Albion’s Seed

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex provides an excellent synopsis of David Hackett Fischer’s great book Albion’s Seed. Intro:

In school, we tend to think of the original American colonists as “Englishmen”, a maximally non-diverse group who form the background for all of the diversity and ethnic conflict to come later. Fischer’s thesis is the opposite. Different parts of the country were settled by very different groups of Englishmen with different regional backgrounds, religions, social classes, and philosophies. The colonization process essentially extracted a single stratum of English society, isolated it from all the others, and then plunked it down on its own somewhere in the Eastern US.

I used to play Alpha Centauri, a computer game about the colonization of its namesake star system. One of the dynamics that made it so interesting was its backstory, where a Puerto Rican survivalist, an African plutocrat, and other colorful characters organized their own colonial expeditions and competed to seize territory and resources. You got to explore not only the settlement of a new world, but the settlement of a new world by societies dominated by extreme founder effects. What kind of weird pathologies and wonderful innovations do you get when a group of overly romantic Scottish environmentalists is allowed to develop on its own trajectory free of all non-overly-romantic-Scottish-environmentalist influences? Albion’s Seed argues that this is basically the process that formed several early US states.

Fischer describes four of these migrations: the Puritans to New England in the 1620s, the Cavaliers to Virginia in the 1640s, the Quakers to Pennsylvania in the 1670s, and the Borderers to Appalachia in the 1700s.

Read the whole thing, which proceeds to extrapolate current voting patterns from Fischer’s thesis.

“Confederate History and Heritage Month”

A great article from David Parker on Like the Dew: A Journal of Southern Culture and Politics:

Governor Phil Bryant caused something of a stir in February when he signed a proclamation declaring April to be “Confederate Heritage Month” in Mississippi.

Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal made no such proclamation, but he didn’t need to. The Georgia General Assembly already took care of this back in 2009, when it legislated that “the month of April of each year is hereby designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month and shall be set aside to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear.”

“The cause which they held so dear” had as its cornerstone the institution of slavery. This is according to Alexander Stephens, a Georgian and vice-president of the Confederate States of America, who said exactly that in a speech in Savannah in March 1861.

But forget for a while that the resolution calls on Georgians to honor and celebrate a nation built on slavery. As a historian, I have another problem with it: “All those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear.”

Georgia’s resolution assumes a unity of support for the Confederacy and the war effort that simply did not exist. African slaves had little enthusiasm for the Confederate cause, of course, but here’s something we seem to have forgotten, or perhaps never knew: A lot of white Georgians did not support the war.

On January 2, 1860, when Georgia’s (white male) voters went to the polls to elect delegates for a statewide convention to decide on the secession question, the secessionists won—by a vote of 42,744 to 41,717. Hardly overwhelming support! Once the convention voted for secession, and especially after the shooting started, white support shifted a bit, but there was always a tremendous amount of white disaffection.

We have forgotten that a lot of white folks thought of the war as “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” White disaffection was not confined to the lower class, but it was strong there.

There’s more at the link. White opposition to the Confederacy deserves to be remembered. The same impulse that created West Virginia was found in pockets throughout Appalachia, and beyond.

 

The GAH

Congratulations to Prof. Ken Wheeler on his paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Georgia Association of Historians this past weekend at Georgia Highlands College in Rome, entitled: “Racial Expulsion and a Myth of Whiteness: Why Reinhardt Normal College Abandoned the New South and Became a Mountain School.” This is based on an article forthcoming in the Appalachian Journal, which I have had the privilege to read, and which begins:

Founded in 1883 at the edge of southern Appalachia in northern Georgia, Reinhardt Normal College initially reflected a New South ideology of its German-American founders, who saw the school as part of a larger vision that included mining, business development, and transportation improvements. By 1900, however, a second generation articulated a different story of the college, in which they presented Reinhardt as a missionary outpost among an isolated and ignorant, though promising, population that required moral uplift. For the founding generation, the hilly, even mountainous, topography surrounding their school signified the waterpower that could be harnessed to power mills and factories, but for the second generation the landscape signified a geographically and culturally remote locale in which the school operated. What stayed constant was a racial outlook in which the first generation advocated ridding the area of people of African descent, and the second generation either echoed that aspiration or presented the school as though racial purification had already happened and Reinhardt existed in an all-white setting.

(Cf. VPAA Mark Roberts’s talk last fall, wherein he argued that the Appalachian “hillbilly” was the valued repository of an unsullied original “Anglo-Saxon” culture.)

Given this history, one can see why the admission of James T. Jordan was such a significant event, and worth remembering.

Congratulations are also due to Prof. Wheeler on being awarded a sabbatical leave next spring to work on his book, Creation and Destruction in the Cherokee Country: Georgia’s Etowah Valley 1829-1865.

Hillbilly Heaven

A great talk this evening by VPAA Mark Roberts at the Bartow History Museum in Cartersville, an interesting disquisition on the Appalachian “hillbilly.” Is the “hillbilly” the valued repository of an unsullied original “Anglo-Saxon” culture, or is he an embarrassing holdover from a former age, needlessly impeding American Progress? If nothing else, he had great music! Roberts treated us to numbers by John Dilleshaw (“Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles”), and the Carter Family. He also showed a Betty Boop cartoon “Musical Mountaineers,” and proposed that all of this was taking place in a parallel dimension (signified by the moonshine jug “lens” at the beginning and the cartoon surreality). However, at the end of the cartoon, moonshine substitutes for gasoline in Betty’s car, suggesting that Appalachia could serve as the “fuel” for modern America. In other words, both positions are true!

Not exactly “Cuzin Clem”

They kindly kept the museum open afterwards. I was impressed. I had not seen it since it moved to the old courthouse, and it’s really well done.