Wednesday, July 4, 2012

This 4th of July, Thank an Overmountain Man

Until 1780, the American Revolution was not going so well, at least not for the American Patriots. In 1780, the British decided to start recruiting troops in the South, believing that many would gladly fight for the crown - mistaking the South's lack of involvement in the war for lack of support for the Patriot's cause.

What the British failed to take into consideration was the fact that the Appalachian Mountains served as more than a physical barrier between the colonies and the frontier - the Scots-Irish settlers of the Appalachian region were separated from the Cause by a fierce independence and a belief that the politics of the colonies had little bearing on their own lives and interests.

These Overmountain Men (as they would later be called), would likely have remained out of the war completely, had the British kept away from their homes and territory, but they didn't. And thanks to that decision, the outcome of the American Revolution was very different than it probably would've been otherwise.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lumps of Coal Aren't Just for Christmas

Coal has been experiencing something of a comeback in recent history thanks to its improved image as a clean fuel. However, the use of coal as a fuel goes back centuries, as does the mining of this fossil fuel.

In fact, mining in Scotland began as early as 1210 A.D. The industry was controlled initially by monasteries, and remained so until 1560 A.D. That means that when Scots-Irish settlers arrived in the United States, many of them came with the type of knowledge and experience that would make them ideal employees in America's new coal mines.

Now when most of us think of coal mining in the United States, places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia probably immediately come to mind. However, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy Division of Geology and Mineral Resources, for the "past twenty years, Virginia has consistently ranked among the top ten coal-producing states in the United States."

Their report goes on to state that within the Commonwealth, Southwest Virginia is "currently the source of all the State’s coal production. Virginia’s coal is produced from seven counties: Wise, Dickenson, Lee, Buchanan, Russell, Scott, and Tazewell."

This includes the town of Big Stone Gap which is a part of Wise County. Here are some views of this coal mining town -

Downtown, where these pictures were taken, I found Miner's Park, with its statue honoring the many men and women who have worked the coal mines in this area for over one hundred years.

After checking out the park, I headed to the Harry W. Meador, Jr. Coal Museum

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Big Stone Gap's Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come

John Fox, Jr. is one of the most famous residents - past or present - of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. One of his best-known works was The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, which was published in 1903. 

This gorgeous edition was illustrated by the illustrious (ha ha!) N. C. Wyeth in 1931. Later, in 1961, a movie by the same name was released. His other famous work was Trail of the Lonesome Pine, written in 1908. This  novel was also made into a movie - THREE TIMES! The most recent version, released in 1939, starred Henry Fonda.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was also turned into an outdoor drama in 1964 and has been running ever since. Performances take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from the end of June through August each year at the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Amphitheatre/June Tolliver Playhouse in Big Stone Gap.

The theater seats between 300-400 people.
Here are some pictures that I took of John Fox Jr.'s home the last time I was in Big Stone Gap. The house is now a museum, but only offers tours by reservation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Methodists Are Coming

Today, our class went on another excursion. We got to spend some time knocking around Jonesborough - the oldest town in Tennessee (more on that later), and then on to the Blountville/Bluff City area, where we checked out some very old, and very cool log structures with integral ties to the establishment of the Methodist Church in Tennessee.

Though Presbyterianism was the first to hit Tennessee with the early push of large numbers of Scots-Irish pioneers into the Western frontier in the 1770s, Methodism followed closely behind, and according to modern estimates, fairly quickly surpassed and established itself as one of the largest Christian denominations in the state - where it continues to stand today - second only to the Baptists.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ghosts of Abingdon - Part II

Okay, there were far too many places to share last time, so I decided to end at the cemetery. Today, we'll pick up our tour again on Main Street. The first place I stopped was the Fields-Penn house.

Like many of the homes on Main Street, this house was built in the Federal or Georgian style. Not exactly a pioneer's cabin, but it shows how much things can change in 100 or so years!

Note: Federal style architecture was a spin-off of Georgian architecture and was created by three Scottish brothers of the name Adams.

I love the details of the window, and the idea of shutters that actually, well, shutter! The green of the shutters is a very classic early American color - I wonder if they are the color they were painted originally?

This lawn decor was not around in the 1860s, but I do love it. :o)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Views of The Exchange Place - Kingsport, TN

As promised, here are the pictures from our recent class trip to The Exchange Place. I hope you enjoy - it is definitely worth your while to plan a trip out there yourself, should you get a chance!

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's in a Name?

Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish is a term that we hear frequently mentioned in the Southeastern Appalachian region. Until recently, I rather assumed that the term referred to both Scottish and Irish settlers to this area. I thought that the settlers to this area came to be called Scots-Irish/Scotch-Irish because the two groups had mixed to such a degree that they had, over time, become indecipherable one from the other.

It turns out that I was wrong. The term Scots-Irish or Scotch-Irish actually refers to the Scottish immigrants (also known as Ulster Scots) that came to this country via Ulster, or as we may more commonly know it, Northern Ireland.

According to Ron Chepesiuk, author of The Scotch-Irish: From the North of Ireland to the Making of America (2000), the Scots that came to this country from Northern Ireland (Ulster) had first been transplanted to that region by King James I after he decided to create an Ulster plantation in an effort to make England less vulnerable to outside attack from that direction. He gave free land to any Scottish or English takers, and the result was that for the next one-hundred or so years, there were Scottish families living in Northern Ireland.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Getting Fleeced - the Old Fashioned Way

This week, our class made a trip to the Exchange Place in Kingsport, TN. I'll be sharing the pictures I took later on, but for today, let me just give you a brief synopsis of what Exchange Place is before moving on to my main topic for the day. Exchange Place is a living history farm that was first established in the early 19th century and is open to the public for tours, festivals, and much, much more, thanks to the dedication of its many volunteers. It is a terrific place to visit - I'd highly recommend a trip if you've never been.

Right now I'm going to focus on one small element of our tour which struck me with a much greater impact than it would have even a month ago. Wool. Notice the charming little basket of nicely washed raw wool sitting next to the bench in the picture below. It looks very harmless, doesn't it? 

That's what I would have supposed, too....before my fleecing. A few weeks ago, I wouldn't have paid a second's attention to a basket of wool, but if I had, it would probably only have been to wonder what the two "dog brushes" were doing sitting on top of a pile of wool. And then I would've moved on, blissfully ignorant of what that little basket and that pair of "dog brushes" represented in terms of labor and time. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Ghosts of Abingdon

My first trip of exploration to Abingdon was in 2010. I was participating in the Appalachian Writing Project's summer institute, and we made a day trip to the Martha Washington Inn where we were treated to a mini ghost tour by Abingdon's very own "Haint Mistress," Donnamarie Emmert.

The Martha Washington Inn

Just for fun, I made a little video that offers a peak into a few of the "haunted" areas of The Martha, along with some views from Sinking Spring Cemetery (more on that below). 

Now that we have the silliness out of the way, let's take a look at what I discovered on my most recent trip to this beautiful and historic town. 

This mound caught my eye as I was driving down the road that runs behind Main Street. Of course, I had no idea where I was, but I had to stop and get a closer look.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Scots-Irish in Appalachia

This summer, I have the privilege of taking a class that focuses completely on the history of the Scots-Irish that settled the region of Appalachia where I now live. Having moved here from the Midwest almost six years ago, I have always been curious about the history of my new home. Knowing also that my family is of Irish (among other things) descent, I was more than excited to sign up for the class when I found out that it was being offered.

One of the first assignments our class received was to go around the area and take pictures of  various sites that capture the history of this area and of the Scots-Irish that originally settled here. I can tell that this assignment will be my favorite - I have already visited Bristol, VA and Abingdon, VA in the week since the class began, and I have been planning many additional forays into the field over the days and weeks to come.

I thought that I would share the pictures that I have taken so far, along with any pertinent information that will help explain them. I also solemnly promise to attempt to keep current with my travels as the summer proceeds. Fingers crossed!