Cindy's Reviews > Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, non-fiction, reference, religion, history, america, 17th-century
Recommended 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 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.
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Reading Progress

June 11, 2009 – Shelved
June 11, 2009 – Shelved as: 2010
January 18, 2010 –
page 429
Started Reading
January 21, 2010 – Shelved as: non-fiction
January 21, 2010 – Shelved as: reference
January 21, 2010 – Shelved as: religion
January 21, 2010 – Finished Reading
July 28, 2011 – Shelved as: history
May 28, 2012 – Shelved as: america
May 28, 2012 – Shelved as: 17th-century

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