Regional Cultures in the USA (2/5): British Colonies Tidewater & Yankeedom vs. New France and New Amsterdam

As a European immigrant to the USA, I still experience the country with surprise, even ten years later. The reality is different that I expect; it does not fit into my thought process. Current social developments, political processes or bitter debates in the USA regarding things like the role of public schools or states also astonish many Americans. How do these dynamics develop?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A look at the differences between the settler cultures will shed some light on the issue.

Bild1It is true that, since the 17th century, a British sphere of influence had existed along the east coast of what is now the USA. At the same time, the individual British colonies pursued their own, very different goals and social models. For instance, early on, differences in central issues crystallized between Tidewater and Yankeedom that are still influential and fraught with conflict today:

 

 (Quelle: http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html)

 

  

Tidewater

The Tidewater region is located on the Atlantic coast in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, and gets its name from the constantly changing tides.

The goal of the first colonists in Jamestown (from 1606) was the establishment of a profitable military basis for gold robbery and the exploitation of resources (“inspired” by Spanish role models in South America). This reality stands in stark contrast to the subsequent American settler mythology of individualism, hard work and romantic liaisons with helpful Native Americans (e.g. Pocahontas). Badly equipped, with false hopes and unskilled in agriculture, for years, the majority of settlers starved to death; they were repeatedly replaced by new arrivals from England. This human resupply became the most important advantage that the British had in the wars against the Native American population, decimated by war, disease and hunger.

Another decisive factor for the stable establishment of the colony of Virginia from 1630 on was the discovery that it was a great place to grow tobacco; the region thus had a valuable export commodity. Field work on the plantations was now performed by the “poor masses” from Europe which the British settler elite (mostly younger sons of the landed gentry) imported from Europe as “indentured servants” and often treated as property. Social mobility was a possibility for these farm laborers … if they survived the contract period.

The concept of an ideal society in Tidewater, however, was strictly hierarchical. It encompassed the central role of the Anglican Church as well as economic and political privileges for the aristocratic gentry class. Education was a privilege, and there were no public schools. Freedom (and democratic participation) were understood as a freedom for the elite, not as a fundamental right for all, and definitely not for the poor majority.

This model became problematic for the elite from the time when poor laborers were no longer easy to import from Europe. However, a solution was soon found: slaves from Africa. In around 1700, they initially made up 10% of the population, while by 1760, their population had grown to 40%.

Yankeedom

The exact origin of the term “Yankee” is unknown. One variation of the explanation is that it is based on the Dutch “Janke,” (pronounced “yankeh”), a diminutive form of the Dutch name Jan. It is similar to the German “Hansel,” the diminutive of Hans, and served as a kind of nickname for the Dutch settlers.
(Source: http://www.wissen.de/wortherkunft/yankee)

The colonists in New England (from 1620 on) pursued their Calvinistic/Protestant social utopia. Motivated by the belief in moral progress and God’s will, their colonial activities were well planned out – entire families arrived, mostly from the educated middle class of southern England. The Pilgrim population increased rapidly.

Religiously strictly conformist, they were revolutionary with regard to their political organization: They pursued their expansion as a colonial group which governed itself within the framework of “colonial charters.” School buildings, churches and public roads were constructed, directly elected committees made decisions on a colony’s taxes, budget, etc. This high degree of local control and democracy in New England influenced the positive image of the government, national regulations, public expenses and schools as well as a sense of community. This included compulsory school attendance, since reading was greatly valued for bible study. Literacy was essential for the establishment of a “heaven on earth.” Universities were founded surprisingly quickly, such as Harvard College in 1636, with the goal of promoting religious education. Boston was and remains an intellectual hub of the USA.

This strict religious orientation also had its dark sides: Things that were different or strange were seen as a threat and attacked. The Indian and un-Christian “savages” were eradicated in years of war and with great brutality. Driven by the missionary concept of having been personally selected by God, the Pilgrims tried to increase their area of influence, asserting their religious views using intolerance, strict punishments as well as violence.

It is no surprise that this led to conflicts with their neighbors, especially with Tidewater, but also with New France, New Amsterdam and other regional cultures who resisted those values and missionary efforts. Those efforts to distance oneself from the ideals of Yankeedom still exist in today’s American politics, such as in the differing stances on environmental protection, regulation in general and public education.

New France

In 1604, France founded its first permanent settlement 20 years before the Dutch and even before the British (1606) in what is today eastern Canada and the Green Bay region, and spread its influence along the Mississippi to Louisiana. In this area, called New France, the settlers turned toward the Native American cultures – they learned from each other, including language, they intermarried and mixed their traditions. The original goal of the French was to make better progress with the Christianization and civilization of the natives based on bilateral understanding.

The new arrivals needed the practical knowledge and cultural technologies of the Native Americans (planting corn, snowshoes, etc.) in order to survive in their harsh “new world.” Under those circumstances, a new hybrid culture was formed in the northern part of New France, which was characterized by cultural openness, integration, self-sufficiency and the will to be independent of European feudal social structures. These characteristics influenced the subsequent Canadian culture and its differentiation toward the USA.

Bild2The new arrivals needed the practical knowledge and cultural technologies of the Native Americans (planting corn, snowshoes, etc.) in order to survive in their harsh “new world.” Under those circumstances, a new hybrid culture was formed in the northern part of New France, which was characterized by cultural openness, integration, self-sufficiency and the will to be independent of European feudal social structures. These characteristics influenced the subsequent Canadian culture and its differentiation toward the USA.

 

 (Quelle: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_France)

 

 

 

 

New Amsterdam

New York, New York – initially, the “most American” city came into existence in 1626 as New Amsterdam. The Dutch West India Company purchased a part of Manhattan. Trade and profit soon became the focus in this port city, whose population as early as 1664, numbering about 2000, was characterized by an immense cultural mix of inhabitants. An attitude of pragmatic tolerance with a preeminence of trade and profit-seeking was part of the surprisingly lasting Dutch legacy of this city, although it had been lost to the English crown by 1665.


Part 3 of our regional cultures series is going to be online next week. 


In the following weeks our Director of Business Development USA and author, Sabine Amend, will take you on a journey through the history of the United States.

Regional Cultures in the USA (3/5): The Deep South...
Regional Cultures in the USA (1/5): One Country, 1...

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Friday, 22 September 2017
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