Continuing my series on the American nations (see also A Tentative Ranking of the Clannishness of the “Founding Fathers”; Flags of the American Nations; Sound Familiar?), I take a look at the Cavaliers.
The founders of the U.S. Tidewater and Deep South were people of noble blood that originated primarily from southwestern England, in an area centered on Bristol running north to Liverpool and south to Exeter.
During the English Civil War of 1642-1651, the Cavaliers fought on the side of the king (the Royalists) against the Parliamentarian forces. In many ways, this war was the forerunner to the establishment of English democracy, as well as being the predecessor to the American Civil War. The Puritans, the historic arch-rivals of the Cavaliers, fought against the latter group as members of the Eastern Association. Indeed, many New England Puritans left the colony and went back to England to fight in the war. When the Eastern Association defeated the Royalists in England, many Cavaliers fled to Virginia, founding the area that would serve as the nucleus of the American South – in addition to sowing the seeds of future conflict.
Quite unlike the Puritan settlement in New England or the Quaker colony in the Delaware valley, the Cavaliers had not come to America to create any sort of utopian society. Instead, the came for conquest and prestige. The aristocratic landowners thought that they’d replicate some of the Spanish imperial success in America, and immediately battled the Natives in an attempt to subjugate and/or exterminate them. The Cavalier lords brought slaves with them – indentured servants, some of which were people who traded their servitude for their passage to America; others were unfortunate wretches snatched from the street in England.
The Tidewater settlement, compared to the others in America, was highly disorganized. The majority of the “settlers” were men, and the majority of those perished in the hot, disease ridden swamps there – to be replaced by wave after wave of additional colonists. Eventually after extirpating the Natives, the Cavaliers established the tobacco plantation system there, and the colony grew as its enormous profits attracted more settlers.
For the lords whose plantations succeeded – and for the few servant men that managed to work themselves up out of the fields – the Tidewater colony was a prosperous and highly profitable enterprise. The plantation lords established themselves as kings of their estates, growing rich off the misery and toil in their fields.
On the Caribbean island of Barbados, a very similar process ensued. Fortune-seeking settlers established a sugar-growing plantation society much like the one in Virginia, one which was also based on exploitation and indentured servitude (often forced – indeed “Barbados” became a verb in England). After word of the horrors of Barbadian life got back to England, the flow of White slaves ceased, and eventually, African slaves were employed, copying practices learned from similar colonies in South America. Slaves were worked to death in fields, and shipload after shipload came in to replace them. Eventually, the Cavalier lords exhausted the island, forcing them to relocate. They moved to (among many other places) what would become South Carolina (naming it after King Charles, after the royal victory over the Puritans in England). Thus they formed the Deep South proper, establishing it as a slave-based exploitation society from the outset. African slavery soon spread north to the Tidewater, but it didn’t become as prominent there as it was in the Deep South. By the mid 1700s, Blacks came to outnumber Whites in the Deep South by a factor of 5 to 1 – as opposed to 1.7 to 1 in the Tidewater. Indeed, in the Tidewater, some Blacks even became slave-owning plantation lords themselves. This was never the case in the Deep South, as a strict racial caste system was established, one that eventually spread to the Tidewater.
Society in the Tidewater and the Deep South was strictly hierarchical. Every man, woman, and child had their place, and each was expected to show their due respect to their social superiors. The plantation lords ruled with impunity, having no trouble taking advantage of underlings, be they Black, White, or Native – male or female. Indeed, the plantation lords were sexually voracious, and helped themselves to the women under their dominion, Black and White. In Albion’s Seed, David Hackett Fischer (DHF) talks about the diary of one of these plantation lords, who Fischer describes as a “sexual predator”:
A famous example was the secret diary of William Byrd II, an exceptionally full and graphic record of one planter’s very active sex life. In its attitude toward sex, this work was very different from any diary that was kept in Puritan New England. William Byrd was a sexual predator. Promiscuous activity was a continuing part of his mature life, and in some periods an obsession. With very mixed success, he attempted to seduce relatives, neighbors, casual acquaintances, strangers, prostitutes, the wives of his best friends, and servants both black and white, on whom he often forced himself, much against their wishes.
In the period 1709 to 1712, for example, when Byrd was more or less happily married, he was frequently engaged in sexual adventures:
2 [November 1709] I played at [r-m] with Mrs. Chiswell and kissed her on the bed till she was angry and my wife also was uneasy about it, and cried as soon as the company was gone. I neglected to say my prayers, which I ought not to have done, because I ought to beg pardon for the lust I had for another man’s wife.
It is important to note that the remorse he felt on this occasion had to mainly to do with his sense of violating another gentleman’s property. More often, he felt no remorse at all.
Sometimes Byrd and his Virginia gentleman-friends went on collective woman hunts:
11 Mar. 1711. After church Mr. Goodwin invited us to dinner and I ate fish. Here we saw a fine widow Mrs. O-s-b-r-n who had been handsome in her time. From hence we went to Mr. B’s where we drank cider and saw Molly King, a pretty black girl.
20 [October 1711] Jenny, an Indian girl, had got drunk and made us good sport.
21 [October 1711] At night I asked a negro girl to kiss me
Sexual predators such as William Byrd have existed in every society. But some cultures more than others have tended to encourage their activities, and even to condone them. This was the case in tidewater Virginia, with its strong ideas of male supremacy and masculine assertiveness.
These men represented the best of their culture; the sexual activities of other planters made even William Byrd appear a model of restraint. An old tidewater folk saying in Prince George’s County, Maryland, defined a virgin as a girl who could run faster than her uncle.
The sexual predators of Virginia found many opportunities among indentured servant girls during the seventeenth century. The journal of John Harrower described free and easy fornication with female servants in Virginia. Exceptionally high rates of prenuptial pregnancy and illegitimacy among English female immigrants to Virginia was in part due to this cause. There is evidence in the records that some masters deliberately impregnated their servants as a way of extending their indentures.
(e-book pp. 230-231)
Even lower class men enjoyed great many societal and sexual privileges over women (men were rarely punished for adultery, for example; for the same, women were often whipped until bloody). Married life was a disharmonious enterprise. Women (the “breeders” as women were referred to at the time, since women were expected to serve that purpose) and children were expected to be servile, but they rarely went along quietly. The film The Prince of Tides excellently demonstrates the nature of Lowland Southern domestic life, and its continuance into recent history. This greatly contrasts with the effusively loving sentiments of marital life common in writings from residents from the Quaker and Puritan colonies.
Coastal Southern society was loosely kin-based – significantly less so than that of the Appalachians – but much more so than that of the Northern colonies. Many important aspects of Cavalier society revolved around extended family. As DHF put it (emphasis added):
Among Virginians and New Englanders, ideas of the family were similar in strength, but different in substance. Virginians gave more importance to the extended family and less to the nuclear family than did New Englanders. Clear differences of that sort appeared in quantitative evidence of naming practices and inheritance patterns. The language of familial relationships differed too. The word “family” tended to be a more comprehensive term in Virginia than in Massachusetts. Virginians addressed relatives of all sort as “coz” or “cousin,” in expressions that were heavy with affective meaning; but the term “brother” was used more loosely as a salutation for friends, neighbors, political allies, and even business acquaintances. It is interesting to observe that an extended kin-term tended to be more intimate than the language of a nuclear relationship. The reverse tended to be the case in Massachusetts.
Individuals in Virginia were stereotyped by traits that were thought to be hereditary in their extended families. Anglican clergyman Jonathan Boucher believed that “family character both of body and mind may be traced thro’ many generations; as for instance every Fitzhugh has bad eyes; every Thornton hears badly; Winslows and Lees talk well; Carters are proud and imperious; and Taliaferros mean and avaricious; and Fowkeses cruel.” Virginians often pronounced these judgments upon one another. The result was a set of family reputations which acquired the social status of self-fulfilling prophecies.6
For most Virginians the unit of residence tended to be a more or less nuclear household, but the unit of association was the extended family, which often flocked together in the same rural neighborhoods. Jonathan Boucher noted that “certain districts are there known and spoken of … by there being inhabited by the Fitzhughs, the Randolphs, Washingtons, Carys, Grimeses or Thorntons.” These kin-neighborhoods developed gradually during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century by continuing subdivision of estates
(e-book pp 210-211)
Because they were so obsessed pedigrees and proper breeding (a trait which modern HBD’ers will be familiar), marriages between elites were quite common. Likely, de facto cousin marriage was not all that rare.
As well, they had a strong sense of pride and a violent culture of honor similar to that of the Borderlanders – if to a lesser degree. As Colin Woodard notes in American Nations:
While the Yankee elite generally settled their disputes through the instrument of written laws, Tidewater gentry were more likely to resort to a duel. Commoners were equally prideful: arguments in the tavern commonly led to nasty fights in which it was acceptable to kick, bite, strangle, gouge out eyes, and dismember genitals of one’s opponent. (Woodard, p. 62)
The Tidewater residents and Deep Southerners were quite proud of their hierarchical caste society – one which had many conscious similarities to ancient Greece and Rome. The plantation class (the top 25% of the White population) were happy to exploit their underlings – White and Black – as they felt it was their Darwinian right to do so (since they viewed their underlings – particularly Blacks – as innately inferior). Their exploitativeness drew the loathing of their neighbors the Borderlanders, whom the Coastal Southerners often exploited as a buffer against hostile Native tribes and often used as tenant farming labor. The Deep South had a heavily Spartan model, even to the point that it had armed militias of White men to suppress the very real possibility of slave uprising. It is this reason that, upon independence from Britain, they sought to ensure the inclusion of the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution.
Indeed, the Coastal Southerners joined with their rivals in New England against British rule only because they feared the Brits would attempt to end slavery. They then joined in an uneasy federation with the other American nations, where the peace was kept by the vast Southern frontier in which they could expand into, reducing contacts and conflicts between the nations.
Edit: And highly expansionist they were. The Deep South was the most aggressively expansionist of all the American nations, and Deep South leaders spearheaded American conquests in both the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.
Eventually, the issue of slavery – in addition to other national concerns – broke the polity between the nations. The Yankees and the Midlands became determined to end slavery, which the Deep South and the Tidewater could not stand. The election of Abraham Lincoln was the last straw. As such, starting with the original Deep Southern state – South Carolina – one by one they seceded from the Union, setting the stage for the Civil War, a rematch against their historic Puritan foes.
The Borderlanders, long wary of Deep Southern rule and exploitativeness, didn’t join the Deep South and the Tidewater in secession as the latter nations had planned, and even broke away from the Confederacy (or attempted to do so, in the case of East Tennessee) to stay with the Union.
After the war, and after the Yankees’ failed attempt to remake Southern society in the former’s image during Reconstruction (as the Yankees were, and still are, wont to do), the Deep South/Tidewater quickly reestablished their racial caste system, until that was again broken by Yankee/Midlander intervention in the 20th Century.
So what explains the traits of the Cavaliers, and the hence, the nations they founded? They shared many traits with their old foes the Purtians, particularly a strong nationalistic sentiment, but radically differed from the Puritans in many other ways. The Cavaliers didn’t develop a sense of egalitarian values in the slightest. They also didn’t have a fully corporate system as the other Britons had. They also retained the culture of honor common to clannish peoples. They weren’t as attached to their extended family to the extent the Borderlanders were, but hadn’t evolved into fully atomized family groups as the Puritans or the Quakers had (even though the Puritans seem to have simply replaced the extended family with the entire societal unit – a quick and dirty form of atomization perhaps, which is also seen with Scandinavians). Perhaps it has something to do with their ethnic origins? Whereas the Puritans hailed from the Danelaw, and hence had heavy Scandinavian affinity, the western areas of Britain had been settled by Saxons. As well, the Cavaliers liked to think of themselves as having been descended from Norman conquerors, but it’s unclear how much more so they in fact descended from the Normans.
Perhaps geography was involved. The purple area is the region of Cavalier origins. This region abuts highland Celtic areas to the west (Wales and Cornwall). Perhaps having a more aggressive Celtic population on their borders led the Western English to retain a more martial stance?
Some or all of these factors may be involved. But, I think one additional factor may be in play, one which leads us to consider the work of one Gregory Clark.
The Southwestern English seemed retain the manor system that had already disappeared in much of Western Europe. Gregory Clark noted that the most successful Englishmen had not been the underclass; nor had it been the upper nobility, who tended to die off in violent conflicts with each other. The successful Englishmen (and by extension Medieval European and East Asians) were the yeoman farmers. These diligent, hardworking, and clever farmers had a distinct fertility advantage, and came to numerically dominate the English population. This process explains the subdued, introverted, academic and industrial traits of the Puritans and the Quakers – who also seemed to be fairly outbred as well – likely having gone through the standard processes occurring throughout Northwestern Europe. But what of the Cavaliers? They retained traits similar to their feudal aristocratic ancestors. What if in southwestern Britain, the most evolutionarily successful weren’t the yeoman farmers, but the aristocrat manor lords who still ruled over them?
This would explain a great many things. If this is the case, the Cavaliers would simply be hold overs from the feudal warrior class, having not quite gone through as much of the genetic pacification the other English had (or at least retained a share of it). As well, inbreeding seems to have been a bit more common in the aristocracy, explaining the partial clannishness they seemed to posses.
Through an accident of history, this numerically fairly small group came to become a dominant force in the world through their colonization of America. Quite likely, thanks to their exploitative, highly unequal social and economic system (and owing to their sexual proclivities), the plantation lords in the U.S. may have enjoyed a Gregory Clarkian fertility advantage. This would mean modern American Lowland Southerners may be disproportionately descended from the plantation bosses, and as such, carry on the heritage of manorial lords from a distinctly feudal age. These traits remain important for American society, giving us that unique society known as the South.
(play from 0:23 – 4:50)