Okay, I just finished one of the lighter bits (more on that one in a bit, it really deserves treatment all of its own), and finally started buckling down on Albion's Seed. It's one of those that's been sitting partly read for ages, and really needed finishing.
I may have said this before, but even if I have it bears repeating. If I had to recommend one single book for explaining "who we are and how got here" - this is the one. Now fair warning, it's a monster of 900-odd pages, but it traces the path of the major social groups of British North America into the New World. Where they came from (and why), where they went, and the rudiments of their cultures post-arrival. Necessarily a summary treatment in all cases, but even so - if you ever found yourself asking why do obnoxious meddling Yankees/cantankerous violent hillbillies/snotty Southern socialites do that???... this is the book for you. :)
Anyhow, I'd finished the backcountry Ulster Scot part ages ago, but this time picked the thing up again to start at the beginning, and just finished the Puritan New England section. Let's see, the high points....
1. The Puritans of New England came from the most urbane area of England (southeast), and it's probably fair to call them the middle-class yuppies of their era. That is - not generally of the peerage, but likewise hardly poor. Lots of skilled craftsman, and atypically highly educated for their time and place.
2. The motives of migration were generally (for the Bay colonies) Utopian. They picked and chose who could come, and often migrated as complete families.
3. The elite of the colony came from a limited number of families, which intermarried with some frequency. The religious leaders, while forbidden direct public office, seem nonetheless the de facto community leaders. "I am the parson who rules here." (p. 11)
4. Both by nature (rockier, colder soils), and deliberate intent the communities tended towards small townships of yeoman freeholders. Wealth disparities were deliberately flattened both through law (wage and price controls on and off, export restrictions in short times, etc), as well as heavy religious pressure on what constituted a decent and proper profit. Likewise inheritance laws changed from England, particularly by ending primogeniture, but also a number of smaller tweaks, done with the intention of leveling social inequality (de Tocqueville mentions this as well, and that it was done very deliberately.)
5. While the Puritans were not quite as dour as modern conceptions would paint them, they were still decidedly hard by modern standards. Very big on education, work, thrift, etc.
(a minor side note on the difference between "book history" and "living history."
The author mentions with a little incredulity the Puritan settlers in the early days being so grateful for their rye bread and bean soup while living on a bay full of lobster, all manner of shellfish and game about - why on earth would they go for beans??
The answer is plain to anyone who's gone out and lived anything even close - what's appealing at the fine restaurant with central heating and a leisurely lifestyle is not at all what's appealing when you're living in a drafty cottage in a cold wet climate and have been outside all day. Thick sticky carby goodness becomes heaven in a way the best shellfish can't match. :) )
5. Yes, the early Puritans really did wear those steeply hats and capes, Wikipedia's misconceptions page notwithstanding. Not so much in black though.. that was too presumptuous. :) (originals mentioned are Constance Hopkin's hat and Richard Smith's cloak.. though neither quite constitute the Thanksgiving "uniform" it's true. )
6. By the time of the Revolution, we're no longer talking a Puritan community per se, as a century of other immigration has softened the edges. Nonetheless, the general sensibility is still there after a century or so. Think modern Salt Lake City. You don't have to be a Mormon... but the culture's nonetheless still fairly pervasive, if not as rigidly doctrinal as it was at the time of the founding.
7. Order order order. Everything and everyone in their place, but not quite like back in England.They did intentionally reject the old English distinction of peerage and commoners, to the point of refusing to honor class privileges to a group of Puritan peers inquiring about relocating to the Bay Colony... so said peers stayed home (good riddance, says I).
That said, modern notions of liberty don't really apply. Lawmaking was local, but seemed pretty unrestrained in what it compel - to the point of citizens of Concord, Sudbury, and Dedham were not allowed to move away at one point as their numbers dwindled.
So yeah. Early New England. Homey, communal, orderly .... and very much with the town muckety mucks all up in your business.
The more things change, eh?
(oh, just wait till we work back around to the hillbillies. *heh* Bunch of frickin' loud mouthed savages. )