African Founders and the Early Black American Experience
David Hackett Fischer is a historian who wrote a Pulitzer prize winning book about George Washington and is probably best known for his provocative 1989 book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. (Albion is another name for the British isles).
Albion’s Seed is a fascinating book that examines four American regional cultures through the lens of their different origin points in Great Britain: The Puritans of Massachusetts from East Anglia, the Cavaliers of Virginia from the South of England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania from the North Midlands, and Scots-Irish of the backcountry from the borderlands of England and Scotland. He examines each of these cultures across 20+ different folkway dimensions from their buildings to their marriage practices to the way the they treated the elderly to the way they cooked their food.
It’s an utterly fascinating book, one that I’d highly recommend, with the caveat that it’s about 1000 pages long. For those who haven’t read it or don’t want to take the time, Scott Alexander wrote a detailed review of it.
Last year Fischer released what he billed as a companion volume: African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals. It’s another massive and impressive book, 25 years or more in the making.
African Founders is intended to complement Albion’s Seed by telling the story of black Americans from the early colonial period up through the mid-19th century, and also expanding the geographic coverage of the first book. It examines three northern regions (New England, the Hudson Valley, and the Delaware Valley) and three southern regions (Chesapeake Virginia and Maryland; Coastal Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; and Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast). He also includes three chapters that he dedicates to what he called “frontier” regions, but these are essentially supplemental chapters that deal with specific groups of people rather than regions per se.
African Founders is extremely informative and fascinating, if ultimately less successful than Albion’s Seed. It contains an unbelievable wealth of information about the early period of the black experience in America. A few examples:
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