Brotherhood, Business, and White Male Respectability: Secret Fraternal Orders in Antebellum Virginia
Issue: Vol 2 No. 1 (2011)
Subject Areas: Religious Studies
This article examines the dramatic growth and popularity of secret fraternal organizations such as the Freemasons, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the Sons of Temperance in Virginia just before the Civil War. Young Virginians who came of age during the antebellum era lived through a time of tremendous economic, cultural, and political upheaval. The spread of a market economy into the cities and towns of the Old Dominion promoted a cultural ethos that rewarded individual ambition, altered long-standing social relationships, and aggravated class tensions between working-class white men and new middle-class businessmen, merchants, and professionals. In a state increasingly pulled between the demands of the growing market and the long-established tradition of unfree labour, secret fraternal orders, played a special role in assuaging class tensions between white working and middle-class men. As the market economy grew and expanded these two groups of men had many reasons to be at odds with each outside of the lodge room. Instead, they chose to join lodges that stressed brotherly love and fraternal bonds. Ultimately, based on these ideals, secret fraternal orders created a civic brotherhood among white men in Virginia that softened class distinctions and carved out a non-political pathway to civic authority for white men.
Author: Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch