Diversity in American Colonies

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, United States, Slavery Pages: 10 (3407 words) Published: July 27, 2011
      Diversity in the American Colonies: The Formation of English, Native American, African and German Identities       Colonial North America was a multifaceted melting pot of diversities. The amalgamation of different ethnicities, races, cultures and religious organizations created a circumstance in which the identities of the English, Native Americans, Africans and Germans were far from static. The interactions between these four groups helped to build the history of North America, and as such it is pertinent to understand the evolution of their identities. While old world traditions and increased interaction with cultural outsiders predominantly shaped the identities of English colonizers, religious appropriation and reinterpretation as well as increased interaction with European colonizers largely shaped the respective identities of Native Americans, Africans and Germans. All four groups depended on cultural improvisation to sustain their identities in the colonies.       English old world traditions influenced settlement plans, social hierarchy and landholding patterns in the colonies, and thus contributed to the formation of English societal identity.1 When English settlers immigrated to the North American colonies, many attempted to re-create their old world societies. Zuckerman asserts that the “communities which could be constructed on wilderness coast were wholly new communities, without indigenous customs [and] without elders who had lived there all their lives.” 2 Because they founded their colonies on unfamiliar land, replication was unattainable. However, they did successfully implement settlement plans that bore semblance to the old world. For example, in planning the New Jersey colony, “the Scots ordered that all of the Scottish lands be granted directly to large landowners who in turn would reallocate them to their tenants and servants.”3 This settlement plan was unique to the colonies, but not to the Scots—they practiced the same settlement patterns back in Scotland. Hierarchical relationships were also influenced by old world norms. The lack of a strong elite class within the Pennsylvanian Society of Friends directly reflected Quaker principles in England where Quakerism “had little appeal to families of rank.” 4 Thus religious culture influenced colonial society. Similarly, old world traditions regarding landholding were reborn in the colonies. For example, “in rural Scotland, persons born into families of tenants or cottagers rarely would have encountered even the possibility of land ownership; virtually all would have been content with a good tenancy.” 5 Scots in the new world behaved in the same fashion; they almost never became landowners. Old world cultural inheritances therefore contributed to English societal identity in the colonies.       Increased interaction between English colonizers and cultural outsiders influenced the formation of English identity by strengthening their sense of community. Upon arrival, English settlers were bombarded by the religious, ethnic and nationalistic diversity that permeated the colonies. Landsman argues that such an environment, “rather than fostering an atomized society, worked instead to accentuate the social distinctiveness of the Scots and the importance of communal ties among them.”6 Thus, in the face of diversity, the English separated themselves from outsiders and thereby united their community from within. English communities “were driven to define others as adversaries, as if to vindicate their own uncertain worth by assaults on those around them.” 7 In an effort to emphasize their cultural importance in the colonies, they defined cultural outsiders as rivals. This cycle was evident even among Quakers who “looked upon all humanity as their kin.”8 For example, they practiced marriage exclusivity—“out-marriage caused many disciplinary proceedings by Quaker meetings.” 9 Therefore, even the most accepting of English colonists alienated outsiders in some...
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