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Blue Ridge Folklife

Blue Ridge Folklife

Ted Olson
William Lynwood Montell General Editor
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Blue Ridge Folklife
    Book Description:

    In the years immediately preceding the founding of the American nation the Blue Ridge region, which stretches through large sections of Virginia and North Carolina and parts of surrounding states along the Appalachian chain, was the American frontier. In colonial times, it was settled by hardy, independent people from several cultural backgrounds that did not fit with the English-dominated society. The landless, the restless, and the rootless followed Daniel Boone, the most famous of the settlers, and pushed the frontier westward.

    The settlers who did not migrate to new lands became geographically isolated and politically and economically marginalized. Yet they created fulfilling lives for themselves by forging effective and oftentimes sophisticated folklife traditions, many of which endure in the region today.

    In 1772 the Blue Ridge was the site of the Watauga Association, often cited as the first free and democratic non-native government on the American continent. In 1780 Blue Ridge pioneers helped win the Revolutionary War for the patriots by defeating Patrick Ferguson's army of British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. When gold was discovered in the southernmost section of the Blue Ridge, America experienced its first gold rush and the subsequent tragic displacement of the region's aboriginal people.

    Having been spared by the coincidence of geology and topography from the more environmentally damaging manifestations of industrialization, coal mining, and dam building, the Blue Ridge region still harbors scenic natural beauty as well as vestiges of the earliest cultures of southern Appalachia.

    As it describes the most characteristic and significant verbal, customary, and material traditions, this fascinating, fact-filled book traces the historical development of the region's distinct folklife.

    Ted Olson is a college instructor, folklorist, freelance writer, and former Blue Ridge Parkway ranger.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-902-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    The Blue Ridge often lives up to the name it was given several centuries ago by European mapmakers. On summer days the forests growing on Blue Ridge slopes emit huge quantities of hydrocarbons, which, when mixed with the region’s characteristically humid air, distort the dense vegetation’s green hue into a hazy, dreamy blue.

    This book explores the folklife of most of the area geographers have called the Blue Ridge Mountain Province. Those geographers rightfully included the section of the Blue Ridge located in Pennsylvania and Maryland—a much less significant landmass than the Blue Ridge of the southern states—in...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Blue Ridge Region through 1800
    (pp. 1-30)

    The first human settlers in the Blue Ridge were aboriginal Native Americans, the descendants of people who had journeyed from Asia to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge as early as 50,000 years b.c. Exactly when these aborigines first arrived in the Southern Appalachians is unclear—climatic conditions in the southern mountains (e.g., extreme humidity and rainfall) were not conducive to the long-term survival of artifacts.

    The oldest concrete evidence of aboriginal settlement near the Blue Ridge region (artifacts found in Russell Cave, Alabama) dates back at least to 8,000 b.c. This aboriginal group, termed Paleo-Indian by archaeologists,...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
    (pp. 31-69)

    In 1799, twelve-year-old Conrad Reed, walking on his father’s farm on the western edge of the North Carolina piedmont (in present-day Cabarrus County), spotted an unusual rock. According to local legend, Conrad brought the seventeen-pound rock to his father’s cabin and used it as a door stop. Later, someone informed the Reeds that they had found an unusually large chunk of gold. Even larger gold nuggets were discovered on the Reed property. Word of the mother lode soon spread, and the rush was on.

    Within a few years, prospectors from every walk of life and ethnic background had established mining...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Verbal Folklore
    (pp. 70-103)

    For the purpose of analysis, folklorists often separate the various modes of folk expression in a given culture into three categories: verbal, customary, and material. Of these three, it is the Blue Ridge region’s verbal folklore that has most fascinated mainstream America. Indeed, American popular and elite cultures have borrowed heavily from the traditional verbal folklore of the Blue Ridge people, a situation which has proven far more beneficial to the borrowers than to the providers. This usurpation of traditional Blue Ridge culture, especially of verbal folklore, by outsiders has led to considerable discussion about the ethical considerations of such...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Customary Folklife
    (pp. 104-138)

    The term customary folklife refers to traditional behaviors which generally possess both nonverbal and verbal (and sometimes material) components. The Native American presence in the region produced some fascinating customary traditions, all of which are now absent from the Blue Ridge (though some of the customary traditions of the Cherokee still survive in the Qualla Boundary, the tribe’s landholdings in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains). For three centuries, the Blue Ridge has harbored different yet equally interesting European-American customary traditions; some of these died out in the wake of modernization, some linger tenuously in the region’s more remote areas, and...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Material Culture
    (pp. 139-173)

    InPattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States, folklorist Henry Glassie observed that, since the middle of the nineteenth century in the United States, “[T]he most usual result of the influence of popular upon folk material . . . has been the replacement of the traditional object by its popular equivalent. The popular object has been accepted by the innovative individual because it saves him time, is more quickly produced or bought, and is easier to use than the traditional object—and also because it is new.” Despite the general decline in traditional material culture across...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Blue Ridge Today
    (pp. 174-186)

    Growing up in Washington, D. C., I had visited the Blue Ridge many times during my youth, but my first opportunity to stay there for an extended period came when I worked as a counselor at a summer camp located just over the Virginia border in Hampshire County, West Virginia. That was when I met Jack Schaffenaker, “the earthworm man.” As the following first-person account conveys, that summer Jack taught urban and suburban campers and counselors much about rural life in the Blue Ridge region—and much about living, period.

    I sat there on the lodge’s back porch, pondering my...

    (pp. 187-200)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 201-211)