Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Albion's Children

I’ve been reading a wonderful history of America's pageant named Albion’s Seed, by distinguished historian David Hackett Fischer. Broadly speaking, the book describes the four major migrations from England after 1620, starting basically with Winthrop’s Massachusetts [1629-1640], the Royalist settlement of Virginia [1645-1660], William Penn’s Quaker settlement of Pennsylvania, and finally the backcountry settlement from the British Borderers & Scotch-Irish [1700-1775].

Historians have never treated these four migrations in such an encyclopedic 800-page fashion all in one book until DHF took up the task, which is full of wonderful insights and exhaustive research.

The four “declensions” of the migrations above are roughly:

1] From Puritan to Yankee

2] From Royalist to Whig

3] From Meetinghouse to Countinghouse

4] From backcountrymen to frontiersmen

The Seventeenth Century in England had religious persecution and outright civil war front and center. Each of the four migrations were stimulated by religious impulses, from the Arminian Anglicans [strict hierarchy & class distinction] to the Antinomian Quakers [Innter Ligh & anti-slavery]. Each of the migrations preserved somewhat in amber after arriving in the new continent, that specific slice of time characterizing the crisis which impelled the migration.

Thus New England preserves a sort of Cromwellian self-righteousness, Virginia & the tidewater a Cavalier aristocracy, the Delaware Valley & Maryland a pacifist do-gooder mentality combined with financial acumen, and finally the Presbyterian-based backcountrymen whose dislike of authority reflected a sort Celtic twilight in the clannish, tribal anarchist style befitting nomads and raiders.

DHF’s encyclopedic examination of the theology, folkways, and lifestyles of these four branches from the original English tree exhumes many buried skeletons and enlightens many dusty closets and opens windows to forgotten or buried pasts.

What becomes increasingly clear is that as cosmopolitan England moved on from the travails of the Seventeenth century with the Restoriation & Glorious Revolution, the colonies experienced no such similar closure.

Indeed, as in The Cousin’s War and other books I have read on the pre-Revolutionary scene, DHF makes it clear in great detail that the East Anglian roots of the Puritans were far different, and stayed different, from London’s mainstream. The Borderers were living a couple of hundred years behind the more evolving areas of British social, cultural, and political development in even the 18th century, and retained many of the border raider cultural traits of their Celtic ancestors---particularly those from the Northern Part of Ireland. The Plantations in Ireland were settled by Presbyterians who originally migrated from Ireland to Scotland lowlands in the 5th-6th centuries and returned with a vengeance and a new faith to settle Ulster almost a millennium later.

Andrew Jackson serves as a prototypical backcountry specimen. To my mind, Benjamin Franklin serves as a model for the Delaware Valley aristocrat, though he was born in Boston. George Washington/Thomas Jefferson are the archetypical Virginians, and fussy prissy John Adams perhaps exemplifies New England’s autocratic mentality.

But no rule fits for people like Alexander Hamilton nor his murderer Aaron Burr. A lot of early Americans are basically economic and political buccaneers who invent their own path to prominence. Below is a footnote from Wikipedia’s long piece on Oliver Cromwell:

1. Winston S. Churchill, 1957, A History of the English Speaking Peoples: The Age of Revolution, Dodd, Mead and Company: New York (p. 9): "We have seen the many ties which at one time or another have joined the inhabitants of the Western islands, and even in Ireland itself offered a tolerable way of life to Protestants and Catholics alike. Upon all of these Cromwell's record was a lasting bane. By an uncompleted process of terror, by an iniquitous land settlement, by the virtual proscription of the Catholic religion, by the bloody deeds already described, he cut new gulfs between the nations and the creeds. "Hell or Connaught" were the terms he thrust upon the native inhabitants, and they for their part, across three hundred years, have used as their keenest expression of hatred "The Curse of Cromwell on you." The consequences of Cromwell's rule in Ireland have distressed and at times distracted English politics down even to the present day. To heal them baffled the skill and loyalties of successive generations. They became for a time a potent obstacle to the harmony of the English-speaking people through-out the world. Upon all of us there still lies 'the curse of Cromwell'.

^ Abbott, W.C. (1929). Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, Harvard University Press, pp.196–205

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