"Letters from an American Farmer" was written by the Franco-American author J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, a transplant from Normandy. It is an epistolary work of fiction written as a correspondence from an American farmer traveling in the American colonies to an Englishman.
The American travels throughout the colonies from Nantucket, Massachusetts Colony to Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, observing people, their customs, comforts, manners, and work habits.
In "Letter III - What is An American," he characterizes the American as a motley "mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes." It is from "this promiscuous breed" that the American race has developed. The "eastern provinces" are an "exception," for they have been settled by "the unmixed descendants of Englishmen." With his descriptions of Americans as "unmixed" or derived from a "promiscuous breed," he establishes an understanding that race and ethnicity are key to the formation of American identity. Furthermore, those who are deemed "American" are solely descended from Western European countries.
In the previous letter, "Letter II - On the Situation, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer," the American speaks of his gratitude for being an American landowner and not "a Russian boor, or an Hungarian peasant" whose fates he perceives to be "a slavery worse than that of our negroes." The speaker sympathizes with the fates of the European peasant and serf in a way that he does not with slaves kidnapped from West Africa. Worse, he does not give the latter group the distinction that he offers to the others, referring to them as "our negroes," asserting an ownership or a paternalist stance. What saddens the speaker is that some white men will never know his good fortune—a farm of his own left to him by his father, and no debt—but no similar empathy is felt for blacks who will remain in lifelong bondage.
In fact, the farmer is grateful for the ownership of his own "tolerably faithful and healthy negroes" who tend to his 371 acres. He also possesses "an excellent orchard, a good house, and a substantial barn." He is also grateful for "possessing freedom of action, freedom of thought...and a mode of government" that does not require much from its citizenry.
However, according to historian Alan Taylor, Crèvecoeur does not convey the sense that "abundance" instills an appreciation for freedom or a desire to protect it. While the author praised the "shared prosperity" and "cooperative wealth" of the residents of Nantucket, he cringes at the "inequality" and "greed" that define cultural life in Charles Town. More horrifically, while walking through a forest to a plantation, the narrator finds "a black man blinded, whipped to a bloody pulp, and suspended from a tree in a cage to die slowly from starvation, dehydration, and sunstroke—while vultures gathered to eat his corpse." This was his punishment for killing an overseer.
Crèvecoeur describes America's immigrant culture and how it defined the early nation, as well as the distinct work ethics of New Englanders and Southerners, including the latter's cruel dependence on slave labor.