In a study of material objects, desire leaves no footprint, but its immaterial presence is profound and occasionally very legible. A probated estate, for example, not only offers a complete inventory and worth of the material goods owned by the deceased at the time of death, but it can also offer an imprint of the social desire that drove the acquisition of goods. Because the estates are inventoried room by room, when the public rooms (parlours, dining rooms) of an estate of relatively modest value are lavishly, conspicuously furnished (“37 wine glasses,” “16 red china dishes, 8 dishes blue china,” “4 silver salt shakers,” “two carriages”) while the private rooms are (bedrooms) lean and impoverished (“1 hair mattress”), the profile of the deceased’s spending patterns can betray a pronounced desire for social standing, an anxiety about class, an imitation of leisure, or a desperation for distinction that I think of as “the performance of gentility”1 Why certain individuals


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  1. 2.
    Cary Carson, “The Consumer Revolution in Colonial America: Why Demand?” in Of Consuming Interests, the Style of life in the Eighteenth Century, Cary Carson, Ronald Hoffman, and Peter J. Albert, eds. (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 505.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    A vivid portrait of his arrival is painted in Kenneth Silverman, A Cultural History of the American Revolution (New York: Thomas Cromwell, 1976), 91–92.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For a full description of the affair, see Philip M. Hamer, The Papers of Henry laurens (Columbia, SC: South Carolina Historical Society, 1968), vol. v, 29–32.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Carl Bridenbaugh, Gentleman’s Progress: The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1948), 7Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Georg Simmel, “Fashion,” International Quarterly, 10 (1904): 130–155.Google Scholar
  6. 20.
    Thorstein Veblin, Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Penguin, 1979), 116.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Alfred Spencer, ed., Memoirs of William Hickey (London: Knopf, 1923), vol. ii, 32.Google Scholar
  8. 74.
    Worthington Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774–1789 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904), vol. I, 78.Google Scholar

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