English Americans

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Author: Sheldon Hanft
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 9,275 words
Lexile Measure: 1410L

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English Americans

Sheldon Hanft


English Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from England, a country that is part of the United Kingdom. England occupies the southern end of the largest island off the Atlantic coast of Europe, sharing the island with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. Its land area is 50,363 square miles (130,439 square kilometers), roughly the size of New York State, and it has 1,988 miles of coastline. No point in the country is more than 75 miles from the sea.

The 2011 census of England and Wales reported the population of England as 53 million, a 7.2 percent increase from the 2001 census. Approximately 80 percent of the English population is native born. Large communities of Scots, Irish, and Welsh live in its border counties, and more than two million Asian Indians, Pakistanis, West Indians, and other nonwhite peoples reside in its large cities. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey for 2009, just more than one-half of respondents in Great Britain described themselves as having no religious affiliation, while about one-fifth of the population belongs to the Church of England (Anglican Church). Almost 10 percent are Roman Catholics, and the remainder are divided among other Protestant denominations and non-Christian religions. Muslims are the largest non-Christian group, representing slightly more than 2 percent of inhabitants. One of the largest mixed-market economies in the world, England accounts for the bulk of the United Kingdom's economy, which had the eighteenth-highest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world as of 2009. England's capital, London, is the world's largest financial center and is home to 100 of the top 500 companies in Europe.

The English were among the first Europeans to explore and eventually settle the area now known as the United States. The Spanish had established St. Augustine (in present-day Florida) in 1565, but their efforts to colonize the mid-Atlantic Coast failed. After a small English colony on Roanoke Island disappeared in 1587, a permanent English settlement was finally constructed at Jamestown in 1606. A second settlement, Plymouth Colony, was founded in Massachusetts in 1620. By the end of the seventeenth century, more than 350,000 English had immigrated to the American colonies, with 60 percent settling in the New England colonies around Massachusetts Bay. Although English immigration to the United States has risen and fallen during the previous 200 years, the decade after World War II saw a noteworthy upturn in numbers, a trend fueled by the large disparity in standards of living between the two nations and by the vision of America as a land of economic opportunity. In the early twenty-first century, an increasing number of British have chosen to commute between England and the United States, particularly to such large Eastern financial and business centers as New York and Boston.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, over 26.3 million Americans are of English descent. The states with the highest populations of English Americans are California (2.3 million), Florida (1.5 million), New York (1.1 million), Ohio (over 1 million), Pennsylvania (over 1 million), and Texas (1.7 million).


Early History The English are descended from Celtic tribes who brought Iron Age technology from continental Europe to the British Isles during the first millennium BCE. England and Wales came under Roman control by the end of the first century CE, and during the next three centuries England developed as a typical Roman colony. The Romans promoted commerce, established social institutions, built roads, and introduced Christianity to the population. The collapse of Roman rule in the early fifth century marked the end of urban life there, and invading Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Jutes, and Saxons carved the country into competing enclaves. A diverse group of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms developed, vied for control of the island, and later resisted the waves of Viking intruders who assaulted the island from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. The most important Anglo-Saxon ruler was Alfred the Great, who defeated the Danish Vikings, founded the English navy, and made Roman Catholicism dominant in England.

In 1066 William of Normandy (a region in what is now France) conquered England, ending a century of instability, and during the next three centuries Page 74  |  Top of Articledistinctively English institutions such as common law and parliamentary government were developed. The signing of the Magna Carta, or Great Charter of English Liberties, in 1215 imposed the first serious restraints on the power of the king. During the following centuries the country endured many social and political challenges, including its defeat in the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) against France; depopulation caused by the Black Death (bubonic plague; 1348–1350); and, during the second half of the fifteenth century, the War of the Roses, which pitted two powerful families within the House of Plantagenet (the Yorks and the Lancasters) against each other and ended by bringing the Tudor dynasty to the throne in 1485.

The first Tudor king, Henry VII, restored a strong central government, developed fiscal reform, and reasserted the power of the crown. His successor, Henry VIII, gained renown not only for his eight marriages but also for his separation of England's church from the control of the Roman Catholic papacy. Despite his best efforts, Henry died without a surviving son and was succeeded by eldest daughter, Mary, who waged a bloody and ultimately unsuccessful battle to reinstate Roman Catholicism. Her sister Elizabeth restored the primacy of the Church of England and defended the British Isles from an attack by the Spanish Armada in 1588. Her prosperous reign supported such explorers as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, fostered a cultural revival led by William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon, and allowed merchant adventurers to settle England's first permanent colony on the American continent.

Elizabeth I died without an heir, and the throne of England passed to a new royal family, the Stuarts. Their rule did not prove popular, however, and between 1603 and 1714 a succession of Stuart rulers encountered parliamentary opposition to their religious, social, economic, and political policies. The result was a series of civil wars between 1642 and 1649 that ended with the public execution of King Charles I and the establishment of a republican commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell's militant Puritanism also proved unpopular, and the monarchy was restored in 1660, leading to a new period of political development that included the establishment of a bill of rights in 1689. During the seventeenth-to eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment, English thinkers such as John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton made great contributions. In the eighteenth century England and Scotland established a union, and the monarchy passed to yet another royal family, the Hanoverian Windsors. During this century England created a vast empire, defeated the French in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), and dominated international trade. After its defeat in the Revolutionary War, however, it lost thirteen of its mainland North American colonies.


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Modern Era As the nineteenth century began, England led the alliance that defeated Napoleon I's attempt to control all of Europe. Later in the century, the Second Industrial Revolution introduced steam power and mechanized manufacturing, radically changing English society. Some sectors experienced great prosperity and an improved standard of living, but many others labored under severe conditions, and urban development began to erode the traditional life of rural England. The country's overall economic strength, however, fueled imperialistic expansion in Africa and Asia, and during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), the British Empire grew to encompass territories around the globe.

Victorian England also brought domestic social and economic reforms that made the government more democratic, but the nation still faced both internal and external challenges. The competition among European nations for power and territory reached a critical point early in the twentieth century, and although England was ultimately victorious in World War I, the nation sustained tremendous losses; the four years of brutal combat cost the nation 745,000 military dead and 1.7 million wounded. These costs, compounded by an outmoded industrial base, high unemployment, and negligible postwar growth, led to a decade of economic stagnation.

World War II took an even greater toll, leaving Great Britain financially distressed and, this time, with many of its urban centers partly turned to rubble. For the second time that century, the British were faced with rebuilding their nation. This enormous task was compounded by the massive social and geopolitical changes caused by the war. Long the world's premier colonial power, England lost many of its overseas possessions due to independence movements. This was not only a blow to its international power and prestige but also a disastrous loss of manpower, materials, and trading partners that further retarded its economic recovery. Still expected to play a major part in world politics, Britain was forced to ally itself more closely with the United States and, reluctantly, to increase its involvement in the European Common Market.

One of the most difficult challenges England faced at the end of the twentieth century was surrendering its historical independence and cooperating with the policies and obligations of Common Market membership. At the same time, however, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—which also includes Scotland, Wales, the Sea Islands, and the Channel Islands—retained many of its traditional institutions, including the constitutional monarchy. In 2012 Elizabeth II celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of her coronation, and despite occasional scandals the royal family remains popular with the majority of the British people. Executive power is still exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, whom the monarch appoints from among the members of the party winning a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Cabinet members must sit in Parliament, and they are responsible to both the Crown and Parliament, whose support they need in order to frame legislation, institute taxes, and determine domestic and foreign policy.

While no longer an economic superpower, England remains a major manufacturing, food-producing, and commercial nation and has one of the premier financial markets in the world. Its universities, museums, scientific institutions, and tourist attractions draw millions of visitors. Its population diversity continues to increase. In 2012 London successfully hosted the Summer Olympics, demonstrating once again the United Kingdom's vital role in the international community.

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We were put on a barge, jammed in so tight that I couldn't turn 'round, there were so many of us, you see, and the stench was terrible.

Eleanor Kenderdine Lenhart in 1921, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).


After the Spanish established St. Augustine in 1565, the English were the next nonindigenous people to settle the area that became the United States of America. From the original permanent settlements established at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia in 1607 and at Plymouth (now Plymouth, Massachusetts) in 1620 to the final Georgia colony founded by James Oglethorpe (near present-day Savannah) in 1732, English joint-stock companies, private proprietors, and Crown officials sought to create a modified version of their native society in American settlements. While many English came to the New World seeking liberation from religious intolerance in Europe, most of the early settlers were drawn by economic opportunities and by the desire to own land, then considered the only secure basis for wealth.

A group of single men sent by the Virginia Company in 1607 failed in their mission to find gold and create a profitable trade. The survival of the Colony of Virginia, even under royal proprietorship, was uncertain for two decades. It was not until the late 1620s—when a stable agricultural economy and lucrative tobacco export began attracting an annual influx of several thousand Englishmen and women, most of them indentured servants (their passage paid by a future employer)—that the success of Jamestown was assured. After the founding of colonies in Maryland (1632), Delaware (1682), and Pennsylvania (1682), larger numbers of indentured and working-class families immigrated, soon constituting a majority of the new English settlers to the area. The rate Page 76  |  Top of Articleof English immigration to the Pennsylvania and Chesapeake colonies was fairly constant until the early part of the eighteenth century. At that point it swelled as a decade-long war between England and France demanded the exploitation of resources from British holdings abroad. Favorable immigration provisions made the prospect of relocating to the more recent U.S. colonies increasingly attractive for those seeking economic opportunity.

Further north, Pilgrim and Puritan settlements in the Massachusetts Bay region attracted more than 20,000 settlers from East Anglia and the counties west of London between 1620 and 1642. During these decades English settlements were begun in New Hampshire and Maine, and several English communities were established in Rhode Island and Connecticut by religious reformers whose dissenting views were not tolerated by the authorities in Massachusetts. Unlike those in the southern colonies, most of the settlers in New England were older and came with their families and friends. In some instances whole congregations immigrated to New England during this period. The influence of the clergy was strong throughout the region, and they successfully converted many Native Americans to Christianity. Conflicts with the indigenous peoples were sometimes fierce, however, especially during the Pequot War of 1637–1638, which devastated the Pequot tribe, and King Philip's War of 1675–1678, which destroyed many New England Puritan towns and killed a large number of settlers. The New England economy was based on fishing and seaborne trade, and much of the population was employed in industries—such as shipbuilding and lumber production—that supported this maritime economy.

When a British fleet captured the town of New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, renaming it New York, English settlers already constituted a majority of the city's population and were well established in neighboring New Jersey. Pennsylvania, founded by English Quakers in 1681, attracted large numbers of German, French, Welsh, Scottish, and Scotch-Irish settlers, but the colony retained its English character throughout the colonial period. The majority of people immigrating to the thirteen colonies during the 1600s were from England.

From the colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts, the English presence expanded to other parts of the Atlantic coast. English settlers from Virginia migrated into North Carolina in the seventeenth century; in its middle decades, more English immigrants settled in all of the colonies between Connecticut and Maryland. The easy availability of African and Caribbean slaves beginning in the mid-1700s supported the region's labor-intensive cash crops—tobacco, cotton, and rice. Soon a plantation culture grew in the South, where slave-holding English immigrants became a landed gentry, dominating politics and society for decades to come.

In 1717 the British government began transporting felons to American colonies willing to accept them. More than 30,000 male and female prisoners convicted of serious felonies arrived in southern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, increasing the number of unskilled workers. Although colonies as far south as Georgia received a stream of English prisoners and indentured servants until 1776, many were also successful in attracting merchant families and the younger sons and poorer cousins of the gentry. Clergymen, lawyers, government officials, and members of minor aristocratic families settled in the Chesapeake Basin, for example, developing large-scale plantations for the cultivation of tobacco, which soon became the area's main cash crop.

The majority of eighteenth-century English immigrants came from London and the northern counties. The proportion of female to male settlers increased from about 15 percent to nearly 25 percent during this time. English Americans began to intermarry with other nationalities more frequently than any other European group, partly because of greater numbers of mobile tradesmen, craftsmen, and merchants among the new group. England's economic and political troubles brought new spurts of English immigration in the 1720s and the following decades.

According to the first federal census in 1790, English settlers and their descendants constituted about 60 percent of the European settlers living from Maine to Georgia. More important, they had already ensured the dominance of English institutions and culture throughout the new republic. Since all but two of the original colonies were founded by the English, administered by English officials, protected by England's army and navy, and led by English-trained clergy, lawyers, and educators, the settlers adapted English models in their laws, constitutions, educational system, social structure, and cultural pursuits. From the colonial period it remained fashionable for wealthy Americans to send their sons to England for a year of college, and English styles in literature, poetry, music, architecture, industry, and clothing were the models to emulate until the twentieth century. English dominance persisted despite a growing influx of immigrants from other parts of Europe.

Throughout the colonial period Americans supported England's wars enthusiastically, and when resentment and resistance to British policies developed in the 1760s and 1770s, Americans looked to Parliament to redress their grievances, which they perceived as emanating from a tyrannical king and his corrupt ministers. After the Revolution English Americans led not only national and state governments but also the successful movement to add an English-style bill of rights to the new U.S. Constitution in 1789. Some loyalists left the United States for England and other colonies, but new English settlers arrived. While many assimilated easily, some friction inevitably developed. In states with

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Dressed in period clothing, a volunteer stops and raises his hat as the flag “Cross of St George” is raised in 2007. The Jamestown settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, is a reproduction of the original homestead Dressed in period clothing, a volunteer stops and raises his hat as the flag “Cross of St George” is raised in 2007. The Jamestown settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, is a reproduction of the original homestead that was founded nearby in 1607 by a group of 104 English men and boys. MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES

large German, French, and Celtic communities such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Carolinas, English immigrants were rebuked for their “assumed superiority,” their poverty, and their provincialism.

English immigration to the United States decreased sharply between 1780 and 1815, initially as a consequence of British involvement in India and Latin America as well as of events surrounding the French Revolution (1789–1799) and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). In addition, tensions existed between Britain and the newly independent United States. When the United States declared itself at war with Britain in 1812, recent English immigrants—known as British Aliens, who often arrived with little or no documentation—were forced to register with local marshals; they were treated with suspicion and were severely restricted in their freedom of movement during nearly three years of war. Many English merchants, primarily in Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore, Maryland; and New York, were relocated and prevented from conducting their business. Following the war—which ended with little change in relations between the two countries—new settlers found easy acceptance. Encouraged by a similar language, a familiar legal and political system, American variants of nearly every English religious denomination, and the popular admiration—especially in large U.S. cities and in the South—for “all things English,” these immigrants had little inclination to establish their own churches, newspapers, or political organizations.

After 1815 German, Irish, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, and Slavic peoples dominated the new waves of U.S. immigration, but English settlers provided a steady and substantial influx throughout the nineteenth century. Most of the new arrivals were small farmers from depressed areas in the rural counties of southern and western England, although urban laborers continued to flee from economic difficulties and the massive social changes caused by the Industrial Revolution. Some English immigrants were drawn by dreams of creating model utopian societies in the United States, some based on religious tenets, such as the Shakers of Pennsylvania, and others, such as the transcendentalist-inspired Brook Farm in Massachusetts, on the liberal economic and political ideas then being formulated around Europe. The great majority of immigrants, however, were lured by the idea of new lands and the economic opportunities presented by a growing number of jobs in textile factories, railroads, and mining.

In the 1840s Chartism, a working-class movement for political reform, brought about massive urban protests in England and spurred another period of emigration. This wave peaked in 1854 and coincided with the arrival of Germans and central Europeans fleeing in the aftermath of the failed European revolutions of 1848. A preponderance of English immigrants traveled with one or more family members, and the number of industrial workers, tradesmen, and craftsmen outnumbered farmers by more than three to one. During the final years of 1860s, annual English immigration increased to more than 60,000, and by 1872 it had

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The majority of Puritan settlers came to New England with their families, as whole congregations and sizable groups of religious dissidents transferred their hopes of a “godly commonwealth” to America, where they established often strict religious customs. They created Sunday “blue laws” to sanctify the Sabbath by prohibiting public drinking, dancing, and work-related activities while encouraging prayer and charitable and missionary activities, especially among family members. Outside New England, however, modest displays of entertainment, especially dancing, singing, and athletic competitions among family groups, were common and often held under the auspices of the local Episcopal congregation. Certain blue laws are still in effect in the United States today. For instance, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, retail stores are prohibited from operating on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Mississippi, have laws restricting the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Other blue laws in the United States restrict horse racing, hunting, and selling cars on Sundays.

risen to more than 75,000 before experiencing a short decline. The final and most sustained wave of immigration began in 1879 and lasted until the depression of 1893. During this period English annual immigration averaged more than 80,000, with peaks in 1882 and 1888. The building of the U.S. transcontinental railroads, the settlement of the Great Plains, and the increasing pace of industrialization attracted many skilled and professional emigrants from England. Also, because cheaper steamship fares enabled ordinary workers to afford the journey to the United States, unskilled and semiskilled laborers, miners, and building tradesmen were increasingly represented among the new English immigrants. While most of the newcomers settled permanently in the United States, a number of skilled craftsmen remained itinerant, returning to England after a season or two of work.

Throughout the nineteenth century England was the largest investor in American land development, railroads, mining, cattle ranching, and heavy industry, although the English made up only 15 percent of the great nineteenth-century European immigration. Nevertheless, the new wave altered the distribution of English settlers in the United States: by the end of the century, the mid-Atlantic states had the largest number of English Americans, followed by the North-central states and New England. The growing number of English settling in the West and Pacific Coast regions left the South with the smallest percentage of English Americans.

In the twentieth century English immigration to the United States decreased, in part because Canada and Australia were offering English settlers increased economic opportunities and more favorable immigration policies. Throughout the first four decades of the century, the English made up an average of only 6 percent of the total number of European immigrants. Still, Americans prized English culture, literature, and family connections as a result of well-publicized marriages between wealthy Americans and the children of English aristocrats. The introduction of Western history and literature courses that stressed America's English heritage in colleges and in the public school curriculum after World War I also supported widespread Anglophilia.

During the course of the Great Depression of the 1930s, more English returned home than immigrated to the United States—and for the first time more English women than men arrived in the country. The general decline reversed itself during World War II, when more than 100,000 immigrants (18 percent of all European immigrants) came from England. This group contained a large contingent of war brides, who arrived between 1945 and 1948; the male–female English immigration ratio of the period was one to four. In the 1950s total English immigration increased to more than 150,000 (the level maintained in the 1920s) but remained less than 12 percent of the European influx. The next two decades saw the number of English immigrants rise to more than 15 percent of all incoming Europeans, in part because of a so-called “brain drain” in which multinational corporations lured English engineers, technicians, medical professionals, and other specialists to the United States.

From 1970 to 2000, English immigrants made up about 12 percent of the total number arriving from Europe and were usually unmarried, professionally trained men and women. While the average age of immigrants rose in the last decades of the twentieth century, the number of married people and children continued to decline. This may, in part, be attributed to the increasing number of English citizens who commute between homes in the United Kingdom and careers in the financial and political centers of the American East Coast. In 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey reported that there were an estimated 26.3 million Americans of English descent. The states with over 1 million English Americans included California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas; every state, however, has a substantial population of English Americans.


Although the United States and England share the same basic language, noteworthy differences exist in spelling, pronunciation, and accent. There are also differences in idiom, and the names of ordinary items may vary between the two countries. In England gasoline is called petrol, potato chips are crisps, sausages are bangers, and one rings off a phone call rather than hanging up. Many English Page 79  |  Top of Articleexpressions are well known in the United States, however, as a result of the popularity of British television programs, and although first-generation English immigrants are identifiable by their accents, their descendants rarely are.


The Church of England came to the United States with the earliest immigrants. Religious differences among the colonists contributed to the establishment of different settlements and the growth of various Protestant denominations. After the American Revolution, the Episcopal Church of America separated from the Church of England, and evangelical groups such as the Quakers and Methodists ended their affiliation with their English counterparts.

Throughout the nineteenth century most groups of English immigrants expressed their ethnic identity through their participation in the Episcopal Church or in the Methodist and Baptist Churches of the rural South. Such British groups as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church of England, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Salvation Army sent ministers and missionaries to English congregations in the United States. With funds raised in England and in English immigrant communities along the Atlantic seaboard, Kenyon College in Ohio and Jubilee College in Illinois were established to train Episcopal ministers for service in towns in the Midwest and far Western states, where numerous English immigrant communities of miners, craftsmen, and farmers had flourished. As American religious culture became increasingly diversified, newly arrived immigrants had a wide choice of churches—some very similar to what they had left behind in England, some very different—and no particular pattern of religious preference seems to have developed among English Americans.

English Presbyterian missionary John Eliot addresses a gathering of Algonquins in 1660. Known as “the Apostle of the Indians,” Eliot established the first church for Native Americans in Massachusetts. English Presbyterian missionary John Eliot addresses a gathering of Algonquins in 1660. Known as “the Apostle of the Indians,” Eliot established the first church for Native Americans in Massachusetts. MPI / GETTY IMAGES

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English proverbs show a characteristic combination of independence of mind and common sense along with a healthy dose of skepticism:

  • Two is company; three is a crowd.
  • An ounce of discretion is worth a pound of wit.
  • Discretion is the better part of valor.
  • Forewarned is forearmed.
  • Good fences make good neighbors.
  • Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.


In spite of a complicated beginning, the relationship between England and the United States has become increasingly close over the past 200 years, not only economically but also socially and politically. Britain's actions and policies throughout the twentieth century, represented in the American consciousness by heroism in the trenches of World War I, Prime Minister Winston Churchill's resistance to Adolf Hitler, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's support of the United States in the Persian Gulf War, have strengthened the ties between the two countries. Similarly,

In this 2007 photo, historical interpreters in period dress enter James Fort at Jamestown settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. In this 2007 photo, historical interpreters in period dress enter James Fort at Jamestown settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. MANNIE GARCIA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

British influences on popular culture—especially in the music and fashion trends of the 1960s and 1970s—have contributed to the “special relationship” enjoyed by the United States and England, an affiliation also reflected in the number of British commentators and journalists visible in American media. This cultural continuity enables English newcomers to feel welcome in the United States and to fit in quickly. In contemporary American society most English immigrants do not regard themselves as part of a distinctive cultural group. Because England itself has become increasingly multicultural, however, some of those leaving England for the United States may have been second-generation residents of England who retain ties (including traditions and customs, clothing, cuisine, and so on) to the cultural backgrounds of their parents.

Traditions and Customs In the nineteenth century England still had a thriving rural culture, with many unique traditions and customs. Social life was organized according to class, so the aristocracy and landed gentry had their own set of customs, while farmers and laborers lived very differently. Customs also varied by region, so it is difficult to point to typical English customs. Traditions observed in common by most groups—such as toasting the health of the monarch and holding county fairs—were very much tied to the land and politics of England and did not translate well to life in the United States.

While first-generation immigrants often confined their socializing to friends and relatives from their own county or region of England, their children soon merged into the general population. In comparison with other new immigrants, the English arrivals in the decades preceding the Civil War were more prone to separate from their own communities, more willing to intermarry, and more enthusiastic in embracing the culture of their new land. The English tendency to adapt and integrate increased in the second half of the nineteenth century. One study concluded that, at the turn of the twentieth century, less than 20 percent of children of English immigrants eventually married someone of English descent. By the mid-twentieth century urbanization and modernization had done away with most of the traditions and customs that had once been a part of English life, so newcomers to the United States generally experience little cultural displacement.

Cuisine Some English immigrants undoubtedly prepare traditional dishes from their homeland, such as fish and chips, Shepherd's pie (a meat stew topped with mashed potatoes), kippers (dried and salted fish), and steamed pudding (often made with beef fat). England adopted many foods from the countries it colonized, however, and considers the cuisines of India, China, and many other regions as part of the English national menu. On both sides of the Atlantic, tea and ale are favorite English beverages.

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Traditional Dress Other than variations of style, there has been little significant difference in English dress and American dress from colonial times to the present. Although folk costumes were once worn for festivals in rural England, the practice had died out by the end of the nineteenth century and was never common among English immigrants to the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, English fashion trends had a major influence on American fashion. The Swinging Sixties styles of Carnaby Street, for instance, were often brought to the States by such popular British bands as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. English tailoring, as exemplified by the custom suits of Saville Row and the silk ties of Germyn Street, continues to influence American business dress for both men and women.

Dances and Songs Traditional folk songs and dances of the English countryside that survive in the early twenty-first century are not typically part of the English American experience. Contradancing is popular across ethnicities in the United States, however, especially in New England. Derived from sixteenth-century English country dances that were imported to the French court in the seventeenth century and to the United States with the early English settlers, contradancing is often accompanied by live traditional British music, with moves called out by a caller and elaborated on by dancers of all abilities. In the performance category, more than 100 teams of Morris dancers present the choreographed dance form, which dates from fifteenth-century England, at events around the United States.

Holidays Public holidays in England include traditional Christian observances such as Christmas and Easter; May Day (May 1); Armistice Day (November 11); and Boxing Day (December 26). May Day was long celebrated as a festive welcome to spring, featuring a maypole and folk dancing. Some English also observe May 1 as International Workers Day. Boxing Day was traditionally the day when servants and trades people received gifts from their employers and customers. Armistice Day commemorates the signing of the peace agreement between the Allies and Germany in 1918.

In the past English immigrants continued to celebrate unofficial holidays such as Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), which commemorates the deliverance of King James I and Parliament from a plot in 1605 to destroy them with gunpowder. Festivities included games, fireworks, and a large meal. Among some royalist families, St. Charles Day, marking the martyrdom of King Charles I on January 29, 1649, after the English Civil Wars, was celebrated with a somber ritual resembling a wake but featuring the imbibing of spirits, flag waving, and the reading of Charles's final speech from the gallows. Today, however, English Americans generally observe the same holidays as other Americans.

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1½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups whole milk

3 large eggs

1¼ teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter, lard, or tallow


Blend together flour, milk, eggs, and salt. Refrigerate until fully chilled.

When ready to make the pudding, preheat the oven to 450°F. Put butter, lard, or tallow into a 13 by 9 inch baking pan. Heat in oven until piping hot, 6 to 8 minutes. (If using butter, it will brown. Pull it from the oven when it becomes dark brown.)

Pour the batter into the hot baking pan and bake until pudding is puffed and center is golden brown, 26–28 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through.

Serve immediately.

Death and Burial Rituals Customs associated with death and burial are no different in England than in the United States and other developed countries. Cremation has become more popular in England than in many parts of the United States, however, and this preference might be somewhat more prevalent among English Americans. As of 2012 physician-assisted suicide was illegal throughout England but legal in three American states.

Traditional Arts and Crafts The arts and crafts of England—such as spinning, weaving, pottery-making, basketry, and needlework—were brought to America by early settlers, so the artisans of both countries use similar methods, materials, and designs.

Recreational Activities English football (known in the United States as soccer) is extremely popular in most of the world, and many English Americans maintain an active interest in the sport. Cricket—a complicated bat-and-ball game—is another English favorite. Both games are played recreationally in the United States but not primarily by English Americans.


As in other areas of American society, it was the English pattern of the nuclear family—focused on the husband, wife, and children with an occasional relative living in close proximity—that set the pattern of early life in the colonial era. While women were in short supply in the early decades of the colonial era, the majority of Puritan settlers came to New England with their families. English immigrants, especially those who were part Page 82  |  Top of Articleof the larger waves of migration in the nineteenth century, usually settled in small towns with other English miners, metal workers, farmers, and skilled textile specialists and re-created English-style pubs, choral groups, sporting clubs, self-help societies, unions, and fraternal organization, few of which endured for very long beyond the lifetime of the founders.

Gender Roles The English concept of the nuclear family—focused on the husband, wife, and children and, occasionally, relatives living in close proximity—set the pattern of early life in the colonial era and became the template for American society. In all social classes, to differing degrees, English American women dominated the domestic and social life of the family as completely as men dominated the public aspects of family life and business. As in England, family celebrations and the maintenance of connections with relatives were left to women, especially in more affluent and socially prominent families. In the twentieth century, however, traditional gender roles began to break down in all Western countries, including England and the United States. Among contemporary English American families, gender roles reflect socioeconomic class, religious beliefs, and other factors, just as they do among most other American groups.

Education The New England Puritans and the English Quakers in Pennsylvania were among the earliest advocates of free public education at all levels, but the wealthy and professional classes of English settlers favored private schools and colleges, often affiliated with their particular religious denomination. Middle-and upper-class families took care to educate and discipline their older children and to encourage them to continue family businesses and social obligations. A large percentage of the early colleges in the country were founded and supported by English immigrants and their descendants, especially in New England and the Southeast. English American philanthropists also provided endowments to subsidize study in England for the children of English expatriates. The most famous of these programs is the Rhodes scholarship, named for the English financier and colonial official Cecil Rhodes.

Many colleges founded in the United States by English immigrants still support traditional English sports such as sculling (team rowing) and rugby, but the three English aristocratic pastimes that enjoy the greatest popularity in the United States—tennis, horse racing, and sailing—have largely shed their English identity. The same can be said for English football, known as soccer to young players across the country.

Although the American educational system was originally patterned after England's, significant differences have developed in teaching methods, curricula, division of the school year, the role of testing, and the requirements for academic advancement. In England, for example, test results may limit educational and career opportunities, and college is not accessible to all. Immigrants who transfer from English to American schools face some adjustments but soon adapt to a system that is in many ways less rigorous.

Courtship and Weddings Like most other American customs, rules for courtship were originally derived from the English model, and weddings were carried out the same way in both countries. Nineteenth-century English immigrants probably found that courting was less formal in the United States, but in contemporary life newcomers will notice no significant difference.

Social Organizations The only English social organizations to endure for several generations among English immigrants were the assorted groups of Odd Fellows, fraternal societies for the working class re-created in the United States by Thomas Wildey and John Welch in Baltimore in 1819. These lodges appealed to the more skilled immigrant tradesmen and craftsmen because they provided the companionship of English pubs, employment connections, and shelter from the criticism sometimes directed toward English immigration. Their appeal to the waves of English immigrants arriving between 1870 and 1893 was limited, however, and at the turn of the century fewer than three dozen chapters survived, mostly in New England and the northern states. Nevertheless, the organization has endured by opening its membership to all Americans and devoting its activities to civic affairs.

While a few other social organizations and some newspapers were established for English immigrants in the early nineteenth century, all failed to gain significant support. New York was the home of the first newspaper for English American readers, Albion; or, the British and Colonial Foreign Gazette. It began publication in 1827 and survived until 1863, out-lasting its rivals, the Old Countryman (1830–1835), the Emigrant (1835–1838), and the Anglo-American (1843–1847). When inexpensive editions of British newspapers became available in the United States during the 1840s, their arrival undermined further efforts to publish dailies for the expanding communities of English residents of Massachusetts and New York.

A number of English immigrant groups—for example, textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts; cutlery workers in Connecticut; and English miners in West Virginia—initially lived close together and established distinctly English denominational congregations. They were able to maintain some social cohesion and community identity. Self-help associations, buying cooperatives, fraternal lodges, and sporting associations could be found in some English communities in the late Victorian era (the turn of the twentieth century). Within a generation, however, they were absorbed into the mainstream of American life. Similarly, some communities of English miners, mill workers, and agricultural settlers in the Midwest established libraries, social clubs, and musical societies to provide English culture, but most, including the chapters of the St. George's Society in Madison, Wisconsin, and Clinton, Iowa, did not survive for more than a decade.

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English Americans are not concentrated in any particular trades or professions, and they are subject to the same economic conditions as other Americans. Because they already speak English and come from a country with social and cultural values similar to those found in the United States, English immigrants face no special barriers to employment or to success in the workplace. Sometimes their accent even helps them, as it is often seen as a mark of intelligence.


Efforts among English immigrants to establish local labor unions, labor exchanges, and political pressure groups were unsuccessful. After Irish immigrants began to emerge as a political force in American politics, English American groups encouraged their reluctant countrymen to become citizens and actively engage in public life. The English often saw Irish religion and politics as foreign and dangerous, and they were unwilling to lose potential political influence to their Irish rivals. During the nineteenth century, however, fewer English renounced loyalty to their homeland than did immigrants from other parts of Europe. Their greater reliance on family, kinsmen, and contacts from their native regions of England already in America and the ease with which the new arrivals blended into American society with their assistance, compounded by the legal and social benefits of membership in the British Empire, may help explain why English immigrants were last among the new settlers to embrace American citizenship. The census of 1900 showed a significant increase in the percentage of English Americans becoming citizens of the United States, however, and this trend grew stronger in the twentieth century until the rate of English immigrant assimilation matched that of other European settlers.

One result of this trend was the organization of English American and British American political clubs in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York; in smaller industrial towns, including Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Stanford, Maine; and in Ohio, Iowa, and California, where communities of English miners, artisans, and industrial workers asserted their political muscle, predominantly on behalf of the Republican Party. These activities escalated after an 1887 banquet celebrating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in Boston's Faneuil Hall was disrupted by thousands of angry Irish protesters, who tried to prevent the entry of the 400 ticket holders. When only a few British politicians condemned the demonstration, English and Scottish American leaders organized a federation of more than sixty political action clubs and launched a number of periodicals. Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois each had a dozen or more English communities that organized politically, with smaller groups emerging in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and California. These clubs were often based on the racial and religious animosities that had unsettled Anglo-Irish relations for centuries. They had little impact on the elections of 1888 and 1892, however, and most were absorbed into a broader anti-Catholic confederation, the American

In Jamestown, Virginia, replicas of Powhatan Native American houses from the 17th century. In Jamestown, Virginia, replicas of Powhatan Native American houses from the 17th century. MANNIE GARCIA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

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Protective Association, which itself was an offshoot of the nativist (anti-immigrant) and populist (antitrust) movements of the 1890s.

Three publications with more political aims that were launched in the late 1880s were the British-American Citizen, published in Boston from 1887 to 1913; the Western British American, published in Chicago from 1888 to 1922; and the British-American, published in New York and Philadelphia from 1887 to 1919. They attained a limited degree of success by appealing to immigrants from all parts of Britain. They did not manage to unite Americans of Scottish, English, Irish, and Welsh descent into a single effective political action group, but they served to sharpen the ethnic identity of their readers and underscore the importance of the British contribution to American society. The survival of these periodicals after the nativist frenzy of the 1890s cooled was in part a result of improved diplomatic relations between the United States and Britain after 1895, which led to an alliance in World War I.

There are no distinguishable patterns of political alignment or activism among contemporary English Americans, who are so widely distributed in the population that they cannot be statistically identified after the second generation. First-generation immigrants often retain an interest in British politics, but very few immigrants leave England for political reasons.


Art In the period before and after the American Revolution, artists of English descent and English decorative style dominated American creative life. Such artisans as Paul Revere (1734–1818) were highly influenced by English decorative designs in silver and porcelain, while English landscape and portraiture influenced artists like John Trumbull (1756–1843) and Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828). Painter Thomas Cole (1801–1848) was renowned for his ability to combine naturalism and romanticism in sweeping images of the

English American Pamela Harriman was a very influential supporter for the Democratic Party in the 1980s. English American Pamela Harriman was a very influential supporter for the Democratic Party in the 1980s. LUKE FRAZZA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES American landscape. Born in England, Cole immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1818, and in 1825 he used proceeds from the first sales of his art to travel through the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York. The striking scenery became a lifelong inspiration for Cole, whose work not only attracted the attention of wealthy collectors but also became popular with general audiences. His influence lived on in the Hudson River School, an American art movement that included such noted painters as the German American Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) and the American Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900).

In the next century artists of English descent helped shape the American impressionist and realist movements, with noted impressionist Childe Hassam (1859–1935), landscape painter and print-maker Winslow Homer (1836–1910), illustrator N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945), and realist Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009) all claiming English descent.

In architecture Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), whose prolific work in the Craftsman and Prairie styles helped define an original American sense of design, was also of English ancestry.

Activism Pamela Churchill Harriman (1920–1997), who was born into the privileged life of the English upper class in 1920, became one of the most celebrated socialites of her time. Her love affairs were notorious, and her husbands included Randolph Churchill (son of Winston Churchill) and Leland Hayward (a powerful Broadway producer). In 1971 she married Averell Harriman, an influential American politician and diplomat, and became a U.S. citizen. Building on her husband's connections in the Democratic Party, Harriman created a political action committee—nicknamed “PamPAC”—that raised funds for candidates in the 1980s and 1990s. Named Woman of the Year by the National Women's Democratic Club in 1980, Harriman became U.S. ambassador to France in 1993. She served in this capacity until her sudden death.

Journalism The fathers of American journalism, including printer, journalist, and annalist Benjamin Franklin (1707–1790) and pamphleteer Thomas Paine (1737–1809), were of English descent.

Journalist Ted Koppel (1940–) became well known to American viewers as the anchor of ABC's pioneering in-depth news program Nightline. Born to Jewish parents who had fled Germany for England, Koppel immigrated with his family to the United States in 1953 and began his broadcast career just ten years later. After establishing a reputation as a correspondent during the Vietnam War, Koppel began hosting the newly created Nightline in 1980 and remained in the anchor seat for twenty-five years. When he left the program in 2005, he took on a variety of roles with the Discovery Channel, National Public Radio, the BBC in the United States, and NBC's primetime news magazine Rock Center.

Literature Many of the most important and influential authors of the nation's first century, such Page 85  |  Top of Articleas Washington Irving (1783–1859), Stephen Crane (1871–1900), Walt Whitman (1819–1892), and Mark Twain (1835–1910), were of English descent.

Denise Levertov (1923–1997) was among the most noted poets of her generation, publishing twenty volumes of verse and receiving, among other honors, the Shelley Memorial Award and the Robert Frost Medal. Levertov grew up in England and began her writing career while still a teenager. Her work and life were significantly influenced by the spiritual journey of her father, a Russian Hasidic Jew who later became an Anglican priest. In 1947 Levertov married an American, and in 1955 she became a naturalized citizen. Her career included teaching at several prestigious universities as well as writing poetry that captured contemporary concerns about war, politics, and religion.

Politics Throughout American history English immigrants and their descendants have been prominent in every level of government and every aspect of American political life. Eight of the first ten American presidents and the preponderance of all presidents, as well as the majority of legislators, judges, and other members of the national government, have English ancestors. The same can be said of business, entertainment, and the arts—in fact, until the twenty-first century, the acronym WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) was used to describe the dominant political and cultural class in the United States. That dominance is rapidly changing, however, as ethnic diversity increases.

Stage and Screen Perhaps the best-known English American of the twentieth century, screen actor Cary Grant (1904–1986) became an icon of sophistication. Born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England, Grant joined a traveling theatrical troupe while still in his teens and decided to stay in the United States when the troupe returned to England. He became a naturalized citizen in 1942. Grant's urbane charm was showcased in such classic comedies as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940) and in romantic thrillers including North by Northwest (1959) and Charade (1963). During his long career Grant was paired onscreen with such famous actresses as Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn. Grant is still viewed as the quintessential “leading man.” Other notable English-born American entertainers include film star Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011) and iconic stage and film comedian Bob Hope (1903–2003).


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A bimonthly magazine published by the British Tourist Authority that includes an abundance of pictures and special features on tourist attractions, festivals, and historical and architectural monuments. The publication is widely read in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.

Email: editor@britain-magazine.co.uk
URL: www.britain-magazine.com/

Guardian Weekly

The North American edition of the Guardian summarizes the news of the week in England and contains a variety of features, book reviews, international news articles, advertisements aimed at expatriates, and selections extracted from the Parisian Le Monde and the Washington Post. It has the largest circulation of any English newspaper in the United States.

19 West 44th Street
Suite 1613
New York, New York 10036
Phone: (212) 944-1179
URL: www.guardiannews.com

Journal of British Studies (JBS)

The official publication of the North American Conference on British Studies, JBS features book reviews and academic articles on British politics, society, economics, law, and the arts.

Brian Cowan, Editor
Elizabeth Elbourne, Editor
McGill University
Department of History
855 Sherbrooke West
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7
Email: jbs.history@mcgill.ca
URL: www.nacbs.org/index.php/journal-original/

Union Jack

This monthly newspaper brings news of Britain to the British community in the United States.

Ronald Choularton, Editor
P.O. Box 1823
La Mesa, California 91944
Phone: (619) 466-3129 or (800) 262-7305
URL: www.ujnews.com


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British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

The BBC publishes London Calling, a program guide for several shortwave radio programs that it broadcasts in the United States and other countries. The BBC also distributes some of its television series, such as The East-Enders, Mystery Theatre, and Are You Being Served, which are featured on the American Public Broadcasting System.

630 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 507-1500 or (212) 507-0033
URL: www.bbcamerica.com/


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Daughters of the British Empire in the United States of America National Society (DBE)

Founded during World War I, this charitable society maintains facilities for older British men and women.

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English-Speaking Union of the United States

Founded in 1920 to promote British-American friendship and understanding, the organization sponsors debates, lectures, and speakers. It provides scholarships and travel grants and has more than seventy branches throughout the United States. It publishes a quarterly newsletter.

144 East 39th Street
New York, New York 1001
Phone: (212) 818-1200
Fax: (212) 867-4177
Email: info@esuus.org
URL: www.esuus.org/esu/

International Society for British Genealogy and Family History (ISBGFH)

This group strives to foster interest in the genealogy and family history of persons of British descent, improve U.S.-British relations, increase the educational opportunities and knowledge of members and the public, and encourage preservation of historical records and access to these records.

P.O. Box 350459
Westminster, Colorado 80035
Email: president@isbgfh.org
URL: http://isbgfh.org/

North American Conference on British Studies

Founded in 1951, the national academic group promotes scholarly research and the discussion of British history and culture. It has seven regional branches, publishes the Journal of British Studies, and awards several prizes for the best new works in British studies.

Marjorie Levine Clark, Secretary
Email: marjorie.levine-clark@ucdenver.edu
URL: www.nacbs.org

St. George's Society of New York

Founded in 1770, the charitable organization limits membership to British citizens, their descendants, and members of Commonwealth nations. It provides assistance to needy British expatriates in the New York area.

John Shannon, Executive Director
216 East 45th Street
Suite 901
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 682-6110
Fax: (212) 682-3465
Email: info@stgeorgessociety.org
URL: http://stgeorgessociety.org/


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Center for British and Irish Studies

An interdisciplinary unit of the University of Colorado at Boulder operating under its own board of directors, the center concentrates on British history, literature, and art. Research collections in the university's libraries include microfilmed sets of original manuscripts and early books and journals from the medieval, early modern, and modern periods.

Jeremy Smith, Executive Director
301 UCB
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0226
Phone: (303) 492-2723
Fax: (303) 492-1881
Email: jeremy.smith@colorado.edu
URL: www.colorado.edu/artssciences/british

Yale Center for British Art

Founded in 1968, the center is part of Yale University. It includes the Paul Mellon collection of British art and rare books, and it features a gallery, lecture and seminar rooms, and a library of more than 100,000 volumes. Affiliated with the undergraduate and graduate programs at the university, the center provides scholarships for research projects.

1080 Chapel Street
New Haven, Connecticut 06520
Phone: (877) BRIT ART or (203) 432-2800
Email: ycba.info@yale.edu
URL: http://britishart.yale.edu/


Berthoff, Roland T. British Immigrants in Industrial America, 1790-1950. New York: Russell and Russell, 1968.

Bridenbaugh, Carl. Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1590-1642. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Bueltmann, Tanja, David T. Gleeson, and Donald M. MacRaild. Locating the English Diaspora, 1500-2010. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012.

Cohen, Robin. Frontiers of Identity: The British and the Others. London: Longmans, 1994.

Erickson, Charlotte. Invisible Immigrants: The Adaptation of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth-Century America. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1972.

Furer, Howard B., ed. The British in America: 1578-1970. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1972.

Noble, Allen G., ed. To Build a New Land: Ethnic Landscapes in North America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Tennenhouse, Leonard. The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750-1850. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300068