(The first part of this review is found here)
In the second and third parts of the review I’ll go in depth about how the characteristics of the more important “nations” influenced how the political and social divisions in the later history of the United States would align.
Although the Spanish, French and even the English at Jamestown colonized earlier than the New England colonists, the Pilgrims and the Puritans were the biggest influence on early American life. The Puritans left England, en masse, from mostly East Anglia to found a populous religiously intolerant Calvinist “heaven on Earth’ that they could run their own way. They despised the aristocratic Norman noblemen and believed that a tightly knit town life run by selectmen who all agreed with the Puritan values would give them the social cohesion and resources needed to flourish and spread their way of life to the surrounding communities and eventually the other nations.
The abiding characteristic that marks the Yankee is his desire to interfere with anyone else who does not live life the way the Puritan thinks it should be lived. They are inveterate busybodies who cannot abide anyone enjoying life except on their terms. This was notable in the 1600s and is equally true today. Even with the demise of their belief in God they have turned their social justice proclivities into a cult that invests much of their time and energy in policing everybody else’s business.
As a practical consequence of their numbers and their organized approach to life they quickly spread in all available directions. They spread north and east into New Hampshire, Maine and even the Canadian Maritime Provinces. They went west and south into Connecticut, Long Island and eventually most of New York State. Later when the western areas of the continent became accessible, they migrated to the Great Lakes region essentially colonizing all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Ohio and even northwestern Pennsylvania. And much later, in the mid to late 1800s, they even colonized the Pacific Northwest forming the core of Oregon and Washington and even areas of northern California.
One very exceptional branch that emerged late from Yankeedom (as Woodard names the New England founding) was the Mormons. They were a radical sect founded by a Yankee from New York state named Joseph Smith. Their extremely unorthodox beliefs and community couldn’t hope to be accepted in the confines of orthodox New England so they eventually fled the United States for Utah. But it is interesting that their New England heritage of religious communalism is probably the only way that they were able to survive the high desert of the Far West. Their cooperative lifestyle allowed farming in an area where all other small farmers eventually failed and left.
Diametrically opposed to the culture and the approach of the Puritans of Yankeedom were the landed gentry who colonized Virginia and later the Carolinas. These men were landed gentry who utilized indentured farmers and later on, black slaves to become wealthy from tobacco, rice and sugar estates that they were given by their aristocratic connections in England. In Virginia, the Carolinas and later in Georgia, the local government was a closely held enterprise of the wealthy few who did not even permit the common men to vote and certainly not hold office. And once the system of farming was worked out, these men accumulated great wealth and lived more sumptuously than their patrons back in England ever dreamed of. The colony of Virginia never expanded much beyond its original borders but the deep south plantations of the Carolinas moved steadily west through the gulf state areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and eventually into Florida. Later when cotton became the great cash crop, areas of Tennessee, Arkansas and even Texas were also included in this plantation society. These aristocrats were the spiritual descendants of the landed nobility of England and felt that they were owed obedience by the common people and should answer only to themselves in the way they transacted business and lived their lives. Woodard compares the rivalry between the Puritans of New England and the Cavaliers of the Deep South as an analogue to the sides of the English Civil War where the puritan roundheads under Cromwell fought to the death against the cavalier gentlemen of King Charles. And indeed, the documents of the time show that both sides saw it in the same terms.
At all times and even during the American Revolution when these opponents were allies and even countrymen a rivalry and a bitter hatred existed between these two “nations.”
In the next installment I’ll talk about how the other nations and especially the Appalachians figured into this wrestling match for control of North America.