Craig White's Literature Courses

Historical Backgrounds

 Immigration Waves & Sub-Cultures
of USA's Dominant / "Settler" Culture

see also "Two Sets of Founding Fathers" & Scotch-Irish

thanks to

The "Anglo" culture from Great Britain arrives in America speaking the English language, which becomes the default language for the USA's dominant culture, making English-speaking peoples from Britain the most defining ethnic group of the "First Wave" of European immigration from the 1600s to the 1800s.

British immigration arrives in three distinct waves that populate different parts of the colonies and the early USA with different ethnic identities, histories, and lifestyles or values, especially regarding the individual's relation to a larger community, from family, church, or plantation to town, colony, state, nation, or empire.

First Wave: 1620s-30s Puritan immigration from eastern England to Massachusetts Bay or "New England"; establishment of middle-class commonwealth with spiritual equality, material restraint, and values additional to wealth.

Historical / political profile: Educated / cultural elites; "Yankee liberals."

Current attitude(s) toward immigration: pro-immigration or tolerant: diversity as beneficial; maintenance of middle-class community.

Period and Religion: 17c Protestant Reformation; spiritual commonwealth > secular community

later liberal and progressive traditions promoting middle-class society or "commonwealth"

material restraint creates "plain style" + re-investment of profits in capital instead of spectacle or display. (Protestant Work Ethic)

early and consistent support for higher education.

Essential course texts and pages: John Winthrop, "A Model of Christian Charity"; Of Plymouth Plantation; Puritans; New England; Protestantism

Wave 2: 1607 (Jamestown) but mostly 1640s-50s "Cavalier" (aristocrat) immigration from southern England to Virginia and other mid-Atlantic colonies; aristocratic society of large plantations with African American slaves instead of European peasants, plus middle-class or working-class whites with smaller holdings.

Historical / political profile: Property owners > Stockholders; corporate class; "business conservatives"; unregulated free-market capitalism and low taxes on wealthy. Generally tolerant of cultural differences as long as property rights are respected: capitalism, science, human nature as self-interested (or sometimes self-deluded).

Attitude(s) toward immigration: pro-immigration: lower wages, growing consumer markets;

Period and Religion: 17-18c Enlightenment & Deism

conservative traditions resisting government direction or regulation of wealth or property; property rights over human rights.

Plantations as prototypes of profit-driven, hierarchical corporate leadership of unequal society.

indifference to public education > support of private education (e.g. tutors, bible academies, home-schooling) but maintenance of literacy for elites, government, courts, land titles, etc. (Public schools in South were rare before post-Civil War Reconstruction.)

Essential course texts and pages: Crevecoeur, "What is an American?" & "Description of Charles-Town: Thoughts on Slavery . . . " ;  Declaration of Independence & U.S. Constitution, the Enlightenment
Wave 3: 1700s Scotch-Irish immigration from Northern England, Scotland, and Ireland to interiors of mid-Atlantic and southern colonies, especially to foothills and Appalachian Mountains, where they served as buffer between Indians and East Coast elites.

Historical / political profile: White Working Class. "Social conservatives." Evangelicals / Fundamentalists. Hillbillies, Rednecks, Okies.

Attitude(s) toward immigration:  Threatened by cultural or religious differences, globalization and cultural diversity, + immigration may cause downward pressure on wages (on account of more low-skill workers).

Period and Religion: Romantic era (emotion over logic, common man) + Second Great Awakening & evangelical / fundamentalist Protestantism.

shifting political allegiances: support "New Deal" before Civil Rights Movement; afterward support small-government freemarket policies (except when they don't).

mostly rural or small-town, insular culture distrustful of larger communities or authorities beyond family or church

Scotch-Irish and associated European cultures associate themselves with USA's dominant culture through shared whiteness and English language, but may also resemble minority cultures in mistrust of larger systems and experts, mixed attitudes toward higher education, religious fundamentalism over science, record of exploitation by corporate America and alienation from welfare state, traditional / dysfunctional families, traditional gender roles (esp. male privilege), early child-bearing and (increasingly) single motherhood or unmarried partners.

Essential course texts and pages: J.D. Vance, "Introduction" & Chapter 9, Hillbilly Elegy; J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy page, Scotch-Irish, Scots-Irish Immigration

The Scotch-Irish arrived later than the English Puritans or Virginians, who as East Coast ruling elites had established two different versions of Anglo-American civilization.

Puritans of New England: controlled and regulated middle-class community with social safety net; materialism balanced by spiritual or social ideals; public education for all.

Cavaliers (i.e. aristocrats) of Virginia (& South generally): freemarket individualism dividing to rich and poor; private education; individual rights but esp. property rights

The Puritans and the Virginians established two types of American society that continue to contend for dominance.

The divisions between the Puritans and Virginians eventually led to the U.S. Civil War (1861-65), and most analysts continue to describe the political divisions in terms of the Civil War, with the North representing a middle-class, educated economy and the South as a society more divided between rich and poor, but these divisions precede the Civil War by 200+ years. 

The Scotch-Irish, like later immigrant groups, vary in their allegiance to either, but mostly align with the Southern rich-poor model of property rights and lack of commitment to public education.

Both the Puritans and Virginians looked down on the Scotch-Irish for their clannishness, rowdiness, noisy hellfire religion, and indifference to manners or education, but these earlier elites also used and exploited the Scotch-Irish.

  • Elites pushed the Scotch-Irish to keep moving west into the "backcountry" of the foothills and mountains of Appalachia, the Southern interior, and the Ohio River Valley.

  • There the Scotch Irish served as Indian fighters (or soldiers in the American Revolution), relieving pressure on the East Coast.

  • While the Puritans and Virginians made many political decisions during and after the Revolutionary War, the Scotch-Irish provided many soldiers for the continental armies and much of the manpower for plantation management. (Scotch-Irish still the largest ethnic group in U.S. Armed Forces.)

Today the Scotch Irish resent both the Puritan communitarian tradition and the Virginian corporate tradition but mostly imitate or aspire to the second model.

The Scotch-Irish may dislike the corporations that exploit their labor or move their jobs overseas, but they accept jobs on whatever terms and prefer the freemarket, rich-poor, low-tax, deregulatory corporate business culture to the big-government, tax-and-regulate middle-class regime developed by the Puritans' higher-education culture.