Albion's Seed

by David Hackett Fischer

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed is an attempt, in his words, to look at "the determinants of a voluntary society" (4). By this, he means that he is studying how the United States evolved into a society that, over the course of its history, has reverence for democracy, capitalism, and libertarianism.

His book takes a different approach than other histories by building on what he calls a "germ thesis"—that is, studying how England gave rise to the cultures and sub-cultures that flourished over time in the United States. Using the "germ thesis," he traces the development and evolution of four different folkways, which refer to regional and cultural patterns of development. These folkways include the Puritans in New England, the Royalist elite and indentured servants of Virginia, the settlers from the North Midlands of England and Wales in the Delaware region, and the settlers from North Britain and Northern Ireland to Appalachia. His idea is that each folkway had a different pattern of family life, marriage, naming, aging, death, religion, conception of freedom, etc. He defines twenty-four categories of differences for each folkway, and he believes that these differences help define the culture of the region.

His analysis delves into the settlers themselves and presents a detailed study of the ways they imposed their cultural ideals on their individual regions. One of the vital ways in which the folkways affected the regions was their conception of freedom. For example, the Puritans believed in the right of communities to make their own laws, while the Appalachians defined freedom as personal liberty.

The author presents extensive detail to back up his claims about each folkway. For example, he studies the names of children in each region (and the culture they reflected) and studies the vernacular architecture of the region. However, he can also present each folkway as a kind of monolith that obscures differences among members of each region.

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