- Cultures and Identities in Colonial British America
What made Americans American? With an impressive collection of accessible essays from twelve historians, Alan Tully and Robert Olwell explore the permutations of culture and identity on the periphery of the British Empire. They set the stage for the essays by emphasizing "the complex dynamics between the imperatives of creolization and Anglicization in early modern British America" (pp. 15–16). While the blend of European, African, and Native American cultures created pronounced and distinct differences between New England, the Middle Atlantic, Chesapeake, the Deep South, and the islands by the end of the colonial period, at the same time an "American" identity [End Page 240] was emerging. Collectively, the essays provide geographically diverse views of American cultural development.
The book is divided into three sections, each designed to explore the impact of a particular element on the formation of identity and culture. In the first section, the environment is considered as an agent to create cultural adaptations as immigrants from England and Africa learned to survive. S. Max Edelson's essay on slavery in early South Carolina finds that the Anglo-Americans relied upon African slaves to tame a wild land, a paradox given the English understanding of Africans as savages. Daniel C. Littlefield views African slavery from the point of view of the African, asking whether slaves developed "a double consciousness." Using the words of literate slaves—admittedly a problem—he concludes that literate slaves developed divided identities based on Anglo values. Bradford J. Wood investigates the development of a regional, as opposed to a local or transatlantic, identity through land trade, kinship, and centralization in the Lower Cape Fear region. Robert M. Weir surveys timber, fishing, and game regulations governing the colonial environment and their impact on social division. Although the connection between class and conservation is illusive, his essay clearly explains the creolization of American conservation laws to emphasize the importance of private property ownership to Americans.
Part 2 looks at the impact of exchange and trade on culture and identity. James E. McWilliams looks "beyond declension" as he explores the export markets of seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay (p. 121). The desire for profit was part of even early New England, but settlers first had to create an infrastructure before they could enter the wider Atlantic trade. James M. Baird studies the seeming dichotomy between paternalism and profits on Virginia plantations. He finds that transient overseers bore the ideological brunt for the harshness of the slave regime while the planters who profited continued to identify themselves as benevolent "fathers" to their slave "children." Jean B. Russo investigates the adaptation of the English artisan market ideal to the dispersed Chesapeake reality. While she finds many differences between trade in Annapolis and trade in rural Maryland, Russo notes that the local people adapted to the geographic spread of artisanal labor. James H. Merrell delves into the contributions of native and white women to trade on the Pennsylvania frontier on one level as he seeks to compare the two cultures for women on another. He finds that while women were important components of the "middle ground" between whites and Indians, women contributed to very different aspects of the same trade and did not cross the racial "gender frontier" [End Page 241] (p. 199). According to Olwell and Tully, while trade connected the American immigrants to the larger Atlantic, the development of trade networks conversely created cultural growth in which the peripheral cultures became increasingly different from the center.
The final section on politics and identity examines the influence of Anglicization as settlers sought to improve their status and to have that status recognized throughout the empire. It also broadens the conversation to include the Leeward Islands, which followed a similar cultural path to the mainland. Natalie Zacek uses the murder of Governor Daniel Parke to explore the self-identity of Leeward Islanders. Parke's murder, often seen as an example of the islanders' brutality, was instead, she...