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 waves of English-speaking immigrants. The first was an exodus of Puritans from the east of England to Massachusetts (1629-1640). The second was the movement of a Royalist elite and indentured servants from the south of England to Virginia (ca. 1649-75). The third was the "Friends' migration,"--the Quakers--from the North Midlands and Wales to the Delaware Valley (ca. 1675-1725). The fourth was a great flight from the borderlands of North Britain and northern Ireland to the American backcountry (ca. 1717-75).
These four groups differed in many ways--in religion, rank, generation and place of origin. They brought to America different folkways which became the basis of regional cultures in the United States. They spoke distinctive English dialects and built their houses in diverse ways. They had different ideas of family, marriage and gender; different practices of child-naming and child-raising; different attitudes toward sex, age and death; different rituals of worship and magic; different forms of work and play; different customs of food and dress; different traditions of education and literacy; different modes of settlement and association. They also had profoundly different ideas of comity, order, power and freedom which derived from British folk-traditions. Albion's Seed describes those differences in detail, and discusses the continuing importance of their transference to America.
Today most people in the United States (more than 80 percent) have no British ancestors at all. These many other groups, even while preserving their own ethnic cultures, have also assimilated regional folkways which were transplanted from Britain to America. In that sense, nearly all Americans today are "Albion's Seed," no matter what their ethnic origins may be; but they are so in their different regional ways.
The concluding section of Albion's Seed explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still control attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
Albion's Seed also argues that the four British folkways created an expansive cultural pluralism that has proved to the more libertarian than any single culture alone could be. Together they became the determinants of a voluntary society in the United States.
David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History emeritus 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 Historian's fallacy). He is best known for his major study, Albion's Seed, which argued that core aspects of American culture stem from several different British folkways and regional cultures, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington's Crossing, a narrative of George Washington's leadership of the Continental Army during the winter of 1776-1777 during the American Revolutionary War.
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 and 18th century England. We're talking about the way houses look, the way people get married, their attitude toward government, you name it.
The book is interesting, but not something you get lost in. Its organized topically, with a few dozen categories of human behavior - he calls them 'folkways' - described for each of the four cultures. To be honest, I found the Appalachian culture most fascinating. The group that settled this region came from the boundary area between England and Scotland, carrying with them a culture forged in a thousand years of brutal conflict. Trusting only family and clan, prone to violence, deeply mistrustful of authority, given to pregnancies that proceeded marriage, and even abduction rituals as a playful part of any marriage celebration, this was a wild, warrior culture with a lawless streak.
A string of Presidents beginning with Andrew Jackson, himself known for vicious Indian fighting, endless conflicts over the honor of women, and amazing personal endurance, were descended from this crop of 20,000 who came in the 1700s, were essentially expelled from peace loving Philadelphia, and spread rapidly down the spine of the Appalachian mountains and over to the Ozarks. I've always liked the music that flowed from this crew, but always marveled at the prevalence of murder, suicide, crime, hanging, and general mayhem in the songs handed down from what I would expected to be a more peaceable peasant culture. Suddenly, the confusion was dispelled. Furthermore, the book shed some light on variations in regional attitudes that have puzzled me, for instance the apparent preference in states dominated by Appalachian immigrants for military service and national defense, accompanied by instinctive fear of 'the other,' for keeping money in the family rather than giving it over in taxes, etc. seemed to fit the pattern of the culture transferred from England.
So, history buffs only, take a look if you haven't already. I understand Fisher goes into greater depth in subsequent books on each culture. Let me know what you think if you've read any of them.
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 New Amsterdam, a city more Dutch than English in culture. And this book is the story of England's contribution to American culture, and the ways in which the different regional cultures of the UK influenced the different regional cultures of the US. This isn't, I realized as I read the book, actually my usual mental focus, as a New York raised daughter of a Greek immigrant; I tend to think more often about the Ellis Island experience, for all that I learned in school about colonial days. But I did find that his account explained some things that had puzzled me.
The choice gives a particular slant to Fischer's history. He emphasizes the ways in which existing culture shapes the economic choices of a region over the ways in which the means of production shape culture (no Marxist analysis here, where everything else would be superstructure to the economic base). He emphasizes the regional cultures brought to the New World over the ways in which the New World shaped these cultures: the ways in which Southern culture was predisposed to choose slavery more than the ways in which slavery changed Southern cavalier culture, the ways in which the borderland peoples chose a particular adaption to the frontier more than the ways in which the frontier changed borderland peoples, the ways in which non-Anglo-Americans adapted to existing regional cultures (JFK and Dukakis becoming New England Yankees and Barry Goldwater a representative of the borderland/Scots-Irish culture) more than the ways in which immigrants shifted American culture. If the short history at the end of the book about how the four cultures have been reflected in the Presidency were carried forward till the present, Barack Obama might appear as a representative of the middle America background of his Kansas born mother.
So does the book, as one skeptical friend wondered, attempt one single explanation of American history? I would say not. Fischer acknowledges the things he's leaving out (though in one case, when discussing Reconstruction, I think he allows too little for how that history might have been altered if ex-slaves had actually gotten those 40 acres and a mule), even as he chooses not to dwell on them. He isn't, after all, saying that American history can be reduced to the history of those four regional British cultures. Rather, he is saying that these four regional British cultures have had, and still have, a strong influence on our country. And for that, he makes a good case.
The strength of the book is in the description of all four cultures, and the ways in which all four are tied back to regions in England (and Scotland and northern Ireland in the case of the border people), class relations and historical events at the time of immigration.
In his account, I see explanations for genealogical, cultural, and political things, such as:
1) Why does every single line on my grandfather's father's family tree seem to go back to some ship arriving in New England from England sometime in the 1630s? It turns out it's because that's simply what New England was like, before the Irish potato famine immigration. It's the earliest of his four waves of immigration (there were very early settlers in Virginia, but their big wave came a little later), and *everyone* showed up not long after 1630.
2) Cahn's and Carbone's red and blue families? These turn out to look very much like New England families vs. Scots-Irish families, if you simply add birth control to New England families and weaken the power of the shotgun marriage in Scots-Irish families. New England families, if Fischer's account is right, *always* married later and more educated, while Scots-Irish families married younger and more often following a pregnancy.
3) Fischer describes sharp differences in the Gini coefficient of different parts of the country leading to differences in what tax money went for. New England, which strove for equality both by bringing in mostly middle class immigrants rather than rich or poor ones and by evenly distributing land, wound up with taxes going mostly for shared public goods like schools, while the South, the land of second sons of aristocrats and poor indentured servants (until it became also the part of the country with slaves) had a much more uneven distribution of wealth and therefore a larger portion of tax money going to the very poor. As I read that, it made sense that New England would wind up more tax friendly.
The cultures that are most familiar to me (Quaker and New England cultures) seemed well described, and the Southern cultures were made more explicable. On the whole a good book.
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" people from the contentious Southern Scotland-Northern England district to today's Central Appalachia.
This book is jammed solid with useful drawings, maps and charts; and as many prior reviewers have mentioned, the book reads well as a source authority, not just an integrated text. This should not take away from the fact that it is well written, though; also that the relevance of colonial antecedents shows up in more modern settings, all the way to the U.S. presidential campaigns of the 1980's, in fact. After reading (or even healthily sampling) this book, the reader will be able to set aside such convenient nostrums as "WASP" or "Anglo" in favor of a more nuanced view of English-speaking America. One can also see the considerable influence this text has had on later volumes like Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America and Jim Webb's Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.
From the book: Another determination of social differences in British America was the social rank of the colonists. The factor worked in two ways. First, the founders of America's various regional cultures came from different strata of British society. Second, major changes occurred in Britain's ranking system during the era of colonization. Emigrants in the early seventeenth century had one way of thinking about social status; those who arrived in the mid-eighteenth century had another. This process of change added another dimension to regional differences in America. (p. 798)
“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 self-hatred). In fact, “Albion’s Seed” offers no focus on identity other than ethnic identity as derived from Britain. And there is no effort at inclusion at all, only an effort at truth. Nor does it suggest there is anything evil about America, another necessary abasement for a history to be accepted by the Left. What the book does provide is a huge range of facts, carefully parsed and clearly communicated to the non-specialist reader, in service of explaining why America is what it is today.
The author, David Hackett Fischer, explicitly structured “Albion’s Seed” to avoid “reductive materialist models . . . presently in fashion” (doubtless a reference to Marxist influence of academic history). Further, he sought to find a middle road between old-fashioned history, which Fischer found to lack adequate empiricism, though it offered plenty of interpretation, and modern social history, which offered incomplete empiricism combined with a lack of adequate interpretation. Throughout the book, Fischer offers not just history, and not just empiricism, but interpretation in the light of other disciplines, notably studies of cultural values and economics, to create an integrated “braided narrative.”
What this amounts to is an exhaustive effort to compare and contrast the four British folkways of the book’s subtitle, examining a wide range of different characteristics of each folkway. (A “folkway” is “the normative structure of values, customs and meanings that exist in any culture,” they are “often highly persistent, but they are never static.”) The goal is to shed light on “the determinants of a voluntary society”—how to “explain the origins and stability of a social system which for two centuries has remained stubbornly democratic in its politics, capitalist in its economy, libertarian in its laws, individualist in its society and pluralistic in its culture.” Fischer’s thesis is that despite that fewer than 20% of Americans have any British ancestors at all, the four folkways that are the focus of his book, each a different “freedom way,” “remain the most powerful determinant of a voluntary society in the United States today”—in other words, we are the way we are because the nation was founded in the intertwining of these four groups of people, each with an origin in a specific area of Britain, who brought with them the cultural characteristics that marked them in Britain.
The book discusses each folkway and connects its members to their predecessors in a specific area of Britain. The first was English Puritans, mostly from East Anglia, whose settlement centered around Massachusetts. The second was settlers from the south of England, stereotypically “distressed cavaliers,” but including other social classes from the south, who came to Virginia, settling around the Chesapeake Bay. The third was Quakers and members of closely related Nonconformist sects, who settled the Delaware Valley (centered around today’s Pennsylvania). The fourth was borderers from north Britain, including southern Scotland and northern Ireland, who settled the backcountry, primarily Appalachia but also some areas farther north.
Fischer acknowledges that these four folkways do not exhaust all early settlement in America, British or otherwise. Other relevant groups include Dutch in New York and immigrants who preceded the great migrations of the four folkways that are the focus of “Albion’s Seed.” (They also include outriders, like “an eccentric Devon family called Maverick” that settled in Boston, had trouble with the Puritans, moved away, and kept moving as they came into conflict with others, ending up on the Western plains. “Their name was given to range cattle that bore no man’s brand, and became a synonym for independent eccentricity in American speech.”) But all of these were much smaller groups and, in Fischer’s view, much less relevant for the way the four original American folkways expanded geographically and culturally, until later swamped by non-British immigrant folkways, leaving behind as their main legacy a combination view of freedom that makes us who we are today.
For each of the four folkways, Fischer examines each of the following “ways”: speech, building, family, marriage, gender, sex, child-rearing, naming, age, death, religious, magic, learning, food, dress, sport, work, time, wealth, inheritance, rank, association, social, order, power, and, most importantly, freedom. He examines each way, for each folkway, with both quantitative (where available) and qualitative measures. For example, speech is examined with the qualitative indicators of “pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar” and the quantitative indicator of “speech frequencies.” Sex is examined with the qualitative indicators of “ideas and language” and the quantitative indicators of “prenuptial pregnancy, bastardy and fertility.” About 200 pages detailed pages are spent on each of folkway; at the end of each section, the reader has, or at least feels he has, a real grasp of how a prototypical member of that folkway lived, thought, and acted. And, just as importantly, how that differed from a prototypical member of a different folkway. A review can’t do justice to all the fascinating details (for example, you can learn all you want about different methods of food preparation in each folkway, and from where they derived, as well as methods of building and architecture, and endless more). Reading the book is the only way to get all the good information, but I will focus on highlights, as well as Fischer’s overall theme of liberty.
Intermittently, usually in the copious footnotes, Fischer adverts to various competing hypothesis about one matter or another. When he rejects those in favor of his, he says so clearly. When he sees value in them, he says so, and why. He generally rejects outright any ideological theses; he banishes as mostly irrelevant Marxist or other purely materialist revisionist views, or those that, for example, try to prove inanities such as that the Puritans were not strongly driven to precise action by precise religious beliefs. For example, he notes that contrary to revisionists, the Puritans did not come to catch fish, and their religious beliefs were not confined to a small oligarchy. Such pithy summations of matters that doubtless occupy much ink of professional historians add real value to the book, for it gives confidence to the reader that the author has mastered his subject.
An interesting theme to which Fischer repeatedly returns it that not only did each American folkway diverge from its English precedent, which is natural, but each strongly resisted such change, clinging to many cultural elements that had long disappeared in England. Cotton Mather famously called for resistance to “Criolan degeneracy,” and the same spirit, if not as vigorously, appeared in all areas of America. (Although Fischer does not mention it, Cotton Mather was negatively contrasting the Spanish tendency to adopt native customs and intermarry; “criollo” is the Spanish term for local people with all, or nearly all, Spanish ancestors, and, of course, the origin of our term “creole,” which means something somewhat different.)
As to the Puritans, Fischer portrays them much as they are commonly thought of—God-haunted and strict, with very little of a private sphere in their communities. But, in many ways, they were surprisingly modern. Husbands could not verbally abuse wives, much less physically abuse them, and punishments against such abuse were strictly enforced. Men and women were spiritually equal, and in fact women were admitted at higher rates to churches (a process involving a long process of approval, not just showing up on Sunday and signing a list), though men were expected to take most leadership roles. Similarly, men and women were punished identically for sexual sins. There was little hierarchy, with most settlers coming from the middle ranks of East Anglia, although naturally there was some hierarchy, including immense respect paid to the aged. Time focus was on “improving the time”—using one’s time profitability. These, and many more fascinating details, draw a clear, nuanced and compelling picture of Puritan folkways.
Puritan political methods and beliefs were, unsurprisingly, highly influential in later America. Fischer notes that the town meeting, stereotypical of New England and practically a cliché, complete with the famous Norman Rockwell “Freedom of Speech” painting, actually had existed in East Anglia for many centuries prior the Puritan migration; it was neither Puritan nor an American development. As to freedom ways, the Puritan concept of liberty was not borrowed from East Anglia as such, but rather seems largely to have derived from Puritanism filtered through East Anglian customs. Freedom mostly meant “ordered liberty,” which meant numerous individual restraints, imposed on themselves but never by outsiders, and also a recognition of fundamental rights of the commonwealth. Liberty also meant “soul liberty”—“the freedom to serve God in the world,” although in sharply constrained ways. But “ordered liberty” meant “publick liberty,” the right not to be interfered with without the community’s consent, and this concept was instrumental, of course, in touching off the American Revolution.
Fischer next turns to Virginia, home to “indentured servants and distressed cavaliers” from the South of England. We today are perhaps most familiar with a relatively accurate picture of Virginia society, since this is the society that dominates our conception and stereotype of America at the time of the Revolution. Unlike Puritan society, hierarchy was ubiquitous; indentured servitude, slavery and other forms of functional bondage were common. The upper classes were very upper class. For example, the first governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley, was a scion of one of England’s noble families, which could trace its ancestry back to a Saxon nobleman who joined William the Conqueror and was killed in 1068 (and to this date, 2016, still owns the same Gloucestershire castle the family has owned since about 1100 A.D.) Religion was mainstream and Anglican; dissenters were punished.
Women were few (at least as settlers) and held low social status; male sexual predation and patriarchy was the norm. However, many women did not take kindly to this, leading to various forms of strife, and physical violence against spouses by men was frowned upon, for what that was worth. Wealthy women often held their own property (which was the norm throughout Europe from the early Middle Ages, and also in America, contrary to myth, although married women tended to have fewer rights to their own property, and little rights to property acquired during marriage, under the doctrine of coverture). But unlike in Puritan New England, divorce was essentially impossible, leading to the following evocative story of a bitterly unhappy marriage, where after a violent argument, the husband, Colonel Custis (presumably no close relation to George Washington’s wife) invited his wife to go driving. “They rode in sullen silence through the Virginia countryside, until suddenly the colonel turned his carriage out of the road, and drove straight into Chesapeake Bay. ‘Where are you going, Mr. Custis?,’ the lady asked, as the horses began to swim. ‘To hell, Madam,’ he replied. ‘Drive on,’ said she, ‘any place is better than Arlington.’” Fischer notes that “Col. Custis ordered a record of his domestic misery should be carved upon his gravestone.”
Time was “killed” by Virginians, including by gambling and fortune telling, rather than “improved” as by Puritans. At the same time, a form of virtue, basically Stoicism, was emphasized. Elements of this can be seen, for example, in George Washington, in his upbringing, his program of self-directed self-improvement, and in his own (largely unsuccessful) upbringing of his step-son. Related to this, in some ways, is the Virginia concept of freedom: “hegemonic liberty . . . conceived of mainly as the power to rule, and not to be overruled by others.” By this means, the entire structure of hierarchy was justified—and not only justified, but found desirable and natural, down to chattel slavery. Social independence was necessary to true freedom (in many ways, although Fischer does not note it, this concept is the same as that of the Greeks in the Classical Age). Nonetheless, within hegemonic liberty could be found the necessary principle that the role of the state had to be minimal, or it would erode the power of the people to rule themselves (or at least the power of the ruling class). Similarly, it implied the importance of the rule of law. Fischer quotes Edmund Burke on the distinctions between this freedom way and the Puritan freedom way. Finally, hegemonic freedom strongly meant dominion over self—again, the Stoic conception of duty over personal choice, or, as John Randolph said, “Life is not as important as the duties of life.” At its best, this combination of freedom ideas produced men like George Washington or Robert E. Lee, or, in a more modern example cited by Fischer, George Marshall.
Fischer notes that early Virginia speech is prototypically what we think of as “Southern,” and that most of it, recognizable to us today, came directly from England. It did not come from African borrowing, and not from local conditions, as “a small minority of radical and Marxist language-historians” would have it. Instead, Africanisms and local conditions somewhat modified an already-distinct way of speaking. This language parallelism continued a long time; Fischer quotes a length a poem in today-extinct Sussex dialect that is largely indistinguishable from what we think of as “African-American” dialect. While perhaps of interest only to a small percentage of readers, this discussion shows Fischer’s distaste for ideological readings of history.
Third, Fischer turns to the Quakers of the Delaware Valley. This group is less noted today (my guess is that the average educated American, asked about Quakers, can come up with only two data points—William Penn and pacifism), but was very important in the early formation of America. Most of these immigrants came from the North Midlands of England—poor areas with heavy Scandinavian, as opposed to Norman, influence. As with the Puritans and the Virginians, very much that was characteristic of this American region was imported directly from England, down to colloquialisms such as “spuds” for potatoes. Hierarchy was minimal (though there was to be “an aristocracy of Christian virtue”); the role of women was significant, including preaching, and although marriage customs were rigid, and marriages to non-Quakers strongly discouraged, women were regarded as near-equals in marriage. Religion was optimistic and decentralized (but there was an enormous amount of Spiritualism and superstition as well). Material belongings were simple and ornamentation and luxury strongly discouraged. Time was “redeemed”—focused on purging oneself of sin and corruption, and Quakers “sought to raise time above the world.” Schedules were rigid to assist in making the best use of time; holidays were rejected, since, as Robert Barclay declared, “All days are alike holy in the sight of God.”
Quaker freedom ways were centered around “reciprocal liberty.” In some ways this was libertarian, in that strong government was rejected, but more so than the Virginians or Puritans, in that liberty was to be extended to all humanity. (The Liberty Bell was bought by the Quakers in 1751 to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of the Charter of Privileges of Pennsylvania, and its inscription about liberty was taken from Leviticus, where God commanded that every fiftieth year be a Jubilee year, where liberty was granted to all.) Everyone was to have liberty of conscience—not so that there could be a multiplicity of belief, but so that Christian truth would triumph over error, as the optimistic Quakers believed it necessarily would. Slavery was rejected early. Quaker freedom of conscience informed post-American Revolution concepts of freedom of religion, and although the Quakers might find today’s America trying to their optimism, they would doubtless be pleased by the liberty extended to all Americans.
Finally, Fischer evaluates the “backcountry,” settled by immigrants from North Britain. Here, again, there is much truth to the stereotypes. They were poor, prideful, and extremely violent. They rejected natural hierarchy (though they most definitely had an elite, which maintained hegemony over generations in every area they settled), and they favored a militant, violent brand of decentralized, anti-clerical Presbyterian Christianity. These are what are commonly called “Scotch-Irish,” although there were plenty of settlers from the border regions of England as well. Those border regions had always been violent and unsettled, and their mountainous character encouraged the usual characteristics of mountain people—insularity, contempt for central government, a tendency to blood feuds, and poverty. All these people settled mostly in the westernmost part of the colonies, roughly Appalachia down to the Georgia backcountry, with some settlements in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
As in Virginia, male domination was the norm (as, Fischer points out, it always is in warrior cultures). War was more important than work, leading observers to characterize backcountry dwellers as lazy and slovenly, which was only half true. Time was “passed,” subject to rhythms and rituals, without any emphasis on the individual need to do anything in particular with it. And, unsurprisingly, the backcountry freedom was “natural liberty”—extremely limited government, even with respect to law and order, and a distaste for any kind of constraint. This was not new; it was a direct import from the borderlands of England. It was exemplified by famous men such as Patrick Henry, who as early as 1758 was openly accusing the King of tyranny. And, of course, this “natural liberty” has remained an important strain of American thought through today, although perhaps the call for it is even greater than in Patrick Henry’s day, given that the tyranny of the English king was as nothing compared to the tyranny of today’s federal government and its strangulating administrative state.
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 (New England, Virginia, Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware/Maryland, and the Appalachian frontier). The author is extremely thorough in laying out his historical hypothesis, the other hypotheses that are generally accepted in the historical community, and his reasons for supporting his claims. He looks at 20 - 25 distinct "folkways" that each region/group of people had, how those folkways affected the make-up of their region in both Great Britain and the US, and the long-term implications of those belief systems in US culture today.
As someone who's from the Pennsylvania, etc. region of the country, it was very insightful to see how the North Midlands people who migrated there (specifically the Quaker society) created the cultural norms that still exist in the Delaware Valley today. I found it fascinating that beliefs brought by the Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, and "Borderers" (Scots-Irish and Irish) to New England, Virgina, the Delaware Valley, and Appalachian Frontier, respectively, still exist today - it's something you can see in interactions with people native to those areas today. For example, the English language dialects of the day in England that were brought between 1600 and 1750 to the US still exist in the US (for example, the "Boston" accent, "Philadelphia" way of speaking, and "Southern drawl"). I was under the impression that those dialects were the product of their growth in the US, but they actually existed in England before those people moved to the colonies. It makes one wonder how other languages will change as outlying areas are separated from the core of the language - Taiwanese Chinese vs. Mandarin vs. Cantonese come to mind as an example.
Overall, I would recommend this book to the historical/anthropological minded person that wants to understand our current political mindsets in various regions of the country in historical context. It's amazing how cultural norms from 17th century England continue to permeate our culture and cause friction in our political system - something that is not new according to the author and his (high-level) lookback through political history in the US.
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 ethnic background: [Welsh Quakers and 'Scotch-Irish'.] There is *so* much information to digest and remember.
The title of each section tells basically from what part of England that particular group came. The Quakers were mainly from the Midlands and from pretty much all over Wales, but most were concentrated in the North. Many of their folkways were transplanted to this country: plain dress, architecture [plain and airy, but using stone, a plentiful local material], names they chose for their children, ways of raising children and attitude toward family. William Penn, of whom there's an extensive biography, was very open in whom he allowed to live there; so there are many Germans, Pietist in religion, who have the same peaceful ideas as Quakers. The Welsh were concentrated in what was called the 'Welsh Tract', near Philadelphia. Finally, after Penn, the Welsh were divided into two different counties so they wouldn't all be bunched into one. You could call this the first 'gerrymandering.' Penn believed in what he called 'reciprocal liberty' [based on the Golden Rule] and in 'freedom of conscience.'
Fischer prefers the name Scots-Irish or Borderers to 'Scotch-Irish'. He feels that 'Scotch-Irish' is an American coinage. This group came from the land bordering the Irish Sea--Northern Ireland, Scotland, and English Border country. In one letter the writer says: "we are a mix'd medley"--Celtic, Roman, English, Scandinavian, Irish and Scottish. They had a clan system, with the equivalent of a clan chieftain. Their architecture was the log cabin, which they had built previously in the Border Country. There is a section on naming children, raising them, and families. Their religious customs were brought over from the Border Country. Evangelical religion and camp meetings were adapted from Border Country practices and were not indigenously American. Food included the potato, very important back home, pancakes or scones [from Scandinavian, meaning 'crust']. They adapted oatmeal mush into cornmeal mush in this country. There was so much corn and no oats. Their concept of freedom was 'elbow room.' So they pushed West.
The pencil or charcoal drawings were amazing. The maps were maybe TOO detailed.
I found a fun way to consult this book. Since the index is so extensive, just look up what you want. Just browse. For instance I found: *in the Puritan section, there's a passage on ball games. It traces the antecedents of baseball and gives due recognition to Abner Doubleday as having been the first to codify baseball rules. *The Liberty Bell was conceived of and paid for by Quakers--before the Revolution. They didn't mean "liberty" in the Revolutionary War sense of freedom from Great Britain, but Penn's 'reciprocal liberty.' *An interesting section on Quaker food: I found out what cream cheese originally consisted of: partially dehydrated sour cream. The Quakers also came up with dried beef. They borrowed scrapple [meat and buckwheat] from the Germans. *Scots-Irish marriage customs: involuntary or voluntary abduction of the bride. This custom was brought over from the Border Country. Andrew Jackson's wife was voluntarily abducted. A good novel on Rachel Jackson is The President's Lady
This was a fascinating peek into American history and British folkways. Recommended!!
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 Appalachia. Fischer, an eminent historian, shows that what we identify as Appalachian culture in fact is 90% Border Provinces culture. And, as with all 4 folkways, he shows how this culture developed in its original location as an adaptive result to conditions existing there.
This book is a tour de force, debunking commonly-held truths. For example, "Field Meetings" for churches were not an invention of our Mid-west. They were very popular in the Border Provinces: as well they had to be, since a) they were of religions proscribed by the Government; and b) for 700 years they were overrun by invasions, and churches were typically chosen as targets to burn down.
The overall perspective, which is humbling, is to show us that a lot of what we are committed to is in fact the result of conditions that existed hundreds of years ago. For example, the Quakers, of the 4 immigrations, were the only group that believed in Freedom for all (the author repeated that on an NPR interview for the 4th of July for this year). Why? Because they had been persecuted from both sides (i.e., the Anglicans and the Cromwellian Puritans); and because many of them came from the really poor areas of northern England where those escaping persecution often fled, and so a culture of "mutual tolerance and forbearance" had developed.
This is a long book. Not long enough: I don't want it to end.
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 even made it a few chapters in this huge book before I was becoming impatient with the author's giant leaps from a tenuous piece of information to some sweeping conclusion, and with his incredible number of generalizations. If you want history to be boiled down to the basics and stitched together with leaps of logic, then this is the book for you. If you want to read about the nuanced lives lived by individual people in region-specific societies - look elsewhere. That's what I thought I was getting based on the glowing recommendations, but this is not that book at all. I simply don't understand why people love it so much.
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.
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 where inequality was natural, which led to low taxes, low government spending, informal system of justice and little emphasis on education Quakers (to Delaware Valley from England’s North Midlands) were from lower/middle classes and valued personal freedom, which led to equal rights and little government intervention Scottish-Irish moved primarily for material reasons and valued natural liberty i.e. freedom from any constraint, which led to minimal government intervention and limited justice system
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. These groups defined the contours of our history, even as immigrants arrived. In essence, Fischer downplayed change, the importance of post 1750 immigration, and barely mentioned race. These are all anathema to professionals, and doubly so in an age where "white people" are thrown into a mass blender that ignores differences in European cultures, and as this book shows, cultures within a country.
Lastly, Fischer made a grand argument outside of the orthodoxy. It is not that professionals do not make such arguments, but Fischer did it about a topic that while not taboo was marginalized. The argument that he simplified things and misused evidence itself can be leveled against Eric Foner and David Blight. However, those two great historians are also part of the current orthodoxy. Fischer was not and so his book is fresh and relevant even today. Foner and Blight, for all their virtues, certainly no longer seem all that fresh, although they have relevance in spades.
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 ancestors from each of these groups. As I read the book, I participated in a discussion with other genealogists from across the United States. I identified most with the Puritans, Cavaliers, and Quakers, and least with the Backcountry Scots-Irish. Since I live in an area where many residents embrace their Scots-Irish ancestor, this surprised me. However, as I looked at the majority of my ancestry, it really falls into the first three groups. While some of my Cavalier ancestors were some of the indentured servants they brought along, I still identified more with that culture than with the Backcountry culture. My genetic composition includes all four groups. Excellent book. Highly recommended.
Simply outstanding — the concept, the thesis, the organization, the research, the writing were all very well done.
My one and only complaint is about the audio production. Why was this read by a Brit??? It's about British folkways in America...how they shaped America and Americans and American culture and history. The author grew up in Baltimore, so if anything, the voice of this book should sound like mine. Julian Elfer's posh London accent didn't even exist when these folkways were established, as the book itself points out. Fischer probably didn't have a say in the choice of narrator (I hope he'd've objected), and Elfer probably hadn't read the book before he read the book (but somebody needs to tell him that Arminian and Armenian are not the same word), so I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Audible.
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 covered in the book. As a handy reference, it's superb. The book is organized so well that the reader knows just where to go to find what information he or she wants, and can skip right over any irrelevant material.
As light reading, maybe not so much.
But what can I say? I just loved this book.
Fischer's basic premise is that America today is largely the result of four separate, very different emigrations of English settlers during colonial times. He takes each of the four groups - Puritans, Virginians, Quaker, and border folks - and describes their origins, their customs, and their relationships in great detail. He debunks several myths and backs up everything he says with solid research. And he manages to make it all an interesting read.
There's so much in here, I really can't begin to tell you what I learned. But a couple of things really stand out to me now that I've finished.
First, is that as I was reading about the four different groups, I was able to place my own ancestors in each of the four groups. My mom's family contains both Puritan ancestors and while there are no Quakers, there are those who settled among them and picked up their ways. My dad's family is solidly on the Virginian and border folks side. I found myself understanding why different ancestors had done things in a certain way, and why there was some conflict over traditions.
Second, I could clearly see how these four very different sets of people would come to disagree. The roots of the American Civil War were sown before America was even a country. The Puritans and Quakers were bound to view slavery as a moral issue, and to clearly support the cause of abolition, the one by force of arms, and the other by assisting runaways. The Virginians and the border folks (you can call them rednecks if you like - apparently the term came from England along with them, and isn't American at all) were bound to stick up for individual liberty, the Virginians contending that they in fact had liberty to enslave and the rednecks firm that no one had the right to tell them what they could do, especially the government. The real wonder here is not that Civil War happened, but that it took so long and that the country was every able to heal back together afterwards.
The last thing that struck me was about the history of my own faith, the Mormons or Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, my LDS ancestors and others, all came from the Puritan roots. They were Yankees, well steeped in the traditions of having a religious duty to fulfill, and the firm commitment to community and to God. They also picked up from the Quaker community a little of the family ways, the idea of rearing children in love, and seeking the Individual Light.
Then they came in contact with the border folks, who were very closed to outsiders, especially ones that arrived as a close-knit group already, intolerant of any dissent, and more than ready to fight anyone they saw as a threat. Of course they were going to be ready to respond with violence against any group that tried to settle among them, and to force them out any way they could. And the Latter-day Saints were bound to respond by drawing even closer together and defending themselves. But the idea of moving on, of settling down wherever they were planted, and making do with the rough environment, that was something that they picked up to a degree from the very border folks who were so set on forcing them out. So when the Saints arrived in the West and had some freedom to move around without interference, they were able to spread out from Canada to Mexico and establish small tight-knit communities that thrived in the harshest environment.
Would I recommend this book? Maybe. Certainly if you want a quick, easy read, this is not for you. But if you are interested in American history, this is a fascinating book. Don't be put off by the size. A lot of it is in footnotes that you can easily skip and charts and diagrams that are likewise easy to skip. And if you aren't interested in one particular section or group of settlers, although I recommend reading something about all of them, it is organized so that you can find just what you want and pass over what you don't want. It certainly gave me a lot to think about, and while it took me a little while to read, it was worth taking my time and enjoying the book. 5 stars.
One of the most interesting books I've read in the last few years. The title and most descriptions of it probably sell it short - it's basically a social history of the United States organized around four different regions. Yes it looks back to the British sources of these regions, and it briefly tracks the impact of the behaviors and customs of these regions on US history through the 20th century, but mostly it's a fascinating exploration of what life was like in the USA in different places. Worth your time.
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 can say that what he says about New England's founding fathers and mothers still persists even with the inevitable changes in culture over the centuries, and the same is true of the South and, definitely, of Appalachia. This is a fascinating book and, although I took it from the library, it is one I'll be buying for myself. One warning: the hardcover version is huge, so try to get a paperback.
The reason for only four stars is the author's annoying habit of footnoting long passages that belong in the text. **********************************************************
Now that I've finished the book, I downgraded it by a star for three reasons. First, the structure is very poor. For each of the four groups of settlers from England, he writes separate sections which include where they came from, their marriage customs, religion, speech, etc. Structurally, so the reader could better compare their folkways, each of these sections should have formed one chapter, so that the chapter on marriage customs would then be subdivided into those of each of the 4 original groups of settlers.
Second, the sections on the settler's speech are unnecessarily wrong. He should have consulted with some linguists who specialize in historical linguistics and dialects. My latest blog post goes into this in more detail: http://www.smarhotoldlady.blogspot.com
Third, I began to doubt his veracity about building styles and site layout when he said, as a native of the Chesapeake Bay area, where the original settlers were from the Southwest of England, when he walks around there, it is just like walking around in Maryland -- the road layout, clustering of houses, etc. Well, he waxes grand on rural Southwest England and I'm sure he's accurate. However, we just spent two weeks in rural East Anglia (whence the Puritans came)and Sussex, and his descriptions of the Southwest fit the dwelling patterning in the East to a T. The point is, Maryland is as like East Anglia as it is of the Southwest of England. There goes that claim.
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, recreation.
Good stuff and well documented. I learned a great deal--for example the close relationship with some traditional Quaker behavior and the culture of the English Midlands region which grew from the egalitarianism of the area's Norse heritage. It may be too specific for some casual readers, but I liked it a great deal both in the reading and for reference.
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 British culture. Specifically, Fischer breaks down the colonies by region and examines how Puritan New England was culturally far different from the aristocratic gentry of Virginia, which was far different from the Quakers of PA/NJ/DE, which was far different from the settlers from England/Scotland/Ireland who settled in the Back Country.
This probably works better as a reference book than a straight read-through. There is not much narrative pull. The structure of the chapter is laid bare, where the outlining of topics is made pretty explicit in the writing. (Section Two: Mid-Atlantic Foodways. Section Seven: Back Country Marriageways, etc). But the innovative approach is enlightening. History as taught in schools tends to focus on The Big Events and The Historical Figures, but leave students clueless as to what it was like for ordinary people who lived in those places and times. Fisher's history provides a comprehensive perspective of this.
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.
It's not often that I characterize a book as a "must read", but Albion's Seed is absolutely essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the origins of America's regional cultures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as their influence on American life up to the present day.
Fischer identifies four major "folkways": The Puritans of East Anglia who settled Massachusetts Bay; The Cavaliers of Wessex and southern England who colonized the Chesapeake and spread down the Carolina coast; the Quakers of the English north midlands who settled in the Delaware Valley, which comprises what is now the state of Delaware, as well as western New Jersey and the area around Philadelphia; and the "borderlanders"; northern Irish and people from the bloody no-man's-land between England and Scotland, who came first to Philadelphia before heading down the spine of the Appalachian mountains to inhabit the backcountry of Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas. Each of these groups brought with them a distinctive cultural identity, as well as starkly contrasting social mores that influenced their views on the role of government--what became the government of the United States.
Each case study is fairly encyclopedic in its presentation. The information is organized topically, with sections on, among other things, the origins of each migration, their religious views, their architecture, their food, their marriage and child-rearing customs, their thoughts on death, their dress, their views on gender and the elderly, and their conceptions of liberty. Needless to say, one gets a pretty exhaustive description of each of these cultures, which only emphasizes just how different they were from one another. If a woman got pregnant before marriage in Massachusetts, it was a public scandal and a crime. If a woman got pregnant before marriage in Appalachia, it was a cause for lighthearted teasing on her wedding day.
If you were to ask a member of each of these groups whether liberty was important to them, each would give you a resounding "yes". If you were to ask them what exactly they meant by this, however, they would give you remarkably different answers. The communitarian Puritans would imagine a communal, ordered liberty; the liberty to do one's duty without the interference of any private interests. A Virginia gentleman would tell you about his ancient, Pre-Norman English liberties, which allowed him to be the master of his own estate and to treat his own subjects as he saw fit. A Philadelphia Quaker would take a view somewhat akin to modern American libertarianism: he would invoke the golden rule and the New Testament and argue for a type of reciprocal freedom, by which you and he would respect each other's personal consciences and refrain from imposing on one another what you would not want imposed on yourselves. An old Kentucky thane would tell you that to be free is to be a warrior, and that true liberty is won only by the sword.
If you were to ask them about their religious beliefs and the role of these beliefs in public life, that's when the real controversy would begin.
Is it any wonder, then, that even in our own time we engage in vicious culture wars over what being an American is really about? It is extraordinary to think that these disparate cultures were able to come together to form a national government at all; even one as dysfunctional as ours.
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 the 1960s, history was basically a story told by people who had immersed themselves in a period and basically said: “I’ve studied this and this is what I think happened.” They were believed “…for this was a time when scholars were gentlemen, and a gentleman was as good as his word.” With the new paradigm history wasn’t only about the past, but about change and continuity. There were high hopes that this approach would be one of synthesis of the human sciences, but instead it fragmented into many special fields such as women’s history, labor history etc. Fischer intends that this book and those to follow in the series wll ‘strengthen the hand of synthesis in an analytic discipline’ by being about ‘both elites and ordinary people, about individual choices and collective experiences, about exceptional events and normative patterns, about vernacular culture and high culture, about the problem of society and the problem of the state.’ He calls for an ‘immediatist’ solution to history in which the past is neither prologue nor separate from the present, but is immediate to the present. Folkways consist of the ways that a people: organize themselves; give birth and raise children; educate (or not); worship; go to war (or not); settle disputes; vernacular speech; architecture. The Introduction is subtitled: The Determinants of a Voluntary Society and I think this causes us to reflect on one of the most unique attributes of the ‘new world’ where people came of their own volition and were required to deal with how to organize themselves in new and, many times, hostile environment. The four folkways dealt with are: the Puritans (1629-41), Virginia: distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants (1642-75), The Midlands: the Quaker migration (1675-1725), and the Borderlands: the flight from North Britain (1717-1775). Fundamental concepts of liberty differed widely between these regions even though they all used the word liberty and herein lies the source of confusion and even conflict. Our family history derives from the Puritans on my father’s side and the German pietists in the Midlands on my mother’s side. The book is a wonderful resource for insights into family history and also a pleasure to read. I have it as an ebook, but if I can pick up a used copy somewhere I will do so as it is an important reference
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 such as the climate and quality of the site they first landed.
Briefly, the Virginians were speculators and adventurers, the Puritans were austere and disciplined looking for a place to worship in peace. The Quakers sought the same freedom, but were a completely different type of religious group. Finally, the Scots-Irish were independent Highlanders from the borderlands between Scotland and England and were fiercely independent, stubborn, proud and often a law unto themselves.
These are the people who came to America and became its first citizens. They left their mark on the people who descended from them and influenced the course of events that led to the United States of America.
There is so much information here that is vital to genealogists. It is possible to look at an ancestor and find the year they came to America, the area they settled and their naming patterns and determine which of these four groups they probably belonged to. In my case, I can't find the place my Munn ancestors came from, but they came at a time when the Scots-Irish were immigrating, they have sandy reddish hair and ruddish complexion, they are fierce stubborn people with a number of disowned children and feuds, sometimes violent tempers and they settled first in the Appalachian Mountains. I feel safe in believing that they came from the borderlands especially since Andrew is a favorite given name. When I looked at that area, I found that there were records of Munns. I still don't know exactly where they came from, but the preponderance of evidence tells me that they were Scots-Irish.
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 distinct groups of british colonizers has created and influenced regional differences and trickled down even to the present day. which is probably not an awesome description of the book but if you want a better one you can always read what the synopsis is on goodreads.
i'm only on the first wave of immigrants right now, and i just have to say that those puritans were an interesting group. if you really like history i would definitely recommend checking this out. although, just be warned that it is VERY long, and almost like a reference book/history text.
Learning that America's regional cultures were largely imported from Britain hundreds of years ago was an astounding eye-opener for me. North and South were at odds from the outset, not because of the Civil War. Wow! The knowledge is at once challenging and discouraging for all who hope to see neighbors and neighboring states form common cause and work out our problems together.
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 compiled an omnibus history that is part prosopographic with an analysis of social history that is both deep and wide. I include here wikipedia's breakdown of how each of the four British people groups are documented and described:
Speech Ways: "Conventional patterns of written and spoken language; pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax and grammar." Building Ways: "Prevailing forms of vernacular architecture and high architecture, which tend to be related to one another." Family Ways: "The structure and function of the household and family, both in ideal and actuality." Marriage Ways: "Ideas of the marriage-bond, and cultural processes of courtship, marriage and divorce." Gender Ways: "Customs that regulate social relations between men and women." Sex Ways: "Conventional sexual attitudes and acts, and the treatment of sexual deviance." Child-Rearing Ways: "Ideas of child nature and customs of child nurture." Naming Ways: "Onomastic customs including favoured forenames and the descent of names within the family." Age Ways: "Attitudes towards age, experiences of aging and age relationships." Death Ways: "Attitudes towards death, mortality rituals, mortuary customs and mourning practices." Religious Ways: "Patterns of religious worship, theology, ecclesiology and church architecture." Magic Ways: "Normative beliefs and practices concerning the supernatural." Learning Ways: "Attitudes toward literacy and learning, and conventional patterns of education." Food Ways: "Patterns of diet, nutrition, cooking, eating, feasting and fasting." Dress Ways: "Customs of dress, demeanor, and personal adornment." Sport Ways: "Attitudes toward recreation and leisure; folk games and forms of organized sport." Work Ways: "Work ethics and work experiences; attitudes toward work and the nature of work." Time Ways: "Attitudes toward the use of time, customary methods of time keeping, and the conventional rhythms of life." Wealth Ways: "Attitudes towards wealth and patterns of its distribution." Rank Ways: "The rules by which rank is assigned, the roles which rank entails, and the relations between different ranks." Social Ways: "Conventional patterns of migration, settlement, association and affiliation." Order Ways: "Ideas of order, ordering institutions, forms of disorder, and treatment of the disorderly." Power Ways: "Attitudes toward authority and power; patterns of political participation." Freedom Ways: "Prevailing ideas of liberty and restraint, and libertarian customs and institutions."
From these four very divergent people streams, the Puritans, the Cavaliers, the Quakers and the Borderers, much of what consider America was forged, despite fundamental differences in values. The conclusion is probably the most interesting section, where the social and cultural divides and intersections are traced through the United States political and electoral history right up until election of George Herbert Walker Bush. This was so utterly fascinating to me that I reread it, and in my head extended Hackett Fischer's analysis up until the current election... and peeked back towards the Civil War again. The four folkways are still intersecting and clashing, that's for sure.
It was stated in the beginning of the book by the author, that this was to be the first volume of a deep historical analysis of American history up until the modern period. The planned next volume would be a look into the fifth major group that shaped American history from the beginning, namely African slaves and their American born descendants. This was not written, nor were any other of the planned volumes. Why? It seems from general consensus here online, that the first wave of PC culture that swept through American academia back in the early 90s made it impossible for a middle-aged white history professor of Southern stock to write a nuanced social history on African slavery and the plantation system that spawned it without it being very “problematic” to certain people in the academic audience. While nowhere near the levels of lunacy today, the Ivory Tower politics of the time, combined with the fact that at averaging over 10 years per volume, all four would not likely be completed in his lifetime made Hackett Fischer decide to rest on his well deserved academic laurels and quietly go on to less ambitious projects.
It can't be repeated enough: this is a must read for any serious scholar of American history, and it's *very* readable to boot.