|They loved the strength and majesty of the mountains, the beauty of the forests, the good and plentiful water, the rich soil of the valleys and coves, and the cool summers and reasonable winters.|
Only by understanding the way in which folks have lived and made their living in the past can one comprehend the present and plan for the future.
The people who came to settle in Western Carolina were generally of three ethnic origins: Scotch-Irish, English, and German .These settlers were primarily farmers and skilled craftsmen, used to hard work and unbowed by the rigors of mountain life.
Large numbers of Ulster Scots left the British Isles and came to America during the early years of the 18th century. They came to Maryland and Pennsylvania but found the lands along the Delaware and the Chesapeake taken by earlier settlers from England; therefore, they moved west and, following the Great Appalachian Valley, began a movement southward into the piedmont and mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.
These were descendents of the hardy Scots who had survived more than two thousand years of struggle against invaders who, time after time, had pushed them back into the hill country of the Scottish Border but had never conquered them. During those struggles they had learned to be good fighters and to love liberty more than life.
Great Grandfather Walker McCall
Forced to live in the mountainous and barren lands of the Scottish Border, they had eked out an existence through hard work and frugal living. When James I of England decided to colonize some loyal subjects in the northern part of Ireland, hoping that by a gradual, another group, equally large in number though not in influence, was of English descent.
These came from the Tidewater Region of Eastern Carolina and Virginia and were the sons and grandsons of original settlers. or were late comers who had found most or the good lands taken and prices for homesteads rising higher and higher. Some of these were also of dissenting faiths, such as Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers, and were leaving Virginia and the eastern counties of Carolina in order to escape discrimination, persecution, and taxes levied to support the Anglican Church.
As had the Scots, these English settlers brought with them an intense devotion to the constitutional principles of liberty, law, and justice, as well as an immeasurable amount of hard, common sense. In their heritage was the story of a long struggle for individual rights against kings who would have been autocrats.
German families found homes throughout the Piedmont and the mountain region. These were a peace-loving, industrious people. They were generally recognized as the best farmers in America, and many of them were also skilled craftsmen.
About seventy-five percent of the people who now live in Western North Carolina are descendents of these first settlers, and they retain many of the traits characteristic of their ancestors.
They are a proud people, proud of a heroic past, but with faces set to the future. Pride makes them ambitious for their children and willing to sacrifice to see that their sons and daughters have a better life than they have known. They are a religious people,. and are strongly individualistic and self-reliant.
They tend to be conservative, weighing change carefully and long before accepting the new. Such men and women, who had learned the value of work and how to make do with what they had, were good settlers for a new land.
Most of the early families had only what they could bring on their backs or by pack horse. Later, when they came by wagon, they were able to bring more bedding, utensils, tools, seeds and plants, and such items as a spinning wheel and loom; but for many years, all needs had to be supplied by the family and from the resources at hand.
Forests provided materials for houses, barns, household furnishings, tools, fences, and fuel. The first homes were simple cabins made of logs and covered with boards split from logs, but after a few years, when saw mills were brought in, these were replaced by houses of sawed lumber.
With skills inherited from forebears, men turned walnut, cherry, maple, and oak lumber into furniture for the homes and tools for the farms. Good soil in the valleys and coves, and even on hillsides, provided food for the family and feed for livestock. Each family made its own clothing. Sheep pastured on the hillside provided wool, and women spun the thread and wove the cloth for garments, blankets, and coverlets.
Quilts were made from scraps and unworn parts of discarded clothing. Leather for shoes and harness was made by tanning hides of cattle; or deer skins if a ,softer leather was needed for britches and jackets.
Most folks owned their own land and occupied and cultivated that land with the manpower provided by their own families. Mountain farmers shared a common interest in the land, and its cultivation demanded little technology or capital. The possession of a milk cow, a few wandering hogs, some chickens, and a horse or mule was adequate to meet most of the family's needs.
The people who came to the mountain region and took up land, stayed and helped build communities because they loved the land. They loved the strength and majesty of the mountains, the beauty of the forests, the good and plentiful water, the rich soil of the valleys and coves, and the cool summers and reasonable winters.
Their roots sank easily and quickly into the new land, and Western North Carolina became home. They could have moved on if they had wanted to the vast areas of land in the Great Appalachian Valley and then to the greater Valley of the Mississippi and the Great Plains to the west.
They are neighborly and hospitable when they become acquainted. They are interested in politics intensely so in some communities as a means of expressing their opinions and securing their rights.
Mama & Papa Raxter
Claim has been made and is highly debated that Appalachia is "somehow distinct" and "more traditional" than highly urbanized and industrialized segments of the United States.
Family oriented, they are more truly themselves within the family circle than at any other time. For this reason, the "kinship system" tends to control local politics, schools, and even the churches. They also love the home place, the community where they were born and grew up. Even though they may leave the area to find work, they come back to retire or to die and be buried in the family cemetery.
In Appalachia the rugged terrain and the insulation of the mountains themselves made communication difficult, but the region was never entirely cut off from contact with the outside world. Trade with nearby valley communities, seasonal work out of the mountains, postal delivery of letters and periodicals and regular penetration of hollow communities by peddlers and politicians kept mountain residents informed of issues and events in the larger society.
Such contacts brought new ideas, new technologies, and new items of material culture into the mountains where they were sifted into the prevailing culture. Significantly, however, outside contacts during the pre-industrial period occurred on the highlander's own terms and had only marginal influence on the quality and direction of mountain life.
The relative seclusion of mountain neighborhoods from the changes that were sweeping life in urban America provided a sense of security and continuity which sustained a regional culture based upon strong relationships to the land and to family and kinship groups.
Each community occupied a distinct cove, hollow, valley and was separated from its neighbors by mountains or ridges.
Great Grandfather Walker McCall and Family
Land ownership patterns usually terminated at the ridge top, reinforcing the community's identity and independence, but the hillsides themselves were generally considered to be importance of their counterparts in the low country.
This diffusion of settlement and land ownership patterns which evolved in the mountains during the nineteenth century served to minimize the establishment of organized communities and formal social institutions. Politics and religion were the two major opportunities for mountain residents to engage in organized community life, but these institutions were themselves organized along kinship lines. Local political factions divided according to kin groups, and local churches developed as communions of extended family units. Both institutions reflected the importance of personal relationships and local autonomy in their operation and structure.
The absence of highly structured communities and formal social institutions contributed to the evolution of a comparatively open and democratic social order in the mountains. Not until late in the nineteenth century did significant economic differences begin to create conscious class distinctions among mountain residents.
In the rural areas of Appalachia the lack of overt class consciousness was reflected in the of strong egalitarian attitudes . Status rather than class distinctions. therefore, were the most important social division in traditional mountain society. These status distinctions were functions not of economics (wealth, land ownership, or access to natural resources) but of the value system of the community itself. remote mountain neighborhoods where economic differences were minimal, measures of social prestige and privilege were based on personality characteristics or ascribed traits such as age, and family group.
The rural social order was divided not into upper, middle, and lower classes, but into (respectable and non-respectable) and each local community determined its own criteria for respectability. This status system, of course, tended to break down in the villages and county seat towns where class distinctions (and thus class consciousness) were more noticeable. Most social events, such as singings, workings and gatherings where a large crowd might be present, were commonly attended by all who wished to come, regardless of social or moral status. Southern mountains served to inhibit the growth of a rigid social hierarchy.
A virile sturdy manhood, in the midst of a rugged environment, where the struggle for existence has been so difficult. All these things have fostered within the mountaineer's breast an intense spirit of freedom and independence; common to the dwellers of all highland regions
There seems to have emerged in Appalachia a system of cultural beliefs which preserved what some folks call "a vision of Old American" a belief in America as a land of promise and independence where men could "be their own rulers" and where "no one should or could become their masters."