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5.0 out of 5 stars Four Themes in Anglo-American Culture, August 20, 2005
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This review is from: Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History) (Paperback)
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. Less homogenous in religion than the prior waves, the Scotch-Irish were a mixture of Presbyterians, the dominant group, and Anglicans, a significant minority.

Each of these four folk established an amazingly enduring culture in their region, a culture that successfully incorporated later immigrants from other origins who shared little or none of the dominant folkway that had become established in their new home. Their contrasting concepts of liberty are among the most visible today. The Puritan concept of liberty, "ordered liberty" in Fischer's terminology, focused on the "freedom" to conform to the policies of the Puritan Church and local government. The Virginia concept of liberty, "hegemonic liberty", was hierarchical in nature, ranging from the great freedom of those in positions of power and wealth down to the total lack of freedom accorded to slaves. The Quaker concept of liberty, "reciprocal liberty", focused on the aspects of freedom that were held equally by all people as opposed to the unequal and asymmetric freedoms of the Puritans and Virginians. Finally, the Scotch-Irish concept of liberty, "natural liberty", focused on the natural rights of the individual and his freedom from government coercion.

Albion's Seed was a delight to read, filled with quaint, instructive, and amusing anecdotes that reflect folkways that endure today. It should be equally appealing to those interested in defining and contrasting the cultural histories of different groups, the process and cultural impact of human migrations, the foundations of the Anglo-American world, and the different roots of the concept of liberty.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 8, 2007 11:36:38 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 8, 2007 11:40:18 PM PST
Rissa says:
The "first wave" was not the Puritans but were the English who colonized Jamestown in 1607 and who continued to arrive in this area and in the Carolinas up to 1642. By the time the Puritans arrived, 13 years later in 1620, there were already 3000-4000 English up and down the east coast and their numbers continued to grow well in advance of the 1642 date.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2007 4:30:57 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 14, 2007 6:37:09 PM PST
To Patricia O'Tuama:
You're right, of course. How could I, as a Virginian, have made such a glaring mistake? After all, Virginia had a representaitve legislature, the House of Burgesses, in 1619, the year before the Mayflower. Thanks for pointing this out.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 7, 2010 6:31:43 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 7, 2010 6:33:29 AM PST
Well, you are both right. Sort of. Virginia was settled before New England as you suggested Patricia, but Leonard's comment was also accurate if you consider the definition of 'wave.' I think Fischer's focus was not so much on the colonial trailblazers as on the migration waves that followed.

In Chapter 1 (page 14), Fischer describes the ship Arabella (which sailed to Massachusetts in 1630) as leading a "... great migration which for size and wealth and organization was without precedent in England's colonization of North America."

Posted on Sep 20, 2011 2:14:16 AM PDT
Mike Daplyn says:
I vastly enjoyed Fischer's book, but be warned - he doesn't know Britain quite as well as he thinks. His consistent conflation of the p-Celtic languages (Welsh, Cornish) with q-Celtic (Irish and Scots Gaelic) would not sell well with either community; the two branches are at least as distinct as English and Dutch.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2011 4:40:23 AM PDT
To Mike Daplyn:
Thanks for pointing this out . I missed it entirely, perhaps because I'm several generations removed from my own q-Celtic roots. I suspect Fischer followed the commom practice of lumping all the Celtic peoples under the "Celtic Fringe" category.

Posted on Jul 10, 2013 2:57:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 10, 2013 2:58:10 PM PDT
I haven't read this book (yet), having only been alerted to its existence by way of an online article, but I'm definitely interested. I've lived most of my life in the Delaware Valley, and I've always known full well the differences between our language and customs and those of the Virginia tidewater, the "Pennsyltucky" counties, and the New Englanders.

The summaries I've seen here, however, give me to ask a question in advance of diving into ~Albion's Seed~.

Just what the hell accounts for those obnoxious goddam Noo Yawkuhs (including the Lung Aylanduhs) infesting North Jersey and points hitherabouts?

Whence did these creatures spring to occupy and debauch the former Dutch colony of North River and the Manhattans?

Posted on Jan 5, 2014 4:33:20 AM PST
Pen Name says:
Having read the leading negative comment, I would like to add that this author's approach made clear to me possible sources of the fairly extreme differences in outlook within my families, which both have roots in Missouri. Fischer most definitely does not treat the "Scotch Irish" as "slack-jawed yokels" and it is apparent has tried to be as neutral as possible in his description of all groups. The first and superficial thing I discovered was why school children are taught about the Pilgrim Separatists first--because although really atypical, they are the easiest group to understand. An instance of other discoveries: although Puritans regulated just about every aspect of life, divorce was a simple matter since marriage was not a sacrament, but an agreement between parties; in the Tidewater, divorce flew in the face of God and was intolerable. Tidewater and back-country were much more similar in the treatment of women and children than in the way they thought about women and children, while Puritans treated disobedience to parents as a capital offense, and Quakers not only allowed children to speak in meeting if moved by the "inner light" but heeded their words. The compromises made as the country came together are illuminated while the continuing conflicts are given context. Dry as the treatment might be to a casual reader, this was an accessible and exciting scholarly book.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2014 9:42:13 PM PST
I'm sure many of those "obnoxious goddam Noo Yawkuhs" are descended from the tired, the poor, the huddled masses wishing to breathe free, the wretched refuse from various teeming shores....

This book seems to describe the beginnings of the USA. But the country's not finished yet. For which we should be grateful.

Posted on Mar 29, 2014 2:02:47 PM PDT
There is a minor typo on dates in an otherwise excellent review:

"The migration of Quakers from the English midlands ... between 1675 and 1615."

That should be between 1675 and 1715.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2014 4:51:55 AM PDT
Thanks, Joseph. Found and fixed.
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