Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer

This is a monumental book. In 900 pages, Professor Fischer tells the story of the four major migrations from Great Britain to colonial America. In chronological sequence, he describes the Puritans from East Anglia who settled in Massachusetts; the cavaliers and their indentured servants from the south of England who settled in Virginia; the Quakers from the north Midlands who came to the Delaware Valley; and the people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and the north of England who came to Appalachia and the inland South.

Fischer describes these four subcultures in great detail, discussing among other things their marriage, child-rearing, culinary, linguistic, religious, architectural and political practices. He explains their ideas of liberty, the clothes they wore, the names they gave their children, and their thoughts on education.

The surprising thing is not how different these groups were, but how their differences remained fairly constant through the years, even to the present day. For example, the Puritans valued public education; the aristocrats who came to Virginia only valued education for themselves, not their servants. The Quakers opposed violence; the settlers who came from the borderlands of England and Scotland to Appalachia considered violence a normal part of life. 

The last part of the book traces American history after the revolution, showing how the Electoral College map has usually reflected the cultural traditions of these founding groups. Given the history of these four British folkways in America, it is no surprise that the North is better educated and less violent than the South. Fischer points out that the South has supported every war America ever fought, regardless of who we were fighting or why.  (2/19/13)

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