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  • The Delaware Valley in the Early Republic: Architecture, Landscape, and Regional Identity
  • John Fea (bio)
The Delaware Valley in the Early Republic: Architecture, Landscape, and Regional Identity. By Gabrielle M. Lanier. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. xviii, 241. Illustrations. Cloth, $46.95.)

We need more books like Gabrielle M. Lanier's The Delaware Valley in the Early Republic. Lanier reminds us just how much we do not know about the Delaware Valley. Part of the reason why this region gets so little attention is because early American historians tend to gravitate to places that either offer a wealth of literary sources (such as New England) or an abundance of quantifiable public records (such as the Chesapeake). Lanier calls our attention to a fact that interdisciplinary scholars of material culture, architectural history, and cultural geography have known for a long time: exploration in the early mid-Atlantic is possible, but it requires historians to dabble in fields that may lie outside of their disciplinary comfort zones.

Lanier questions the existence of a monolithic Delaware Valley regional identity by focusing her attention on three small and quite distinct corners of this region: German-settled Warwick, Pennsylvania; the Delmarva peninsula's North West Fork Hundred; and Quaker-dominated southwestern New Jersey. She prefers to think of the Delaware Valley as a "region of regions" (xiv), a place defined by very different material and cultural landscapes. Lanier has little use for interpretive paradigms and syntheses that settle for coherence over complexity. While cultural historians of the early republic today are thinking and writing about nationalism, Lanier argues that most people living in this period experienced a landscape that remained intensely local.

Warwick Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, possessed a cultural and ethnic identity shaped by both the perceptions of travelers [End Page 485] passing through the area and tax assessments that offered a rather shallow description of the built environment. Travelers, Lanier notes, often perceived the German population of southeastern Pennsylvania through English eyes and consequently employed common stereotypes to describe German practices, customs, and buildings. On the other hand, tax lists suggest that such stereotypical perceptions were often far from accurate. The architectural style of German farm buildings, for example, differed very little from the buildings of non-German farms. Yet, as Lanier shrewdly points out, even tax lists do not offer a complete picture of German culture in Warwick. Through her examination of the interiors of German buildings, Lanier uncovers a pattern of "architectural creolization" (65). These buildings looked Georgian on the outside but possessed a style that was uniquely German on the inside. She thus concludes that German identity in the Delaware Valley was quite complex, revealing elements of assimilation, creolization, and cultural persistence.

In North West Fork Hundred, located in the southeastern corner of the state of Delaware, local identity was shaped by the tale of Patty Cannon, a tavernkeeper accused during the 1830s of murdering and robbing visiting slave traders and burying their bodies in shallow graves throughout the region. As the legend of Cannon became embellished throughout the nineteenth century, it gradually took on folklore status and came to define North West Fork Hundred as a "landscape on the margins" (76). This place was commonly perceived as a borderland between slavery and freedom and an isolated dark corner where the primitive physical environment contributed to its reputation for lawlessness. But unlike Warwick, Pennsylvania, a place where perceptions did not always conform to reality, Lanier's close reading of the material and cultural world of North West Fork Hundred affirms, rather than undermines, the sense of regional identity popularized by the Cannon legend.

Finally, Lanier explores the largely forgotten Quaker communities of southwestern New Jersey, particularly Mannington Township in Salem County. Mannington's local identity was forged by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century antiquarians, genealogists, and photographers, who memorialized the brick architecture of the Quaker rural elite who originally settled this township in the seventeenth century. These impressive brick homes symbolized the political and economic power of these Quakers, but also have come to define the way the past is remembered in Salem County. Lanier rightly argues that the original owners of [End...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
pp. 485-487
Launched on MUSE
2005-10-17
Open Access
No
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