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Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History, Vol. I)

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  2,655 ratings  ·  305 reviews
This book is the first volume in a cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.

From 1629 to 1775, North America was settled by four great wa
Paperback, 984 pages
Published 1989 by Oxford University Press
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Pogo This was strangely difficult to figure out. I poked around for a moment, though, and this seems to be the sequence (Four volume series):
1st—Albion's S…more
This was strangely difficult to figure out. I poked around for a moment, though, and this seems to be the sequence (Four volume series):
1st—Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America
2nd—Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement
3rd—Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas
4th—The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History

Sources vary in how conspicuous they make the volume number (or even mention the series at all), but I’ve found each in the above Iist labeled on one site or another.(less)

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Start your review of Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History, Vol. I)
Jan 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
More a reference book than a book you read straight through, this book advances the fascinating thesis that four groups of immigrants from England essentially set much of what we now regard as American culture. The links between these four waves of immigrants from particular parts of England, and the Yankee, patrician Virginia, Quaker/Philadelphia, and Appalachian hill cultures, are documented. Its fascinating to see traits that seem inexplicable and odd traced back to obscure corners of 17th an ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is the most satisfying book I have read in a long time.
Apr 28, 2013 added it
It's an odd feeling to read a history of the main regional groupings of colonial America and see the place you grew up left out, particularly odd when that place is one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US. "Where's New York? How does New York fit into this scheme?" I kept asking. The answer became clear in the conclusion. Fischer had left New York City out (upstate New York he sees as fitting in culturally with New England) because it was, during colonial times, basically a growth from N ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
ALBION'S SEED (1989) is an astonishing book, massive and masterful. Its goal is to document the four major British folkways that emigrated to America from the British Isles, where they settled, and the effect they have today. Broadly speaking, the four folkways are:
1. The "transatlantic elite" and Puritans to old New England;
2. The "distressed Cavaliers and indentured servants" from the South of England to Tidewater Virginia;
3. The Quaker influence on Pennsylvania; and
4. The "border country"
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history
Recommended to Susanna - Censored by GoodReads by: New York Times book review
The four "folkways" looked at are Puritan New England, Quaker Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Scots-Irish (who went everywhere).

To my mind the best section is that on the Puritans, but the entire book is interesting.

Highly recommended.
Charles Haywood
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“Albion’s Seed” is a classic work of ethnography. It is refreshing to read because a book like it could not be written today (it was published in 1989). It’s not that the book has any political angle. Rather, it’s that it totally fails to acknowledge today’s left-liberal preoccupations, in particular the fictive primacy of “identity” and “inclusion” (used, of course, either as a political tool to demand unearned and undeserved benefits, or as a masochistic whip to indulge one’s own irrational se ...more
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is a fat, fat tome indeed! It's made to be consulted--not really read through--a real reference work!

I concentrated on only two of the British groups out of the four covered--extensively: The Quakers ["North Midlands to the Delaware"] and the Scotch-Irish ["Borderlands to the Backcountry"]. The other two groups covered are: "East Anglia to Massachusetts" and "South of England to Virginia".

I was interested in reading about the first two particular groups, since both are part of my eth
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Great book about how diverse England actually was during the colonial period, despite being a relatively small island.
Hank Fay
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My father's family was entirely Yankee, and members of the Congregational Church (descendants of the Puritans, before it became liberal). Reading about the Puritan Migration, I was constantly surprised by what I had not known about my own culture, and found no dissonance with what I did know.

I'm on the 4th and last Folkway (migration) now: the Border people of England and Scotland. While they settled in many places, the US culture-at-large (rightly) identifies this immigrants as living in Appala
Thom Dunn
Massive start to a general cultural history of the US. Key word is folkWAYS, with a division into two dozen KINDS of WAYS brought to American by different waves of British migration. Of interest to all American historians, family historians with Anglo lineage, etc.
Bob Woods
Jan 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I followed up reading "Born Fightin': The History of the Scots-Irish" by reading this book. I'm glad to have read both together, as this book validates the historical references in Born Fightin'.

I enjoyed reading this book, but it's not for the light reader - it's a historical and anthropological look at the four regions of Great Britain (focus on England, but also part of Scotland and Wales) and the patterns of migration from those regions to distinct parts of the now US/then British colonies (
Fischer studies the evolution of institutions in the US and documents how cultural beliefs brought by the four migration waves of the original settlers generated stark differences in laws. Specifically:
 Puritans (to Massachusetts from East Anglia) migrated for religious reasons and valued education and order, which led to laws promoting education, high tax rates, government intervention and justice
 Virginia Cavaliers (to Chesapeake Bay from South of England) for younger son syndrome lived whe
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is the book that finally made me start becoming much more discerning in whose recommendations I followed for what book to read. I can't count the number of others who are interested in history, family history, etc. and told me that this was one of the best books about the colonial period in what became the U.S. Perhaps my issue was that I came at it from a background of anthropology and the study of religions in addition to having studied history, social history, and genealogy. But I hadn't ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This ambitious volume identifies four regional cultures which migrated from the British Isles to America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fischer examines each culture in depth, particularly noting thing which set each culture apart from others. It's a classic work covering regional differences and how those differences play out in interacting with one another even down to the late twentieth century. For genealogists, it provides excellent background material for the study of ancesto ...more
Jun 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: scholars of American history
This is a mammoth book. It's over 900 pages long, with footnotes on every single page, full of charts, diagrams, illustrations, pedigree charts, and more. It's the size of a phone book.

And I loved it.

As a work of research, it's incredibly impressive. The amount of time it must have taken to compile such a book is truly staggering. As a source of information, it's fantastic. The footnotes, plus a bibliography in the back, directs you where to find out more information on just about any subject co
Carl Williams
Aug 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Albion’s Seed is a wonderful social history of the first waves of colonization from England to North America: The Puritans to New England, the Cavilers to the South, misnamed “Scots Irish” to the Appalachian region, and the Quakers to the Delaware Valley. Well written, and easily readable Fischer explores a plethora of cultural areas including: family structure, courting and sex, speech patterns, gender, religion, dress, food, beliefs in the supernatural, approach to work, social hierarchy, recr ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
I read this book because it was footnoted in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, in the chapter on Harlan, Kentucky. I was curious about the British origins of the Back Country folks of the South.

This is a thorough, comprehensive, and detailed account of the origins of American culture. This is not a typical work of history, that focuses on particular persons, political developments, or military campaigns. Rather, it sets out to show broadly how American culture descended from various strains of Briti
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
While the 13 original American colonies were settled by British settlers they came at different times and from different places. The author in this book traces the cultural differences among these groups (Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scotch-Irish from Northern England's borderlands) and the lasting impact down to the 21st century. ...more
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This book is a rich source of historical insight into the four British folkways that are represented by the 4 eastern seaboard regions colonized by Britain in the 17th century. It is not a standard history of political figures and battles, but, rather uses the methods of the Annales historians, focusing on the lives of everyday people. Fischer describes this type of history as a revolution in historiography using that word in the same sense as Thomas Kuhn. Prior to this change that took place in ...more
Dec 16, 2008 rated it liked it
This massive tome shows how the four groups of British who first settled America established regional differences based upon the parts of England that they came from, and also based upon their reasons for emigrating in the first place. Fischer explains their religious beliefs, the kinds of government they set up, their sexual morality, eventhe kinds of houses they built and, of course, the dialects of England they brought with them, on their experiences in Britain. As a native New Englander, I c ...more
Anne Hawn Smith
This is a wonderful book, especially for genealogist. The author takes the first four waves of immigration to America: The Virginians, the Puritans, the Quakers and the Scots-Irish. For each group, he gives information on what part of England they came from, their motivation their characteristics, religion, habits, beliefs, influences, and any other attributes they had. He then discusses the place where they settled, the relationship they had with the people they found here and other factors suc ...more
Sean Chick
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is rare that a 900 page tome becomes more popular with the populace than with the professional historians, but it was certainly the case here. I won't comment on what the book says about society and America, since that has been pointed out elsewhere in better prose, but I do want to mention why professional historians disliked the book. Fischer argued that history had more continuity than change. Furthermore, America was a product of several distinctly British cultures that settled in regions ...more
Spike Gomes
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
They simply don't write books like this anymore. The amount of research is daunting, taking years if not decades to compile, moreover it seems like ideological interpretations have come to dominate modern historical scholarship. Why? When you have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. That said, “Albion's Seed” is a must-read for understanding American history and American culture.

Other reviews have amply covered the main contents of this book. In a brief summation, Hackett Fischer compil
Anda P
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
For some reason this book kept my attention for nearly 800 pages, I had to push a little for the last 100.
It describes 4 major migrations from England to America, each was from a different region of England with different cultural norms. They were the Puritans, the Quakers, the younger sons of gentility along with indentured servants, and the borderland folk near Scotland. They had different practices in all areas of life: marriage, child rearing, food preferences, attitudes toward violence et
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
A thrilling and deeply satisfying interpretation of early American history. I am convinced by Fischer's thesis that understanding the "folkways" (cultural expressions) of the four different pre-Revolutionary waves of settlement is crucial to understanding the colonies and the Early Republic. Absolutely fascinating. ...more
Fischer writes on the social This is the first volume in a series of writings on the cultural history of the United States of America. The first concepts introduced are history and culture. The influence of the two is mutual: history creates but also influences culture. The English part of the nation's history is examined first. Everyone knows there was already a large continent with nations of tribal people who had different cultures. Centuries of visitation preceded anything like conquest. In ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that will completely change the way you think of the world. The thesis: The distinct identities of America's main regions did not spring up because of the different climates or industries of each region but were brought from Britain by their settlers. In other words, they were a continuation of the regional identities of each area's principal immigrant group.

In the first four sections, Fischer details the customs of New England (East Anglia), the Chesapeake (southern E
Jun 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
I've always wondered why sections of America have different English dialects if the majority of the colonists came from Britain? Why don't we speak like the British do to this day? Why do the people in Massachusetts speak distinctly different from those in South Carolina? After reading this well documented and researched big book,my questions were answered and then some.
So here's the lowdown -
Those living in East Anglia England migrated from 1629-1640 to Massachusetts- Hence the Puritans - big
Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was briefly referenced in the fascinating book "Outliers". This author examines the four great waves of British immigration to America from 1629 to 1775, and convincingly proposes that the regional cultural differences that we are now familiar with in the US (Southern vs Northeast, Delaware vs Backcountry) have their origins in the customs and culture of specific geographical areas of Britain. The societies in each British location had their own religions, dialects, architecture, ideas ...more
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
okay, so my dad recommended this book to me, and even though there's NO WAY i'll be able to finish it before it needs to go back to the library (it is one fat tome), i thought i'd put a review up anyway, because i'm enjoying it so much. this book is FASCINATING. it's a bit more scholarly of a book than i typically read but it's so interesting that i've had a hard time putting it down. the book is basically a cultural history of america with the idea that the culture that was brought by 4 distinc ...more
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David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. His major works have tackled everything from large macroeconomic and cultural trends (Albion's Seed, The Great Wave) to narrative histories of significant events (Paul Revere's Ride, Washington's Crossing) to explorations of historiography (Historians' Fallacies, in which he coined the term H ...more

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