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A History of Appalachia

A History of Appalachia

Richard B. Drake
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A History of Appalachia
    Book Description:

    " Richard Drake has skillfully woven together the various strands of the Appalachian experience into a sweeping whole. Touching upon folk traditions, health care, the environment, higher education, the role of blacks and women, and much more, Drake offers a compelling social history of a unique American region. The Appalachian region, extending from Alabama in the South up to the Allegheny highlands of Pennsylvania, has historically been characterized by its largely rural populations, rich natural resources that have fueled industry in other parts of the country, and the strong and wild, undeveloped land. The rugged geography of the region allowed Native American societies, especially the Cherokee, to flourish. Early white settlers tended to favor a self-sufficient approach to farming, contrary to the land grabbing and plantation building going on elsewhere in the South. The growth of a market economy and competition from other agricultural areas of the country sparked an economic decline of the region's rural population at least as early as 1830. The Civil War and the sometimes hostile legislation of Reconstruction made life even more difficult for rural Appalachians. Recent history of the region is marked by the corporate exploitation of resources. Regional oil, gas, and coal had attracted some industry even before the Civil War, but the postwar years saw an immense expansion of American industry, nearly all of which relied heavily on Appalachian fossil fuels, particularly coal. What was initially a boon to the region eventually brought financial disaster to many mountain people as unsafe working conditions and strip mining ravaged the land and its inhabitants. A History of Appalachia also examines pockets of urbanization in Appalachia. Chemical, textile, and other industries have encouraged the development of urban areas. At the same time, radio, television, and the internet provide residents direct links to cultures from all over the world. The author looks at the process of urbanization as it belies commonly held notions about the region's rural character.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7116-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xii)

    MANY ARE THOSE WHO CONSIDER Appalachia a mysterious region. Even in the seventeenth century, when the French Huguenot developer Charles Rochefort promoted a colony he called “Apalache” in the Georgia uplands, and even before, when the high country behind the Apalache Indians of northern Florida appeared on maps as the “Apalachean Mountains,” the definition of these mountains has been inexact. Modem scholars even today often approach the region having in mind different areas within the eastern mountains of the United States. The region’s principal geographic study presents a useful review of the many designations of Appalachia used within the past...

  5. Part 1 The Contest for Appalachia

    • 1 The Indian Era
      (pp. 3-13)

      THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS are located entirely within the temperate zone, from about 33 to 48 degrees north latitude. The significant climatic difference between the valley floors, some at less than one thousand feet and the peaks at six thousand feet and more, assures a great variety of natural life. All the area enjoys adequate rainfall, from 40 to 120 inches annually. The diversity of life that has developed in these mountains is spectacular. Varieties of azalea, laurel, and hundreds of other plants may have originated here. Bird life is as varied in Appalachia as anywhere in the world. And in...

    • 2 The Old World Backgrounds
      (pp. 14-24)

      THE EUROPEAN WORLD that came into contact with the North American Indian world during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a vibrant, confident one. This was the Europe that produced the Commercial Revolution, early capitalism, the dramatic discoveries of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, the Renaissance, and the religious revolution known as the Reformation. By the sixteenth century, European politics was controlled by new, dynamic national monarchies in Spain, France, England, Portugal, and Holland. Suddenly the Atlantic Ocean became Europe’s door to the world, and the society in western Europe that had been a backwater in a Mediterranean-oriented Europe...

    • 3 The Coming of the Europeans
      (pp. 25-39)

      THE FIRST EUROPEANS to come into the Indian-dominated world in North America were the Spanish. The initial center of Spanish concern was the Caribbean, where the island of Santo Domingo fell under Spanish control soon after Columbus’ voyages of the 1490s. Spanish interest then reached to Mexico in the 1520s, where the fabled wealth of the Aztecs was won. Then conquest focused on another rich land full of immediately exploitable wealth—the Inca civilization in Peru conquered by Pizarro in 1536.

      The Spanish awareness north of Mexico and the Caribbean was focused on what they called, “La Florida.” Florida itself...

    • 4 The Wars for Appalachia
      (pp. 40-56)

      THE FRENCH AND THE BRITISH were continuously at war, or in preparation for it, from 1689 until well into the nineteenth century. Fought partly in North America between 1689 and 1764, this series of wars is known collectively by American historians as the French and Indian Wars. The separate wars in America generally took the names of the reigning British monarch—King William’s War (1689–1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713), and King George’s War (1744–1748). The most decisive war was called the French and Indian War (1754–1763). This Seven Years’ War of Europe was actually begun in...

  6. Part 2 The New Nation and the Appalachian Backwoods

    • 5 Backwoods-Cohee Society
      (pp. 59-79)

      THE COASTAL AREAS of the British colonies were settled by English migrants, who often carne as rather well-positioned individuals and groups, but who happened to be out-of-favor during England’s revolutionary period, 1640–1688. After the so-called Settlement of 1688, those who migrated from England, and from Germany, tended to be persons “left out of the settlement” and these people generally settled in backwoods areas that approached and even entered the Appalachian Mountains.

      Tensions between the earlier-arriving tidewater elite and the eighteenth century latecomers, who tended to settle in the backwoods, sometimes broke into open violence. Even before the eighteenth century,...

    • 6 The Challenge to Cohee Society, 1820–1860
      (pp. 80-92)

      IN RECENT YEARS, a substantial literature has emerged exploring the nature of antebellum Southern society that particularly probes the question of why the relatively poorer, non-slaveholding whites largely supported secession. In the early 1940s, Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker even suggested the question of why what he called “Cohee Civilization” did not stop the spread of plantation America before a bloody war was necessary. More recently, some scholars in the tradition of the New Social History claim to see a class struggle developing within the Old South, between the substantial yeomen and the paternalistic, plantation elite. Yet there are others who claim...

    • 7 The Civil War Era, 1860–1877
      (pp. 93-116)

      SO THE WAR CAME! During the Civil War in Appalachia, most small farmers in East Tennessee, northern Georgia, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky usually identified more strongly with the Federal Union than they did with the seceding state governments. In southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina, however, most people were initially sympathetic with, even enthusiastic about, secession. Still, many Appalachian Southerners tended to be both pro-slavery and pro-Confederate, particularly the elite among them in the rich valleys and mountain county-seat towns. In the southern mountains, class identification was the most dependable guide as to how a person or family identified...

  7. Part 3 Modern Appalachia

    • 8 The “Discovery” of Appalachia
      (pp. 119-130)

      APPALACHIA HAS ALWAYS BEEN a complex area. From the first settlement of the region, elite speculators and a few merchants mixed with the larger number of pioneer settlers who were seeking to build yeoman farms. As transportation corridors developed, strips of commerce and mainline culture emerged in the region’s towns. Also, some areas in Appalachia, notably in the Ridge and Valley province of the region—in the Valley of Virginia and the Tennessee River Valley—rich soils supported a prosperous agriculture. In the 1950s, Cratis D. Williams, often referred to as the “Dean of Appalachian Studies,” recognized this continuing complex...

    • 9 The Coming of the Machine Age
      (pp. 131-152)

      THE STORY OF THE Euro–American conquest of Appalachia since 1750 exactly parallels in time the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England. At the very time of the Newcomen and Watt inventions in steam-engine technology, the first permanent European settlers were moving into the Shenandoah Valley. The earliest explorers in the region were, in fact, on the lookout as much for industrial fuel resources as they were for land for settlement and speculation. Thomas Walker’sJournalin 1750, for example, notes the coal outcroppings present in the Cumberland Gap. And Jefferson’sNotes on Virginia,written in the early 1780s,...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 10 From Plutocracy to Welfare State and Back
      (pp. 153-182)

      WILLIAM G. FROST’SAtlantic Monthlyarticle on Appalachia in 1899 referred to the southern mountain area as the “Republican backyards” of nine solidly Democratic states. This political evaluation is essentially accurate if we accept the characterization of the South from 1880 to 1928 as “solidly Democratic.” There were exceptions, of course. West Virginia, an entirely Appalachian state, enjoyed a classic two-party system. Furthermore, there was such a large Republican population in East Tennessee that it could not be ignored by Tennessee’s normally dominant Democratic Party. North Carolina also developed practices that kept the mountain section of that state, which voted...

    • 11 Regional Society and Social Change
      (pp. 183-193)

      IT HAS BEEN MENTIONED previously that Cratis Williams, for years recognized as the “Dean of Appalachian Studies” and himself a native of the region, observed that there are three quite distinctive groups among Appalachian mountaineers. The first he termed the town-oriented elite and city folk, who are little different, he said, from the rest of middle-class Americans. Members of this group are the region’s elite and the professional and commercial people. The second group, he says, are the substantial farmers in the region’s more fertile valleys. This is a quite prosperous group, and at the time Williams made this observation...

    • 12 “The New Appalachia,” 1930–2000
      (pp. 194-216)

      THE 1930S BROUGHT important changes to the Appalachian economy. But while the American market economy floundered, yeomanry made something of a comeback in Appalachia’s rural areas as thousands retreated from the nation’s cities and returned home. The Great Depression placed immense strains on the nation’s commercial institutions, and at times the market system seemed on the verge of collapse. Some even suggested that the basic principles of market capitalism should be abandoned. In Appalachian Virginia, for example, the number of farmers rose by some 16 percent between 1930 and 1935; and according to one scholar, though agricultural conditions had been...

    • 13 The Appalachian Mind
      (pp. 217-236)

      TO ATTEMPT TO IDENTIFY any “Appalachian Mind” is disarmingly difficult. Yet as early as the mid-1920s, Baltimore’s famous journalist H.L. Mencken, following the lead of “an amiable newspaper-woman of Chattanooga,” attempted just that. He was led into an East Tennessee valley, which was, he said, “a place where the old-time religion was genuinely on tap.” Mencken found a people who followed their preachers blindly into the world of “the last Day of Judgment.” In this place, the reading of books was a source of danger. “Why read a book? If what was in it was true, then everything in it...

    • 14 The Appalachian Future
      (pp. 237-246)

      IN LOOKING AT THE FUTURE of the people of the Appalachian region, we first need to recognize that there are at least two quite different worlds in the region. Regional scholars have long recognized this Appalachian duality. From the time of John C. Campbell and William G. Frost at the tum of the century, through the radical scholars of the 1960s and 1970s, the two worlds of Appalachia have been noted. Perhaps Harry Caudill said it best when he claimed that there are two kinds of people in Appalachia: the rich and the powerful, who dominate the region’s life, and...

  8. Sources
    (pp. 247-274)
  9. Index
    (pp. 275-293)