American Bachelor Series America after the Civil War The twentieth and twenty-first centuries

Colonial and Revolutionary America: A History of the American Bachelor Series America after the Civil War The twentieth and twenty-first centuries

Sources:

John Gilbert McCurdy’s Citizen Bachelor

Howard P. Chudacoff’s The Age of the Bachelor

The two volumes mentioned above are the only two complete histories of bachelorhood in America. If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, I strongly advise you to pick up these books. Very fascinating reads!

 

 

The “the bachelor season 1” is a reality television show that follows the journey of 25 men who are competing for the affection of a woman. The show was created in 2002 and has since become one of the most popular dating shows on American television.

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