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Seedtime on the Cumberland

Seedtime on the Cumberland

Harriette Simpson Arnow
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 450
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  • Book Info
    Seedtime on the Cumberland
    Book Description:

    Harriette Arnow's roots ran deep into the Cumberland River country of Kentucky and Tennessee, and out of her closeness to that land and its people comes this remarkable history. The first of two companion volumes,Seedtime on the Cumberlandcaptures the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life on the frontier, a place where the land both promised and demanded much. In the years between 1780 and 1803, this part of the country presented tremendous opportunity to those who endeavored to make a new life there. Drawing on an extensive body of primary sources-including family journals, court records, and personal inventories-Arnow paints a stirring portrait of these intrepid people. Like the midden at some ancient archaeological site, these accumulated items become a treasure awaiting the insight and organization of an interpreter. Arnow also draws on a medium she believed in unerringly-oral history, the rich tradition that shaped so much of her own family and regional experience. A classic study of the Old Southwest,Seedtime on the Cumberlanddocuments with stirring perceptiveness the opening of the Appalachian frontier, the intersection of settlers and Native Americans, and the harsh conditions of life in the borderlands.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-367-8
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Seedtime on the Cumberlandis a remarkable book—offering carefully researched cultural history combined with family stories and personal anecdotes, all of which have been sifted, selected, and polished by a writer who knows how to shape a story and set it in the proper light to help us catch surprising glimpses of our American ancestors and what still connects us to them. Originally published by Macmillan in 1960,Seedtime on the Cumberlandwon the 1961 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.¹

    At the heart of this book is a “long view” of how...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Old Boot
    (pp. 1-16)

    I could see Granpa in spite of the pitch dark. His hat was dark felt, low-crowned, wide-brimmed, and his clothes were blue and faded; around him was none of the bright trappings of war, neither silver sword, nor waving flag; the long eight-sided gun barrel was dull; only the gunstock of close-grained, well oiled maple made a faint shine like a half-smothered star. The powder horn high up around his neck was old and yellowed; a fit mate for the shot bag of ground hog hide. Still, in the black foggy dark I could see everything, even the little charger...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Rocks and Earth
    (pp. 17-34)

    There was another thing much further away than Granpa Merritt, but not so far but it, too, could live again in the fog. This was the old sea, and when the fog was thick below us, hiding the town and the river, it seemed only the old sea come again, for all about were the traces of life that had been there.

    There were the shells, more delicately fluted and daintier than either the mussels or periwinkles we found in the Cumberland; some smaller than my little fingernail, others of the size and roundness of large hickory nuts, but all...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The First Settlers
    (pp. 35-48)

    Once I had a garden on a bench of land on the side of a narrow valley, a valley so narrow with the hill across the way so high that, though the hillside faced west, the hill shadow would creep across my garden long before suppertime. It was then, while my husband did the barn chores and the long shadow merged into twilight, I did my gardening.

    Gardening went slowly at times, for my hoe was always turning up things other than dirt, and I would kneel, clean the just-found thing and study it, or even take it into the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Rivière des Chauouanons
    (pp. 49-64)

    Forests and canebrakes reclaimed the land once planted to corn, and trees grew high above the carefully buried dead. The land, empty of human inhabitants, was still no wilderness. The first white visitors to describe it found the Barrens,¹ treeless reaches of grassland where in late spring the wild strawberries reddened with juice the travelers’ horses up to their knees, and at all seasons the buffalo were plentiful. This soil would grow trees; they grow there now; why it was treeless then is an unsettled point. The Indians often used rings of fire to hunt the deer and buffalo, and...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Long Learning
    (pp. 65-90)

    “… We were so feeble for want of nourishment we could not continue our journey…. Some of our men were obliged to subsist upon the sap, young leaves, and tender buds of trees.”¹ This story of near starvation was written by the French priest Penicaut of a group traveling in the spring of 1700 by water up to French outposts in the Illinois. The men were well armed; many were seasoned soldiers; they suffered from neither intense heat nor cold; and traveled by canoe in a river filled with fish through a game-filled land. Yet, had food not been sent...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Illinois
    (pp. 91-108)

    It is probable that as Dr. Walker explored the upper Cumberland, there were, west of him on the river, Frenchmen hunting buffalo. The Mississippi Valley from the time of Father Marquette had never been without Frenchmen, and the French settlements, particularly of the Illinois and the Wabash, played no small part in the settlement of the Cumberland.

    True, the great empire to be built on trade and connected by a water route from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Gulf of St. Lawrence of which La Salle had dreamed never materialized. His forts in the Illinois fell into ruins...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Shirttail Men
    (pp. 109-138)

    This song, usually referred to as the first poem written in Tennessee, and sung we can imagine to the tune of some hymn of Isaac Watts,¹ must have caused the deer to lift their heads in wonder and then dart away, for it is doubtful if deer in what is now Sumner County,² Tennessee, had heard by 1766 a singing Pennsylvanian. The composer and singer was James Smith, who late in the fall of the year before had left his home on the Pennsylvania frontier; the following June had found him in the Holston Country of Virginia where settlement was...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Attakullakulla
    (pp. 139-162)

    Late in November of 1774, “Two Indian men and a woman,”¹ listened to an organ played in the Moravian town of Bethabara near present-day Salem, North Carolina. The sweet singing both entranced and troubled the listening Cherokee, and the lid had to be taken off to prove no child was trapped within, making the sounds; the Cherokee took many scalps both white and Indian and burned a prisoner now and then, but they, like all Indians, loved children, and never in their raising of them found necessary the beatings the white man used.

    The smaller of the Indian men may...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Travelers
    (pp. 163-196)

    How many Kentucky settlements there were in the spring of 1775 when Richard Henderson “bought” the land from the Cherokee, no one will ever know, but certain it is there were already a good many people in Kentucky. “That afternoon I wrote the letter in Powell Valley,” Henderson wrote after reaching Boonesboro, “we met about forty people returning, and in about four days the number was little short of one hundred. Every group of travelers we saw and strange bells which we heard in front was a fresh alarm.”¹ Judging from William Calk, a member of Henderson’s party, most of...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Woodsmen
    (pp. 197-222)

    The men and women who took the hard winter as a matter of course and once on the Cumberland, set to work to change woods and canebrake to farms, were not a race of supermen. They stood in relation to the woods as the Nantucket sailors did to the sea; not all of them together could have caught a whale, yet not even the most courageous of sea captains would have been able to throw up a half-faced camp, move in, and survive zero weather.

    It had taken generations of living in the woods for the white American to learn...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Indians
    (pp. 223-242)

    If on the evening of January 15, 1781, one could, by some magic, have been lifted high above the Mississippi Valley, and through some still greater magic have been able to see the whole sweep of country, it would, at first glance, have seemed an uninhabited stretch of grass or forest land, cut by rivers glittering in the moonlight, for the moon was bright that night, at least by the Cumberland in Middle Tennessee.¹ Given the microscopically seeing, many-faceted eye of some peculiar fly, unable to see the Indian’s cabin or long bark house, but only the white man’s dwelling...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Bare Essentials
    (pp. 243-270)

    It was October 7, 1783,¹ and Haydon Wells who, in the winter of 1779–80, had come overland with the Stumps and Eatons, had so far lost only an eye to the Indians.² We know little of Haydon Wells, except that he was a good and respectable man,³ living north of the Cumberland and at least sleeping at Eaton’s Station, for it along with Freeland’s and French Lick still hung on. There were by now several more men in the settlements than back in 1781. In the June just passed there had been 124 in the three stations named,⁴ and...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Silk Handkerchiefs and Feather Beds
    (pp. 271-304)

    The settlers on the Cumberland who late in 1783 and early 1784 sought out the clerk of new Davidson County to record a stock mark or list an inventory were, except for now and then a fort school, enjoying for the first time in almost four years the benefits of an institution other than the home. Settlers upriver in Kentucky would live, some for more than twenty years, with no institution except the home. Children would get at least the rudiments of an education, religion take root, land be bought and sold, and in general civilization get planted, all with...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Around the Family Hearth
    (pp. 305-334)

    Home was the center of the pioneer’s world. Center of home for all in the early years when Indian troubles forced most to live in small houses behind picketed walls, was the family hearth, source of warmth, sometimes light, and always food. It is impossible to look at some long since forgotten cooking hearth without wrinkling the nose, reason only half conceding the smells are dead, and remembering that green oak burning, cedar kindling bursting into flame, boiling hominy, steaming sassafras tea, baking cornbread, frying meat, boiling beans, sweet potatoes roasting in the ashes, and boiling meat, smelled then as...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 335-336)

    The kettle singing from the crane above the glowing hickory embers was like most other aspects of pioneer life, both new and old. Fire and kettles were old in Europe when Martin Chartier visited the Cumberland. The heat of hickory embers had long been known to the American Indian, but was strange to England. The pioneer put the three together.

    The first settlers on the Cumberland, like first settlers elsewhere, invented nothing and most certainly not democracy. They pioneered no new system of government or religion or agriculture. Rather the successful pioneer was a master hand at adapting old learnings...

  20. Author’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. 337-340)
  21. Explanation of Bibliographical References
    (pp. 341-346)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 347-456)
  23. Index
    (pp. 457-480)