Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Roots of New England Culture


In our continuing historical diversion . . .

The Puritans became famous for the implementation of their “applied theology” in organizing their society. But it was not religion alone that gave New England its distinctive regional culture.

Over 60% of settlers to Massachusetts during the Great Migration originated from the easternmost counties in a region historically called East Anglia. As in most historically significant migrations, people connected by family relationships or friendships constituted most of the settlers. In addition, that region was such Puritan stronghold that Anglican Archbishop William Laud called it the heartland of heresy. In fact, during the persecution of Protestants in the previous century under Catholic Queen Mary, out of 273 dissenters burned at the stake, 225 hailed from East Anglia. The settlers, however, brought much more than their religion to New England.

East Anglia at the time of the Great Migration was one of the most densely populated areas of England. It was also the most urbanized; Norwich was England's second largest city. The area was also characterized by a prosperous wool industry and large numbers of artisans or skilled craftsmen. Consequently  the Massachusetts settlement patterns in organized villages not only reflected the religions visions of the founders, but also replicated what most of the Puritan settlers knew back in England.

The settlers also brought with them their distinctive East Anglia accents. The “Norwich whine” of East Anglia became transplanted as the “Yankee twang” in New England. The nasal intonation was accompanied by such distinctive pronunciations such as darter for daughter, yistidy for yesterday, har or hair, and hev for have.

Finally, the brought with them their habits of hard work and their knack for what became known as “Yankee ingenuity ” Where the more leisure oriented settlers in the Southern colonies spoke of “killing time,” the hard working New Englander labored to “improve the time” or, in the more biblical expression, “redeem the time.”

Later generations of their descendants spread this culture across New York state and into the Midwest.


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