"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Appalachians -- Land, Trees, People, Whiskey, Singing

The Appalachians is a collection of short essays by twenty five or so individuals with ties to Appalachia.  There are contributions from musicians such as Johnny Cash as well as former long-time Senator Robert Byrd who died not very long ago and many more who lived there or had grandparents or parents who lived in this region of the country.  I have especially enjoyed the little tidbits describing the types of people making up this region, how their isolation in the past contributed to their almost tribal or clanish mentality while also making them independent and individualistic in nature.

I live near the "R" in Raleigh, North Carolina

Of course many pages are devoted to the land.  The beauty of the mountains and valleys as well as the importance of land to each family since it's where much of their existence derived.  The book includes little stories, poems or added information along the margins and I had to chuckle when a western North Carolina judge wrote of an overlook near Asheville where lovers drove out each night to walk and "do their courting."  Since "old folks are tolerated" there he mentioned going up and witnessing a beautiful sunset, yet "old as I am, I admired the round limbs and tapering waists and merry faces of the girls more than the grandeur of the mountains in the distance. Such is the frailty of poor mankind -- a slave to woman, no matter how silly, if she has a pretty face and ankle."  (pg. 9)   Ankle? This saying was from David Schenck in 1877 so I wonder what he'd say if he were alive today when he can get a glimpse of much more than just a "pretty face and ankle"!

The book spoke of the last real wilderness in America, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Graham County, North Carolina. Apparently it's so remote that it wasn't forested for trees initially and when foresting companies finally put their sights on it, the government had protection plans in place for saving it.  The author said one could go there and see very old and huge trees.  Now I want to go see it for myself!

The authors speak of the Hatfields and McCoys  -- the legendary feud that was popularized and deemed entertainment in other parts of the United States.  On those pages a quote by John Alexander Williams explained how things were:  "The Civil War accustomed people in Appalachia to use violence to settle grievances, and that lasted until the era of state police and automobiles.  There were two or three generations of extraordinary violence, extraordinary by national and regional standards. It took place on the edge of places, the edge of counties, the edge of states, where in the pre-automobile era, the arm of the law didn't quite reach." (pg. 71)

Moonshine still

Whiskey was often a form of money in the mountains.  Some preachers accepted home-brewed spirits in place of cash tithe!  When the struggling young nation needed tax revenue, President George Washington decided whiskey should be taxed.  The mountaineers who had fought against the English were not happy thus the Whiskey Rebellion happened where the mountain folks refused to pay the tax and "tarred and feathered, shot at, and chased out" tax collectors! "Why should we pay tax for drinking our own grain instead of eating it," they argued.  (pg. 32) One college professor notes that "in the late nineteenth century, 75 percent of all the Internal Revenue officers in the United States were stationed in the southern mountains, trying to enforce the liquor tax."  (pg. 85)  I suppose we all know modern NASCAR is rooted in running moonshine during Prohibition, right?  I didn't realize this, but during the frontier days, the people drank almost four times as much alcohol per capita than we do today! Of course alcohol was actually better to drink than some of the water available so maybe that's partly why.

This book also talks of country music and how it has its beginning in Appalachia especially among the Carter family.  You may recall Johnny Cash married into this family.  Storytelling and making up songs were ways of remembering the Old World and passing down traditions and happenings from there. Granted over time these stories took on a New World flavor.  For many years the Appalachians were mostly from the British Isles. Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots were Scottish people sent to live in northern Ireland as part of an experiment by the Queen of England.  These people later came to the United States and made their way down from Pennsylvania to settle Appalachia.  Additionally many Germans settled the region while later - especially when the coal mines opened - people from many more nationalities came to find work.

Music was very important to the people of Appalachia

Some say the term "hillbilly" comes from the "popularity of the names Bill, Will, Billy, and Willy among Ulster mountain men descended from Williamite soldiers of the Irish war of 1690."  (pg. 32)

What did you find most surprising?  Thoughts, comments, additions, corrections?


Amber said...

Interesting. A woman who used to work here was born in the Appalachians, but her mother gave her up for adoption so she wasn't raised there. She found her birth family later on and got to meet her sisters and brothers. Her parents had had a *lot* of kids and that's why she had been given up. They just couldn't take care of any more.

Susanne said...

Aw, I can't imagine being in such a predicament. Can you imagine having to give up a child because you had too many? Thanks for sharing that.

Amber said...

No. It must have been terribly painful. And she died before Peggy every found her family, so she never got to see the daughter she'd lost. It's very sad.

Lat said...

I thought that they were native Americans, not from British isles!:) So it's more of a European mix,er? Very interesting.

The 'slave of a woman' thing made me smile.With just a ankle barring,it was a 'poor mankind'.Now what sort of mankind would that be? :)

Thank you so much for sharing these esp about the civil war and taxation.These sort of things hardly goes away.It happens in every part of the world and it's always recurring as if men are blind to past history.

Susanne said...

Ah yes...sorry! I need to read a book about the Natives of this area. That sounds like a good topic for me to research and I have actually been thinking of that for several weeks now. Maybe I will find a good one at the library!

Thanks for your reply!

Becky said...

"I didn't realize this, but during the frontier days, the people drank almost four times as much alcohol per capita than we do today! Of course alcohol was actually better to drink than some of the water available so maybe that's partly why."

Well, I don't know about the strength of the brew there, but I know everyone (including kids) used to drink 4-6 liters of beer daily in Denmark (the food was also very salty, so that's why). Difference being that it wasn't very alcoholic at all, but much safer to drink than the water. Actually the alcoholic beer was only had by the rich and for special celebrations, as it was much harder and more expensive to make.

Susanne said...

Thanks for that interesting tidbit, Becky! I guess I was surprised because I know so many people who don't drink alcohol at all and for some reason I thought my society had a lot of drinkers. So to think they actually drank more back then momentarily surprised me. :)

Becky said...

You're welcome :)

Well I'm from a culture that drinks a lot. But I think it's also important to keep in mind that people didn't really know the dangers of alcohol back then. Also, of course I don't know about the specific case of the Appalachians, but at least here in Denmark people didn't regularly get drunk as such, they just drank practically every day. (1-2 beers with lunch, and then again with dinner). Also, the alcohol content has probably been lower, if it was brewed at home, which does make a difference too.

JLNL :-) said...

I was just thinking that I should pop over here and see if there were any of your recent reads I should check out and I think I've found one. *sigh* I miss the mountains :-)

There was a PBS series on the Appalachians. I only saw bits and pieces, but found it fascinating.

Will have to look for this book so I can pass their "homeland" history to Jake Bob and Becky Ann ... and little sis who carries the Carolina inspired mn.

Susanne said...

Love those nicknames! :D