While English nationalism has recently become a subject of significant scholarly consideration, relatively little detailed research has been conducted on the emigrant and imperial contexts, or on the importance of Englishness within a global British identity. This article demonstrates how the importance of a global English identity can be illuminated through a close reading of ethnic associational culture. Examining organizations such as the St George's societies and the Sons of England, the article discusses the evolving character of English identity across North America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Antipodes. Beginning in the eighteenth century, when English institutions echoed other ethnic organizations by providing sociability and charity to fellow nationals, the article goes on to map the growth of English associationalism within the context of mass migration. It then shows how nationalist imperialism – a broad-based English defence of empire against internal and external threats – gave these associations new meaning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The article also explores how competitive ethnicity prompted English immigrants to form such societies and how both Irish Catholic hostility in America and Canada and Boer opposition in South Africa challenged the English to assert a more robust ethnic identity. English associationalism evinced coherence over time and space, and the article shows how the English tapped global reservoirs of strength to form ethnic associations that echoed their Irish and Scottish equivalents by undertaking the same sociable and mutual aspects, and lauded their ethnicity in similar fashion.