Colonial Era

‘American Nations’ Explains Country’s Cultural, Ethnic Beginnings

American-NationsWhen I read Albion’s Seed, it sparked a paradigm shift — for the first time I finally understood why the definition of ‘real American’ is vastly different depending on where a person lives. Albion’s Seed also sparked my appreciation for the fact that the colonists and the Founding Fathers were not some coherent group that mirrored each other’s beliefs. (i.e. all were — fill in the blank)

So when I hear someone say — in the beginning America was (fill in the blank) — I know this person has chosen to view history in a way that is convenient for them. For example, some say America was founding on the ideals of religious freedom. If they are talking about the colony of Pennsylvania they are largely correct. However, if they mean New England, they are wrong since the Puritans persecuted, and even executed, Quakers, Baptists and Methodists.

Whereas Albion’s Seed concentrated on four British-American colonies, in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Colin Woodward looks at the whole of the United States.

One Nation Comprised Of Many

The basic premise of Woodward’s book is the country is really 11 nations — each with distinctive cultural, political and religous beliefs. Of course, I — like many — grew up learning the traditional story of American history. In this historical accounting, the eastern colonies fought for independence and then marched westward to conquer the land from ‘sea to shining sea.’

But, as Woodward points outs, this narrative overlooks historical data which really begins in the 16th century in the middle of the continent.

The 11 Nations

Instead of reviewing the book (which I highly recommend if you are interested in the country’s historical beginnings), I will list the 11 nations Woodward explores. These nations obviously cross state boundaries (he explains how/why in his book). Woodward successfully argues that these 11 nations are, in many ways still intact, and they continue to drive America’s politics. In chronological order the nations are:

  1. El Norte. It turns out the mid-section of the country was the first section settled by colonists — not the east coast. By 1595, twelve years before Jamestown, Spanish Americans were living and thriving in present-day north New Mexico and southern Colorado. Nation’s key traits: overwhelmingly Hispanic — a hybrid between Anglo- and Spanish America.
  2. New France. As Woodward point out, 16 years before the Mayflower’s voyage, it was a group of Frenchmen who were the first Europeans to face a New England winter. Nation’s key traits: multiculturalism and negotiated consensus among its inhabitants.
  3. Tidewater. This is the region where my paternal line — the Claywells — entered North America. It is basically Jamestown and the land owned and developed by the Virginia Company. To some this is ‘real America,’ where the ‘bold, scrappy individualist,’ was born. It was populated with ‘haughty gentlemen-adventurers, the rest beggars and vagrants,’ prompting the Virginia Company president to say, ..’a more damned crew, Hell never vomited.’
  4. Yankeedom. Founded on the eastern shores of the continent by the Massachusetts Bay Company, the colony was founded by educated, Puritan families. The colony was created as a effort of the Puritans to create a ‘city on a hill,’ and to give them the ability to pursue their mission of purifying the church. Core beliefs: emphasis on education, local political control and pursuit of the ‘greater good’ for the community.
  5. New Netherland. Founded by the Dutch in present-day New York City it was ‘from the start a global commercial trading society: multi-ethnic, multi-religious, speculative, materialistic, mercantile, and free trading, a raucous, not entirely democratic city-state where no ethnic or religious group has ever truly been in charge.’
  6. Deep South. Founded by Barbados slave lords as a West-Indies styled slave society, for most of American history this region has ‘been the bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, were democracy was a privilege of the few and enslavement was the natural lot of the many.’
  7. The Midlands. Founded by English Quakers, this region gave birth to the culture of Middle America and the Heartland. It was the only British American colony in 1775 that had a non-British majority. In this nation, ‘ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic.’
  8. Greater Appalachia. Woodward’s boundaries for this region comprises a significantly larger chunk of the country than traditional Appalachian maps. As a southwest Ohio resident, I live inside this nation. According to Woodward, this nation, while in the British Isles, ‘formed a state of near-constant war and upheaval, fostering a warrior ethic and a deep commitment to individual liberty and personal sovereignty.’ It is also the region my maternal line, the Beatys, settled in when they arrived in North America.
  9. Left Coast. This nation extends from a strip in Monterey, California to Juneau, Alaska and was founded by two other groups, Woodward says. Merchants, missionaries and woodmen from New England — who arrived by sea — and farmers, prospectors and fur traders from Greater Appalachia who arrived by wagon. The first group controlled the towns while the latter controlled the countryside.
  10. Far West. This region in the only place, Woodward contends, where environmental factors outweighed ethnic ones. It was colonized in large part through the efforts of large, private corporations and federal government programs (like railroads). It’s political class tends to ‘revile the federal government for interfering in its affairs…while demanding it continue to receive federal largesse.’
  11. First Nation. Comprised of indigenous people to the north, the inhabitants of this nation never surrendered their land through treaties and still ‘retain cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in the region on their own terms.’

Final Thought

One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me, is it simplifies how politics work in America. I subscribe to the belief that the ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ and now I can see the country based on its various  ‘segments’. This makes it easier to understand why certain national politicians fail or succeed in their marketing campaigns for the presidential office. Articles by Woodward | Podcast with author

Categories: American History, Colonial Era, Colonial Period

What Do You Know About The Original Colonies?

16223429882_cbca1b6dc0_zI came across a nice succinct explanation of how each of the 13 colonies started and their central purpose. I decided to include it on my site as a resource for those interested in how the country started.

The Colonies are listed in the order of their inception and the country of origin for the first settlers:

Virginia — England
Launched at Jamestown in 1607, it was founded by English settlers and was established to create a profit for a London Corporation (and indirectly to improve the fortunes of the settlers). This is the colony where my paternal line entered North America.

Massachusetts — England by way of Holland
Founded in 1620 at Plymouth Rock by English settlers, this colony was organized so residents could practice their Puritan religious beliefs. They were not, however, tolerant of other denominations and faiths –persecuting and, in some cases, executing, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics and Jews.

New Hampshire — England by way of Massachusetts
This colony began in Dover in 1623 and was started by people from Massachusetts. According to the textbook, the colony was launched because the ‘settlers sought greater opportunity.’

New York — Holland
Of the original 13 states, this is the first one started by non-English settlers. The settlement,  founded by the Dutch in 1624, was located in present-day Albany. It was originally a trading post but in 1664 England seized control of the colony.

Connecticut — England by way of Massachusetts
This is the second colony created by people already in North America migrating to a new region. It was founded in Windsor in 1633 by residents of Massachusetts who were seeking land and religious freedom.

Maryland — England
Maryland was founded in 1634 in St. Mary’s City as a refuge for Catholics. It was an English colony headed by Cecilius Calvert and Lord Baltimore.

Rhode Island — England by way of Massachusetts
After his falling out with the Puritans in Massachusetts, Roger Williams and his followers settled Providence in 1636. They established the colony so they could worship as they chose — after the Puritans excommunicated Williams.

Delaware — Sweden
This is the second of the non-English settlements within the original 13 colonies. The Swedes established this colony in 1638 in present-day Wilmington. In 1681, Pennsylvania (William Penn) took over the colony.

New Jersey — Holland
This is the second Dutch settlement along the eastern seaboard. It was established in present-day New Jersey City around 1640. Like the New York it was established as a trading post.

Pennsylvania — Sweden
Initially started as a Swede colony in 1643, it eventually became the site for William Penn’s Holy Experiment. Penn established his colony as a refuge for Quakers who were being persecuted in England and North America. My maternal line landed in Pennsylvania before exiting the colony and heading to present-day Appalachia.

North and South Carolina — England by way of Virginia
Originally the land in these two states belonged to just eight men. The owners and settlers were from the Virginia Colony. North Carolina was created in 1653 and the South Carolina was established in 1670.

Georgia — England
The last of the colonies was launched in Savannah in 1733. This English settlement, established by James Oglethorpe, was a refuge for debtors and prisoners.

Source: The World and Its People: The United States and Its Neighbors

Learn & Compare

For a broader look at the Colonies based on the four significant British America colonies read Albion’s Seed. The author breaks down the colonies, not by states, but rather by region and he looks at the settlers’ unique customs.

Although Jamestown is always listed as the first permanent white settlement from England, which it is (permanent being the key word), it was not the first English colony. That distinction belongs to the Roanoke Colony.

Categories: American History, Colonial Era, Colonial Period

Backcountry Folks And The Colony’s Views On Sex, Money And Recreation

albions-seedNote: This is the last of the four entries about Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. If you have not read his book, and are interested in the American Colonial Era, I highly recommend it. Click here to access all the posts in this series.

In this post, I’ll examine the same three folkways I did with the other colonies: Sex, Recreation and Money. In the book, Fischer examines about 20-25 folkways for each colony.

The last group highlighted in Albion’s Seed are also the late arrivers — coming to North America from 1717 to 1774. This group of immigrants, generally referred to as Scott-Irish, actually originated in the border region of northwest England.

They landed mostly in the Quaker Colony of present-day Pennsylvania, but in a rare twist of events, the Quakers, who had created the most religious and ethnically diverse settlement in North America at that time, did not want them and encouraged the settlers to head to the backcountry.

So, they ended up in present-day Appalachia.

Let’s look at how their beliefs on the Big 3: Sex, Money and Fun compared to the other three colonies.

Money. One persistent image of settlers in the Backcountry Colony is that of the rugged individualist living off their own piece of land. The reality, though, then — and now — is much starker.

In the 18th century as many as one-third to one-half of the taxable white males in the region owned no land. It was not any better a century later. According to Census reports from 1850 and 1860, in a sample of eight Tennessee counties, the wealthiest 20 percent of the region owned 82 percent of the improved land and 99 percent of the slaves. In 1983, the top 1 percent of land owners possessed nearly half of the land in Appalachia. The top 5 percent owned nearly two-thirds.

Fischer notes,

This pattern of wealth distribution in the southern highlands in the twentieth century was much like that which existed two hundred years earlier.

However, Fischer does note, one of the counties in Kentucky that had a more equal distribution of land was Cumberland County. Both the Beatys (my maternal line), and the Claywells lived in Cumberland County. The Claywells originated in the Virginia Colony. The Beatys were members of the Backcountry Colony. (They also fought in a decisive Revolutionary War Battle).

Recreation. Because of the conflict that existed in the Border regions of England (where these immigrants originally lived) many of the games and sporting activities transported here were contests of ‘courage, strength and violence.’ Some of the games have fallen out of vogue, but some, like wrestling lives on. Two types of wrestling existed. One was a regulated bout — similar to tournaments held today in high schools. The other type was a no holds barred free-style where everything was legal. These bouts only ended when the opponent ‘gave up.’

Other popular recreational activities imported from England included running, jumping, leaping, and axe or spear throwing contests. Of course, many of these activities laid the foundation for modern Track and Field events. One of the Backcountry Colony’s most famous sons, President Andrew Jackson, was known in his youth for his exceptional running and leaping skills.

But, not all the recreation in the Backcountry was imported from the Mother Land. A case in point is sharpshooting. Since bullets tended to be a valuable commodity, back settlers become highly skilled at hitting distant marks, often using a tree or other support to steady their gun. In the 20th century, one of the region’s most famous sharpshooters was WWI hero Alvin C. York.

Sex. Although the Puritans were very comfortable discussing sex, these conversations did not come close to the familiarity that the backcountry colony had with the subject. Sex was discussed openly and one’s beauty was often, contrary to customs in other parts of North America, put on display. In the late 1700s, Anglican Church missionary Charles Woodmason commented,

The young women have the most uncommon practice, which I cannot break them of. They draw their shift as tight as possible round their breasts, and slender waists and draw their Petticoat close to their hips to show the fineness of their limbs… indeed nakedness is not censurable or indecent here.

The sexual mores of the newly inhabited region were also different from the other three colonies in another area.

In 1767, Woodmason determined that 94 percent of the brides, whose weddings he had officiated, were pregnant. He attributed this number to two factors: the lack of clergy in the region and love feasts. Love feasts, celebrated at night, included significant amounts of alcohol, and often ended with unwed couples in bed, according to Woodmason. But these prenuptial pregnancy were handled differently than in the other three colonies. In the other colonies, formal prosecutions for fornication were usually launched — and one or both of the guilty parties punished.

In the backcountry, prenuptial pregnancy was not viewed as a legal issue.

220px-Andrew_JacksonAs highlighted in Killings — Folk Justice in the Upper South, one of values of the region centers on a unique approach to justice. Carried from the border land regions of England, justice was meted out under a simple rule of retaliation. The principle could be boiled down to this:

A good man must seek to do right in the world, but when wrong is done to him he must punish the wrongdoer himself by an act of retribution that restores order and justice to the world.

According to Fischer, a young Andrew Jackson was told by his mother to “never tell a lie, nor take what is not your own, nor sue anyone for slander, assault and battery. Always settle them cases yourself.”

Apparently Jackson took her advise to heart because he is the only United State’s President to have killed a man in a duel. The duel was fought over an insult levied at Jackson’s wife, Rachel.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Colonial Era, Colonial Period, Cumberland Plateau, Family History | Tags: