According to David Hackett Fischer in “Albion’s Seed” (1989) England was planted in America not once but at least four times. And each time it was from a different part of England.
So America is not one branch of the Anglo world, but four of them growing side by side in four regions:
- Northern Tier: settled from 1629 to 1640: Massachusetts by Puritans from East Anglia. Spread to New England, upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington states. Yankee. Emily Dickinson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin.
- Coastal South: settled from 1640 to 1675: Virginia and Maryland from southern England. Spread to the Deep South. Started out as gentlemen and their servants, became white masters and black slaves. Dixie. George Washington,Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Rhett Butler.
- Midland: settled from 1675 to 1725: Pennsylvania by Quakers from the North Midlands in England. Spread to the Midwest and California. Corny, generic. Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Ward Cleaver, Harry Truman, Jimmy Stewart.
- Southern Highlands: settled from 1717 to 1775: Appalachia from Northumbria, Scotland and northern Ireland (English and Scottish). Spread to Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Cowboys, Okies and rednecks. Johnny Cash, Abe Lincoln, Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton.
Each region spoke a different English, had different ideas about freedom, law and government, different ways of dressing, of building houses, different views about violence, education, family life and women. And so on.
The surprising thing is that the differences between the regions that you saw in the 1700s are still there now more than 200 years later – despite the civil war, despite the huge number of foreigners pouring into the country, despite government spending and television.
For example, the Southern Highlands in the 1700s had high rates of violence when compared to the Northern Tier. The strange thing is, that is still true. Texas (mostly Southern Highlands) has a murder rate eight times higher than Massachusetts (Northern Tier) – a huge difference. In Texas schoolbooks glorify violence, in Massachusetts they do not.
Fischer says that northern cities became more violent in the late 1900s because Southern Highlanders, both black and white, moved to those cities and brought with them their markedly different views on violence. Not race or poverty drives the violence but highland culture.
Over the past 200 years three new regions have sprung up according to Fischer, each with its own sort of American culture:
- Greater New York: not very big on the map but a tenth of all Americans live there. A Dutch root with Jewish and middle European culture added. (But what about blacks who make up a fourth of the city?)
- The Great Basin: the heavily Mormon region in and near Utah. A mix of northern, midland and highland.
- Southern California: a mix of highland, midland, Hispanic and Jewish culture. Spreading throughout the south-west: Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc.
Fischer’s map is somewhat like the dialect map of America.
I have not read the whole book, just bits of it here and there. It is unclear to me how blacks fit into Fischer’s model. Or Canada.