tv David Hackett Fischer African Founders CSPAN August 21, 2022 6:20pm-7:11pm EDT
>> welcome to atlanta history center's virtual author talks series. i am the vice president of public relations and programs rated it is my honor to record -- to welcome you to tonight's event featuring the story of david hackett fischer. he just came out with a new book last week. the book is "african founders: how enslaved people expanded american ideals close vote. if you have not gotten your copy of the book, it is available in the store. we will ship it to you if you live in the u.s. or you can pick it up from atlanta. it is a great feel and repurchase will support david and atlanta history center's ability to do this programming. david and i talked tonight, please submit her questions into the queue and day. we'll get as many of those as we
possibly can in the event time we have with us tonight. we briefly introduced david hackett fisher. he needs very little introduction with our audience. david hackett fischer is a university professor and professor of history and narrative at brandeis university in massachusetts. he is an author of numerous books including the 2005 pulitzer prize winner of washington crossing and chaplain stream. in 2015, he got the literature award for lifetime achievement and military writing. he is going to start off tonight talking a little about the book, the premise of it and then will move to questions. thank you so much for being with us tonight. >> it is a pleasure to be with you. >> would you like to just tell us a little bit about your book. the premise of it and what got you started on it?
>> let me begin by telling you a little about another book which is called albion's seed. i was wondering where we all came from and where we are going. i've started by looking at our british ancestors. i found that they came from many different parts of britain and went to many particular parts of the states. it was about people coming from east anglia, to new england. then i followed a different pattern that went to every american region from a different part of england. i did quite a lot of research and gathered materials that have been done on migration. we now know thanks to a lot of the work that genealogists have been doing about the flow of the population. we were able to build an empirical base on that basis so
that we know where these origin art -- tended to be patterned. i found that each of these migrations to these various american regions were also very focused in time. new england had what they called the great migration which was only about 11 years, from 1629 21640. that was when the -- the bulk of the founders came over in a very large low end very difficult period in english history. they were people responding and retreating from the impurity of the stuarts, charles the first in particular. they came mainly to new england. they founded places that were built on town meetings and self-government.
as a strong counterpoint to what was being imposed upon them. the result was the town meeting culture of new england that we know so well today. then, i will not go into great detail but i looked at four other american regions. never the same group of migrants. always coming from different places, at different moments, going to different parts of the u.s. the result was the development of the regional patterns that we know in america today. that is what albion sea was about. this next book which was our primary business tonight has the same sort of thing for the migration for africa to what is now the united states. these people came mostly in chains. these were people who came as slaves.
they also came in waves. they came to different parts of america from different places in africa in the same way that they migrations from europe or patterned. the result was a considerable diversity of african in america. my book lays all that out in detail. i will not repeat was in the book that way but that is the short of what i do. >> thank you for that. i was wondering, i did think the organization divided by regions was so interesting. the experience of people either from africa or of african descent who were brought here as slaves was so different depending on what region of the country they ended up in. just depending on that. >> let me add one other thing to that. the diversity of migrations.
first of all, of english speaking people, there was a another secondary thing from different parts of germany. but those migrations then followed by these african might, created -- african migrations, created a diversity of cultures in america. these were groups that came over and settled together. they maintain that their cultural coherence in the new world. i think that diversity was the foundation of american pluralism. i think that pluralism is what keeps us free. that is what sustains liberty and freedom in america. i think that is absolutely sensual to the way this open society works. >> can you talk a little bit about the role of, either at this point in the culture's history, they might have still been enslaved or formerly
enslaved, or people of african descent who were born free in america -- can you talk about their role in america in particular? you talked about how american pluralism helps to ensure freedom today. what role did the pluralism play or did not play in the revolution the doves? >> we had different revolutions in the different regions of america. what we think of as the american revolution started most of all in new england. it was the rising of these town born people from east anglia against what they saw as a conspiracy against their liberty and freedom. then, something like that was repeated in the other regions but never twice in the same way. the challenge was a little different in each place. the timing was different.
but, the results were always the same in the sense that the driving of groups to maintain their own way of life within these regional cultures was sustained and strengthened the pluralism of america. that maintains liberty and freedom today. >> the first region that you cover in the book is new england. a very heavy puritan influence of course throughout early history. also, from white settlement in the u.s. some of the oldest settlements in new england. i found it really interesting, being someone who is from georgia and talking to an ion's tonight that i am going to guess has a large southeastern -- to an audience tonight that i am going to guess has a large southeastern and spread it is interesting to talk about how
the puritans approach enslavement versus the white people who settled of the carolinas and georgia. i found it really fascinating that they had access to the courts in some areas of new england and were able to use that as a way sue for their freedom in many cases the verses in the coastal areas of the carolinas and georgia, there was very explicit motivation behind the white settlers in that region who said basically, we are doing -- installing this institution to make money. we need this labor to make money. in new england, and the puritans, you have this really finagling, trying to more of a justified. that is really interesting. can you talk more about how those two regions deferred and
approached and how that influenced when enslavement and did? >> to start with new england, one can say that something special happened there. this group that came within a very short period, 1629-1640, only about 11 years, set in motion by events in england when charles the first try to rule england without a parliament. that caused resentment, particularly in the eastern parts of england. they were -- they came to america to maintain their freedom from a process that they thought was profoundly threatening to them. when they did that, they did other things as well. first of all, they settled in a region which was a challenging
environment. it did not have the natural resources as other places then but it was very healthy for the inhabitants. they had high rates of growth, natural growth. and low death rates. they began to increase and multiply at rapid rates. they produce very large families. the families matured very quickly. the result was they were able very rapidly to produce a large and growing population and were able to meet their own labor requirements by that population growth. but if we go further south, it was not like that at all. if we go down, not to new york but let's jump to regina and maryland which was the first settled area -- to virginia and
maryland which was the first settled area. things happened differently. england found they were living in a very unhealthy climate. it was -- i would not say tropical but at least somewhat subtropical. the rates of disease were much higher and mortality rates were high. rates of population increase were very low and they had great difficulty sustaining their population. that is what caused them to try to read workers and they began to read -- two important first english indentured servants but they found that more difficult. then they began to turn to slaves. african slaves. that is why african slaves began to be brought in large numbers into virginia and maryland, when they were not brought in large numbers to new england. that created two profoundly different population and
cultures and much of american history is about those differences. >> i know that you go into great detail about this in the book but for those who have not yet had the chance to crack it open since it came out last week, can you go into a little detail about some of the cultural factors you attribute to the very large african influence on the south in particular? i was really struck by some of the statistics in the early years of the carolina colonies about the proportion of people in the colony who had slaves versus free. sometimes, that was as high a 75% of the population of the colony that was enslaved african americans. >> more extreme even than that. when we go to virginia, down to the carolinas, the differences were even greater than they were
between england and virginia. that is we go further south, the environment was much, much more dangerous to immigrants who came, particularly from northern europe. death rates were very high. so, the importation of africans was much greater. i think it was them more than the economic system. many of my colleagues would say it was more the economic base by think it was mostly the geography, that cost the southern populations to import very large numbers of african-americans. there were some islands, in the sea islands of south carolina, where the population was 90% african and 10%. there was one island which was 1% european and 99 per african
-- 99% african. that was the most extreme. there was a gradient that maps new england to the deep south and that varied in precisely that way. that is one of the most important drivers in regional differences in american street. >> i love -- i would love to spend a little time talking about language and how big of an influence the people of african descent had on language development in the united states. that sounded so interesting. of course, when you laid it out, it made a lot of sense by never talked about this war. that many people who grew up and raised in africa had a very developed multilingual skills. they had learn a lot of different languages to be able to communicate with lots of different groups of people. when they were kidnapped from africa and brought to the u.s.,
or at the time what was the colonies, even if they did not come from the same region as someone else, that they ended up living with in their new situation, they might still be able to communicate with them. can you talk a little bit about how african languages developed in the new world and how that helped to kind of knit together the community that developed once the african-americans began arriving in the u.s.? >> the story was different in every region. the differences were patterned in much the same way set these other things appeared as we have been seeing them. in new england, where there were very, very few africans, african cultures rapidly observed much more of the european cultures around them.
comparatively little of the african cultures flew the other way in new england. if we go all the way down to the country of south carolina and georgia, that was the other extreme. where the europeans were -- and africans were increasingly the majority. often, the preponderant majority. there were all these other things rapid reverse. the persistence of african cultures began to get much stronger. the presence of european cultures was comparatively. so, we get a profound difference in the results. >> i would love to talk about the development of communities.
specific communities in the broader african and african-american context during this time. of course, because the book is divided up by region, the book runs from depending on when the colony was first settled by europeans. some start further back and some run further forward. i would love to focus on the time. -- the time period between the american revolution, when that concluded and we had a united states, and the first few decades of the 18 threads which is where a lot of the book -- the 1800s which is where a lot of the book focuses on. when looking at that, you go into great detail about how in different regions, the types of communities of african-americans and found -- communities that african-americans and africans founded were very different to the portion of people who were able to get free versus those
held in bondage. i was really fascinated to read about the role of african-american voluntary organizations and the big role those had in the north particularly. and you talk about those organizations. about the culture and how those organizations supported the development of the community until present day in someplace. >> everywhere, even in new england, where there was comparatively few africans who settled there, there were places where the african population was larger with an new england. and where that happened, we began to see african cultures developing and little more clearly. some of the towns, where they had somewhat larger groups of
africans, who settled there, this was a process by which they began to meet together. also, what made a difference was that these africans came mostly from that area which i mentioned before in west africa. ghana, some from parts of nigeria. mostly ghanaians. i wife and i traveled in africa. we tried to go to all the parts of africa from which the africans came. these africans brought a sense of an african identity with their local cultures and formed some of that in a few new england communities. where their numbers were a little bit larger. we can see clustering's of that in rhode island, and parts of
eastern massachusetts. we can see that sense of african culture developing there. that was -- it was much larger and more -- and stronger as we go further south and the african group got larger and larger as he went. they also tended, as we go south, to get more diverse. they were diverse everywhere. i have all the numbers in my book and you will see lots and lots of tables about where africans came from and every region. one can begin by saying they came from every part -- to each american colony, they came from many parts of africa but they were grouped. there were concentrations within that grouping and the concentrations varied as the go from one colony to a mother. i go into much detail about where they came from. we went to the villages in africa.
my wife, she went looking for places of origin. and finding them and all that is in the book as well. as well as same for the british groups which are in my book albion's seed. the same sort of patterns with different proportions in the different countries. >> i would love to talk a little about the research process for -- the research process for a book like this. for those in the audience, you can see that this is quite hefty . it is almost 1000 pages and deeply footnoted. as david mentioned, there is extensive data. can you talk a little about the different sources you used and how you went about stitching all these things together to make a cohesive narrative?
>> we needed to source first for the european populations which went mainly into the book that preceded this one. then, when we came to the african side of this, we had to do these for the african groups. for that, we had to identify where they came from in africa, what the patterns are as a mixture of the different african origins in each place and there are lots of ways of doing that and we are getting more and more knowledge about that. the knowledge is growing exponentially as time passes. we are learning more and more about this area a lot of genealogists are working on this and a lot of folks quantitative the story are doing a very elaborate quantitative study of this that have been going as my work progressed. and will keep growing well beyond it. the more that that happens, the
more we know already, we are learning quite the patterns and how strongly etched they were into american history. a 10 -- the africans tended to arrive in groups and clumps of africans. and, as a consequence, they were local concentrations that came from the origins of slave wages. and, historians are being able to reconstruct all of that with more and more refinement of detail. the more we learn about that, the more we learn about the different compositions of the different regions. and, the dynamics of those compositions. and how fundamental they are to the main lines of american history. >> you talk about very detailed quantitative data to really
illustrate what you are talking about. the wide variety of regions by which people originated. the numbers of folks who were actually brought here at different times and how that ebbed and the. who also used a lot of personal stories to help -- you also use a lot of personal stories to help humanize. >> always, even as we are framing our fiery in the spot -- our requirements in this quantitative ways, he wanted to talk about the impact of individual choices and experiences. for that part, we had to listen to individual speakers. much of my book tries to do that. to try to bring out that experience. once again, we find a huge variety and complexity of it. never twice the same in each of these regions. always a little bit different
and always very rich. the primary thing i have to say over and over again until everybody is sick of it. the diversity of this process created pluralism in this culture that is the source of our liberty and freedom. our differences and our diversity keeps us free and that is what i think is vital to american history. >> i know this is going to be basically an impossible question given the fact that by name, you mentioned i am going to guess hundreds of people in this book. are there one or two particular stories that when used with personal stories of individuals that just really continue to stick with you that you think illustrate some of what you are talking about and how that perla some helps preserve american freedom and democracy? >> it is difficult for me to do
that because it is such a vast canvas. there are lots of stories in the book. the readers are welcome to dive in. >> this reader would love to know if there is one from georgia in particular since we have a love of georgians in the audience. if you can narrow it down to that of what really assuming that stuck with you when you are writing this book? >> about georgians? i do not think in -- georgia was a very small part of the early american history. georgia becomes much more important as time passes. it does not loom very large in the itself. >> that is very true. let's talk about resistance. we lay out that resistance can take many forms -- you lay out that resistance can take many forms. we explicitly think of running away, leaving a revolt or a rebellion, committing acts of
violence in order to date. but there are also other more subtle forms of resistance that you lay out. the work stoppage. one could argue in a system that seeks to dehumanize area the acts of marriage and children and families as a way of reclaiming some of that humanity. you also talk about how the approach to resistance was both in different regions of the united states but also took on different forms depending on where people originated from within africa. can you talk a little bit about how that will -- how that looked different and some of the trends you found? >> i can give a few examples. one of them was, let us go to the hudson valley for example. there, most of my attention was to the dutch period of the hudson valley's history.
when the dutch controlled the new netherlands, they began to report slaves from angola. the slaves they brought from angola tended to be, for reasons that are complex in the history of angola, where people who were often engaged in commerce and trade. they found themselves in the new netherlands. they very rapidly became active. they began to notice their masters were very open to anything that would increase their profit from slavery. they began to discover that they could begin to bargain with their masters. for small privileges that then
grew into larger ones. that process of bargaining went on between these angolan entrepreneurial and the dutch onto printers. that -- entrepreneurs. that created a more open process in which enslaved africans were able to persuade these, their masters, that by granting privileges of various kinds, they could increase profit as a consequence. the africans very cleverly , in one of the major sections of my book, about slavery in new york. it was never twice the same. it varied in each region. it's a very complicated story. there were other stories like that throughout america. that was the way africans began
to pry open possibilities for themselves, even if they were slaves. bargaining with their masters in ways that could persuade their masters that they could make more money by granting some of these privileges. very specific examples are in the book. >> i found that really fascinating. how the dutch colonies originated with dutch settlers were very different in their approach to that process in general. we mentioned it earlier but this is something i found particularly fascinating. can you talk about how the use of the courts, courts of law, became a tool that lots of africans used to petition for their freedom in various regions in various ways? >> yes.
what is it you would like to know about that? anything in particular? >> yeah, it sticks with me that in massachusetts in particular that was -- there is this great anecdote11 who had been serving at a table. she was a slave. she heard about the new massachusetts constitution. she was hearing discussions about how the new massachusetts constitution says1 people130 says people were created equal. she said, why am i doing this if the constitution says that and she went and got a lawyer and used that to sue for her freedom. >> it is astounding to see how that works. there are hundreds of stories like that in the book. in which slaves are always looking for ways to diminish the
rigors of their bondage and open possibilities of freedom and liberty for themselves. in just that way. they were very clever about it, often. and frequently successful. but not always. >> but not always, right. dependent on of course of the laws they were going up against and in their various regions. >> depending on a lot of things. one thing that made a big difference was a cop very difficult for them to do this in southern colonies where numbers were larger, and european populations were smaller. it felt much more dangerous. they were much more reluctant to grant any openings that way. the northern colonies would tend to be more open because they were less in fear of their slaves. >> we have audience questions
coming in. those listening tonight, if you have not yet submitted questions, now is the time so we will be sure we get to them if we can. this question comes from a man named david who took your classes at brandeis. he says that in your classes at brandeis you encouraged us to engage with original sources whenever possible and do research in town or historical archives. can you go into more detail about how you went about conducting research in africa? were there national libraries or universities you were able to engage with for archival or field research? >> thank you for that question. that is very important to the way i have taught. i have always tried to teach,, even in large courses, to break them down into small groups and get them -- get people working -- researchers working beside their teachers rather than underneath them.
we would always try to do that. i thought that is a very important way to move forward. where do you want to go with this question from there? >> it is so hard to know because your travels were extensive and your research process took place over decades. but where there any particular places within africa, universities, or archives you are able to access there or elsewhere that were particularly key in unlocking some of the research for you? >> i think the more important thing that happened to us in africa was to get out into african communities. to meet people in their own community. to observe how their community works. that's what my wife and i tried to do as we traveled through africa. we spent more of our time in african villages and towns then we did in archives. we were interested in seeing how the communities function.
that was always a great interest to us. we tried to put what we learned to work in the book. >> absolutely. there is another question here from someone named robson. they say, can we relate in any sense the differences of african influence in the south and in new england to the differing religious practice in these regions? >> you said differences in the south and what? >> new england. can you relate those to do the development of religion? >> well, in new england, the critical timeframe in the 17th century was one in which the british founders of the towns came mostly from one region in america, and mostly, from one
group of christians, what we call puritans today. it was a very narrow span of opinion within the broad reach of western civilization. that made a big difference for what happened in new england. they really had very special ways of thinking about why they were there, who they were, what they were for. what they believed in. they were calvinists. they had a very strict religious set of beliefs. they also had some experience in participatory government in east anglia and that made a big difference as well. they also tended to migrate in comedies.
their families remained intact. that meant that the gender ratios remained nearly normal, nearly at parity, between men and women in new england. that made a big difference. that meant families were quick to form. it meant that population grew more rapidly. in the south, the further south we go, the greater the difference. all of these things were far removed from new england. the results were very different. >> if you are thinking about the timeframe, you know the difference, the geographical difference even from new england the south and in the flow of information, the flow of people, that makes a lot of sense. do you see continuing influences that africans and african-americans had on religion in particular in the south? is this something you dig into in the book?
>> i do think that some of the forms of worship and of communication in africa were taken up, particularly if we go to the extreme of all of this, the sea islands of south carolina and georgia where the population was so heavily african, and as such a small minority were european. there, we can see that african cultures were, i think, much stronger stand in cultures, the forms of religious worship became more spontaneous, more oral. the biblical texts became less important. verbal processes became more intense. we can see a big difference
there in that way. there were also senses of collective worship there that were very interesting. in some of the ways they echoed african patterns in the sea islands. they made it a very different from the individuated religiosity of new england. the question in new england was always "what must i do to be saved? " and in the south it was more of a collective process. we see that in the camp meetings and all of that, more so as we go not only from new england to virginia, but even more from virginia up to the carolinas and georgia. >> sure. i have an audience question from all. she is interested in your research travel in ghana. would you explain how people in ghana responded to the subject of slavery and african participation in the transatlantic slave trade?
>> well, i've found that the people of ghana had highly developed commercial patterns of interaction. they lived in a web of trade of that sort. they brought that to america and engaged it very quickly in new england. in rhode island in particular, we can see them entering very quickly into the commercial life of new england. there was an interesting pattern there. >> we are getting close to the end of our time tonight. if anyone else has other questions, drop those in the q&a . it is now or never for this titan of american historical research. england's enclosure and
transportation act played a central role in england's population -- populating of its colonies. can you comment on the role of that? >> i did not understand. >> england's enclosure and transportation act. >> its enclosure and transportation act? enclosures in particular? lexi s. he would -- >> yes. he would like to know more about how those roles played a role in populating the english colonies. >> enclosures played a big difference in driving people off the land. and, sitting them in motion across the ocean. i think that was the most direct linkage i can think of. i would stress that amongst all others i would think. >> in closing tonight we have two questions from the audience that both get to looking forward from writing this book. this question comes from kelly. she says, do you have any particular hopes that your book can help display -- dispel any
inaccurate assumptions about african-americans? can you explain your hopes in the context of present-day issues relating to the history? >> the first thing i hope people take away from my book is that -- the complexity, the richness of african-american culture and experience in this country. it was very diverse in its origins, its african origins. very diverse in its american experiences. i verse in the europeans who the africans met in the new world. the result was an extraordinary range of experience and also of creativity in the way they responded. i think that the creativity of this process, in america particularly, is what always, what i am always amazed to rediscover with every trip into the archives.
>> one last attendee would like to know, given your years of research on this subject and on american history generally, they would like to note that many in the south, white slave owners in particular, who don't want to acknowledge the harsh realities of enslavement, how do you think that your book can help to clarify some of this history? >> i come from maryland. some of my ancestors were slaveowners. that was in the family history. i am very conscious of all of that. some of my other ancestors were antislavery people. we were very mixed. that's common to many people who grew up in a border state. what i'm trying to do is reach out to the diversity of experience in america and to the richness of the culture that
developed from that diversity and the diversity itself becomes key to the strength of liberty and freedom. that is the importance. pluralism and diversity is what keeps us free. that is what i derived most of all as the fundamental truths of american history. >> david hackett fischer, thank you so much for your insight and expertise. for the research and work you put into this incredible volume. to everyone in the audience, if you have not yet purchased your copy of "african founders" it is available from the african history -- atlanta history center museum shop. >> can i also say. if anybody has a copy of the book and is reading it and has a question or a comment or thinks i got something wrong, which i always do, send me an email. i am easily reached.
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