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Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History) [Paperback]

by David Hackett Fischer
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 14, 1989 0195069056 978-0195069051 New Ed
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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This cultural history explains the European settlement of the United States as voluntary migrations from four English cultural centers. Families of zealous, literate Puritan yeomen and artisans from urbanized East Anglia established a religious community in Massachusetts (1629-40); royalist cavaliers headed by Sir William Berkeley and young, male indentured servants from the south and west of England built a highly stratified agrarian way of life in Virginia (1640-70); egalitarian Quakers of modest social standing from the North Midlands resettled in the Delaware Valley and promoted a social pluralism (1675-1715); and, in by far the largest migration (1717-75), poor borderland families of English, Scots, and Irish fled a violent environment to seek a better life in a similarly uncertain American backcountry. These four cultures, reflected in regional patterns of language, architecture, literacy, dress, sport, social structure, religious beliefs, and familial ways, persisted in the American settlements. The final chapter shows the significance of these regional cultures for American history up to the present. Insightful, fresh, interesting, and well-written, this synthesis of traditional and more current historical scholarship provides a model for interpretations of the American character. Subsequent volumes of this promised multivolume work will be eagerly awaited. Highly recommended for the general reader and the scholar.
- David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Professor Fischer's careful research and analysis opens a much needed discussion of cultural character and origins in North America. The variety and complexity of historical sources will inform the work of other cultural historians and analysts."--Nadesan Permaul, UC Berkeley

"This is history at a lively pace, peppered with curious details about the origins of families....The author makes a convincing case."--Dolores and Roger Flaherty, Chicago Sun-Times

"A pleasure to read, for it is written with Fischer's characteristic perspicuity. Moreover, the numerous drawings by Jennifer Brody and maps by Andrew Mudryk are a visual treat."--Raymond A. Mohl, Review Essay

"The kind of book one can open to almost any page and immediately become engrossed....readers will enjoy and benefit from this book....We eagerly await volume two."--Neil R. Stout, Vermont History

"Holds up to readers a mirror in which they can discover in themselves and in their own world the persistence of their heritage....An engrossing work that will whet the appetite for more."--The National Genealogical Society Quarterly

"Ingenious and provocative....Raises matters of cardinal interest."--IThe Times Literary Supplement

"A splendid work of historical scholarship. . . . based on an original conception of cultural history which I find extremely usable. Eminently readable."--Omer Hadziselimovic, Earlham College [SEE REVIEW CARD FOR ACCENTS ON LAST NAME]

"[A] sprightly analysis....This is history at a lively pace, peppered with curious details about the origins of familiar words and practices....The author makes a convincing case for his claim that `in a cultural sense most Americans are Albion's seed."--Chicago Sun-Times

"One of the most interesting, important, and ambitious books about American cultural and social origins ever written....A richly rewarding book, and one of great significance....It blends the best of new and old scholarship in lucid language designed to attract laymen and students alike. Very simply, Albion's Seed is a splendid achievement."--Michael Kammen, New York Newsday

"David Hackett Fischer's book could not be much bigger or more ambitious. It is the first in a series of volumes that he hopes will eventually constitute a cultural history of the United States....This book starts his series with a bang--a big bang....Remarkable....A revisionist blockbuster."--Gordon Wood, The New Republic

"Beautifully produced, this work should popularize the discoveries of a generation of scholars in the new social history. Anyone interested in these four cultures of the Anglo-American colonists will find here population data, family life, community mores, and achetypical individuals, portrayed in a clear and often lively text, thoughtfully analyzed illustrations, and wonderful maps."--Stephen Saunders Webb, Washington Post Book World

Product Details

  • Series: America: A Cultural History
  • Paperback: 972 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition (March 14, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195069056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195069051
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Hackett Fischer is University Professor and Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. The recipient of many prizes and awards for his teaching and writing, he is the author of numerous books, including Washington's Crossing, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
216 of 216 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four Themes in Anglo-American Culture August 20, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Albion's Seed by Brandeis University History Professor David Hackett Fischer is the history of the four main regional migrations from Britain to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Professor Fischer examines each of these four migrations in great detail, describing the origin, motivations, religion, timing, and numerous cultural attitudes or folkways for dealing with everyday life, including birth, child rearing, marriage, age, death, order, speech, architecture, dress, food, wealth, and time, to cite only a few. He devotes special attention to the different concepts of liberty and freedom held by each of these four British cultural groups.

The first major wave consisted predominantly of the Puritans from East Anglia who settled in New England between 1629 and 1640, the years immediately preceding the English Civil War in which Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan army defeated and beheaded King Charles I.

The second wave consisted of defeated (or soon to be defeated) supporters of the king and the Established (Anglican) Church of England, primarily from the south and west of England, who settled in the Chesapeake Bay regions of Virginia and Maryland between 1642 and 1675.

The third wave was the migration of Quakers from the English midlands (and their religious kin from various German sects) who settled in the Delaware Valley (southeast Pennsylvania, west New Jersey, north Delaware) between 1675 and 1715.

Finally, the "Scotch-Irish", referring collectively to immigrants from the north of England, lowland Scotland, and Ulster, settled the Appalachian backcountry from Pennsylvania southwest through Virginia, the Carolinas, and into Tennessee and Kentucky from 1717 to 1775.
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128 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Albion's Seed is Seminal in Understanding the USA! March 15, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Freedom's liberty tree is planted in the fertile soil of the many cultural groups who have made our land a "melting pot." In
Fishcer's brilliant work he traces with fascinating detail the transposition from Britain to the American colonies the folkways that have made each region distinctive. The four folk cultures he delineates are:
1. New England-the Puritans came from the East Anglia region of
England. They were pious, hardworking and intoxicated with theology and ordedr.
2. The Middle Colonies-the Quaker influence is profound in this region of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. William Penn and the followers of the Quaker founder George Fox were the most liberal minded of the quartet of folk cultures chronicled by Fischer. The Quaker culture was influential in the southwest and midland counties of Britain. Their belief in religous toleration has added much to American democracy.
3. The tidewider and coastal south was settled by southern English natives who were Cavaliers supportive of the Stuart
dynasty. This society was hierarchial and based on honor and
fueled by chattel slavery.
4. the backcountry region was settled by Englishmen from the northern border region of England, Scotland and Ulster Scotch-Irish. Exemplified by such paragons of this violent and emotional culture were men like Andrew Jackson and James Knox Polk. Composed of Hoosiers and Rednecks, Crackers and doughty pioneers this society believed in individual freedom.
The almost 1000 page book is filled with illustrations, population data and election results of Presidential elections which reflect how political choices are reflected in the four major mass migrations made to America by Britishers.
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87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The cornerstones of our culture May 24, 2000
As with several other people, the biggest complaint I have with this book is that Prof. Fischer hasn't yet followed up with further works on U.S. cultural history.
But what's here is marvelous. Fischer traces the distinctive folkways and religious influence of the four great waves of English emigration to the American colonies, and shows how they combined to make modern USAmerica.
I have 19th century immigrant roots, and have never lived in the South or New England. I can't therefore confirm or dispute what Fischer and the various reviewers say about the distinctive regional U.S. differences that persist there today, and how they go back to the original English immigrants. But as a modern USAmerican from California, I can see the various strands that make up our general culture in each of the four founding regions.
This is a long book, perhaps a bit too long, but I recommend it highly, and since discovering it I automatically read any book Fischer produces. I have yet to read a bad one by him. Now let's have further volumes in the series!
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must" reference for any serious historiographer! January 3, 2000
"Albion's Seed" by David Hackett Fischer explains in clear understandable language how four waves of English migration to these shores in the 17th century forever impacted on who and what we would become as Americans. The "folkways" that they brought with them have, to this day, remained, and traveling through what were once the original 13 colonies, one can still see and hear what our original English forebears brought with them, if you look and listen close enough. In particular, one of the more revealing things about the book is the explanation of the deeper causes of our American Civil War, which we are always taught in history classes was rooted in slavery. Fischer goes beyond the obvious to point out a basic conflict of "folkways" that had begun back on English soil with the English Civil War between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads, who on American soil would become the Southerners and the Yankees. This deeper cause explains why even today echoes of the Civil War remain in the political differences between North and South. This book is a very important reference for anyone interested in any variety of topics, from genealogy to linguistics to history to architecture to urban planning and so much more. Fischer explains how each of these cultures had unique patterns of town planning, marriage, food, death, birth, speech, religion, education and more. Jam packed full of important information, this book belongs in the library of anyone who has an interest in who we are and why we Americans are such a pluralistic nation. I cannot recommend this book enough, and eagerly await other books in this series on the cultural history of America. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The United States Still Mirrors the Diversity of th and 18th Century...
How did American society become what it is? Three theories have arisen to explain this. The germ theory said that free institutions were transmitted by Anglo-Saxons to Britain and... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Joe Leach
5.0 out of 5 stars His discussion of "hegemonic liberty" is fascinating
I never understood what the wealthy meant by "liberty" until reading this book. They mean "hegemonic liberty"--liberty primarily for the wealthy and powerful. Read more
Published 11 days ago by William R. Knecht
5.0 out of 5 stars David Hackett Fischer "Favorite Professor"
From time to time I run across a work that I'm actually proud to own. I had read Mr. Fischer's "Washington's Crossing" and gained a new perspective of those cold desperate... Read more
Published 21 days ago by kindlemeister
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but be a little careful
This is an excellent book, informed by a wide knowledge and love of the folkways of both the Eastern USA and its cultural ancestors in the British Isles. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Mike Daplyn
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic!
A classic, incredibly researched work. Great book as expanded/comprehensive follow up to "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Pamela M. Poulson
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest and most readable history books ever written
Don't let the length of this book put you off because it is both an easy and completely mesmerizing read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by lily t.
2.0 out of 5 stars Very prejudiced writer
Having been born in Boston, steeped in the lore of the Puritans all my youth, (yes, I have an ancestor who arrived in the Mayflower), the section on the Puritan tradition had me... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Machinery's Handbook
5.0 out of 5 stars family researchers need this book
I found this book to be an absolute treasure trove and ideas and insights. Since I have ancestors from all four groups covered in this book, Puritans, Quakers, Virginians and Back... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D. Montano
5.0 out of 5 stars Exteremely interesting
A very interesting book documenting the first settlers of America. Very interesting to see how where certain people settled shaped our country.
Published 2 months ago by Brendan Floyd
3.0 out of 5 stars A Dry yet Thorough Analysis
I read this for a Sociology of Religion course at the University of Washington, studying American Religions and how they effected the development of "American"... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nathan Compton
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