Well, this is interesting.
A few days ago I posted a rant about Fox News’ trumped up “War on Christmas.” One of the things I ranted about was the fact that somehow in America we’ve become indoctrinated with a childlike understanding of our own nation’s early history that consists of nothing but three steps: Pilgrims, Revolution, America. I’ve always wondered why it is the history of New England plays such a large role in our collective psyche, whereas the much more interesting history of, say, Jamestown, is generally forgotten.
(Did you know that during that colony’s first horrific winter people dug up graves and ate their dead family members to survive? I’m telling you, if I had been taught that story in elementary school I definitely would have found America’s early history a lot more interesting.)
Well, I’m finishing up Colin Woodard’s American Nations, and I’ve gotten to the bit where he is discussing the waves of immigration that swept the United States in the 1800s and into the early
21st 20th century. According to Woodard, the people who originally colonized what came to be New England and who later spread throughout the upper midwest (he refers to this area, collectively, as “Yankeedom”) were always concerned with maintaining a strong sense of shared identity and conformity.
Accordingly, when large numbers of people began immigrating to America, Yankees worked diligently to assimilate these new people into Yankee culture:
The notion of America having been a “melting pot” in which immigrants were transmuted into “Anglo-Protestant Americans” really refers to a Yankee remedy intimately tied to the folkways of a covenanted, utopia-building people who were themselves almost entirely English in origin. . . . [H]istorians at Harvard, Yale and other Yankee institutions were crafting a mythic “national” history for students to celebrate, which emphasized the centrality of the (previously neglected) Pilgrim voyage, the Boston Tea Party, and Yankee figures such as the minutemen, Paul Revere, and Johnny Appleseed. (The Puritans were recast as champions of religious freedom, which would have surprised them, while Jamestown, New Amsterdam, and the early Anglican settlements of Maine were ignored.)
Huh. So the only reason we all now share this “national” heritage, focused on the “previously neglected” (I love that) Pilgrims, recasting them in the unlikely role of “champions of religious freedom” is because a bunch of damned Yankees made it up. It was public relations, it was marketing, it was sheerest humbuggery.
I cannot begin to tell you how much it delights me to learn this.