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Albion’s Seed

I'm just catching up to Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, which was published in 1989. It's David Hackett Fisher's terrific book, which casts the British settlement of America in a brilliant new light.

One vivid detail among hundreds is Fisher's description of the bright spring day in 1677 when “the good ship Kent,” Captain Gregory Marlowe, Master, set sail from London carrying emigrants to a new home in British North America.

As the ship dropped down the Thames she was hailed by King Charles II, who happened to be sailing on the river. The two vessels made a striking contrast. The King’s yacht was sleek and proud in gleaming paintwork, with small cannons peeping through wreaths of gold lead, a wooden unicorn prancing high above her prow, and the royal arms emblazoned upon her stern. She seemed to dance upon the water – new sails shining white in the sun, flags streaming bravely from her mastheads, officers in brilliant uniform, ladies in court costume, servants in livery, musicians playing, and spaniels yapping. At the center of attention was the saturnine figure of the King himself in all his regal splendor.

On the other side of the river came the emigrant ship. She would have been bluff-bowed and round-sided, with dirty sails and a salt-stained hull, and a single ensign drooping from its halyard. Her bulwarks were lined with apprehensive passengers – some dressed in the rough gray homespun of the northern Pennines, others in the brown drab of London tradesmen, several in the blue suits of servant-apprentices, and a few in the tattered motley of the country poor.

As the two ships passed, the King shouted a question across the water.

“Are all aboard good Quakers?” he asked.

“Yes,” came the reply, “we are all Friends.”

What a lovely, gentle rebuke. "We are all Friends." The King wished them Godspeed.

Months later, the Kent "reached her destination and dropped anchor in the River Delaware. Her weary passengers splashed ashore and planted a new settlement which they named Bridlington, after a village in Yorkshire. . . It is now the city of Burlington, New Jersey".

Would you have stayed, or would you have set sail for America?

Fisher believes that four traditions of liberty sprang up in America, that they still exist, and that each one can be identified with one of four different British folkways.

Are these traditions "friends"? How do they relate to each other, and more to the point, what are they? Can we see them in action in Britain today?

More anon.


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