Saturday, May 31, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Appalachian Abolitionism"


Hello and welcome to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

First of all, I should apologize for my neglect of this podcast over the past month. As some of you know, I just started a new job that required me to move to South Korea. So the move, work, and adjusting to life in a new country have taken most of my free time. However, I have not forgotten Podcast Appalachia and plan to continue to produce new episodes, hopefully more regularly than I have this month. So please bear with me, and hopefully I can get back to a more regular schedule in the near future.

With that being said, let’s get onto Appalachia.

A little known chapter of Appalachian history that should be a source of pride for all of us is the role Appalachians played in the Abolitionist movement. Abolitionism, of course, was the nineteenth century movement to abolish slavery in the United States. While names like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the radical John Brown (no relation) are closely associated with abolitionism today, countless different people played a role in ending slavery, and many of them were Appalachians.

Early abolitionists often found inspiration in their faith. John Brown and Henry Ward Beecher, for example, were both ministers. Quakers had also long been morally opposed to human slavery, so it’s not surprising that the Appalachian region of Pennsylvania, with its large Quaker population, became a region sympathetic to abolitionists. But further south Quakers and people of other faiths were also decrying the inhumanity of human bondage.

In the early 1800s a Presbyterian minister near Jonesborough, TN named Samuel Doak began to challenge popular acceptance of slavery. Although slaves were more scarce in the mountain South than in the rest of the South, the mountain elites were dependent on the institution and thus largely defended it. Although Doak was moderate by later standards, he did profess to personally oppose human bondage and encouraged theological debate on the issue. This encouragement of debate would lead to many of his followers embracing the anti-slavery cause and would help influence his fellow Presbyterians in the Cumberland church to oppose slavery. Eventually Doak would become convinced as well.

Born in 1749 in Augusta County, VA, Doak graduated from Princeton in 1775. A staunch supporter of education, he helped establish Tusculum College. Doak himself had been a slave owner, but had become convinced of the evils of slavery in 1818. In response, he freed his own slaves and advocated immediate emancipation for the rest of his life.

One of Doak’s students who would become fiercely anti-slavery was Elihu Embree. Embree had grown up a Quaker but had left the faith as an adult and toward the popular elite belief in deism, which held that God had set the universe into motion but did not play a role in day-to-day events. By 1812, however, Embree came to reject deism and returned to Quakerism, and with it, a strong opposition to slavery.

Elihu Embree had likely been instilled with an abhorrence of slavery from an early age. His father, Thomas Embree, had written a letter to a Knoxville newspaper in 1797 calling for a gradual abolition of slavery. It’s no surprise then that Embree would become the star of anti-slavery activism in the mountain South.

An acquaintance of Embree who would also become an outspoken abolitionist was North Carolinian Charles Osborn. Also a Quaker, Osborn become an itinerate minister in 1809 traveling throughout the mountains establishing meetinghouses in both the North and the South. Anywhere he preached, he spoke out against an injustice he saw all around him: the bondage of African-Americans and the need to emancipate them.

Many people today would be surprised to learn that the first anti-slavery society formed in the United States was formed in East Tennessee, but it is true. Osborn established anti-slavery societies in most of the places he visited, and the first was in Jefferson County, TN. In 1815 Osborn and a small group of Quakers founded the Tennessee Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves. Over the next year sixteen chapters were created in East Tennessee, boasting hundreds of members. These chapters were united under the renamed Manumission Society of Tennessee. Elihu Embree was also an early leader of this group. This society was the first in America dedicated to the abolition of slavery, truly a visionary group.

There was disagreement among members of the Society as to what form emancipation should take; some favored gradual emancipation, others immediate emancipation. But there was universal agreement that emancipation should come. All members of the society were required to post the following message in their homes: “Freedom is the natural right of all men; I therefore acknowledge myself a member of the Tennessee Society for promoting the manumission of slaves.”

Critics of Elihu Embree and his efforts pointed out some hypocrisy on his part: while he vocally abhorred slavery, he was himself a slave owner. Embree had inherited some slaves. Although he would eventually free them, he felt a great sense of personal guilt for having taken part in such a horrendous institution. The hypocrisy of both owning slaves and opposing was shared by many Americans, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

There were also more radical abolitionists in Appalachia. John Rankin, another Presbyterian minister, for example, and his father-in-law Adam Lowry both favored immediate emancipation of slaves. Rankin was born in Jefferson County, TN in 1793. A fiery minister, he preached an anti-slavery sermon in Jefferson County that earned him censure from elders of his church, he told him he should consider leaving Tennessee if he wanted to oppose slavery from the pulpit. He took their advice and relocated to Ohio.

In Ohio Rankin and his wife would become involved in the Underground Railroad, a secret network that helped escaped slaves reach the North, and, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, to Canada. He also wrote many letters condemning slavery that would later be published by the leading abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. These letters would be very influential to Garrison, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Garrison would even call Rankin his “anti-slavery father” and state “his book on slavery was the cause of my entering the anti-slavery conflict."

Many people today assume that Garrison’s The Liberator was the first anti-slavery periodical, but that is not so. In reality, that honor falls on Appalachians from the mountain South.

The first anti-slavery was published in 1817 by Charles Osborn, who by then had left the south and moved to Mount Pleasant, Ohio. His newspaper, entitled The Philanthropist, called for an immediate end to slavery and, he hoped, would educate northerners about the evils of the institution.

Further south, Osborn’s old friend Elihu Embree was outraged and felt there was not sufficient discussion of the moral issues surrounding slavery, such as the treatment of the slaves themselves. He even went so far as to criticize the North for its silence and indifference on the issue.

In 1819 the Manumission Society of Tennessee, under the leadership of Embree, began publishing in Manumission Intelligencer. This newspaper was published weekly and a subscription could be purchased for $3 anywhere in the U.S. The newspaper focused on abolitionist activities in Tennessee, but also featured other news as well. The newspaper was almost completely financed by Embree at a very difficult time for him financially, demonstrating his commitment to the cause of freedom. Unfortunately, very few copies of this newspaper survive today.

A year later, in 1820, the newspaper switched formats to a monthly newspaper and changed its name to The Emancipator, although Embree remained editor. The newspaper would gain about 2,500 subscribers, as big as any newspaper in Tennessee or Kentucky at the time. Predictably it was also very controversial as it condemned slave owners in the strongest possible terms. Sadly, the paper would last only eight months. In December 1820 Embree died at the age of 38. Had he survived longer, perhaps it would be his name and newspaper instead of that of William Lloyd Garrison that would fill our history books. Nevertheless, Embree and his efforts deserve to be remembered for advocating a heroic point of view in a place and time that was incredibly hostile to that point of view.

Embree’s newspaper was not the only one of its kind in a slave state. In eastern Kentucky, an Appalachian named John Finley Crow launched his own anti-slavery newspaper in 1822. Entitled Abolition Intelligencer and Missionary Magazine, it was published monthly and was solely dedicated to the abolition of slavery. In the magazine’s own words, “to aid, so far as they may have their power, the cause of suffering humanity.”

The controversy on whether slavery should be allowed to spread into the western territories, particularly in regard to the Missouri compromise, would serve as a rallying cry for Appalachian abolitionists. In the Missouri Compromise, Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state while Maine was admitted as a free state. This was to keep an equal number of slave and free states in the union; neither side was willing to cede the majority of states on the issue. Additionally, all other territory west of Missouri was divided 36 degrees by 20’ north; slavery was allowed south of this line but prohibited north of it. Although considered a “compromise,” this act enraged anti-slavery forces.

Unfortunately, abolitionism would slowly fade away in the mountains as the nineteenth century rolled along. As slavery became more and more a polarizing issue, the environment in the south became less and less tolerant of anti-slavery voices. Some southern states even made the possession of anti-slavery material a crime. As a result, abolitionism in the south faded away, and those southerners who continued to oppose slavery were either forced to keep quiet or relocate to the north lest they face reprisals from pro-slavery radicals.

Nevertheless, the efforts of Appalachian abolitionists deserve to remembered for their efforts on behalf of human liberty. While they may not be remembered as well as their more famous colleagues in the north, they unquestionably influenced the abolitionist cause and helped make America more adequately live up to her ideals as a land of liberty for all.

The sources for this podcast were The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Judy Haskell and The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America by Jeff Biggers.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. As always, a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is Also, please feel free to suggest topics for future episodes. I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "King Coal"



Hello and welcome to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Today I want to discuss Appalachia’s most important natural resource, a black, dusty rock that fueled the industrial revolution and one that countless people have given their lives to extract from the earth. This rock has led to an unprecedented increase in the standard of living, but has also done much damage to the natural environment. This resource, of course, is coal.

No single rock has had a great influence on Appalachian society than coal, nor has any other single mineral been more controversial. Coal is very important in generating energy; indeed, it’s difficult to imagine our economy functioning without it. Certainly, without coal the industrial revolution as we know it would not have been possible without coal.

In the Appalachian region, mining has shaped, or given rise to, thousands of mountain communities and provided employment for generations of mountain people. At the same time, the extraction of coal is very dangerous. Many miners have lost their lives in pursuit of this dirty rock. Additionally, the mining and burning of coal has produced many pollutants. Coal truly is a blessing and a curse, and which of these it is more of is a topic that has been debated for years.

Coal is ancient. It was formed from the remains of land plants that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Appalachian coal was formed from peat deposited which had accumulated from the remains of tropical plants. The peat from these plants, which grew in swamps, built up around 290-320 million years ago. It is from this that coal is born.

In order for coal to form, its building blocks must be buried deep below the surface of the earth. Once peat was buried thousands of feet underground, the temperature and pressure began the coalification process.

The different ranks of coal are the result of differences in levels of heat as well as the depth and length of burial. The differences in ranks are the result of the level of carbon content: the higher the content, the more heat value the coal has.

Coal is also ranked by grade or quality, which is determined by the content of ash, mineral matter, and sulfur. Mineral matter does not add to the energy potential of coal, and must therefore be disposed of following combustion. Most of the environmental problems associated with coal as a fuel source stem from the sulfur content.

Coal mining in the United States began in 1750 near present-day Richmond, VA. A few years later mining began in Pennsylvania, near present-day Pittsburgh, where it would play a major role in the formation of that city. Coal mining would not extend to West Virginia and east Tennessee until the early 1800s, however.

Early mining was predictably very primitive. It usually consisted of digging small tunnels in stream banks where the flows had exposed coal beds. By the 1850s drills and steel scrapers, which were pulled by horses, were used in mining. This mining was normally on a very small scale and had only minimal effects on the environment.

By the 1870s, coal mining was becoming more industrialized. Prior to this time, most of the coal extracted in Appalachia was put to use in the region. By this time, markets were extended well beyond the region. This was the result of the amazing economic growth America experienced between the Civil War and World War I. Railroads were constructed to aid in the transportation of coal and various new technologies were utilized to aid in its extraction. Thus, coal became a large scale operation in Appalachia.

It was during this time of expansion that many of the problems we now associate with mining began to become more apparent. While a small scale operation, mining entailed only minor risks and did very little long term damage to the land. However, as the industry grew, so did the dangers. Miners found themselves going deeper and deeper beneath the surface, increasing the dangers of mining. Safety conditions inside many mines were truly deplorable, and numerous mines used child or convict labor. Additionally, the impact of coal mining became more obvious in the physical environment.

At the same time, coal was proving to be essential in the growth American was experiencing. It provided relatively inexpensive heat and energy for many Americans. So while coal did have inherent dangers, it also led to an unprecedented improvement in the standard of living for many Americans, as well as a period of incredible economic expansion.

During the late 1800s coal operators began to build their own communities for their employees. Although they employed some native Appalachians, they also began importing immigrant labor from Europe. African Americans were brought to the region as well to work in the mines. It is estimated that immigrants comprised about 1/3 of miners between 1880 and 1920. Unfortunately, these immigrants were sometimes used as scapegoats by native miners who were frustrated by the actions of mining operators.

The mining communities were often very repressive, as coal operators exerted great control over the miners’ daily lives. Companies owned everything in the towns in which their employees lived and could evict miners for any reason they saw fit. Often they paid miners with tokens instead of legal tender. These tokens could only be spent at company-owned stores. And of course, miners were prohibited from joining unions.

The mines themselves were also very dangerous. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries several mining disasters illustrated the danger to most Americans. One such disaster occurred in Anderson County, TN in 1902. The Fraterville Mine had long been considered one of the safest in the country and certainly had unusually good working conditions. Miners were allowed to own their own property and even to unionize, a rarity during the 1890s. But even in these ideal conditions, disasters could still happen.

On May 19, 1902 disaster struck as an explosion rocked the mine. The owner of the mine, George Camp, mounted an aggressive rescue effort but tragically he could not save his miners. In the end, 216 men and boys were killed, practically wiping out the entire adult male population of the community. At least ten of miners, trapped far below the surface, survived long enough—perhaps as long as seven hours—to write farewell messages to loved ones before succumbing to suffocation.

Five years later an even larger tragedy would strike in Monongah, WV. At 10 AM on December 6, 1907 the worst mining disaster in American history occurred. On that day there were explosions inside mines six and eight, which were connected by tunnels. A cave-in then blocked the entrance to the mines, preventing rescue efforts and leaving those miners who survived the explosion trapped inside. The explosion also destroyed one of the fans, preventing ventilation and causing the mines to slowly fill with poisonous gasses. Rescue efforts were also hampered by fire. All told, at least 362 men and boys died in the disaster, although the number may have been as high as 478. Most of the victims were European immigrants.

The unsafe conditions, along with low pay, too much control over miners’ lives by coal operators, and competition from foreign labor, led to movements toward unionization by miners. The United Mine Workers of America, or UMW, was founded in 1890, although it would take many years before membership became common. Predictably, mining operators strongly opposed these unionization efforts.

The UMW at first had very little power. However, when it pulled off its first successful strike in 1902, critics had to concede that it was gaining influence. After this strike, the union experienced steady, if often difficult growth.

The drive for unionization led to outright violence in many locations. Mine operators would often use thugs to intimidate miners. Miners would sometimes retaliate with violence as well. In many communities, this violence led to outright war. Though such wars took place in several parts of Appalachia, the most famous happened in West Virginia, culminating in the famous Battle of Blair Mountain.

Between 1898 and the early 1910s numerous efforts were made to unionize West Virginia coalminers, but they were at first mostly unsuccessful. During World War I the union began to make some headway, establishing a foothold in District 17. This became an island of unionism, surrounded by non-unionized mines. From this enclave the union began to aggressively attempt to unionize workers throughout the state.

These unionization efforts were largely successful, and by 1919 most of West Virginia’s coalmines were unionized. However, five counties in southern WV—Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, Mercer, and McDowell—remained non-union. Unions were kept out of these counties by intimidation and violence on the part of mine operators in these areas.

The tactics used by anti-union forces quickly became more serious than simple threats. In what miners called the “gun thug” system, coal operators hired thugs from such outfits as the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to utilize beatings to ensure the labor force remained union-free. In Logan County, the police force was also used to terrorize any miners who considered joining a union.

It should be noted that not all police forces where in the pockets of coal operators. Many law enforcement officers actively supported the miners. In 1920 Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield defended the miners from agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who had come to evict the families of striking miners from their homes. A shootout ensued, killing at least 10 men, including two bystanders who had nothing to do with either side. The surviving “detectives” were tried for murder, but were acquitted. For his efforts, Chief Hatfield emerged as a hero to the miners.

Sadly, Hatfield would pay dearly for his heroism. On August 1, 1921 he was murdered by anti-union forces. News of his death spread quickly throughout the coalfield, and less than a week later 5,000 miners and pro-union forces gathered in Charleston to protest Gov. Morgan’s decision to impose martial law in Mingo County. They were also treated to several pro-union speakers, including Mary Harris Jones, better known as “Mother” Jones.

On August 20th miners began to assemble in Marmet to prepare for an armed march south. Four days later they began the 65 mile march south to Mingo County. The purpose of this march was to avenge the death of Hatfield, overthrow martial law in Mingo County, unionize Logan and Mingo county miners, and to hang Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin, who was strongly and violently anti-union.

The federal government, seeing the strong potential for bloodshed, decided to intervene. President Warren Harding sent word to the marchers, ordering them to stop and disperse. Some of the miners heeded this warning and went home, but others continued to march southward, eventually meeting anti-union forces under the the command of Sheriff Chafin.

On August 30 the miners made their first organized attack. A group led by Rev. John Wilburn advanced up Blair Mountain and engaged three deputies under Chafin. Two of the officers were killed, as was one miner. The next day, fighting erupted all along the line. Miners assaulted Chafin’s defenses, breaking through on September 1. Chafin, now very concerned, was forced to activate his reserves and even utilize his air force, which dropped black powder and gas bombs on the miners.

That same day federal troops intervened to put a stop to the fighting. They succeeded in disarming most of the miners by September 3rd, although fighting would continue until the 4th. More than 500 participants were indicted for murder and treason, although only one was ever convicted.

Although the fighting was intense, casualties were mercifully low. Deaths from both sides totaled only 16 men. Although forced to disband, the miners felt they had won the day. However, area miners would not become unionized until 1933.

With unionization, better technology and equipment, more concern for safety, and more oversight, mining has clearly become safer over the years. However, there is only so safe that mining can be. Digging a mile underground and removing coal will always entail certain risks. The Quecreek Mine disaster, which happened in Somerset County, PA in 2002 had a happy ending when all nine miners were rescued after being trapped underground for 78 hours. The Sago Mine disaster of Upshur County, WV, however, ended in tragedy when only one of the 12 trapped miners were rescued in 2006. Disasters such as these always revive debates on mining safety issues and the proper level of government regulation.

Another controversy surrounding mining has been its environmental impact. The burning of coal has been a major contributor in poor air quality and the carbon it emits is held by many scientists to be a major factor in climate change.

Another controversy surrounding the environmental impact of mining is mountaintop removal, the most controversial of all mining techniques. In this process, all trees and vegetation are removed from the top of a mountain. After this, explosives are used to blast away the tops of the mountains, exposing the coal underneath. The rocks and soil from the mountaintop is then pushed into the nearby valley, sometimes destroying streams that flow through the area. To get to deeper coal, this process may be repeated several times. After all the coal is removed, the land is “reclaimed” by seeding, allowing the vegetation to return. However, the mountain and valleys of course never come back. Thus the mountains, which took millions of years to form, are destroyed forever in a matter of days.

Mountaintop removal is a fairly new process, having first begun in Appalachia during the 1970s as an extension of strip mining. Proponents of the process point to its efficiency, arguing that it can produce coal at a much lower cost. This process also utilizes few miners, and working conditions are safer for these miners.

Opponents point out the environment devastation it causes, as well as the economic impact as it makes the landscape completely ugly and discourages tourism. The fact that it employs fewer miners also means that those living in communities affected are less likely to reap economic benefits. When the coal is completely extracted, the mining companies usually pack up and leave, leaving local residents with fewer economic opportunities and a ravaged landscape.

Although coal mining has provided employment for generations of Appalachians, it has also been responsible for much suffering and heartache. Images of mining in Appalachia tend to be complex: while showing great respect and admiration for miners themselves, they tend to paint coal companies in a very negative light.

This of course represents a basic truth: coal mining is a double-edged sword for Appalachia with both very real and stark advantages and disadvantages. Over the years many observers have wondered if coal has been a net advantage or net disadvantage for the region. It is likely that debate on this issue will continue for years to come.

The sources for this episode were the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell; Coal: A Human History by Barbara E. Freese; the website of Appalachian Voices, available at, and the website of the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, available at

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. I greatly appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received, as well as all the webmasters and bloggers who have linked to this podcast. As always, a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at, as well as two videos of photography from the region that you might enjoy. If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is You can also find this podcast on myspace at I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Appalachian Music"



You’re listening to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Today’s episode is based on a suggestion I received from a listener known as the Vol Abroad, who maintains an interesting blog about her life in England at She requested an episode on Appalachian music, and the influence it has had on various genres. Well, I hope you enjoy this episode!

Music has become one of the most widely recognized aspects of Appalachian culture, both inside and outside the region. With the help of concerts and radio, Appalachian music and musicians have achieved worldwide fame, and the distinctive styles of Appalachian music and musicians have become representatives of the Appalachian region to fans throughout the world. Additionally, Appalachian music has proven to be very influential within numerous other genres of music as well.

The two most obvious genres of music with heavy Appalachian influence are Bluegrass and Country, but, as is often the case, the reality is far more complex than many observers assume. Appalachians have indeed been critical in the development of Bluegrass and Country music, but they have also provided much influence to various other genres as well, including rock, rhythm and blues, and even pop.

The earliest music to come from the Appalachian region is today the most obscure. It is the music of the Cherokee and other Native American groups. This music is often considered sacred and was frequently performed only as part of secret rituals that were of course closed to outsiders. Over the years, it’s likely that much of this music has been lost. Regardless, very few recording exist, leaving much Native American music shrouded in mystery. What is known that more recent Cherokee music has been both influenced by and influential to European and African American music.

The greatest single ethnic influence on the music of Appalachian comes from Celtic traditions. The fiddle, for example, was brought to the mountains by settlers from Scotland and Ireland. It had been used widely in Scotland since the prohibition against bagpipes following the Scottish defeat at the battle of Culloden in 1746. Numerous traditional Appalachian ballads, among them “Pretty Polly,” “Wind and Rain,” “Butcher Boy,” and “Jack Went A-Sailing” also all stem from Scottish origins.

The first musical traditions of European origin to appear in Appalachia came from the British Isles, in the form of ballads and fiddling. Such ballads often told sad stories of British origin, sometimes featuring real life tragedies and natural disasters. Ballad form originated in Europe during the Middle Ages and was strongly established in Britain by the 1400s. References to places and people in Britain were sometimes changed to reflect people and places in Appalachia, but this did not happen as often as one might expect. In fact, many songs remained unchanged as later research would indicate.

During World War I, an English song collector named Cecil Sharp began collecting ballads from Appalachia. With the help of an assistant, Sharp collected over 100 Old World ballads that were still being sung in the mountains with little or no variation from the early versions sang by their ancestors in Europe centuries before.

Because so many tradition forms of British music had survived in Appalachia, collectors and folklorists took a special interest in the region. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries many songs were transcribed by collectors, thus creating a valuable record of Appalachian music of that era.

By the mid-19th century an unlikely merging of Celtic and African American music began to occur. Rural whites began to learn to play the banjo, which had been brought to the New World from Africa during the 1700s. These white musicians learned to play from African Americans themselves and started to incorporate this new instrument into their own music. The result was a unique brand of music existing only in Appalachia.

Another early influence on Appalachian music comes from religious hymns. Music had long been an important part of church life, and became especially so with the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. The Good News of salvation was communicated very effectively through music, especially in the Methodist and Baptist denominations. Later, English hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone” became quite popular in Appalachia and remain so today.

Gospel music was also extremely important in African American churches. Many of the most important African American gospel performers were from Appalachia, specifically from the American Missionary Association. The Tuskegee Institute Singers of Alabama, for example, borrowed heavily from harmonic patterns of the European tradition. These aspects would become important to African American gospel and remain present even today. Thus there was great cultural and musical exchange in Appalachia: African Americans influenced traditionally white music genres and vice versa.

Thomas A. Dorsey of Georgia was a pioneer of modern African American gospel music. He was the author of many songs, including “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley,” which were adopted by both black and white churches and can still be heard today.

During the 1920s Appalachian music began to reach a much wider audience with the advent of radio. The first of this music to be heard over the airwaves was Southern gospel, which would eventually include such well known acts as the Statler Brothers, the Speer Family, and the Blackwood Brothers.

Unfortunately, many early music producers from outside the region relied on stereotypes to market the music. Most of these producers also showed little interest in keeping the music true to its original form, instead choosing to alter it to make it more marketable to a broader audience. As a result, Appalachian music presented to wider audiences was different from that which native Appalachians enjoyed. Music producers in the 1920s and 1930s encouraged musicians to alter their sounds, sometimes encouraging less use of instrumental tunes and more popular songs and folk songs. Also strongly discouraged were traditional ballads, considered too long and complex for mainstream audiences who wanted simpler music.

Country music, a genre very closely associated with Appalachia, emerged during the 1920s. Originally known as “hillbilly music”—the term was not yet considered derogatory—country music drew from various musical traditions, including Appalachian ballads, gospel, and others. It was also heavily influenced by African Americans; country legends such as Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family all learned songs and techniques from African Americans musicians.

Most historians believe the country music recording industry began in 1923 with recordings of “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow” by Fiddlin’ John Carson. This recording happened on June 9, 1923 in Atlanta. These two songs became the first country recording to be released, an early milestone in country music history

Another seminal event in the history of country music occurred in Bristol, TN with the Bristol Sessions. During the summer of 1927 Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company recorded 76 performances by 19 groups. Musicians came from Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia to audition, and included various genres of music such as gospel, blues, and vaudeville.

In spite of this diversity of music, the greatest achievement of the Bristol Sessions was the discovery of two acts that would become country music legends—Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Rodgers had been born in Mississippi and moved to Asheville earlier that year. He had performed on the radio in western North Carolina, including on WWNC, but the Bristol recording sessions proved to be his big break. He would go on to record over 100 songs and become widely known as the “Father of Country Music.”

The Carter family hailed from Scott County, VA, and became the most important country music recording act prior to World War II. Patriarch A. P Carter and matriarch Sara Carter, along with sister-in-law Maybelle, sang traditional ballads, hymns, and Victorian popular songs. While the marriage of A. P. and Sara would later fail, their influence did not, and the Carter family remains the first family of country music.

As a result of the 1927 Bristol recording sessions, Bristol, TN now lays claim to being the birthplace of country music. However, after the mid-1930s, most country music was recorded in Nashville—outside Appalachia.

Another genre of music with heavy Appalachian influence is Bluegrass music. Bluegrass was actually born outside the Appalachian region—Bill Monroe, “the father of Bluegrass music” was from western Kentucky. Even so, Appalachian musicians have been very important to its development, among them Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. Bluegrass used many elements of traditional Appalachian music, including string-bands, harmony singing of quartets, and high pitched vocals, or “high lonesome.” Many of Bluegrass’ roots can be found in Scots-Irish folk music.

Bluegrass music is characterized by intense delivery—sometimes known as “high lonesome”—and generally places greater emphasis on instruments, including the fiddle, the five-string banjo, upright acoustic bass, and others.

Bill Monroe, “The Father of Bluegrass,” hailed from western Kentucky, although his heritage was heavily influenced by Appalachia, and the music he produced was most influential in the region. Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Blues debuted at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, although most scholars agree that classic bluegrass began with Earl Scruggs’ three-finger picking, which was added to the group in 1945.

Early on, bluegrass was simply considered a segment of country music. It was not until the mid-1950s that the term bluegrass was used as a label. Many early stars of bluegrass came from the Appalachian region. Early stars included Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Red Smiley, Jimmy Martin, and Sonny Osborne.

Bluegrass remains quite popular today. It is estimated that 500 bluegrass festivals are being held annually in the United States, with smaller numbers being held in such far off places as Canada, Europe, and Japan. Although most popular in Appalachia, bluegrass music has proven it can find an audience almost anywhere!

Another important musical genre in Appalachia is Blues. Although it is not well known, many subgenres of blues music, as well as music with blues influence, such as soul and rhythm and blues, are influenced by traditional Appalachian music.

The Blues began among African Americans in the lowland South during the later part of the 19th century. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many African Americans relocated into urban centers in Appalachia. In doing so, they encountered many traditional European music styles, and great cultural exchange occurred. As a result, various distinct styles of blues music can be found in different parts of Appalachia.

For example, Piedmont blues became popular in the Blue Ridge foothills of the Carolinas. It differed from other forms of blues in that it utilized fingerpicked acoustic guitars and stylistic elements of European music. Popular musicians of this distinctive brand of the blues included Willie Walker, Brownie McGhee, and Etta Baker, all native Appalachians. Both whites and blacks attended their performances, although unfortunately they usually did so separately.

Given the Appalachian influence on bluegrass, country, and blues music, it should come as no surprise that Appalachian music has also influenced rock and roll. Rock music emerged during the 1950s from a fusion between various genres of music, including blues, gospel and country—all of which were heavily influenced by Appalachian music.

Rock’s earliest pioneers Elvis Presley and Bill Haley hailed from just outside the fringes of Appalachia. In listening to both performers’ music, it is easy to recognize the influence of country, blues, and even gospel, albeit with a much edgier sound. Elvis has the distinction of being the only musician ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Hall of Fame. That last induction might be a little ironic given the criticism he often received from ministers who felt his music was a corrupting influence on 1950s youth!

Appalachian music has been highly romanticized outside the region for its preservation of earlier musical influences. Recent movies like O Brother Where Art Thou? have also helped bring attention to Appalachian music from a wide audience.

As we have seen, Appalachia has a rich musical tradition that has influenced countless musicians of various genres. Appalachian music can trace its origins centuries back to the British Isles and to Africa, and to numerous societies and traditions within these locations. All of these traditions combined to form a style of music that is truly American.

Although most obvious present in country and bluegrass virtually every genre of music can find elements that originated in Appalachia. Just has Appalachian music evolved from earlier traditions, it has aided in the evolution of many musical genres. No matter what type of music you like best, chances are it would be very different if not for the efforts of Appalachian musicians.

The sources for this episode were the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell and A Handbook to Appalachia, edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. I greatly appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received, as well as all the webmasters and bloggers who have linked to this podcast. As always, a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at, as well as two videos of photography from the region that you might enjoy. If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is You can also find this podcast on myspace at I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

PA 6: "Appalachian Literature"



You’re listening to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Before we get started today, I’d like to request that, if you enjoy this podcast, you write a review at iTunes. These reviews will not only help more people find this podcast, but will also give me feedback and help me make improvements. I’d also request that you tell your friends and family about Podcast Appalachia to help increase our listenership.

Having gotten that shameless self-promotion out of the way, let’s get down to business.

An aspect of Appalachian society that is sometimes overlooked is literature. Although it does not always get the attention it deserves, Appalachia has produced a significant body of literature. Although these works are sometimes lumped into the general category of Southern Literature, Appalachian literature is unique. In contrast to the more general genre of Southern literature, Appalachian literature usually not concentrated on North-South conflicts, which is also a characteristic of the Appalachian region at large.

Appalachian literature is also unique in that it’s very centered around the setting of the stories. The setting is usually viewed as an influence on the motivations and values of the characters involved. This fact has led some observers to diminish the literature as “regional,” but in reality it gives rare insight into the values and culture of a particular time and place. Literature in general is best when it reveals great truths, and Appalachian literature is certainly very good at this.

Early fiction about Appalachia began to appear after the Civil War. Often written by local colorists, this literature was often stereotypical and sometimes painted a negative portrait of the region. In these stories, the Appalachian people were often presented as hillbillies, usually poorly educated, and frequently involved in feuds, much like infamous Hatfields and McCoys feud.

Having said that, it’s worth noting that the picture presented by literature from this era was not entirely negative. Although stereotypical, the stories often contained heroic, likable, and even intelligent, though eccentric, characters, not unlike the Beverly Hillbillies. The stories also frequently focused on the natural beauty of the region. These stories would help create a sort of romanticism about mountain people that would endure in the popular imagination for years to come.

One early fiction writer was John Fox, Jr., who hailed from a prominent Kentucky family and was educated at Harvard. He authored many novels and short stories about the Appalachian region during the early 20th century, often presenting a romanticized and one-dimensional portrayal. Some found this, as well as the sometimes exaggerated mountain dialect he used in his stories to be condescending. Nevertheless, his writings dealt with serious issues facing the region. His 1908 work The Trail of the Lonesome Pine examines the coal industry in the region, and portrays a conflict between mountain culture and American culture at large. Considered by many to be the greatest of the local color writers, Fox’s works remain influential in Appalachian literature today.

Unfortunately, stories that featured positive aspects of Appalachian life began to fade by the early 20th century. Most of the stories that appeared during these years took a very negative view of mountain people, often presenting tales of violence, drunkenness, and incest.

Gone were the lovable, if strange characters of the late 19th century and the romantic tales of heroism and the simple life. This change was the result of an interest by Americans in “social betterment,” and the writers were attempting to advocate for “reform” in the mountains. Some authors were also trying to recruit social workers and missionaries from outside the region to come and offer assistance. Will Allen Dromgoole, for example, wrote many stories featuring negative portrayals of mountain people in an effort to attract missionaries to Appalachia.

By the 1920s, more and more stories began to appear by native Appalachians. There were many reasons Appalachians were late in writing about their own lives, lack of educational opportunities and very little leisure time being chief among them. However, from the 1920s onward, Appalachian writers produced countless great works, many of which are now considered classics.

One of the earliest novels written by a native Appalachian was Look Homeward, Angel, written in 1929 by Thomas Wolfe. This work is not considered “Appalachian literature” however, as it focuses on life in urban Asheville, NC, instead of the rural settings that would characterize later Appalachian literature.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Appalachian literature truly began to blossom due to the efforts of writers from within the region who used their own personal experiences in their stories. This literature is very true to the values and beliefs of Appalachians at that time and are delightful to read even today, almost seven decades after they first appeared.

The three most prominent of these authors were Jesse Stuart, Harriette Simpson Arnow and James Still. Jesse Stuart’s first work came in 1943, a satire entitled Taps for Private Tussie. This story is a humorous critique of the welfare system which argued that dignity could be restored for the impoverished through hard work and private land ownership. Although the Tussie family is presented as epitomizing all that was wrong with the welfare system, they are not presented as negative stereotypes but rather as victims of the supposedly benevolent welfare system. Stuart would later write The Thread that Runs so True, concerning his work as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in eastern Kentucky.

Harriette Simpson Arnow wrote a trilogy of Appalachian novels, including Mountain Path, published in 1936. Although the story features stereotypical Appalachian traditions such as moonshining and feuding, the central plot presents a generally positive view of Appalachia. It focuses on a young woman who moves to Appalachia in order to become a teacher. Along the way, she must abandon her preconceived notions of mountain people, and comes to gain a degree of respect for them. Arnow would later write Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker, the latter of which dealt with Appalachian migration to urban areas outside the region, and may be the most widely acclaimed Appalachian novel ever written.

James Still has been called the “Dean of Appalachian literature” by many of his admirers, and is today most well known for his 1940 novel River of Earth. Often compared with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, River tells the story of the day-to-day life of a struggling family in eastern Kentucky during the Great Depression, as viewed through the eyes of an unnamed young son. The family struggles with extreme poverty as they must move from one coal camp to another. Although life is certainly very difficult for the family, Still does not present them as victims, instead showing them to possess a certain dignity that comes from hard work and honest living.

James Still is also the author of much poetry that is still widely read today. Poetry such as his has emerged as an important facet of Appalachian literature over the past couple decades, although it has existed in the region as long as novels and short stories. In addition to Still, important Appalachian poets of the 1930s include Don West, Jesse Stuart, Louise McNeil, and Byron Herbert Reece.

In recent years more Appalachian poets have emerged, among them Fred Chappell, probably the most widely known contemporary Appalachian poet. Additionally, African-Americans have made many important contributions to Appalachian poetry, among them such notables as Frank X. Walker and Nikki Giovanni.

Walker coined the term “Affrilachian” to describe his heritage both as an Appalachian and an African American. A native of Danville, KY, Walker is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and a founding member of the Affrilachian poets, a group of African American poets from the region. He is also a tireless advocate of for the availability of art education for all people.

Nikki Giovanni is one of the most influential voices for African Americans in the nation today. Born in Knoxville, TN she is the author of more than 25 books of poetry and essays. She is currently a professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Although there were many positive portrayals of Appalachians in literature, some authors continued to focus on negativity. For example, Mildred Haun published a collection of short stories entitled The Hawk’s Done Gone in 1940. These stories painted a mostly negative picture of mountain people, focusing on infanticide, murder, and racism.

Probably the worst ever portrayal of the Appalachian people, and certainly the most influential, comes from outsider James Dickey, author of Deliverance. This novel, which was later adapted into a film, portrays the Appalachian people as violent, unstable, and inbred. The unfortunate images presented by Dickey continue to live on in the minds of many outsiders.

There is a distinction between literature from southern Appalachian and that from northern and central Appalachia. While southern Appalachian literature tends to focus on rural life, northern literature, especially since World War II, is more focused on urban issues. Additionally, literature from central and northern Appalachia is more likely to promote social activism, usually on behalf of miners and factory workers. A classic example of this type of literature is Out of the Furnace, a 1934 work by Thomas Bell that dealt with the difficulty of life in the western Pennsylvania steel industry.

Given its vast importance to the region, it should come as no surprise that coal mining is commonly featured in Appalachian literature. Mining is prominently featured in works by James Still, John Knowles, and Myra Page. The image presented is often mixed; although usually critical of mining companies for what they perceive as unfair treatment of workers and environmental degradation, miners themselves are often presented as honest, hardworking individuals with strong morals.

There has been an explosion of Appalachian literature since the 1970s, most of it being of very high quality. Because of this, the era from that period until the present is sometimes referred to as the Appalachian Renaissance.

There have been many recent popular works of Appalachian literature. Among them are Lee Smith’s Oral History, Black Mountain Breakdown, and Family Linen, all of which first appeared during the 1980s. These novels earned widespread acclaim. Although they do feature some stereotypes, they also reveal very much about cultural change within the region.

Another, more recent work of Appalachian literature is Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, which takes place during the Civil War. A love story, this novel is set in the mountains of North Carolina and tells the story of a Confederate soldier who desserts in order to find his love. The novel has also been adapted into a popular film.

Another widely acclaimed Appalachian author is Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer who has written a trilogy of books based on his life growing up in the mining town of Coalwood, WV. These novels center around young Homer’s family life, particularly his relationship with his father, a tough-minded coal operator, as well as his quest to go to work at Cape Canaveral. One of the books, Rocket Boys, was adapted into the widely acclaimed 1999 film October Sky.

Although sometimes overlooked, particularly by those outside the region, Appalachian literature is very important to anyone who wants to understand the culture and values of the region. Those who read these works will be impressed by the high quality of the writings. Appalachian authors have usually used their own experiences in their writings, and thus have given unique glimpses into what life was like in Appalachia during the time their stories were set. Much of what has been written accurately captures life in Appalachia and are true national treasures.

The sources for this episode were were the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell and A Handbook to Appalachia, edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox, and At Home in the Heart of Appalachia by John O’Brien.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. I greatly appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received, as well as all the webmasters and bloggers who have linked to this podcast. As always, a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at, as well as two videos of photography from the region that you might enjoy. If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is You can also find this podcast on myspace at I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Mountain Religion"



Hello, you’re listening to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Before we begin, I want to let you know that I am now using a new microphone which I hope will improve the sound quality of this podcast. If you have any trouble with this episode, please let me know.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Religion is a key ingredient of most cultures, and Appalachian culture is no exception. In most societies, including Appalachia, it is difficult to seriously discuss culture without at least some discussion of religion. Faith has always been and remains very important to most of the people of Appalachia, and anyone who wishes to understand the Appalachian people should take a serious look at the various churches of the region.

An honest examination of the churches of Appalachia will indicate much more diversity than many might assume. Appalachian religion in the popular imagination reveals images of tent revivals, circuit riding preachers, fire and brimstone sermons, and serpent handlers. All of these exist, but they are only part of the picture.

Almost every religious group in the United States is represented in the Appalachian religion. According to data from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the three largest denominations in the area are Baptists, who comprise 21% of Appalachians, Catholics, who comprise 13%, and Methodists, who make up 9%. Even these designations are misleading, however, as there are numerous different Baptist churches, including the Southern, Old-Time, Primitive, and American Baptists, each with different beliefs. Thus denominational differences do not necessarily tell us much about Appalachian religion.

According to Howard Dorgan, there are three widely held assumptions about Appalachian religion. The first is the assumption that many 18th and 19th century religious practices have survived relatively in tact in mountain churches. This is partially true, especially in Old-Time Baptist Churches, but we should be careful not to read too much into this; the members of these churches are generally just as modern and everyone else, and are certainly not living in the 18th century!

The second assumption is that Appalachians are far more religious than the rest of the nation. This may or may not be true; it is very difficult to find reliable data about religious observance. Even if such data existed, it would also be difficult to measure levels of religious belief.

The third and final assumption is that worship customs in Appalachia have been largely a response to the poverty and hardships if the region. This assumption is difficult to prove or disprove, but it certainly is a simplification and seems a bit condescending, as it may question the sincerity of religious believers by suggesting their faith is only a crutch.

When the first settlers came to Appalachia, Presbyterianism was the dominant faith, a direct result of the influence of the then overwhelmingly Presbyterian Scots-Irish. However, Presbyterianism in the mountains would eventually decline, due to the church’s insistence on seminary-trained clergy. A few Presbyterian off-shoots appeared, such as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, that did not have this requirement, but they were not enough to maintain Presbyterian dominance in the region. Even so, Calvinism, the doctrine on which Presbyterianism was based, remains strong in Appalachia.

Although highly diverse, a few generalizations can be made about most Appalachian churches. They tend to be characterized by a strong sense of independence which favors congregational autonomy over religious hierarchies, a belief in personal redemption, highly emotional and joyous worship services, and a belief that God is a controlling force in life. They also tend to believe in a very personal God whim is very much involved in day-to-day events.

The term “fundamentalism” is often employed to describe Appalachian churches. This term is somewhat vague and is often used as a pejorative. Even among churches that might be considered fundamentalist, there are key differences in the degree of fundamentalism, as well as Biblical interpretation. Therefore, in order to better understand Appalachian Christianity, it is best to move beyond this term.

It would be impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of all the different faiths represented in Appalachia in this episode. Indeed, such a task would be nearly impossible in any format since every church—and every religious person—is different in some way. Therefore, in this episode I will examine three denominations most often associated with Appalachia—Baptists, Methodism, and Pentecostal-Holiness. Other prominent faiths will be examined in future episodes.

Baptists, as previously noted, are a very large and diverse group. In fact, there are over 1,100 different Baptist categories! Baptists are strongly represented in the mountains; many of these churches are unaffiliated with any nationally based denomination, but four national Baptist designations are represented in the region: the American Baptists, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, the National Baptists, and the Southern Baptist Churches. Among the numerous other Baptist Churches are the Primitive Baptists, Missionary Baptists, the various Old-Time Baptists, and Free Will Baptists.

The Free Will and Missionary Baptists are strongly independent and do not fit well into the Old-Time or the Mainline designation. Both were heavily influenced by the General Baptists, a group that is now almost completely extinct in Appalachia, save for a small group of Six-Principle Baptists of Pennsylvania.

Free Will Baptists comprise a significant number of Appalachians but it is impossible to find a precise number. They emerged largely from the efforts a North Carolina General Baptist preacher named Paul Palmer. The movement Palmer began would merge with another movement, began by Benjamin Randall, in 1935. It was Palmer’s activism that was most influential in Appalachian Free Will Baptists, however.

Missionary Baptists, also a major religious group in the region, remain highly traditional. They tend to be highly traditional, favoring creek Baptism and oftentimes foot washing. They usually select non-seminary trained preachers, often from within their churches.

Missionary Baptists arose from the pro-Evangelism faction of the missionary/anti-missionary controversy of the early 19th century. In the 1820s a great debate arose among Baptist Churches in central and southern Appalachia over the biblical authority of intercongregational organizations, especially as they relate to the bibical validity of missionary programs. At the root of the controversy was a division between those who held to the Calvinist belief in individual atonement, or the belief that Christ died only for those elect individuals chosen by God, and general atonement, the belief that Chris died for all humanity’s sins and thus salvation was possible for everyone. This split is still evident in Baptist churches today, with some, such as most Primitive Baptist Churches, remaining anti-missionary.

Old-Time Baptists are direct descendents of the first Baptists to settle in Appalachia in the 18th century and still maintain many of the traditions present at that time, including impromptu preaching, congressional shouting, foot washing, natural baptism, traditional gender roles, and opposition to divorce and remarriage. They tend to favor the King James Version over other translations of the Bible, lack the missionary zeal of Missionary Baptists, and have non-professional clergy.

Old-Time Baptists can be traced back to the Separate and Regular Baptists who settled in Appalachia during the late 1700s and early 1800s. From a 1775 settlement in present-day Randolph County, NC, Separate Baptists spread into southwestern Virginia, east Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky. Originally staunch Calvinists, they would gradually come to embrace the concept of free will and evangelism, in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Regular Baptists settled further north, in Pennsylvania and near Baltimore, and would spread south into the Shenandoah Valley, eventually into eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee, and North Carolina.

The second denomination I will discuss is Methodism, which began in England in 1729. Based on the teachings of John Wesley, the evangelical, revivalist nature of the faith meshed well with those on the Appalachian frontier, and soon become one of the largest denominations in the region.

The spread of Methodism in Appalachia was aided very much by the efforts of Bishop Francis Asbury and the hundreds of Methodist preachers he enlisted to travel circuits on horseback to the remote settlements and cabins on the Appalachian frontier. Asbury himself is said to have transited the Appalachian range 60 times during the course of his preaching. Years later, these circuits would become networks of actual churches, thus giving rise to the famous image of circuit riding preachers. Many of these preachers, especially in North Carolina, would become known as Republican Methodists, as they became staunch opponents of slavery, even going so far as to bar slave owners from their churches.

In 1783 the Holston Circuit in southwest Virginia and east Tennessee became one of the earliest of these circuits. This route linked remote settlements in present day Sullivan, Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson and Washington Counties in Tennessee with Lee, Russell, Smyth, Scott, and Washington Counties in Virginia.

Two other evangelists influential in the spread of Methodism in Appalachia are Robert Strawbridge and Robert Williams. Strawbridge was an Irish immigrant to America who came around 1760. He built a log meetinghouse in western Maryland which was the first American Methodist church building. His fellow Methodist, Robert Williams, became the first itinerant Methodist preacher in America by 1769, spreading the faith from the Appalachian counties of New York all the way south to North Carolina.

Methodism stressed Bible-based individualism and the doctrine of free will, which found sympathetic audiences in Appalachia. Like the Baptists, Methodism would split into various branches, including the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Primitive Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church of North America, and the largest branch, the United Methodist Church.

The third denomination I will discuss is the Holiness-Pentecostalism movement. The Holiness and Pentecostal churches are separate denomination, but the seem to have informally fused, particularly in Appalachia. These churches are characterized by ecstatic and highly emotional worship that often involves Baptism in the Holy Spirit, often associated with speaking in tongues. They also have a revivalist tradition similar to that which has existed in Appalachia for centuries.

Both the Holiness and Pentecostal movements emerged in the early 20th century. The Holiness movement originated from the Wesleyan concept of sanctification—purity of heart, mind, and deed. The Pentecostal movement had similar beginnings but also involved Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which led to such spiritual gifts as glossolalia—speaking in tongues. The largest Pentecostal denomination is the Assemblies of God, and the largest Holiness denomination is the Church of the Nazerene.

These churches are very committed to evangelism and have sent thousands of missionaries out, at home and abroad. As a result, Pentecostalism has a strong following in many parts of the world, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia. They may comprise the largest religious tradition in Appalachia, although precise numbers are again difficult to obtain.

Appalachian Holiness churches are often independent of any denomination. They generally meet in one room church buildings. They usually have no official membership roles, centralized structure, and very little money. They do have lots of prayer, singing, revivalism, and ecstatic worship styles. They believe in a personal God. Mountain Holiness churches are often held more than one night a week and usually for more than three hours.

Perhaps the most well known segment of the Holiness tradition are snake handlers, or serpent handlers as they prefer to be called. Although virtually all serpent handlers are affiliated with the Holiness tradition, they comprise only a very tiny fraction of Holiness churches. In total, it is estimated that there are no more than 3,000 members of serpent handling churches. I will discuss serpent handling in greater detail in a future episode.

There are countless religious traditions in Appalachia and it would be impossible to do them all justice. But they have contributed in immeasurable ways to the culture of Appalachia, and will continue to do so for years to come. Generally, Appalachian churches tend to be highly independent, strongly emotional, and skeptical of religious hierarchy. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. An honest and open-minded study of these various churches is crucial to understanding Appalachian culture.

The sources for this episode were the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell and A Handbook to Appalachia, edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. I greatly appreciate all of the feedback I’ve received, as well as all the webmasters and bloggers who have linked to this podcast. As always, a transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "The Scots-Irish"



Hello, you’re listening to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Before we begin today, I have a few items I want to cover. First of all, I have received complaints from listeners about the sound quality on this podcast; the music at the beginning is too loud and then my own voice is too quiet. I have made some efforts to correct this, but since it never did this for me, I’m not sure if I’ve been successful. If you have problems with the sound on this episode, please contact me and I’ll try to figure something else out.

Also, in an effort to increase listenership, I have created two Youtube “commercials” for this podcast using photos I took mostly in the Carolina High Country. If you want to see these photos, go to and scroll down, and you should be able to view them.

This podcast also now has a myspace page. If you are on Myspace, please add it as a friend. The page is at

Having gotten these items out of the way, let’s get down to business.

The Scots-Irish have been crucial to defining Appalachian culture even though they probably did not comprise a majority of settlers in most regions. Many early settlers were not Scots-Irish, but German, English, Welsh, and other ethnicities. However, these settlers were mostly absorbed into Scots-Irish culture, which is, as James Webb points out, a highly assimilative culture. This culture was, and remains, the dominant culture of Appalachia.

The Scots-Irish have also been variously stereotyped, and these stereotypes are nearly identical to Appalachian stereotypes. For example, they are often viewed as strongly independent, religious, and family oriented, as well as violent, poorly educated, belligerent and backwards. Certain writers and Hollywood executives have made a fortune selling such images about Appalachians.

The term Scots-Irish is used to describe the Protestant immigrants to America from the Irish province of Ulster. These Protestants were originally Scottish, but had migrated to Ulster in the 17th Century. They are also sometimes referred to as Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish, although this term is considered by some to be out of favor. Many modern Scots would respond to such a term by stating that Scotch is a drink. Nevertheless, this term is still widely used and has the exact same meaning.

The term is also used to differentiate these people from the wave of mostly Catholic Irish immigrants who came to American during the 19th century as a result of the potato famine. As this later wave of immigrants faced harsh discrimination, it is easy to see why such a differentiation would have been necessary at the time. However, the Scots-Irish were different from these 19th Century Irish immigrants in that they came earlier, were Protestant, and were more influenced by Scottish culture than Irish culture.

To understand the roots of their culture, we must journey back in time thousands of years and thousands of miles, to the hills and heather of Scotland. Although it’s possible that Scotland was inhabited earlier, the first known settlers in modern day Scotland were hunter-gatherers who arrived by 8500 B.C. However, as these settlers had no written language, no records exist, so we can only speculate about them. At some point, perhaps around 700 B.C., a Celtic presence was established in Scotland. As a result, Celtic language and culture became widespread in the country, and certain aspects of this culture are still present today.

Written Scottish history begins with the Romans. From the very beginning, the inhabitants of Scotland were fiercely independent. They caused much trouble for the Romans, who tried and failed to conquer and assimilate them. The Romans would eventually give up their efforts altogether, and simply build a wall to separate them. Hadrian’s Hall, named for the Roman Emperor Hadrian, was constructed in 122 A.D. along the present day English/Scottish border to prevent the Scots from harassing Roman subjects along the frontier.

Hadrian’s Wall had the effect of separating England and Scotland for centuries, thus allowing two distinct cultures to flourish. As a result of this wall, the Scots would be far less influenced by the Saxons than the English, and were able to keep more aspects of Celtic culture alive, although Anglo-Saxons would eventually expand into Scotland, resulting in the main language of lowland Scotland, which was a variation of English.

The Scottish Reformation was another milestone in Scottish culture. Reformer John Calvin, following the lead of Martin Luther, began preaching a rather pessimistic theology that focused on the depravity of human nature, fierce opposition to bishops and other forms of church hierarchy, and the idea that only a few people had been chosen for salvation by God.

Calvin was very influential on a Scottish minister named John Knox, a fire and brimstone orator who was very strongly opposed to the Catholic Church. Knox’s ideas found a sympathetic audience in Scotland, which would eventually become almost universally accepted by the Scots with the embracement of his Presbyterian Church. Scotland formally broke with Rome in 1560.

In 1607 the Scots-Irish as we now know them began to emerge. King James I of England—also known as James VI, King of Scots—came up with a plan to pacify the troublesome realm of Ireland. He opened up land in the Irish province of Ulster for settlement by Protestants. In doing so, he hoped to overwhelm the native Irish and create a buffer against attacks on the English/Scottish mainland.

Many of his subjects took the King’s offer. Although a few of the settlers came from southeastern England, most came from northwestern England and Lowland Scotland. These settlers were hoping for a better life for themselves and also jumped at the opportunity to possess their own land. Unfortunately, they did not find much peace in Ulster. Instead, the found themselves on a violent frontier and faced numerous attacks from the Gaelic-speaking Catholic natives, who were understandably hostile to their new neighbors.

Life in Ulster proved to be not much better than life in their native lands. Land resources became more scarce as more settlers emigrated or were born. The settlers, who were overwhelmingly Presbyterian, also faced persecution from the Episcopal Church of Ireland, the establishment church.

These factors eventually led many of the settlers to consider moving to America. America was sold to them by various people, like North Carolina governor Arthur Dobbs, who was Ulster-born. He worked tirelessly recruiting immigrants for the New World. Ship captains, looking to make a living transporting cargo, also did much to encourage migration, telling takes of vast, uninhabited lands and wild adventures.

The Ulster Scots began leaving Ireland in large numbers in the early 1700s. Most sailed to Philadelphia, although a few entered through Georgia and the Carolinas. Those who arrived in Philadelphia were not well received. They were viewed as backwards. Additionally, population density and scarcity of land on the East Coast led many Scots-Irish immigrants to settle on the Appalachian frontier.

A few Scots-Irish had arrived in the Carolinas or Georgia directly from Ireland. The majority who arrived in Pennsylvania would migrate to the mountainous region in the western portion of the state. From there, they would gradually migrate south, filling the Appalachian Mountains with Scots-Irish settlers.

Some have suggested that the decision to settle in Appalachia was influenced by the fact that the region was similar to their homeland. There might be a little truth in this, but the primarily motivator was the widespread availability of cheap land for farming. To most of the settlers, owning land has always been a major desire.

The Scots-Irish were instrumental in developing the Appalachian backcountry. They also served as a buffer against hostile Native Americans for settlers closer to the coast. Just as they had faced hostile the hostile Irish in Ulster, they settlers now had to fight various skirmishes with the Native Americans. Again, they found themselves being used as a defense for those who despised them.

By the time of the War for Independence, the Scots-Irish were largely isolated in the Appalachian backcountry. However, forces loyal to the British would make a severe tactical error by insulting the mountaineers. Major Patrick Ferguson, himself Scots-Irish, had remained loyal to the British, and used particularly harsh language against his fellow Scots-Irish colonists. He released a prisoner whom he sent across the mountains with a warning to those in Appalachia: if they did not cease all opposition to the British, Ferguson’s army would “march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”

Ferguson’s attitude was not unusual. The British and Tory forces widely viewed these settlers as backwards hillbillies, even referring to them as “mongrels.”

In any event, the Scots-Irish did not take kindly to such attitudes and threats. The Over-Mountain men, as they were called, immediately began gathering their militia troops to meet Ferguson’s challenge. About 1,000 troops marched over the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of Ferguson. On October 7, 1780 they found him on a narrow ridge known as Kings Mountain.

The Battle of Kings Mountain quickly became a route for the patriot mountaineers. In the battle, Ferguson’s army was almost completely annihilated, with about 1,100 of them killed, as opposed to only 28 of the Over-Mountain men killed and 62 wounded. This victory is said to have provided a crucial morale boost for a downtrodden Continental Congress.

After the War for Independence was won, the Scots-Irish mountaineers retained an intense commitment to liberty and a strong disdain for anyone who tried to tell them what to do. Although they were very patriotic, the mountaineers did not hesitate to stand up to their own government when they felt they were being done wrong.

A good example of this is the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1791 the new government was in dire need of revenue to pay off its war debts. The government, at the urging of Alexander Hamilton, passed a tax on distilled spirits. The Scots-Irish had produced forms of what is now called moonshine for generations, dating back to their homeland in Scotland and were disproportionately affected by this law.

Having just fought a war against unjust taxation, many mountaineers were in no mood to oblige their new government. Residents of Appalachian counties from Pennsylvania to Georgia began harassing tax collectors and violent protests were held in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

This unrest continued to escalate to the point of an armed insurrection, which occurred near Pittsburgh in 1794. President George Washington invoked martial law and sent militiamen in to put down the rebellion. The rebellion would then peter out, although opposition to revenuers continues to this day among Appalachian moonshiners.

In the new nation, the Scots-Irish remain strongly independent, and retained their disdain toward elites of any stripe. As a result, they adopted a style of politics known as populism, which loosely means politics centered around the common man, a desire to give “power to the people” and not elites. Just as their ancestors refused to submit to Roman rule two thousand years before, the Scots-Irish refused to submit then—and now.

The most prominent example of Scots-Irish populism comes in the presidency of Andrew Jackson, himself Scots-Irish. In many ways, Jackson was a typical Scots-Irish, if such a thing exists. A rugged individualist with a hot temper, Jackson won the presidency by appealing to common Americans over strong opposition from the wealthy and aristocratic elites of Washington.

From early in their history, religion has played a major role in Scots-Irish culture. Presbyterianism remained a force in the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas well into the nineteenth century, although the church’s insistence on seminary-trained clergy would eventually lead to its decline. Although Presbyterianism is no longer the dominant faith of the Scots-Irish, many aspects of its Calvinist roots are present in other churches, such as hostility toward hierarchy, Calvinism, fundamentalist leanings, revivals, and a belief in predestination.

One of the most significant ways the Scots-Irish have contributed to America has been in the military. Fierce warriors, the Scots-Irish have played a crucial role in every American war from the War for Independence to the War on Terror. When asked what race made the best warriors, General Robert E. Lee did not hesitate: “the Scots who came to this country by way of Ireland” was his response. Andrew Jackson, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, U.S. Grant, George Patton, and David Hackworth are but a few examples of great military leaders of Scots-Irish descent.

It’s also interesting to note that at least 13 American presidents have been of Scots-Irish descent, and the number is perhaps as high as 23. Among them are notables such as Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, U.S. Grant, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Barring some dramatic, unforeseen event our next president will be of Scots-Irish descent as well, as John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton can all claim Scots-Irish ancestry.

Although they have not always been recognized, the Scots-Irish have contributed in immeasurable ways to our country. Their culture remains dominant in Appalachia; but all American owe them a debt of gratitude for their continuing efforts in securing liberty for our nation.

The sources for this podcast are the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell; Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, by James Webb; and Two Continents One Culture: The Scotch-Irish in Southern Appalachia, by Stephen Brown, Elizabeth Hirschman, and Pauline MacLaran.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. A transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Podcast Appalachia Promos

Some promos I made for Podcast Appalachia. Please circulate :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Daniel Boone"



Hello, and welcome to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who has given me feedback on this podcast. I really appreciate it. This podcast is very much a work in progress, so I’m always interested in what listeners think. If you have any comments about the show, or have any subjects you’d like to hear discussed, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can e-mail me at

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

When we last spoke, we looked at some of the early explorers of the Appalachian region. Today, I want to examine one of the most important of these explorers in greater detail. This explorer is Daniel Boone, one of the most famous Americans who ever lived, and a name that is known by virtually everyone, regardless of their knowledge of history. In this episode, I will present a brief biography of Daniel Boone and attempt to separate the facts from the myths.

Daniel Boone became one of the greatest folk heroes in American history. A skilled hunter, frontiersman, and Indian fighter, Boone would become a legend in his own time and was instrumental in encouraging the “pioneer spirit” and an inspiration for countless writers, explorers, and pioneers, including James Fennimore Cooper, whose Hawkeye character from The Last of the Mohicans is largely based on Boone.

Daniel Boone was born in Pennsylvania on November 2, 1734, the son of Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone. His grandfather, George Boone, had immigrated to the New World from England in 1717.

When young Daniel was about 10 years old, his father bought 25 acres of land about six miles from their home. Daniel and his mother went to work tending the cattle on this land. During the summer they lived in a small cabin on the land. During this time, Daniel would spend much time exploring the forest, which probably helped influence him toward his later exploits.

At age 12 Daniel was given his first gun by his father. He immediately began hunting and quickly became a skilled shooter. He often brought home game for his family to eat. As he hunted in the forest, he was also exploring. Not surprisingly, his hunts began taking him further and further into the wilderness.

The Boone family were staunch Quakers, dating back to George Boone’s conversion in England during the early 18th century. However, Squire’s children seemed a bit rebellious, as two of them married outside of the church, which was strictly forbidden. Squire defended his children, telling church leaders they could marry whomever they wished. The dispute escalated as both sides refused to back down. Eventually Squire himself was disowned by the church in 1748. Some historians contend this was a major reason why Squire moved his family out of Pennsylvania; others contend that poor crops were to blame.

Regardless of the reason, Squire and his family left Pennsylvania in 1750. At first they moved into the Great Valley of Virginia. They remained here for about a year until they moved again, this time to the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, which was then very much the frontier.

As a young man Daniel joined the North Carolina militia and served during the French and Indian War. It was during his service that he met John Findley, who would later accompany him on several of his adventures.

Following his service, Daniel married Rebecca Bryan in 1756. At this time he was 22 years old. The couple would go on to have at least 10 children.

In the early 1760s, Boone began his long hunts. He is first known to have crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1760. In 1767, he first set foot inside what would become Kentucky. Following his return to North Carolina, he and a friend began guiding hunting parties deeper into the frontier.

In 1769 Boone returned to Kentucky, this time with his friend John Findley, and four others. They passed through the Cumberland Gap to enter Kentucky, and remained there hunting and exploring for two years before returning to North Carolina.

The land that would eventually become the Commonwealth of Kentucky must have made a powerful impression on Daniel for he could not remain away for very long. In 1773 he organized yet another expedition to the region, this time with the goal of establishing a permanent settlement there. This effort was doomed to failure, however, when Native Americans opposed to white settlers in the region attacked. Several members of Boone’s party were killed in the attack, including one of Daniel’s sons.

In 1775 Boone returned yet again to Kentucky, this time as a speculator. As he journeyed from the Cumberland Gap to the present location of Boonesborough, Daniel cut through the wilderness, establishing a road to be used by future settlers. This road would become known as the legendary Wilderness Road and became the main route west. It would go on to be used by more than 200,000 people entering the Kentucky frontier.

Boone’s conflicts with Native Americans would become the stuff of legends. In 1776 his 14 year old daughter, Jemima, and two other girls were kidnapped from Boonesborough by a party of three Shawnee and two Cherokee. Settlers had heard the screams, and soon Daniel himself was in hot pursuit. Three days later, he and his party caught up to the kidnappers and rescued the girls. When she first heard the gunshots of the rescuers, Jemima is said to have exclaimed “That’s Daddy!’ A year later the Shawnee attack Boonesborough, wounding Daniel in the process.

While serving in the War for Independence, Daniel himself was captured by the Shawnees. During his time in captivity, he gained the trust of a Shawnee chief, who became almost like a father to him. Daniel was able to use this trust to help himself escape. Ironically, this chief was the father of one of the Shawnee who kidnapped Boone’s daughter and who had been killed during the rescue. While a prisoner, he had learned of a planned attack on Boonesborough by the Shawnee and British and was able to warn the settlement.

By 1782 Boone was a lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia. He fought at the Battle of the Blue Licks, one of the last battles of the War for Independence, actually having been fought after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. This battle occurred in what is now Robertson County, KY. The battle began when about 50 British rangers and 300 Native Americans attacked 182 Kentuckians. Predictably, given these numbers, the battle was a defeat for the Kentuckians. Among those lost was another of Daniel’s sons, Israel.

In 1783 or 1784 Boone met John Filson, an author and former school teacher. In 1784 Filson published a book entitled The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke which included a section entitled “The Adventures of Daniel Boon,” a highly romantic account of Boone’s life that was largely factual and based on interviews with Boone himself. The book was very popular and was translated into several languages, making Daniel Boone an instant celebrity. Later authors like Timothy Flint would publish more embellished accounts of Boone’s life and help his legend to grow.

Daniel moved his family again, this time to Limestone, a settlement located on the Ohio River, in either 1785 or 1786. He operated a store and tavern in the community, as well as a surveying business. Unfortunately for him, this latter endeavor would prove disastrous, as he was sued by many former clients over disputed land claims.

These legal problems probably contributed to his decision to leave Kentucky, which he did in 1788. This time he relocated to Point Pleasant, VA (now WV). In Point Pleasant, Boone ran a store, and of course, continued to hunt. A few years later he would move again, this time to a remote cabin near present day Charleston, WV.

Daniel would return to Kentucky yet again in 1795, settling on the Brushy Fork of Hinkston Creek. Unfortunately, his stay was not a happy one; he was frequently called into court over land disputes. Boone had acquired many large tracts of land in Kentucky, but he would lose them all due to disputed land claims.

In 1798, Daniel’s son, Daniel Morgan Boone, returned from Missouri with an invitation from Lt. Gov. Trudeau for Daniel to settle in his territory, which was then under the control of Spain. Probably at least partially due to his legal troubles, Daniel accepted and moved to Missouri in 1799.

Sadly, Daniel still could not escape his legal problems. In 1803, Missouri was acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. Although the U.S. government assured settlers that their land claims would be honored, Boone soon learned that the U.S. might not recognize his land claims in the territory, as he could not prove he had improved the lands, or even lived on them. Even more devastatingly, he had never registered the deeds with officials in New Orleans. Thus, an exasperated Daniel Boone found himself embroiled in yet another land dispute.

In 1809, a land commission ruled against Boone, and he lost most of his lands in Missouri. In poor health by this point, and the ruling almost certainly did not help. Later that year he petitioned Congress for the recovery of his land claims. Finally, five years later in1814, his land was returned to him. Unfortunately, he had to sell most of it in order to pay off his debts in Kentucky.

In 1810 Boone departed on one of his final adventures, joining a hunting expedition to the upper Missouri. No one knows exactly how far this expedition went, but some believe it may have made it all the way to Yellowstone. If this story is accurate, it would be an incredible accomplishment for Boone, who was then 75 years old.

In 1813 Daniel’s wife Rebecca died. Seven years later, Daniel passed away as well, and was laid to rest next to her in Defiance, MO. In 1835 they returned to Kentucky for good, as their remains were moved to Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, KY. Thus Daniel at last returned to the state where he had had most of his adventures.

Even in death, legends continued to grow around Daniel Boone. One legend states that the wrong remains were exhumed from Missouri and buried in Kentucky. Although most historians dismiss this legend, it’s interesting to note that two cemeteries—Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, KY and Old Bryan Farm cemetery in Missouri—both claim to have his remains.

The sources for this episode are Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell, In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone by Randell Jones, and Boone: A Biography, by Robert Morgan.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. A transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

PA 2: "Early Appalachian Explorers and Settlers"

Podcast Appalachia 2: Early Appalachian Explorers and Settlers



Hello, I’m John Norris Brown, and you’re listening to Podcast Appalachia, a podcast dedicated to the study and understanding of the Appalachian region.

In my last podcast, I attempted to define the geographic boundaries of Appalachia. Today, I want to look at some of the early history of the Appalachian region, including exploration and settlement, as well as the often tragic conflict between Europeans and Native Americans.

Appalachia is a unique region and is considered by some to be America’s “first frontier.” Over the millennia it has been “discovered” many times and has seen more than its share of conflict, tragedy, and bloodshed. In order to fully appreciate this long history, we must travel back in time long before written history to an almost forgotten people.

The first settlers in the Appalachian region came over 14,000 years ago. There are no written records, so much about them remains a mystery. However, it is known that the ancestors of the Iroquois and Cherokee people migrated into the Appalachian Mountains from the west in about 12,000 BC. They then split into two separate and distinct societies: the Iroquois in the north, and the Cherokee in the south.

The Cherokee became the most prominent peoples in pre-colonial Appalachia. Like most eastern woodland Indians, they were hunters and farmers who lived in small independent villages. Considered one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” by white settlers, the Cherokee were generally considered peaceful and lived in small, autonomous united called towns. They were a matrilineal society who placed great emphasis on the family.

Although predominant in Southern Appalachia, the Cherokee were not the only Native Americans who inhabit the region. Many other peoples lived here as well, including the Shawnee, the Yuchi, the Catawba, and countless others who have slipped into oblivion, lost to history forever.

During the 16th century, European explorers began to make their way into the Appalachian region. They also made first contact with the Native Americans, but in those days these contacts were only sporadic.

Also during the 16th century the Appalachian Mountains were given their name by Europeans. By this time, Spanish explorers were searching for gold in present-day Florida. The Apalachee peoples, a Native American society that lived near present-day Jacksonville, Florida, perhaps eager to rid themselves of their greedy and aggressive guests, told the Spanish stories of gold located in distant mountains to the north.

These stories were later embellished by French explorers, who told tales of vast amounts of gold in what are now the Appalachian mountains. By 1562, the term “Appalachen,” borrowed from the Apalachee people, began appearing on European maps.

The first European descriptions of the Appalachian mountains come from the expedition of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, which took place between 1539-1543. In his quest for gold, de Soto headed north from Florida, eventually reaching the Carolina Piedmont. He then headed westward, crossing the Blue Ridge and either the Great Smoky or Black Mountains, into the valley of East Tennessee.

While in present day Tennessee, de Soto’s party visited the village of Chiaha, a native village located on an island in Little Tennessee and Cheoa Rivers on the north and west, the Little Tennessee and Nantahala River on the south and east. This island is located about 30 miles north of the modern-day city of Knoxville.

After departing the island, the de Soto expedition headed southwest, through modern day Northern Georgia and Alabama, and finally into Mississippi. The surviving records of the expedition have little to say about the Appalachian region other than complaints of the difficulty in crossing the mountains, and of heat in the foothills and cold in the highlands.

By the 1600s, trading routes were established between European settlers and Native Americans in present-day North Carolina, including along the Hudson River.

During this same time, the Iroquois, considered a more warlike and imperial people than their distant cousins the Cherokee, began to expand their territory. They invaded and conquered numerous peoples in present-day Pennsylvania, the Virginias, and the Carolinas. As a result of these conquests, entire societies, including the Conoy, Tutelos, and Saponi, vanished from history. Thus it’s fair to say that the clashes in Appalachia were more than a simple European against Native American clash; they were multicultural and multiethnic.

The Anglo-Cherokee War, sometimes referred to as the Cherokee Rebellion or the War With the English, depending on whose side you were on, opened much of the Appalachian frontier to European settlement. At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the British and Cherokee were technically allies, but they certainly did not trust each other with both sides fearing betrayal. Nonetheless, the Cherokee assisted the British, providing over 400 hundred warriors to fight in western Virginia and later in Alabama.

Despite this, the British apparently did not show their allies the respect they deserved. Feeling unappreciated, Cherokee leader Attakullakulla ordered his warriors home. Bitterness continued to grow on both sides, and eventually Virginians and Cherokees began fighting each other. The Virginians defeated the Cherokee and scalped about 20 of them, calling into question if the British were truly their allies

Some Cherokee called for peace, but others were outraged and began making retaliatory raids against settlers. War was openly declared on the British in 1759, but the effort proved disastrous for the Cherokee: they were defeated in 1761 and ended up handing over most of their eastern lands for white settlement.

Contact between Native Americans and European settlers was mostly, though not exclusively, characterized by conflict. This conflict was created by a sense of invasion by the white man on the part of the Native Americans and a sense of superiority on the part of the Europeans. One example of this is the contrast between the basic philosophies of the Cherokee and the Europeans. The Cherokee believed that humans were not superior to animals, that they were just another part of nature. As one result of this, they did not believe in land ownership. The Europeans, on the other hand, were interested in expanding their territory and often saw themselves as on a mission from God to conquer nature. They often viewed Native American societies as hopelessly primitive and savage and did not hesitate to use force if they felt that the Indians were in their way.

This sense of European superiority would continue. In the years following the arrival of European settlers in Appalachia, many Cherokee would adopt certain aspects of European culture. Many would become very prosperous. In spite of this, Congress, with the strong support of President Andrew Jackson, passed the Indian Removal Act of 1831. Though the Cherokee would challenge this law and ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court, most of them were still forced onto the Trail of Tears in 1838, a particularly sad chapter of American and Appalachian history.

In 1716 the governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, led an armed expedition across the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley. European colonization would begin shortly thereafter; perhaps as early as 1719. In 1730 the colony of Virginia began to offer land grants for white settlers on this land. By 1735, at least 54 families had taken advantage of the offer and were living in the Shenandoah Valley.

To avoid Indian country, which was located to the west of the Shenandoah Valley, settlers migrated southward, eventually reaching the Carolina Piedmont. By the mid-1700s, white settlers began to flood into what is now considered Southern Appalachia, reaching southwestern Virginia, Western North Carolina, and upper East Tennessee by 1761.

During this same time, large numbers of Scots-Irish and German settlers were entering the Appalachian region from western Pennsylvania. These settlers followed the Ohio River’s tributaries into the mountains, flooding into the Shenandoah and southward. The culture of these new settlers, particularly the Scots-Irish, would become the dominant culture of Appalachia up until the present day.

In an effort to prevent white settlers from overrunning Native American lands, the British government issued the Proclamation of 1763. This bill banned all settlement by Europeans of lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, reserving that land for Native Americans. Although it was the law of the land, it was largely ignored by settlers, who continued to settle wherever they pleased.

Among the most important early settlements beyond this line were the Watauga Settlements of Upper East Tennessee, The Holston River settlements of Virginia and North Carolina, and the Harrodsburg and Boonesboro settlements of Eastern Kentucky.

Settlement in the Watauga area of Tennessee, near present-day Elizabethton and Kingsport, began in the 1760s. In 1772, realizing that they resided outside the jurisdictions of both North Carolina and Virginia, settlers created the Watauga Association in order to provide local government for themselves. Early leaders in the settlement included John Sevier and James Robertson. Sevier, a well known Indian fighter, would go on become a hero at the Battle of King’s Mountain and governor of two states: the ill-fated and never officially recognized State of Franklin, and the state of Tennessee. The Watauga Association petitioned both Virginia and North Carolina for official recognition. This settlement would even go so far as to declare independence from the British before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

White settlement in Eastern Kentucky began with the legendary long hunters during the 1760s. Although it was illegal to do so, white settlers began moving north from the Cumberland Gap area to settle in this land, which was designated for Indians. Despite their differences, they were able to coexist with Native Americans, although not without some conflict.

Soon behind these settlers came speculators, including one of the most famous frontiersmen in American history, Daniel Boone, who worked for the company of Richard Henderson. Boone came from the Watauga area, leading settlers along the famous Wilderness Road to the site of the settlement. He established Boonesboro, the first chartered town in Kentucky, in 1775. Soon afterwards, the settlements of Lexington and Limestone appeared. Eventually, disputes with the Native Americans in the region would result in the abandonment of the settlement, however.

Settlers in Appalachia, both those Europeans who came a few centuries ago, and the Native Americans who came thousands of years ago, where a diverse lot. They consisted of countless cultures, nationalities, and goals. Yet they must have had at least two things in common: a hearty spirit and a sense of adventure.

The sources for this episode were A Handbook to Appalachia, edited by Grace Toney Edwards, JoAnn Aust Asbury, and Ricky L. Cox, Appalachia: A History by John Alexander Williams, The United States of Appalachia by Jeff Biggers, and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell.

That’s it for today. As always, thank you to the 1937 Flood for the music you heard at the beginning. I encourage you to contact me at with any comments, suggestions, or criticism you may have. A transcript of this episode is available at I thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode, and I hope we will speak again soon.