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Many Identities, One Nation

The Revolution and Its Legacy in the Mid-Atlantic

By Liam Riordan

Publication Year: 2008

The richly diverse population of the mid-Atlantic region distinguished it from the homogeneity of Puritan New England and the stark differences of the plantation South that still dominate our understanding of early America. In Many Identities, One Nation, Liam Riordan explores how the American Revolution politicized religious, racial, and ethnic identities among the diverse inhabitants of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. Attending to individual experiences through a close comparative analysis, Riordan explains the transformation from British subjects to U.S. citizens in a region that included Quakers, African Americans, and Pennsylvania Germans.

In the face of a gradually emerging sense of nationalism, varied forms of personal and group identities took on heightened public significance in the Revolutionary Delaware Valley. While Quakers in Burlington, New Jersey, remained suspect after the war because of their pacifism, newly freed slaves in New Castle, Delaware, demanded full inclusion, and bilingual Pennsylvania Germans in Easton, Pennsylvania, successfully struggled to create a central place for themselves in the new nation. By placing the public contest over the proper expression of group distinctiveness in the context of local life, Riordan offers a new understanding of how cultural identity structured the early Jacksonian society of the 1820s as a culmination of the American Revolution in this region.

This compelling story brings to life the popular culture of the Revolutionary Delaware Valley through analysis of wide-ranging evidence, from architecture, folk art, clothing, and music to personal papers, newspapers, and local church, tax, and census records. The study's multilayered local perspective allows us to see how the Revolutionary upheaval of the colonial status quo penetrated everyday life and stimulated new understandings of the importance of cultural diversity in the Revolutionary nation.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. vii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi

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pp. 1-13

Public self-reflection is a necessary (if unsettling) element of historical inquiry if we want it to be more than an antiquarian pursuit. So let me begin by sharing some autobiographical information with a bearing on this book. How does identity shape my own sense of self? I'll start by posing an...

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1. The Importance of Place: CuItural Diversity in Three River Towns

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pp. 15-41

The Delaware River was the region's central corridor and integrated its three colonies and their inhabitants in numerous ways. While the river helped to connect the people along its banks, the three river towns scrutinized here also reveal important differences. The distances between them...

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2. The Crisis of Everyday Life during the Revolutionary War

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pp. 43-81

Residents of Burlington, New Castle, and Easton experienced the American Revolution in distinct ways that highlight basic differences in each town, yet people in all three contended with a shared Revolutionary dilemma. How would individuals and communities respond to the often...

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3. Local Struggles and National Order in the Postwar Period

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pp. 83-130

The vitality of the Delaware Valley's Revolutionary identity politics is evident in the intense conflicts that infused its public life in the two decades following the war. These struggles include formal political contests, such as early postwar elections, Constitutional ratification, and the Jeffersonian presidential triumph of 1800, which open...

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4. Protestant Diversity in the New Nation

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pp. 131-171

The postwar challenge to understand local, regional, and national life ranged far beyond the political arena examined in the previous chapter. Religion centrally shaped early national developments as inhabitants of these river towns negotiated a place for themselves in the new republic. As...

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5. The Campaign for Christian Unity

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pp. 173-208

The vitality of local diversity that had been stimulated by the Revolutionary War and continued to assert itself in the new nation led conservative evangelicals in the Delaware Valley to attempt to assimilate those differences into a common American Christianity that they believed essential for national stability and prosperity...

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6. The Campaign for Political Unity

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pp. 209-247

Political parties drove the transformation and bridged the transition from early republican to early national politics in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and Jeffersonian Republicans went almost without challenge during the period. But even a passing familiarity with local and state...

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7. The Persistence of Local Diversity

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pp. 249-272

Partisan politics and cosmopolitan evangelicalism each sought to reshape the nation by reforming local diversity into national unity. Both efforts had significant local support, yet they contrasted with one another and faced considerable opposition. These competing bids to define the nation spurred ongoing contests among localist and cosmopolitan...

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pp. 273-288

The question of what local unit to study has proved a vexing starting point for community studies of the Delaware Valley. While some have argued that the county provides the most appropriate unit for social analysis in this region, others insist that the rural township provides a better...


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pp. 289-290


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pp. 291-342


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pp. 343-349

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pp. 351-353

This book reaches back into my own distant past. I began work on it at the University of Pennsylvania, where I benefited from relationships with a remarkable range of colleagues and with the vibrant city of Philadelphia. This book could never have been completed without Richard S. Dunn's...

Image Plates- After Acknowledgements

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E-ISBN-13: 9780812203370
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220506

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Early American Studies