David R. Henderson  

Early American Immigrants

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Scott Alexander has written a fantastic review of David Fischer's Albion's Seed. The book is about early immigration to the Eastern United States. Alexander gives a nice summary of each of the 4 immigrant groups, along with some really interesting facts about them. In the process, he comes off as Dave Barry without the exaggeration.

Some of my favorite excerpts from the Alexander post (whenever italics are used, they are Alexander's) follow.

On the Puritans:

Fischer ends each of his chapters with a discussion of how the society thought of liberty, and the Puritans unsurprisingly thought of liberty as "ordered liberty" - the freedom of everything to tend to its correct place and stay there. They thought of it as a freedom from disruption - apparently FDR stole some of his "freedom from fear" stuff from early Puritan documents. They were extremely not in favor of the sort of liberty that meant that, for example, there wouldn't be laws against wasting time. That was going too far.

On the Cavaliers (who settled Virginia):
The whites who survived tended to become "sluggish and indolent", according to the universal report of travellers and chroniclers, although I might be sluggish and indolent too if I had been kidnapped to go work on some rich person's farm and sluggishness/indolence was an option.

Virginian cavalier speech patterns sound a lot like modern African-American dialects. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out why, but it's strange to think of a 17th century British lord speaking what a modern ear would clearly recognize as Ebonics.

And Virginian nobles weren't just random jerks, they were carefully cultivated jerks.

On the Quakers:
3. The Quakers' marriage customs combined a surprisingly modern ideas of romance, with extreme bureaucracy. The wedding process itself had sixteen stages, including "ask parents", "ask community women", "ask community men", "community women ask parents", and "obtain a certificate of cleanliness". William Penn's marriage apparently had forty-six witnesses to testify to the good conduct and non-relatedness of both parties.
4. Possibly related: 16% of Quaker women were unmarried by age 50, compared to only about 2% of Puritans.

It occurs to me that William Penn might be literally the single most successful person in history. He started out as a minor noble following a religious sect that everybody despised and managed to export its principles to Pennsylvania where they flourished and multiplied. Pennsylvania then managed to export its principles to the United States, and the United States exported them to the world. I'm not sure how much of the suspiciously Quaker character of modern society is a direct result of William Penn, but he was in one heck of a right place at one heck of a right time

On the Borderers:
250,000 people is a lot of Borderers. By contrast, the great Puritan emigration wave was only 20,000 or so people; even the mighty colony of Virginia only had about 50,000 original settlers. So these people showed up on the door of the American colonies, and the American colonies collectively took one look at them and said "nope".

Except, of course, the Quakers. The Quakers talked among themselves and decided that these people were also Children Of God, and so they should demonstrate Brotherly Love by taking them in. They tried that for a couple of years, and then they questioned their life choices and also said "nope", and they told the Borderers that Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley were actually kind of full right now but there was lots of unoccupied land in Western Pennsylvania, and the Appalachian Mountains were very pretty at this time of year, so why didn't they head out that way as fast as it was physically possible to go?

Borderer medical beliefs: "A cure for homesickness is to sew a good charge of gunpowder on the inside of ths shirt near the neck". That'll cure homesickness, all right.

This one on the Borderers might please noted foe of formal schooling Bryan Caplan:
Rates of public schooling in the backcountry settled by the Borderers were "the lowest in British North America" and sometimes involved rituals like "barring out", where the children would physically keep the teacher out of the school until he gave in and granted the students the day off.

Many facts came as a surprise to me. Here's one set:
Andrew Jackson became the first Borderer president, behaving exactly as you would expect the first Borderer president to behave, and he was followed by almost a dozen others. Borderers have also been overrepresented in America's great military leaders, from Ulysses Grant through Teddy Roosevelt (3/4 Borderer despite his Dutch surname) to George Patton to John McCain.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (4 to date)
James Hanley writes:

"the suspiciously Quaker character of modern society"

What does that mean?

HBM writes:

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JK Brown writes:

I found this late 19th century novel that follows the hero from England through the Virginia and Massachusetts colonies informative and entertaining. It is set between the two Charleses.

King Noanett : a story of old Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay
by Stimson, Frederic Jesup, 1896

Reading Alexander's review, I believe he has it wrong about the low teenage pregnancy in the Puritan community. I came across a book published in the early 1700s on the sexual habits of America, specifically Massachusetts on the Internet Archive. Unfortunately, I didn't keep the link and haven't been able to find it again.

I scanned it mostly to see what a sex survey based on church records might look like. Nothing leapt out except every few pages would be a reference to what appeared to be a recently married young couple confessing to fornication. One got the impression that the young woman was holding the evidence when the confessions were made.

Also, 250,000 Borderers just up and move? The history I've heard was that after a war the King forcibly shipped the captured men from the area to the New World. Then after decided to do the same with the starving women and children left behind a few years later.

Nathan writes:

@ James

If you read Scott Alexander's original post that phrase will make sense. But short version - Quakers had a strong belief in tolerance and religious freedom. Compared with the Puritans or Quakers who insisted on strict social orders, the Quakers definitely seemed to get their way much more than the other groups when it comes to the way that Westernism developed.

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