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 thevolabroad.blogspot.com. 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 podcastappalachia.blogspot.com, 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 johnnyb325@aol.com. You can also find this podcast on myspace at myspace.com/podcastappalachia. 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 podcastappalachia.blogspot.com, 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 johnnyb325@aol.com. You can also find this podcast on myspace at myspace.com/podcastappalachia. 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 podcastappalachia.blogspot.com. If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is johnnyb325@aol.com. 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 podcastappalachia.blogspot.com 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 myspace.com/podcastappalachia.

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 podcastappalachia.blogspot.com. If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is johnnyb325@aol.com. I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.