Albion's Seed

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America is a 1989 book by David Hackett Fischer that details the folkways of four groups of people who moved from distinct regions of Great Britain (Albion) to the United States. The argument is that the culture of each of the groups persisted, to provide the basis for the political culture of the modern United States.[2] Fischer explains "the origins and stability of a social system which for two centuries has remained stubbornly democratic in its politics, capitalist in its economy, libertarian in its laws and individualist in its society and pluralistic in its culture."[3]

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America
First edition
AuthorDavid Hackett Fischer
Cover artistUnknown artist, "The Cholmondeley Ladies", c.1600–10[1]
CountryUnited States
SubjectAmerican social history
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date

Four folkways

The four migrations are discussed in the four main chapters of the book:

The Exodus of the English Puritans (Pilgrims and Puritans influenced the Northeastern United States' corporate and educational culture)[4]
The Cavaliers and Indentured Servants (Gentry influenced the Southern United States' plantation culture)[5]
The Friends' Migration (Quakers influenced the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern United States' industrial culture)[6]
The Flight from North Britain (Scotch-Irish and border English influenced the Western United States' ranch culture and the Southern United States' common agrarian culture)[7]

Fischer includes satellite peoples such as Welsh, Scots, Irish, Dutch, French, Germans, Italians and a treatise on enslaved Africans in South Carolina. Fischer covers voting patterns and dialects of speech in four regions that span from their Atlantic colonial base to the Pacific.

Fischer remarks on his own connective feelings between the Chesapeake and Southern England in Albion's Seed but attempts to flesh them out in Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, a corollary of his work in the book.[8]


Fischer states that the book's purpose is to examine the complex cultural processes at work within the four folkways during the time period. Albion's Seed argues, "The legacy of four British folkways in early America remains the most powerful determinant of a voluntary society in the United States."

The term "folkways" was originally conceived of by William Graham Sumner, a 19th-century American sociologist. Sumner's treatise Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals posits:

The folkways are habits of the individual and customs of the society which arise from efforts to satisfy needs; they are intertwined with goblinism and demonism and primitive notions of luck (sec. 6), and so they win traditional authority. Then they become regulative for succeeding generations and take on the character of a social force. They arise no one knows whence or how. They grow as if by the play of internal life energy. They can be modified, but only to a limited extent, by the purposeful efforts of men. In time they lose power, decline, and die, or are transformed. While they are in vigor they very largely control individual and social undertakings, and they produce and nourish ideas of world philosophy and life policy. Yet they are not organic or material. They belong to a superorganic system of relations, conventions, and institutional arrangements.[9]

Key characteristics

Fischer describes his modified application of the folkways concept as "the normative structure of values, customs and meanings that exist in any culture," which rise from social and intellectual origins. More specifically, Fischer's definition of folkways are that they "are often highly persistent, but they are never static. Even where they have acquired the status of a tradition they are not necessarily very old. Folkways are constantly in the process of creation, even in our own time."

Each of the four distinct folkways is comparatively described and defined in the following terms:

  • Speech Ways: "Conventional patterns of written and spoken language; pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax and grammar."
  • Building Ways: "Prevailing forms of vernacular architecture and high architecture, which tend to be related to one another."
  • Family Ways: "The structure and function of the household and family, both in ideal and actuality."
  • Marriage Ways: "Ideas of the marriage-bond, and cultural processes of courtship, marriage and divorce."
  • Gender Ways: "Customs that regulate social relations between men and women."
  • Sex Ways: "Conventional sexual attitudes and acts, and the treatment of sexual deviance."
  • Child-Rearing Ways: "Ideas of child nature and customs of child nurture."
  • Naming Ways: "Onomastic customs including favoured forenames and the descent of names within the family."
  • Age Ways: "Attitudes towards age, experiences of aging and age relationships."
  • Death Ways: "Attitudes towards death, mortality rituals, mortuary customs and mourning practices."
  • Religious Ways: "Patterns of religious worship, theology, ecclesiology and church architecture."
  • Magic Ways: "Normative beliefs and practices concerning the supernatural."
  • Learning Ways: "Attitudes toward literacy and learning, and conventional patterns of education."
  • Food Ways: "Patterns of diet, nutrition, cooking, eating, feasting and fasting."
  • Dress Ways: "Customs of dress, demeanor, and personal adornment."
  • Sport Ways: "Attitudes toward recreation and leisure; folk games and forms of organized sport."
  • Work Ways: "Work ethics and work experiences; attitudes toward work and the nature of work."
  • Time Ways: "Attitudes toward the use of time, customary methods of time keeping, and the conventional rhythms of life."
  • Wealth Ways: "Attitudes towards wealth and patterns of its distribution."
  • Rank Ways: "The rules by which rank is assigned, the roles which rank entails, and the relations between different ranks."
  • Social Ways: "Conventional patterns of migration, settlement, association and affiliation."
  • Order Ways: "Ideas of order, ordering institutions, forms of disorder, and treatment of the disorderly."
  • Power Ways: "Attitudes toward authority and power; patterns of political participation."
  • Freedom Ways: "Prevailing ideas of liberty and restraint, and libertarian customs and institutions."

See also

  • Louis Hartz's "fragment thesis" which proposes that the political cultures of the New World countries depends on when, and by whom they were colonized


  1. ‘The Cholmondeley Ladies’, Unknown artist, Britain, Oil paint on wood, Tate collection, Tate Britain, artwork Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  2. David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 6
  3. Hackett Fischer, David. Albion's Seed Oxford University Press, 1989.
  4. Fischer, Albion's Seed, pp. 13–206
  5. Fischer, Albion's Seed pp. 207–418
  6. Fischer, Albion's Seed, pp. 419–604
  7. Fischer, Albion's Seed, pp. 605–782
  8. Fischer, Albion's Seed, p. 246
  9. Sumner, William Graham Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. Project Gutenberg E-Book. Last accessed: March 19, 2013.
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