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Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South Paperback – May 30, 1989

3.3 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Assuredly the most controversial book about the South to emerge in years, and the discussion of its argument is certain to be heated and extensive.”
—Louisiana History

“Cracker Culture will enjoy a permanent place in the literature of its field. . . . Assign [it] and stand back to watch the fur fly.”
—Journal of the Early Republic

“McWhiney defines and explains the ‘cracker’ culture that emanated from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and northern England to become the dominant culture among British settlers in the Old South. Characterized primarily by the values of herdsmen, this white ethnic culture valued leisure for leisure’s sake, emphasized an oral tradition over the written word, and placed stress upon ideas that were antagonistic to the life-style of English-dominated northerners. It was, therefore, only a matter of time and circumstance before the two basic cultural heritages—Celtic and English—would collide in a devastating war.”

From the Back Cover

Cracker Culture is a provocative study of social life in the Old South that probes the origin of cultural differences between the South and the North throughout American history.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press (May 30, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817304584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817304584
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on March 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Dr McWhiney's book is a classic. It states the obvious, i.e. in the course of early American history and the movement of Europeans into the New World,the Celtic fringe of the British archipelago peopled the American South; which has had a profound influence of Southern society. Native Irish, Ulster Scots, Welsh, Border English, Hebrideans, etc., sort of a Celtic soup of sorts, peopled the early South. His book is only controversial to Anglo-centric historians who are still in denial that Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, etc., are actually part of our history and who like to pretend they are just footnotes of English history. And also, controversial to politically minded people who use 'history' to further political objectives. The book is great; a good read, with quantitative research and anecdotal research. It is just pure research with no agenda, a pleasant change in fact. It can be read straight through or by jumping around by topic. Great nighttime reading, full of full facts and oddities of the Old South. One wishes more histories were like this.
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Format: Paperback
Why is the South so different from the rest of the country? It wasn't always so. In our revolutionary period, Southerners were just as angry at British offenses in the North as Northerners were, while Northerners cheered South Carolina's victory at Sullivan's Island just as passionately as Southrons did. Virginians like George Washington and Daniel Morgan fought in the North while the greatest general of the Southern theater was the Rhode Islander Nathaniel Greene.
Why did Northern and Southern unity quickly become mutual suspicion and eventually dissolve into hostility? Was race the only reason? To Grady McWhiney, the question is largely a cultural one. McWhiney feels that Southern culture was and is Celtic. Most of the original settlers in the North came from England, while most of the South's early settlers came from the most Celtic regions of the British Isles(Ulster, Scotland, Cumberland, the West Country, etc). These settlers put a Celtic stamp on the South, influenced all who settled there, Celt or not, and brought with them their age-old hostility to the English, a hostility that was(and continues to be)reciprocated by the "English" of the North.
Celtic influence on Southern culture cannot be seriously disputed. Anyone who has ever heard bluegrass or country music can hear just one aspect of it. And that North and South are still mutually hostile is also unarguable. The uneducated bigot in the movies usually has a Southern accent and prominently displays a Confederate flag. But I think McWhiney oversimplifies. Celtic influence was there, but it was not alone. As Charles Hudson pointed out in The Southeastern Indians, Native American influence on Southern culture(which McWhiney ignores)was considerable, a fact well known to many of us with families from the southeastern US who have unsuccessfully tried to untangle our genealogies.
In short, Cracker Culture is worth your time. Just don't stop with it.
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Format: Paperback
This book more or less takes the position that the civil war between the north and south was more a conflict of cultures than anything else. The yankees being predominently of English stock were industrious, money grubbing, uptight dullards and the people of the south having more people of Celtic ancestry were a tempermental, emotional lot who would rather spend their days screwing their women and running through the woods with their hound dogs than working their fingers to the bone from sun up till sun down. Being a southerner of celtic ancestry maybe I should have gotten offended by some of the stereotypes laid out in this book but I found it interesting and entertaining instead.
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Format: Paperback
As anyone from the South, or who knows anything of the South's demography, can attest, up through about the 1950s it was less true to say that the South was Celtic than that the _mountainous_ areas of the South were; the valleys tended to be populated by 'flatlanders' (as my grandparents called 'em) who were much more likely of English stock than of Celtic.

The Civil War was more essentially between the flatlanders and the North, than between us hillbillies and any other region. When mostly-flatland Virginia seceded from the North, 12 counties of hillbilly (and still largely Welsh and Scotch-Irish) folks seceded from Virginia back into the Union in (as state documents in Virginia still call it) the 'So-called state' of West Virginia. In Tennessee and North Carolina, the mountain areas tended to split in favor of staying in the Union or at least split more evenly between the two sentiments than the flatlands did.

Why's this? - slavery. And a centuries-old mutual distrust between flatlanders and hillbillies. (My old granny told me, as a child, never to trust a flatlander OR an Englishman, right in there while telling ancestor-stories of how some of our forebears came across the ocean because the English destroyed their homes.) And class distinction. (Hillbillies are overwhelmingly poor; though not all flatlanders are rich, the overwhelming majority of the money was in the valleys.)

Why didn't the author make this distinction, between the hill South and the valley South? - anybody's guess. But it's pretty poor pickings without even that minimal level of care in labeling.
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