When you think of our American fore-mothers and fore-fathers, you likely think of the rather stuffy, religious, conservative sort, like the Puritans and Anglicans. Charles Woodmason would certainly fit the bill. Woodmason was an Anglican minister who set out to brave the wild backwoods of the Carolinas in the 1760s. Formerly a merchant in the urban, sophisticated, and largely Anglican port of "Charlestown," Woodmason was shocked by the uncouth behavior he encountered in the Carolina backcountry. The haughty minister recorded his observations of the Protestant religious dissenters and raunchy congregants present along the roads and in the meeting houses throughout the region in his journal. Listed below are a few gems that highlight how rowdy 18th century Carolinians were and how much Woodmason disapproved of alcohol, rebellion, and, generally, anything that sounds at all fun. (All the following quotes were found in this History Matters transcription of parts of Woodmason's 1768 journal.)
Carolinians liked to unwind
Backcountry people were largely poor farmers who took full advantage of their leisure hours. Woodmason reported in his journal that "After Service (the congregants) went to Revelling Drinking Singing Dancing and Whoring—and most of the Company were drunk before I quitted the Spot." After a long, hot, day of listening to Charles Woodmason proselytize on religious and political hot button issues, it's really no wonder that the congregants needed a bit of relaxation.
North Carolinian Regulators were no strangers to confrontation
The backcountry was full of religious and political rebels during Woodmason's travels. In 1768, he was tasked with spreading Governor Tryon's recent proclamation, about the Regulator Rebellion, throughout the area. The "Licentious Gang of Presbyterians (who) stopt the Governors Messenger - broke open my Packet to see the Contents and would have whipp’d the Man, if not prevented," were likely Regulators.
Woodmason's religious position did, however, offer him a modicum of protection (Pictured here: George Whitefield, Great Awakening evangelist)
Despite threats of violence from religious dissenters, like the Anabaptists who reportedly "should threat to whip (him), if (he) came any more on that Side the River to preach, or publish Proclamations," the reverend found that his position as a religious leader gave him some security in the area. In fact, it was a fear of retaliation from religious people in the area that kept the "Licentious" Presbyterians from roughing up the messenger heading for Woodmason. "(It is) a Mercy that they pay some Regard to my Gown," the Anglican remarked, after noting that the Magistrates in the area seemed much less eager to spread word of the Governor's proclamation.
Backcountry women's fashions didn't live up to Woodmason's standards either
While "respectable" women of the period donned multiple layers of shifts, petticoats, stays, and silk outer layers, as pictured here, Tar Heel women could little afford to indulge in such extravagance. Woodmason stated that local women went "bareheaded, barelegged and barefoot with only a thin Shift and under Petticoat." Even worse, backcountry women had a particular form of fashion that Woodmason tried to break them of: "(they) draw their Shift as tight as possible to the Body, and pin it close, to shew the roundness of their Breasts, and slender Waists (for they are generally finely shaped) and draw their Petticoat close to their Hips to shew the fineness of their Limbs—so that they might as well be in Puri Naturalibus—Indeed Nakedness is not censurable or indecent here, and they expose themselves often quite Naked."
Joseph Ducreux, pictured here, was probably quite a bit more fashionable than our pious priest, but Woodmason had his own fashion issues
Although Charles Woodmason thought backcountry women's fashions were downright scandalous, he understood the reason these women were inclined to wear fewer clothes: the oppressive heat. Despite his efforts at fashion reform, Woodmason admitted that he was unsuccessful: "I cannot break [them?] of this—for the heat of the Weather admits not of any [but] thin Cloathing." In fact, Woodmason himself found the heat problematic; he stated that "(he could) hardly bear the Weight of (his) Whig and Gown, during Service."
Want to know more?
Check out these sources for more info on the capricious Mr. Woodmason: