Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a cultural history)
David Hackett Fischer
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This fascinating book is the first volume in a projected 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.
While most people in the United States today have no British ancestors, they have assimilated regional cultures which were created by British colonists, even while preserving ethnic identities at the same time. In this sense, nearly all Americans are "Albion's Seed," no matter what their ethnicity may be. The concluding section of this remarkable book explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still help to shape attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
the weaving of linen became a flourishing cabin industry throughout the southern highlands, as it had been for many generations on the borders of North Britain. Governor William Bull of South Carolina wrote in 1770, “The Irish from Belfast have now raised flax for their own wear, and barter the superfluous linen to supply their wants with their neighbours.” A correspondent in 1768 reported that in the back settlements the “inhabitants now manufacture most of their linens (such as cost in England
immigrants during the twenties. But the ethnic composition of the United States continued to change very rapidly by natural increase. By 1980, the proportion of the American population who reported having any British ancestors at all had fallen below 20 percent. Nearly 80 percent were descended from other ethnic stocks. The largest ethnic stock in the United States was no longer British but German. Many other minorities were growing at a great rate.18 In the northeast, the new and old ethnic
(2 vols., Chapel Hill, 1960), and Wesley Frank Craven, The Colonies in Transition, 1660-1713 (New York, 1968), are balanced accounts by southern gentlemen who sympathize with both sides; Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom, 251-70, is a view from New England, sympathetic to neither side. Yet to be written is a rounded cultural history which might capture the ideals, hopes, and fears that gave rise to this event. 12 This chronological fact must be stressed, because an opposite idea has
the townsfolk entered the meetinghouse and took their seats, the minister and his family made a grand entrance. In the mid-seventeenth century he usually dressed in a black flowing cape and black skullcap. The entire congregation rose respectfully to its feet until he had climbed into the pulpit. “Our fathers were no man worshippers,” wrote Harriet Stowe, “but they regarded the minister as an ambassador from the great Sovereign of the universe.” Many Calvinist tracts in the seventeenth century
religious titles to all books was 1:4 in Edgecombe County (1733-53), and 1:6 in Bertie County (1720-74); it later fell to 1:8 in Edgecombe (1765-83), and 1:10 in Bertie (1775-83); these data are from Helen R. Watson, “The Books They Left: Some ‘Liberies’ in Edgecombe County, 1733-1783,” NCHR 46 (1971), 245-57. 11 Others testified that Jackson read only Tristram Shandy and a pamphlet on the South Sea Bubble. For two different views cf. Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, and Remini, Andrew Jackson,