From the English to American Civil Wars: How East Anglians came to control the world

From the English to American Civil Wars: How East Anglians came to control the world

From Telegraph blogs, April 12, 2011

Today is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War, which began with the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Although the phrase “the first modern war” is applied to other conflicts, namely the Crimean War (which was the first reported in the British press), the American Civil War was the first truly mechanised war, the first in which use of railways, telegraph, mines, iron ships and rifles were used, not to mention a submarine.

Because of this it was also exceptionally horrific, one of the bloodiest in history. And it was also the first conflict to be widely photographed: there are a handful of images from Crimea, but over a million prints were made of the “War Between The States” (many of which ended up being used as glass in greenhouses). It was also the first war in which journalists and photographers staged images, many of the gory post-battle shots being altered, with snappers moving bodies around to make it look more dramatic.

But as well as being militarily significant it was also politically so. I remember long ago reading a Spectator book review of Kevin Phillipps’s The Cousins’ War (which turned out to be by none other than my colleague Daniel Hannan) about the historical links between the English Civil War, American War of Independence and American Civil War. He wrote:

The English civil war, the American Revolution and the American civil war were three engagements in a single continuing struggle. One side, victorious in all three episodes, was made up of radicals, Puritans and entrepreneurs, the other of High Church Anglicans, conservatives and landowners. It was the triumph of the Protestant and revolutionary party which ushered in the English-speaking golden age which we are now privileged to inhabit.

His story begins in New England, which was largely peopled by East Anglians. Arriving in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the Puritan settlers recreated the wooden houses and long public greens of home, naming their towns Boston and Braintree, Ipswich and Norwich, Chelmsford and Billerica. The counties of the Eastern Association were, of course, to become the Roundhead heartland in England. What is less well known is that, by the time shots were fired at Edgehill, hundreds of New Englanders were streaming back to fight alongside their cousins.

These restless, entrepreneurial people, who were to become known as Yankees, went on to lead the colonies in their bid for independence. When the fighting began in 1775, familiar battle-lines re-emerged. Ranged alongside the New England Congregationalists were the Scotch-Irish of Pennsylvania and the bulk of the artisan classes. The loyalists who opposed them were often old allies of the Stuarts: settlers from the Scottish Highlands, High Church Anglicans and descendants of the Southern gentry who had recognised Charles II as king in 1649.

When the American Civil War came it once again pitted Puritans, or their descendents the Yankees, against the old Cavalier classes of the South. Certainly there are comparisons to be made between the Parliamentarians and the North on the one hand, and the Royalists and the South on the other; the former right but repulsive, the latter wrong but romantic. And the Confederates certainly were romantic, even though they were partly fighting to preserve a barbaric institution. The beautiful English found in the American South, perhaps the most archaic form around and the closest thing to Shakespeare’s English, adds to the attraction.

Kevin Phillips’s book probably owes much to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (perhaps the most entertaining academic book I’ve read), which traces America’s cultural folkways – New England, the South, the Middle states and the Appalachians – back to different cultural and religious areas of Britain. The Yankees who triumphed in 1865 have their cultural and biological origins in just eight eastern counties of England, from Lincolnshire to Kent, the hotbeds of Puritanism during the 17th century, from where the Puritan Great Migration came.

Fischer even traced the divide between Puritan East Anglia and Anglican Royalist southern and western England back to older divisions, the Puritan heartlands centred around the ancient Kingdom of East Anglia and the Viking-controlled Danelaw, and on the other hand the High Anglicans in the old Kingdom of Wessex, which never fell under Scandinavian control (curiously later developments in genetic archaeology do suggest there are differences. Englishmen from Norfolk are genetically between 30 and 70 per cent Anglo-Saxon or Viking in origin, compared to those from modern-day Wessex who are less than 10 per cent Germanic).

Fischer’s book is fascinating, not the least for the curious anecdotes (I especially liked the story of the Tennessee woman who shot three escaped German POWs in World War 2, and who upon being reprimanded by the local sheriff, “ma’am, you shouldn’t have shot those Germans”, replied “Germans? I thought they was Yankees!”). And although disputed by some academics, it illustrates nonetheless the success of a group of 20,000 East Anglians who left England during the reign of Charles I, and who established the world’s greatest superpower. Today at least 15 million Americans trace their ancestry to those Puritans, including Barack Obama, George W Bush (whose direct male ancestor came from Essex) and Abraham Lincoln, whose people originally came from Norfolk. During the war Lincoln introduced Thanksgiving to give the East Anglian Puritan Yankees cultural precedence over the Southern settlers, even though the Wessexmen actually got there first.

And that’s how East Anglians ended up controlling the world.

Comments so far

  1. Richard Knight says

    Thanks for this excellent summary. Extraordinary people.

  2. Mr Curious says

    Steve Sailer has developed this theory: East Anglians / New England Yankee Puritans are called Semi-Scandinavians. They ally closely with Jews as they are philo-Semites (unlike Southern Cavaliers).

  3. John Pellicciotti says

    Slavery always prevails in American discussions of the Civil War. But a complex conflict such as the Civil War would naturally have deeper roots. The social and political roots of the North and the South is more broadly explained by the this theory connecting them to the English Civil War.


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