Randolph Vigne, Charles Littleton, eds. From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland and Colonial America, 1550-1750. Brighton and Portland, Ore.: Sussex Academic Press, 2001. 1246 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-902210-86-5; $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-902210-85-8.
Reviewed by Alison Games (Department of History, Georgetown University)
Published on H-Atlantic (October, 2002)
Ethnicity and Assimilation in Britain and the Atlantic World
Ethnicity and Assimilation in Britain and the Atlantic World
This collection contains a remarkable fifty-seven essays on the subject of immigrant communities in the British Atlantic world. The essays were first given at a conference in 2001, and here have been published with varying degrees of revision. There is a great range in the quality of the essays. Some contain new research, some pose new paradigms, some offer broad overviews, and some of the weaker essays are based entirely on secondary research. But anyone interested in questions about migration, ethnicity, identity, Protestantism, and assimilation will find something of interest in this vast collection.
The fifty-seven essays are divided into nine sections. Eight examine the experiences of "strangers," as foreigners were called, in Britain and Ireland. These strangers were almost exclusively from the European continent, although one section looks at the experiences of Jews, Muslims, Africans, and Orthodox Christians in England and Ireland. It is especially refreshing to see the inclusion of Ireland in this volume and to find the experiences of Huguenot and Jewish communities set alongside more familiar experiences in England. Only one section (on non-British settlers in the British colonies of North America) has an explicitly Atlantic focus and it will likely be of particular interest to readers of this list.
These papers were delivered at a conference which marked the 450th anniversary of the charter granted by Edward VI in 1550 which permitted foreign Protestants in England to worship independently in their own churches, according to their own practices, and apart from the authority of the Church of England. The conference provided a forum in which scholars examined the experiences of these immigrants in the 200 years following this charter, "specifically regarding integration into their host societies in Britain, Ireland and the north American colonies" (p. 1). Thus the essays particularly engage the histories of Protestants from the European continent. The theme of the Protestant international is prominently featured throughout, with a consequent emphasis on the networks Protestants established. The emphasis on integration and assimilation (symbolized in a celebratory foreword by the Prince of Wales) explains the problematic and misleading title, From Strangers to Citizens. While foreigners were generally called strangers, most did not become citizens. Indeed, the terminology is anachronistic: inhabitants of the kingdom were (and are) subjects, with citizenship a particular privilege used to describe the rights of men who dwelled in particular cities. There were two legal statuses available to newcomers: denization and naturalization. Naturalization was the closest we might come to modern definitions of citizenship, as it removed most legal and economic encumbrances from strangers. But it was a rare occurrence, one most eagerly sought by merchants seeking trading privileges, and one requiring an act of parliament or, in the colonies, an act by a colonial assembly. Most of the people profiled in these essays were denizens and thus occupied a status distinct from the full legal privileges enjoyed by other subjects.
Although many of the essays tend to highlight important religious figures and well-placed merchants (occasionally to the detriment of giving us a sense of the broader population of migrants), there are two noticeable exceptions to this trend. First, several essays explore the experiences of artisan communities and of foreign communities in provincial towns. Essays by Nigel Goose on the Dutch in Colchester and by Laura Hunt Yungblut on foreigners in Norwich and Colchester, for example, introduce us to the entirety of the stranger population and to the variety of archival sources available for delineating their experiences. Similarly, essays by Alison Olson on Huguenots, Palatines, and Salzburgers and by William O'Reilly on German-speaking migrants and the Naturalization Act of 1709 demonstrate a refreshing conceptual and geographic breadth. O'Reilly includes the colonies as well as Ireland and Britain in his essay, and he demonstrates the utility of these comparisons. Second, the essays on the American colonies consistently engage a much broader population than the top-heavy focus of so many of the essays on England and Ireland. The essays by Joyce Goodfriend (on the Dutch in seventeenth-century New York City) and by Bertrand van Ruymbeke (on the Huguenots) are particularly admirable. Goodfriend, for example, explores the intertwined relationship between demographic and institutional dominance by the Dutch and English in New York, and offers an interesting parallel to Goose's discussion of assimilation by the Dutch in Colchester. Van Ruymbeke uses the Huguenots as a way to engage larger issues about ethnicity and assimilation. His essay, moreover, illustrates one of the great strengths of the essays on colonial America: they consistently connect the experiences of the populations they study in America with their backgrounds in Europe. They also point to the ethnic complexity and fluidity of colonial life and to the porousness of colonial boundaries. April Lee Hatfield's essay on Dutch inhabitants in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake, for example, provides a refreshing reminder of the presence of stranger communities in those settlements more typically defined by their English (and later African) populations.
Overall, the collection would have been stronger with a more visible editorial presence. Many of the individual essays required a heavier editorial hand. Several present historical events in the present tense (perhaps a remnant of oral presentations), and one essay by Michelle Magdelaine starts in English before it shifts without explanation into French. This is a particularly interesting essay on an unrealized scheme to resettle Huguenots in Ireland, and it is a shame that it might be overlooked by some readers who are bewildered or excluded by the language shift. Above all, a more elaborate introduction which endeavored to connect the different sections of the volume, to highlight common themes, or to make explicit the linkages only implicit in the different essays would have been valuable. Readers are left to find for themselves the connections among the fifty-seven essays.
These complaints do not detract from the overall richness of the volume. One great strength of these essays, a reflection of their considerable variety, is the way in which they call attention to the range of sources available to historians who are interested in analyzing the experiences of migrants. Here we see church records, poor-relief accounts, plays, and autobiographical and confessional narratives employed with great dexterity. Nineteen of the essays are biographical but they introduce us to a wide range of figures--a court upholsterer, an artist, many religious writers and leaders. Those who persevere to the end of the volume will be rewarded by Carolyn Lougee Chappell's fascinating essay, "What's in a Name? Self-Identification of Huguenot Refugees in 18th-Century England." Frustrated by the emphasis in Huguenot escape narratives on the experiences of the most privileged and male contingent of the exodus, Chappell takes advantage of a customary divergence between English and French marriage conventions to uncover as best she can the ways in which Huguenot refugees assimilated to English practices. French women did not take the name of their husbands on marriage: instead, lineage trumped the nuclear family, and women maintained their birth name. In England, by custom although not by law, women in the same period took their husband's name. Chappell examined marriage records and wills to look for patterns of naming over the course of the eighteenth century and thereby to assess assimilation by Huguenots to English norms. It is an imaginative approach to an important question, and, like the volume it anchors, it suggests new ways to consider fundamental issues of assimilation, ethnicity, and identity in the Atlantic world.
Alison Games. Review of Vigne, Randolph; Littleton, Charles, eds., From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland and Colonial America, 1550-1750.
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