The English since 1800

The English were the largest group of emigrants in the British World. Yet, unlike the Scots or Irish, they are not ascribed attributes of ethnicity; they are not considered to be a diaspora. The oversight is shaped by a belief that the English assimilated rapidly into host societies that their forebears had, in any case, formed. The dominant Anglo-cultures of Britain’s former colonies in the Americas, Africa and Australasia means that the English are generally viewed as makers of empires not diasporas and as the national group against which other ethnic groups were defined. There is some merit in this view, but it underplays the equivalence of emigrants from all parts of Europe as they settled into alien, sometimes hostile environments, and certainly underplays similarities between Scots, Irish and English in respect of New World settlement. This chapter charts the major English emigration and settlement since 1800, and explores the cultural results through the prism of an awakening national consciousness shaped abroad rather than at home. It also explores some emigrants’ search for a folk-utopian future that was in keeping with the aspirations of the earliest settlers in the New World and was at odds with ideas of easy assimilation. The chapter proposes a rather different perspective from the usual one.

in British and Irish diasporas
Migration, ethnicity and association, 1730s–1950s

From the early eighteenth century, a vibrant English associational culture emerged that was, by many measures, ethnic in character. English ethnic organisations spread across North America from east to west, and from north to south, later becoming a truly global phenomenon when reaching Australasia in the later nineteenth century. This books charts the nature, extent and character of these developments. It explores the main activities of English ethnic societies, including their charitable work; collective mutual aid; their national celebration; their expressions of imperial and monarchical devotion; and the extent to which they evinced transnational communication with the homeland and with English immigrants in other territories. The English demonstrated and English people abroad demonstrated and experienced competitive and sometimes conflictual ethnic character, and so the discussion also uncovers aspects of enmity towards an Irish immigrant community, especially in the US, whose increasingly political sense of community brought them into bitter dispute with English immigrants whom they soon outnumbered. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the extent of English ethnic associational culture in North America was such that it resonated within England herself, resulting in the formation of a central organization designed to coordinate the promotion of English culture. This was the Royal Society of St George. Ultimately, the book documents that the English expressed their identity through processes of associating, mutualism and self-expression that were, by any measure, both ethnic and diasporic in character. The English Diaspora is based on a very large amount of untapped primary materials from archives in the United States, Canada, and the UK relating to specific locations such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Toronto, Ottawa, and Kingston, and London. Thousands of newspaper articles have been trawled. Several long runs of English associational periodicals have been garnered and utilized. Comparative and transnational perspectives beyond the US and Canada are enabled by the discovery of manuscript materials and periodicals relating to the Royal Society of St George.

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From local to transnational

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.

in The English diaspora in North America
Working-class English associational culture

This chapter moves beyond the St George’s societies that scholars portray as proof that the English principally indulged in elite civic activism rather than ethnic behaviour. A second tier of English association developed in the 1870s catering specifically for independent working class migrants. The Order of the Sons of St George (OSStG; 1870) and the Sons of England (1874) represented something different. Clearly, working-class Englishmen and women in the US and Canada felt the need for another type of organization—one whose fees they could afford, something that provided them with mutual aid. These English ethnic friendly societies drew upon homeland traditions. In the US, they also took shape with an American culture of associating. Such organizations were structured by the imperatives of class solidarity and ethnic togetherness. Indeed, ethnicity also sponsored (and was sponsored by) tension and competition with the Irish. This chapter traces these developments with a particular view to the context in which they were founded, and where they were set up. The OSStG, for instance, came about in part as a coordinated response to a heightened ethnic consciousness.

in The English diaspora in North America

Charity and mutual aid—hierarchical and reciprocal types of ethnic associationalism—divided the St George’s societies from the Sons of St George and the Sons of England. However, such divisions did not create intra-ethnic hostility between them. Regardless of this significant turn in the history of English ethnic associational culture in North America, all associations were united in their patriotism to England, which remained a constant. And despite their different social composition and emphases, the elite and middle-class St George’s societies still shared a number of characteristics with the more working-class organisations focused on providing collective self-help. Chapter 4 traces the inner workings and activities of the different organisations to explore these commonalities both in terms of their structures and membership, but also with respect to the events and socio-cultural pursuits they promoted. St George’s Days, dinners, dances, lectures, day trips and sports, were all used to emphasize shared identity in the new communities. Moreover, the somewhat chauvinistic deployment of Anglo-Saxon rhetoric and of pugnacious, loud expressions of loyalty to the monarchy were critical for all of these English groups, united them behind common principles. Such shared values were customarily expressed at dinners and parades, but also at more specific events organized for coronations and jubilees. War also played a significant role, heightening the sense of loyalty to the crown and shared roots—even in the republican United States. Indeed wars afforded an opportunity for the English in North America to send funds home to aid widows and orphans, with large sums generated. Each of these aspects is explored here.

in The English diaspora in North America
The pillars of English associations

Having established the structures and social and cultural activities of English ethnic associations, Chapter 5 examines in detail the two critical pillars of English ethnic associationalism: charity and mutual aid. It does this through the charity dispensed by St George’s societies, and the collective self-help facilitated in particular by the Sons of England (there are no detailed archives for the OSStG, hence the focus on the SoE). The chapter explores both levels of support and the regulatory framework adopted by the associations to disburse funds. By exploring the aid distributed by St George’s societies, this chapter enables us to examine the level of associational networking between organisations in dispensing charity to all immigrant groups, and the extent to which this gave those organisations a wider civic role. We have located particularly good records for the SoE in Canada and thus explore the workings of this friendly society. Quite unlike the St George’s societies, the SoE built up reserves of members’ funds, which were expended on sickness, unemployment and burial benefits. Ranging across Canada from the Maritimes to British Columbia, and entailing thousands of members in hundreds of lodges, and engaging in the good management of funds and the promulgation of a shared English culture, the Sons add very significantly to our understanding of what it meant to be English in North America.

in The English diaspora in North America
British and continental perspectives

The English ethnic associationalism we describe in this book was not unique; indeed, it was part of a world of associations. Providing a comparative context is therefore crucial. Chapter 6 charts the evolution and purpose of those ethnic clubs and societies established in North America by other migrant groups. We focus particularly on Scots and Germans and explore the beginnings of the associational culture of these groups. The Scots were the most active in the early phase of settlement, also anchoring their associationalism in philanthropy. St Andrew’s societies, much as those of St George, had an elite dimension, but catered for a broader migrant cohort—those in distress. Similarities in the work of the two organisations even led to concrete co-operation. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, however, the Scots developed a second and distinct tier: an ethnic associational culture at the heart of which lay sport. This contributed to a significant proliferation in Scottish ethnic associational activity—though one that was trumped, in the early twentieth century—by the Scottish mutualist branches in both the US and Canada (Order of Scottish Clans and the Sons of Scotland respectively). We also develop non-British/Irish comparators through an examination of developments in the German immigrant community in North America to establish to what extent language was a factor in immigrant adjustment to new world realities. Examining the Germans will also permit consideration of how external developments—in this case particularly the First and Second World Wars—were watersheds that united British Isle migrants, while casting out Germans and the more militant wings of the Irish.

in The English diaspora in North America

Transnational connections and communication were critical for English ethnic associations. But this was by no means restricted to the United States and Canada as English associational connections linked all geographies of the English-speaking world. Consequently, chapter 7 extends the geographical focus, placing our North American research in the broader context by examining the spread of English societies around the world, and adopts a transnational framework to explore levels of communication between territories. In particular we investigate the spread of St George’s societies to locations beyond their first formation, examining developments in Africa and Australasia, While Australasian St George’s societies developed at about the same time as those in the Mid-West of America, and thus reflected the internal colonisation of both British and American worlds, they were not in any sense joined up at that point. Enduring connection did not in fact occur till the Royal Society of St George appeared in 1894 to bond Anglo-world’s various English societies. Celebrations of monarchy and Empire were critical in this globalization, providing a communal adhesive for English migrants wherever they were located. A similar anchor—albeit for a very different reason—was war. Not only did it heighten a sense of belonging among many, invigorating shared roots as the common denominator, it was, critically, a belonging often framed by Britishness rather than Englishness, and one paramount among those keen to stress the shared cultural characteristic of the English, British, Americans and neo-Britons in Empire. Still, Englishness was employed within that wider identity to help the ‘motherland’. English associations around the world collected funds in support of the war effort, or to help the widows and orphans of soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice, during both world wars, and, more directly and actively, the Toronto St George’s Society provided homes for children who had been sent over from England during the Second World War. All of these actions and communications criss-crossing the world—connecting diaspora English not only with the old homeland, but also each other—point not just to what Anderson called an ‘imagined community’, but also to an ‘imagined community’ made real through consistent practical connection.

in The English diaspora in North America
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in The English diaspora in North America
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Although a heterogeneous and multi-layered phenomenon encompassing diverse occupations and destinations, the Welsh diaspora has often been portrayed as a simplistic and even insignificant phenomenon. The chapter thus explores patterns and process of Welsh emigration and settlement from the seventeenth century but focuses on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Welsh transnationality had its greatest force as both a demographic and an ideological phenomenon. The chapter examines the dynamics of cultural, linguistic and religious transplantation and change, and the adoption of dual or even multi-identities, be they, for example, Welsh and British or Welsh, British and American. It also probes the issues of victimhood, which surfaces in the collective justification for emigration of some but by no means all participants, and diasporic connection and consciousness, as obtained in the case of the Welsh print culture and its problematic assumptions regarding the homogeneity of the migrant group. These tensions are revealed by exploring how Welsh newspapers and magazines outside Wales (published in Welsh and English) forged and nurtured transnational communication at the same time as they defined and promoted a specific vision of what Welshness ought to embody in settler societies.

in British and Irish diasporas