The book begins with an account of the circumstances leading to the divorce of one William Yonson and his wife Eliza Jane in the Southern town of Loudoun in the pre-Civil war years. Its impact and the related insights about Loudoun's white community are then presented. The incident exemplifies southern patriarchy and solidarity at work and highlights how an idealized and rigid value system—engendered and enforced by the same patriarchy—is accepted by and imposed on members of the community. The relative status and rights of community members—middle and lower class white men and their women and the black slaves—are also discussed, in relation to the privileged upper class. Conflicts with other culturally-diverse settlers in the town—Irish, Welsh, Quakers, Germans, and Scottish-Irish—are also noted since they present a clear challenge to the white community's social vision and political leadership.
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