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21.70.01 Once We Were Englishmen: Ponderings of an American Southerner, by Jackson Evans Butterworth, Jr., published here in 2014.

In the Beginning

As a much younger man living in Georgia, this writer complacently accepted a premise that “once we were Englishmen”.  That conclusion likely stemmed from observing that in one’s neighborhood and hometown nearly everyone looked similar and spoke English with a southern accent. To reassure that opinion was a mother’s response to the subject by asserting, “Our family came from England”.  Nothing conflicted with that position until there began a wonder about the different groups who were residents of England throughout the ages. Simple history lessons prodded that question further and further as education deepened. Still a prevalent belief was that England was certainly the origin of all of those known. Then the horizons broadened.

How comfortable that determination of English origins had become. And somewhere there in the distance were the “others”. Indeed, Englishmen themselves were established in concept to be fair complexioned, moralistic, Christian, and chivalrous, among other descriptive attributes. Visions of Camelot, Robin Hood of Sherwood, and joustings for fair maiden’s praise all served as enticements to my conceptual conclusion. Broad illusionary vistas of moors, heaths, and Yorkshire stone walls, along with the broad scope of the Salisbury Plains were examples of the land of our forefathers. During the time of the Great War appeared the glamour of the Royal Air Force, the capable Spitfires, and the British Commandos to enhance the allure. The emotional appeal of the sentiment offered to ‘A Shropshire Lad’ or the simple tribute to the commonman in ‘Elegy Written in a Courtyard’ only enhanced the allure.   But, it took only little time and reading to widen one’s perspective and confuse that simplistic formula. None of the original observations were completely correct. This narrow view was expanded to encompass a wider perspective, albeit with a pained realization of the observed differences.

Initial Considerations-

First he had to ask: “Who are those Englishmen”? Did they actually spring from the island called England as would be a proper analysis? Or from where did they originate to become those striking and successful ancestors? Were they immigrants from Europe as Pictic or Celtic tribes? Did their source spring from the craggy Britons of the Iron Age? Are the elegant speaking Englishmen with which we seek kindred actually descendants of Romans who remained in the islands after bringing civilization to the barbarians? What then of the Saxon influence with their longboats and religious tattoos, or the mighty Vikings who overcame all they encountered? Are they blended into the people now called Englishmen? Perhaps Englishmen is merely a term given to a homogenized gene pool that acquired the attributes now visualized?  It is an obvious finding that from the more western islands came the Irish. Some of these morphed into Scots after exterminating the Picts, who at one time were actually native to the highland region of the islands. Are not they all just Celts with different tribal perspectives and bandings than the early Britons?  No, now the Geneticists are adding to the mixture with the names Formorians and Denanns among many others who populated the Irish region from the Spanish Coast long before the Celts settled in Briton.  Maybe we all are descendents of a Diaspora created by the flood of the Black Sea region? Did this catastrophe beget the blending of all who were “once Englishmen”? There are just too many possibilities to establish a conclusion as to who really are the Englishmen.

If one could be satisfied of the early origins of the Englishmen of old, next he could address the later French component. For surely the Normans were actually northern Frenchmen, or were they “North men” from Denmark? And many an Englishman or descendant of such would wish he could trace his family to the great William “the Conqueror” of 1066? Norman influence is still displayed in this 21st century by the many relics standing in the islands. ‘Dieu et mon droit”is still the motto of the English Crown. Indeed for centuries the English monarchs proclaimed to be Kings and Queens of France as well! When Harold fought the last battle for the Anglo Saxon cause the Angle-land became French, for a time. 

And surely one must not forget the Glorious Revolution with William and his Mary from the “House of Orange”. The Netherlands imposed its influence on the existing composite of Englishmen. These were ‘invited’ to join the privileged English mixture.  From Germany again one sees, in addition to the Angles and the Saxon components, the Hanoverian line of the Georges and the long reign of that family. These European cousins intermarried with European royalty long into the current era despite warring differences and opposing national goals. Supposedly, the Germans never bothered to learn the English language at the onset of their reign. What component did they contribute to the creation of what we know as “Englishmen”? Is there a DNA based percentage we can calculate?

There cannot be a reflection on the Englishmen that “we were” without expanding on the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish contributions. Those cultures remain today as a most significant influence on the British of our recent centuries. In protesting their independence they both preserved their own culture and added their unique influence to the greater group.

So again, “once we were Englishmen” takes a different course as we ponder the definitions. Residents in the American South still relate to origins as Englishmen in differing perspectives. But certainly one knows that this definition is quite expansive. For what indeed is the Englishman?

New worlds to contemplate-

As we follow our ancestor’s path to the New World one encounters a continuing admixture. First and foremost in the prime family of the American Southerner, it can be claimed as an English heritage. Indeed the dominant influence of the bonded colonists in America surely was English. Language, place names, colonies, and later states were often named for English royalty or English loci. During the Revolutionary War a significant portion of residents continued to consider themselves to be English. Indeed those Loyalists fought to their death with neighbors labeled ‘rebels’ who sought separation from the government of George III.

To add to the mix one learns that part of the American southern heritage stems from the Highlands of Scotland as the kilted warriors with their wives and clergy were encouraged to leave the troubled hills and sail to Georgia. Yet many more lowland Scots went first to Ulster, Ireland for a century or two of incubation. After suffering local difficulties in that retreat they came to America attaining an ultimate label of Scots-Irish. These last groups populated the colonial frontier and became pioneers of a wild new territory. Most of these “Englishmen” brought their women or later imported them for wives. Intermarriage with the Native Americans was infrequent according to some historians. Those who lived with the natives did often take wives either primary or secondary during their sojourns. As frontiersmen, they prized their new land possessions and were willing to fight both the Native Americans and their English cousins as well to retain their stake in this emerging country.

When war, financial strife, and especially religious conflict developed in France, Huguenots left their homeland as large shiploads of families came to America. This added a Frankish genealogy to the blend of a new nation. Charleston and the Carolina costal region, as well as the Virginia tidewater, were receptive sites for these industrious Frenchmen. This group brought a capable middle class of merchants, farmers, as well as a wide variety of craftsmen into our English mixture. As time passed they found husbands and wives outside of their culture and blended into the growing census.

Southern distinctions-

The Revolutionary War itself created new mixtures as additional Germans, who were originally mercenaries for the British armies, found the opportunities of residence in the colonies too tempting to leave; or their homeland to be insufficiently attractive to draw them back. The resulting Southerners of the 18th and 19th century found their heritage likely to be more blended than they could measure. They spoke a variation of English accents depending on their location and origin as typified by the Virginian, Georgian, or South Carolinian variety of the ‘Southern accent’. While citizens of the North scoffed at these accents in their disdainful manner, the Southerner proudly accented the differences. He retorted, “American by birth, Southern by the ‘Grace of God’.” The American Southerners largely felt their roots reached back to England-as likely they did.

This compilation of the American Southern compliment does not reflect the African presence in the blend. Certainly it was large. With the influx of the black slave came a cultural influence that was significantly adopted by this white European complex. African influence persists today in so many forms. Music with its rhythms and chords as well as language tonality and religious zeal contributed a harmonious compliment. While the intermixing of these cultures and physical characteristics was significant, such a topic requires another special treatise to do it justice.

From the early 17th century, the American Southerner lived in a mixture of cultures using only a mild variance of language. He traded in goods, but when specie was necessary, it was largely in English denominations if not Spanish gold doubloons. He continued his religion as he had learned it in his native land and that was often of a Protestant variety adapted to the frontier. He married most often within his own kind. One finds a repetition of Christian names as well as surnames in documents of the time as evidence. Neighbors as well as cousins provided life- partners in these early times. These ‘clans’ kept a close contact physically as well as genetically by exercising social intercourse and adding mutual protection from elements and enemies. We continue today to see this clannishness practiced in the Appalachian hills and coves of our Southern region. Families hold close and knowledge of one’s ancestry is a practiced discipline.

Observations of a noted-

As we examine this metamorphosis of the Englishman to the American Southerner, we learn that others have preceded us in this observational journey. One of those individuals known for medical success in wartime as well as educational and organizational excellence, Hunter Holmes McGuire, M.D., rises to an authoritative pinnacle .He served the Confederacy as the Surgeon to Stonewall Jackson and his famous Second Corps with distinction. He has written on his medical experiences as well as wartime history in the present tense of the participant. He was recognized in his lifetime and afterward as one of the most outstanding men of his time. The following is a portion of an address he offered to the Southern Surgical and Gynaecological Association in November of 1889. At that time Dr. McGuire was the President of that organization. This address expresses his views of the American Southerner in such a well developed review that it deserves to be attached to an essay on this consideration of our being Englishmen. Below is that address from Dr. McGuire.   

“Let us look for a moment and see from whence these people of the South came, and what they have done.”

The colonial settlers of the southern portion of North America were kindred by ties of blood, by association, and by the laws of common inheritance. They came to this country deeply imbued with the idea of civil liberty. In many instances they were descended from a superior element of the English people. The blood of the cavalier coursed through their veins; they were prepared to organize a government, to undertake the herculean task of creating a country out of chaos. And they accomplished it.

To these settlers were soon afterwards added another stream of emigrants, who came into the South through Maryland and Virginia, and through the seaports of the Carolinas and Georgia. These were the God-loving, tyranny-hating Scotch-Irish, who have left their distinguishing characteristics, to this day, upon the people of every State in the South, from Maryland to the Rio Grande.

When the struggle came for the defense of their rights against the mother-country, how quickly her sons took up arms in defense of the common cause, and how nobly they performed their part it is useless to say, for is not the history of the time filled with accounts of their patriotism and achievements ? At the council board, on the platform, and in the field, they stood pre-eminent. The enunciation of principle, the declaration of rights, sprung from the fertile brain of a Southerner, and to-day the readers of American history recognize in Jefferson the foremost thinker of his age. Well has a New Englander, in speaking of Washington and the Southern soldiers of 1776, recently said: “We must go back to Athens to find another instance of a society, so small in numbers, and yet capable of such an outburst of ability and force.” Without the men of the South, the Revolution of 1776 would have gone down into history as the rebellion of that period.

How wonderful it is, that in the comparative seclusion and solitude of an agricultural country, the men should have been reared whose writings on Constitutional government embodied the wisdom and the experience of the patriots of all ages, and whose State papers actually formed the mould in which the constitution of the United Colonies was shaped; and that then, after Southern statesmen had formed the most perfect government the world ever saw, that Southern soldiers should have made it an accomplished fact by their skill, valor and endurance. Edmund Burke, in his speech before the British Parliament March 22, 1775, on the conciliation of the American Colonies, spoke thus of our people:

“There is, however, a circumstance attending these Southern Colonies which, in my opinion, * * * * makes the spirit of liberty still more high and haughty than in those of the northward. It is that in Virginia and the Carolinas they have a vast multitude of slaves. * * * * And these people of the South are much more strongly and with a higher and more stubborn spirit attached to liberty than those in the northward. Such were all the ancient Commonwealths; such were our Gothic ancestors; and such, in our day, the Poles; and such will be all masters who are not slaves themselves. In such a people the haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it and renders it invincible.”

Men of Southern birth and Southern rearing were the successful generals in the war of 1812, and the central figures in 1846. The acquisition of territory was made during the administration of Southern men. Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and California were acquired during their terms of office. Upon the Supreme Court bench of the United States they are to be conspicuously found. The Chief Justiceships were held continuously for sixty-three years by Southern men. I need not speak of the orators and statesmen produced in every State in the South–they are household names.”

 A March toward Liberty-

The concept of “liberty” from central tyranny and taxation was prominent in this new country. Many of these developing Americans had ‘escaped’ such authority of government. Once the concept of losing this liberty was threatened again, these hearty individuals banded together in an attempt to maintain their dream. A push back from that old authority was characterized in the motto” Don’t Tread on Me”.

Typical of this resistance is the gathering of the Overmountain Men in Virginia with the Watauga and North Carolina frontiersmen in response to Major Patrick Ferguson’s threat to burn out those who did not swear loyalty to the English Crown. They marched and fought to victory at King’s Mountain for their newly found “liberty” to live free from such threats. They had settled in the land of ‘westward flowing waters’ that the English authority cousins had yielded to the Indians by the Proclamation of 1763. This was ‘their’ land and not to be surrendered to either party. Perhaps more than conceptual ‘freedom’, the land itself motivated their move to arms.

Although they may have understood the historical concept of “once we were Englishmen”, Colonists took up arms against neighbors who still considered themselves subjects of the King. Other North Carolinians reportedly formulated the first organized protest in their Mecklenburg Declaration. Whether Thomas Jefferson believed the authenticity or not, North Carolinians continue to believe their ancestors presented the first ‘Declaration’ against the English.  Chain of The Charlotte region was named a ‘Nest of Rebel Hornets’ by Lord Cornwallis conferring the title of Hornets Nest to that city today. The English common origin was of lesser importance than real-time concerns to this group of distant relatives.

Growth of the English Extension-

The first war with the English ended in 1783. Continued growth of the American experiment through immigration and organization began. Trade and travel with their English forbearers was mingled with disputes and conflicts. As the American government became consolidated and strong, it resisted international competition and authority. The opposition to the tyranny of the Barbary Pirates in early 1800s was one of the first elements of international muscle-flexing by the new nation. While this trade threat was not contained by their English cousins, the Americans resisted and prevailed.

This did not prevent the English insisting on their own trade dominance of the seaways as well as the right to remove English sailors from American trade ships by impressing them into English service. The English still considered these new upstarts to belong to their empire. In 1812 there was the second war with Mother England stimulated by competitions in trade. The English fared better in this conflict but again no ultimate dominance was regained.

While little remembered, the Northeastern States argued with the American government leader Thomas Jefferson during this second conflict by insisting on maintaining trade with England without restraint. Economic interests superseded any national American allegiance and indeed a strong element in the Northeast insisted that their region Secede from the Union because of these differences. A very similar position was hotly opposed by these same Northeasterners years later when the South offered identical proposals for Secession due to many of the same arguments. Again, economic interests of the Northeast opposed the Southern propositions. The success of Gen. Andrew Jackson in 1814 New Orleans over the English, occurring after the war in the North was declared finished but before the peace treaty was signed, aborted the Secession proposal of the Northeasterners gathered at the Hartford Convention. The success of U.S Grant on the battlefield ended the second secession proposal in 1865 at Appomattox.

Disputed definitions-

The American South, perhaps like the term Englishmen, is conceptual as much as geographic. Both are intimately related to ‘cultures’ inherent to their regions. A survey line demarking the North and South boundaries was deemed necessary because of English, not Colonial, disputes. In 1632, King Charles I of England gave the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, the colony of Maryland. Fifty years later, in 1682, King Charles II gave William Penn the territory to the north, which later became Pennsylvania. A year later, Charles II gave Penn land on the Delmarva Peninsula. The description of the boundaries in the grants to Calvert and Penn did not match and there was a great deal of confusion as to where the boundary lay. About .com Mason-Dixon Line

This land dispute began a marvelous drama between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Border wars developed and continued for long decades. In 1763 Mason and Dixon plotted a survey line to establish the boundary between the two states. These were English disputes involving English law and English colonists. The line subsequently known as the Mason-Dixon Line became important as a marker between the Northeast and the South. It still maintains that distinction today. It was used as a division between slave and non-slave states in the mid 19th century. Certainly the Mason-Dixon Line was not precise in this description as states north of the line maintained slaves. It definitely served as a division for political and moralistic purposes. This line itself created a national division, but other factors more strongly divided this nation of former Englishmen.

Vocation, Lifestyle, and Culture-

Industrial versus agricultural is perhaps the most complete description of the culture separation of the original American community. While no generalization can be completely accurate, this economic contrast best establishes the differing life styles of early America. Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer outlines the details of the characteristics of these separate Englishmen by illustrating the origin in England of the original settlers.

Eastern England or Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk were the points of origin of the Pilgrims of Plymouth and Puritans of the Massachusetts’s Bay Colony who populated the Northeast. These were rigid religionists who found difficulty in adapting to changes in their home country politics and religion. They then sailed to the rocky coast of Massachusetts to establish their own rigid life style.

The southwest of England was the predominant site of origin for the immigrants to Virginia. They were perhaps largely descended from the Saxon component of Wessex and the surrounds with much less rigidity than their eastern neighbors. Virginia’s Crown Governor William Berkeley drew his “Cavaliers” from this region. These settlers were accustomed to a more lackadaisical life style which they tried to replicate in the southern regions of the new land. The topography and climate of the land itself allowed an easier agriculturally-driven environment for the Virginian settlers. The difference grew in time with the farming economy of the South supplying the industrial community of the North until the subsequent trade imbalance reached the tipping point in the mid nineteenth century.

The tilt of the economic conflict became political, ultimately hinging on the moral issue of slavery. Whether westward geographic expansion of the nation would continue to support slavery or experience either limitation or extinguishment of the practice was a heated controversy in political arenas. While the northeast industrialists were the original traders in the slave market, bringing western African slaves to the Caribbean, Brazil, and eventually the American southern coast for cotton labor, they willfully forgot that they had amassed incredible fortunes from this practice. Northerners adopted a pattern of strong rebuke toward the Southerners who continued to require this labor for their economy. England had long before rejected the slave trade that they had cultivated so successfully and urged their American cousins to join their revised political philosophy. William Wilberforce became famous through combating the slavery trade causing large economic losses by the western England shipping business leaders and traders. Southerners, who “once were Englishmen”, confronted the same issue in a more violent manner. 

Neither northern nor southern leaders offered a solution to the slave question and significant economic influences stood in the way of any path offered. Exportation or colonization became a theme, but Northern arguments were never offered to ‘integrate’ the Negro into the white population.  The slavery question was debated both logically and emotionally depending of the participants and the “ox” to be gored. The radical rhetoric and actions of the northern abolitionists served to aggravate positions while offering no final solution following emancipation. Indeed this pseudo-moralistic movement stirred emotional conflicts and obviated any ‘rational’ solution being achieved. Both in England and America varying forms of slavery such as child labor, lifetime indenture, and inhuman working conditions continued in concert with and after slavery ended. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 in England and the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in December 1865 put an end to the defined practice. Again we discover another English theme among those who “once were English”.

Civil disputes of the extended Englishman-

1642 marked the beginning of the English Civil war.  Money to support the Crown’s lifestyle, arrogance of the monarch Charles I, and excessive taxation of the people were some of the discomforts felt by those supporters of Oliver Cromwell and the opposition to the King. Religious mandates in Scotland played a role in growing opposition to the King for those of that region. The ultimate beheading of the King was the extreme end-point of the populist’s grievances. However, the strong rule of Cromwell itself imposed unpopular “change” across the land, especially in Ireland. The Irish components of this mixture of British have portrayed lengthy histories of the brutal tyranny this movement imposed on their people.

1860 marked the beginning of the American “Civil War” with economic issues also being at the forefront of the dispute.  Under the Morrill Tariff, pioneer farmers buying essentials such as a plow, axe, shovel, skillet, stove, etc… paid 40% Federal sales tax on the item if imported from Europe, or 40% more in price if bought from Northern manufacturers.  Southerners paid most of these taxes, yet represented only one-third (1/3) of the U.S. population. The Southern leaders interpreted the Northeastern proposals for taxation on imported goods for the agricultural South as arrogant and self-serving. While there was no Charles I present in this scenario, the election of Abraham Lincoln as President was a major event in precipitating conflict. The issue of slavery, agitated by the Northern abolitionist movement, was a significant factor for these English cousins.

President Lincoln proclaimed in his initial presidential address that he had no authority to repeal slavery and had no intentions to do so, but he grasped that thesis as his primary theme during his later war. However, he never addressed slavery in the Northern states in his emancipation efforts. Slavery was a legal practice at the time of the debates and supported by both north and south in legal matters. The entire nation was engaged in the practice at the time of the onset of the war. It was only when the Emancipation Proclamation was presented did slavery become a rationale for war, not at the time of the invasion of the South.  At the same time, religion was not as disputed a concern as in the English conflict, although wide differences in religious practices existed in the North and South.

Therefore in the context of Civil War we again see similarities which suggest, “once we were Englishmen” through a repetition of the same behavior patterns. The ultimate goal of the Confederate Secession leaders however was significantly different from those of their counterparts in the English conflict. The English were largely concerned with removing the King who purported to rule by divine authority and instill a new government over all of England. The Confederates did not strive to replace Lincoln as the US President. They moved to separate entirely from the United States and establish a Confederate government, leaving the United States intact but smaller by removing those eleven states seeking secession. Southerners believed that the U.S. Constitution allowed the States such an option through the rights of sovereign States, as did those of the Northeast during the Hartford Convention nearly half a century earlier.

The conduct of the American Civil War was one of brutality typical of brother against brother conflicts. It is known that General Lee of the Southern forces encouraged war to be waged only against military forces and not civilians. The Northern generals on the other hand encouraged ‘total war’ on civilians with their holdings as well as their future lifestyle being a ‘fair game’. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan adhered to this policy by laying waste to all in their paths and making Georgia and the women and children of the South ‘howl’ for mercy. Even after the War some of these same generals toured Europe advocating this policy of ‘total war’.

 Oliver Cromwell was said to conduct a war of ‘genocide’ in his encounters with the Scots and the Irish. He justified his actions by stating that he was preventing further conflict with these two nation groups he opposed. Such is the position of all brutal warriors even before those of ancient Greece and Rome.  However, Cromwell included Catholic clergy in his massacres as well as civilians who offered no threat as future combatants. In America the only brutality against a foe as great as that against the Southerners could be the acts of the English immigrants against the native aborigines they encountered on their way to settlement, the American Indian.

Journey toward a better life-

Over four hundred years ago Englishmen, of the admixture described, left their homeland because of religious, economic, and governmental adversity. They preferred to confront the hazards of an unsettled land populated by tribes of a different culture and civilization rather than continue to live in their native circumstances. These men largely considered themselves to be Englishmen by birth and ancestry. They planted their families and grew into a new nation- America. They struggled with their homeland leaders from this far removed location. These adventurers sought to form a pattern of government that would offer them the relief they sought. They incorporated other cultures from many remote world sites and subsequently created a new alignment intended to allow expanded freedom and a liberty they had not known before. The course of this journey was a true one until the schism known as the War Between the States. Then a different path was decided by the outcome.

The far majority of Englishmen remained at home. They grew their nation to be a marvelous empire where “the sun never set”. Their economy, language, and culture impacted every continent and most islands in the world. From this small island group stemmed a gigantic world influence which today impacts international politics and economy. This success breeds the desire in many of modern times to exclaim “once we were Englishmen”.

As the United States’ government grew in size and scope, many of the same concerns grew as those which motivated the pioneers to emigrate from their native lands. Taxation, religious differences, economic power, and centralized government became divisive forces which were addressed through legal interpretation of the Constitution. Even that cherished document underwent change and challenges through the years. These same factors are a prominent source of disaffection in our America over two hundred years later.

Today some American Southerners see the large towering image of government as an interference with their ‘liberty’ and the ‘freedom’ to succeed individually. Conversely the desire for dependence appears to be more appealing to today’s majority fueling the craving of political aspirants to seize power and control over the populace in order to implant their personal cultural convictions. Monarchs and their courts have long recognized the appeal of power and have gained significant economic benefits from its possession. While one can posit that there is a repetition of English history in this process by the American, it likely has a broader spectrum and is one kin to the universal Aristotelian spirit.   

And in summation-

The thesis of “Once we were Englishmen” holds only partial validity for the American Southerner. The quantity of truth necessary to prove the degree of relationship can be debated eternally. Some element of authenticity cannot be denied however. Indeed it is easy to expand such a connection to other racial, ethnic, and cultural groupings as we have merged our genes for thousands of years on planet Earth. Study of cultures reveals similarities and repeated trials for a harmonious existence. Intuitively one would expect a more complete development of the process of living together with such vast experience. Humans still adhere to self protection and personal development with a strong sense of clannishness or family connection, perhaps by instinct. Political leaders have capitalized on differences in cultures thereby preventing the sought after goal of ‘Peace on Earth”. Only a successful religion advocating ‘Love thy Neighbor’, a powerful benevolent government uniting nations, or an overwhelming catastrophe which creates universal adherence is likely to bring about the hoped for harmony. The achievement of that goal is as unlikely today as in our dark past. Perhaps it helps in bonding humankind to share occasionally our relationship with others who have experienced similar contests through a fantasy such as “Once we were Englishmen”

Jackson Evans Butterworth, Jr.