Elite associations
From local to transnational
in The English diaspora in North America
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Chapter 2 explores, first, the development of elite English associations in North America, focusing on St George’s societies. These earliest English societies were more than gentlemen’s dining and drinking clubs, and extended beyond the cultural life of the colonial tavern where they often met. Their roles encompassed social, cultural, civic and also emotional aspects of immigrant community life. Critically, however, the idea of charity underpinned them and provided the basis for all their activities, with the societies established for the purpose of aiding fellow English migrants who were in distress. This associational anchor of benevolence continues to be a mainstay for the St George’s societies that are still active today. And it was one that spread with the St George’s tradition—first to the largest centres of the original Thirteen Colonies and then, in the 1830s, to British North America. All this was in tune with the patterns of English migration, as well as its overall volume, with a plethora of new societies being founded in the mid-nineteenth century to cater for the mass arrival of migrants. Hence, while the associations’ leaders were comprised of the migrant elite, the work of St George’s societies had wider resonances for it embraced the poorest and most unfortunate of their fellow countrymen and women. Importantly, charitable culture also signifies the extent to which the English formed an active diaspora: that is, one denoted both by the geographical range of its adherents, transnational communication between them, and persistent social action. Indeed, transnational integration and the quest for consistently was fostered by the North America St George’s Union, which was founded in the 1870s for the purpose of bringing closer together the St George’s societies of the United States and Canada.

The English diaspora in North America

Migration, ethnicity and association, 1730s–1950s

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