Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Albion's Seed - not a book review

This book is not an easy read.   Unlike my usual murder mystery, fantasy or light biography, this is a history/anthropology book authored by David Hackett Fischer.   It is a learned treatise.

Albion's Seed is subtitled, "Four British Folkways in America".   The author's thesis is that "four British folkways in early America created an expansive pluralism which became more libertarian than any single culture alone could be.   Together they became the foundation stones of a free society in the United States."

His four folkways are:

East Anglia to Massachusetts.     *The Exodus of the English Puritans, 1629-1641*
            About 60% of the roughly 21,000 emigrants who came to Massachussetts during this period came from the nine eastern counties of Britain, namely Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire - plus parts of Bedfordshire and Kent, and brought with them much of the Puritan 'ways' of those areas.

The South of England to Virgina.     *The Migration of Indentured Servants and                                                                   Distressed Cavaliers, 1642-1675*
            Fischer's "distressed cavaliers" were the younger sons of eminent English families, largely Royalist, who became the 'first families of Virginia' much responsible for the establishment of their Anglican 'ways'.   More than 75% of the immigrants of this period, however, came as indentured servants.   The migration to Virginia was largely from a broad region in the south and west of England.

North Midlands to the Delaware.     *The Friends' Migration, 1675-1725*
            Fischer estimates that as many as 23,000 colonist moved to the Delaware Valley during the forty years from 1675 to 1715, the majority of whom were either Quakers or Quaker sympathizers.   Quakers came from every part of England but drew heavily upon the North Midlands, especially the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbysire and Nottinghamshire, bringing with them their Quaker 'ways' of equality, order and reciprocal liberty, all grounded in the golden rule.

Borderlands to the Backcountry.     *The Flight from North Britain, 1717-1775*
            Through this period at least 150,000 immigrants originated in northern Ireland, 75,000 from the south and west of Scotland and more than 50,000 from the north of England.   These Scots-Irish borderers arrived mainly through the ports of Philadelphia and Newcastle and migrated from there on into the American backcountry and settled largely in the region now known as Appalachia.   They brought with them, and maintained, a strong sense of  'clan' and the principle of lex talionis, the rule of retaliaton, which held that a good man must do right in the world, but when wrong is done to him he must punish the wrongdoer himself  by an act of retribution that restores order and justice in the world.   They also brought with them the concept of  'natural liberty', described as 'elbow room' which advocated minimal government, light taxes and the right of armed resistance to authority in all cases which infringed liberty.

            Of course, these weren't the only cultures making up British America.   The Dutch occupied much of the Hudson Valley (New Netherland).   An amalgam of Caribbean, French, African and English elements made up the culture of the coast of South Carolina.   And Highland Scots populated North Carolina's Cape Fear Valley.

            I came to the conclusion from reading this book that if it weren't for the influence of the Quaker 'ways' on the fabric of our society, we would have become a much more mean-spirited nation.   I wonder what explains our recent history?


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