You can see shadows of the future already being cast

Sunday, September 4th, 2022

David Hacket Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America makes the point that early America was framed around four dominant folkways;

There are the New England Yankees in the northeast; gentry planters in the lowland South along with their retainers; inhabitants of the upland South, originally from Ulster and the Scottish-English border; and the diverse business-oriented groups in the Mid-Atlantic, from Dutch burghers to Quakers. For both authors, the Yankees and the Southern planters have direct genealogical connections to the Roundhead Whigs and the Royalist Tories. The Borderers and the more mercantile folk of the Mid-Atlantic play a less prominent role in Phillip’s narrative, but eventually amalgamated into the broader Northern and Southern cultural and political alliances.

Kevin Phillips’s The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America observes that the migration of dissenters to North America created a much more cohesive 19th-century Britain:

The existence of North America as a release valve for radical Protestantism stabilised the middle path that the Anglican Church occupied. Meanwhile, the Irish potato famine and the mass migration to the US of Roman Catholic peasants meant that the Protestant proportion of the United Kingdom was far higher in 1900 than in 1800.


The Englishmen, Scots or Welshmen who migrated to America were not “normal” Britons. Perhaps they sought more freedom of worship outside the established Church or more economic opportunities outside of the class system, or perhaps they were fleeing debt and the hand of the law. The “cowboy” is a cliché, but these cowboys came from somewhere, many even genealogically descended from herders on the Scottish border that engaged in as much theft as productive labor. The inverse of the American cowboy were the English who were left behind: the aristocrats, peasants and gentry who came together to create a British Empire with a much more united cultural identity in the 19th century than it had in the 17th century.

Albion’s Seed and The Cousins’ Wars have as much to do with the present and future as the past, Razib Khan explains:

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 saw the emergence of a belt of “Red” Republican counties dominated by Borderers, attracted to the aggressive pugilistic style of their candidate. Though Barack Obama was perceived by America and the world as the first black president, he was raised by a mother whose paternal grandfather was named Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham, a nod to her ancestral Yankee lineage. Obama presented a moralistic, even utopian, vision for America in keeping with this ancestry.

In contrast, Trump, the German-Scottish son of New York’s outer boroughs, reflects a persona that is in tension with the dominant Yankee tradition of the North. It is not well remembered, but during the Civil War, New York City was a hotbed of pro-Southern sentiment, and the mayor, Fernando Wood, even proposed the city’s secession from the Union. To the west, much of southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were pro-Confederate during the conflict because the local population were “butternuts”, descended from settlers who had moved north in the first half of the 19th century, like Kentucky-born Abraham Lincoln. The Great Emancipator was, though, a direct descendent of Samuel Lincoln of Norfolk, East Anglia, who was to settle in Massachusetts in 1638.


Once you read Fischer and Phillips’s narrative, the past becomes illuminated. You can see shadows of the future already being cast.


  1. Mike says:

    I’d love to see Fischer write about the Irish, German and Italian folkways and their influence on American culture.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    James McPherson, in “Battle Cry of Freedom,” puts the North/South boundary at 41° N, which is about Mansfield, Ohio. North of that you have the Yankee economy of wheat, milk, and cows. South of it you have the Confederate economy of corn, whisky, and pigs. (McPherson’s criteria.)

    I grew up eastern Massachusetts, actually in inner city Boston for a while, but I went to graduate school at Purdue (Yankee country), and I have lived in central and north central Ohio for the last 50 years. The culture shock from Dorchester to West Lafayette was severe, even though the trek was from one Yankee colony to another, but eventually I came to like it.

    McPherson got the cultural divide right. Southern Indiana and Ohio have distinct Confederate-like cultures, at least outside the cities, and eastern Ohio is definitely Appalachian.

    Confederate battle flags and decals are quite common, often paired with the American flag. I have even seen the American flag, the Canadian maple leaf flag, and the Confederate battle flag in the same yard. (I haven’t seen any Ukrainian flags here in north central rural Ohio.)

    I do not have a clue as to what the pairings of flags means. For that matter, I’m not sure what the Confederate battle flag itself means to some people. For most it seems to mean rebellion and independence, with a decidedly muted racial undertone, if any.

  3. Jim says:

    Johnny Reb were much again’ it, but the Great Emancipator hisself, who saved the Union, wanted to retvrn the slaves to their native land.

    Those dam-ned East-Anglian Massachusetts-Bay Puritans…

  4. Jim says:

    The “butternuts” claim is substantially untrue. The Borderers who flooded the Southern Illinois region centered on St. Louis were latecomers, as can be seen in this illuminating dialectical map.

    Just like everywhere else, the people who founded the industry that made the region so attractive to migrants were of Massachusetts-Bay.

  5. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Who was The Great Emancipator in the face of the abolitionists who put him into power?

    *They* certainly wanted their pets to stay right where they were; and they got what they wanted.

  6. Mike in Boston says:

    the Irish, German and Italian folkways and their influence on American culture.

    This may not be “folkways”, but anybody writing about that should visit bars in Connecticut, where a plurality of immigrants are Italians; and Massachusetts where, of course, the plurality are Irish.

    Irish tend to be angry drunks and Italians happy drunks, and that makes the average bar experience different in the two places.

  7. Jim says:

    Pseud: “*They* certainly wanted their pets to stay right where they were; and they got what they wanted.”

    I suppose that’s why they shipped Ron DeSantis’s golden children right off their wonderful little island without a second thought.

    It’s almost like…

  8. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    You are surprised that solipsistic gnostics are ‘hypocritical’ about ‘diversity for thee, but not for me’?

    Basicbitch conservakin, or purposefully disingenuous squid ink? How about option C, all of the above?

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