Puritan descendants in New England?

There’s an idea going around the Internet that the liberal/progressive politics of New England are attributable to the fact that the people there are the descendants of the old Puritan colonists.

This strikes me as incorrect. I’ve long noticed the frequency in New England, even in some rural areas, of surnames which are Irish, French, Italian or Portuguese, when one might expect English surnames to far outnumber them.

Statistics indicate that people of English (presumably Colonial-stock) descent are in a minority in much of New England. The Census records from back in 2000 for the state of Vermont showed that the percentage of people of English descent was 18.4%, followed closely by Irish at 16.4 percent, followed by German and French(Canadian). Obviously in the last couple of decades, mass immigration and the shifting of native-born populations (urban people moving to suburbs or rural areas due to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and other causes) has changed the makeup of many parts of America.

A relevant fact: the scarcity of old-stock ‘Yankee’ Congressmen.

As for New England in general, of the top ten European ancestries in that region, Irish was at the head of the list, with 21.1%. English ancestry was fourth, with a mere 13.7%. Other ethnicities in the top ten included French, Italian, Portuguese, (as I expected) and in the tenth spot, Russian — which I didn’t expect.

13.7% is just not a very significant number.

Yet we have people insisting that the descendants of the old Puritans inhabit New England, and it’s they who are to blame for the politics of that area, including the recent violence at a speech by Charles Murray at a college in Vermont. Why are some people on the right so determined to blame the Puritan influence from centuries ago?

A more plausible explanation, and a simpler one,  would be that as New England received a lot of immigration, starting in the early to mid-19th century, from more ‘diverse’ countries, countries which did not share the English idea of liberty or representative government. Many of the immigrants, who arrived in the Ellis Island era, brought more socialistic ideas. Generally the ethnic groups named in the lists above are groups who tend to have ‘liberal’ beliefs and tend to vote heavily Democratic.

The idea that somehow there is a lingering ‘Puritan’ spirit in New England that explains the politics of that region is absurd. Do the ghosts of the old Puritans haunt the place? Does New England have ‘magic dirt’ that transformed the later ethnic immigrants into leftists?

If we want to find ‘flesh-and-blood’ descendants of those Puritans, we’d have better luck finding them in Utah, for instance, which has the highest percentage of English-descended Americans of any state, according to some information. Many of those people in Utah are in fact direct descendants of colonial stock Puritans; many are descended from Mormons who migrated there in the 19th century.

Actually there is probably a greater percentage of Americans of English descent in parts of the South; that area was spared from mass immigration for a good while. And the South is not known for its liberal politics; quite the contrary.

And no, the Puritans were not of a different ethnicity than the English colonists of the South. This idea that the two groups are different peoples is silly, and I doubt that DNA tests would show any such divide. A case could be made that some of the aristocratic colonists, such as the ‘FFV’, or First Families of Virginia, tended to have more Norman ancestry, but otherwise there is no big genetic gulf between the Northern colonists and the Southern, despite the urban legend to that effect.

Playing ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-Anglo-Saxon’, whether Puritan or otherwise, is so trite, so lazy, and so politically correct. Look instead to the Ellis Island-era immigrant stock in New England to explain the culture and politics there.


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