based on selections from _Albion's Seed_ by David Hackett Fischer

The Borders of North Britain--an INTRODUCTION to BORDER CULTURE

Early in the twentieth century the English folklorist Cecil Sharp left his home in Stratford-on-Avon and spent many months in America's Appalachian highlands, collecting the songs and dances of the back settlers. After careful comparison with British materials, he wrote of these people:

From an analysis of their traditional songs, ballads, dances, sing ing-games, etc.... they came from a part of England where the civilization was least developed probably the North of England, or the Border country between Scotland and England.'Music of the Cumberland Gap

This border region included six counties in the far north of England: Cumberland, Westmorland and parts of Lancashire onthe western side of the Pennines; Northumberland, Durham and parts of Yorkshire to the east. It also embraced five counties of southern Scotland Ayr, Dumfries, Wigtown, Roxburgh and Berwick. During the seventeenth century, its culture was carried westward across the Irish Sea to five counties of Ulster Derry, Down, Armagh, Antrim and Tyrone.1

Within this region the North British emigration to America drew heavily from counties that touched upon the Irish Sea Ayr, Dumfries and Wigtown in Scotland; Cumberland and Westmorland in England; Derry, Antrim and Down in Ireland. The sea itself united its surrounding lands in a single cultural region.2

To a traveler who enters this border region from the south of England, the landscape seems strange and forbidding even today. As one drives northward on the M6 motorway, the first impression is of a bare and empty country, which by comparison with the teeming English Midlands appears almost uninhabited. The terrain is uneven a stark succession of barren hills and deep valleys. West of Kendal, a handsome stone-built shire town in the old county of Westmorland, the countryside begins to change. Here one enters the Lake District, with its romantic scenery and beautiful views. Westward beyond Lake Windermere lies the Fell country, a sparsely settled mountain district with peaks rising to 3,000 feet, and high moorlands of almost lunar bleakness. Still farther to the west, the houses grow more numerous as one approaches the close-built coastal towns on the Irish sea. Forty-five miles north of Kendal lies the city of Carlisle, the metropolis of the English marches. This town is still dominated by its castle with massive walls of crimson stone which brood ominously above the busy traffic on Castle Way. To wander through the damp dungeons of Carlisle Castle, and to study the strange graffiti carved in its walls by captives many centuries ago, is to feel once again the violence of life upon the border. Everywhere in the region one still discovers ruined walls and crenellated towers which are memorials to its violent past. At Penrith, a market town halfway between Carlisle and Kendal, there is a great red sandstone beacon high on a barren hill, where warning fires were lighted when the Scots came over the border.3

The border derived its cultural character from one decisive historical fact. For seven centuries, the kings of Scotland and England could not agree who owned it, and meddled constantly in each other's affairs. From the year 1040 to 1745, every English monarch but three suffered a Scottish invasion, or became an invader in his turn. In the same period, most Scottish kings went to war against England, and many died "with their boots on," as the border saying went. Scotland's first king, Duncan (1034-40), was murdered by Macbeth after losing a war to the Northumbrians. In 1057, Macbeth himself suffered the same fate after his defeat by another English army in the forest fight at Dunsinane. The next Scottish king, Malcolm Canmore (1058-93), invaded England five times in hopes of conquering its northern provinces, and was at last slain in Northumberland. After 1093 the Normans attacked northward in their turn and when Scotland's king Donald Bane (1093-97) resisted, they took him captive and their Scottish allies put out his eyes to quiet him.

An interval of peace followed, but in 1136 Scotland's King David led an army into England and the fighting began again. In the course of the next century most towns on both sides of the border were brutally sacked and burned, and the countryside was ravaged from Newcastle to Edinburgh. Churches and monasteries became favorite targets; one Scottish army struggled home so laden with loot that soldiers drowned in the river Eden beneath the weight of plundered chalices and crucifixes.

These wars continued for many generations. In the year 1215, England's King John marched north on a mission of revenge. The Scottish burghers of Berwick were put to death by torture; the English king set fire to their houses with his own hand. During the late thirteenth century, Scotland was forced to accept English overlordship, which brought another interval of sullen peace. Conditions improved in the reign of Alexander III (1249-86), a golden age for Scottish culture. But on a dark night in 1286, Alexander fell to his death over a cliff or perhaps was pushed and the slaughter began again. England's King Edward I (1272-1307) captured the border town of Berwick and put to death every male of military age. For three centuries Scottish soldiers in their bloodlust cried "Remember Berwick!"

The lowlands remained in English hands until about 1297, when Scotland's national hero William Wallace invaded Cumberland. His soldiers flayed the bodies of English officers who fell into their hands. When Wallace himself was captured, his body was drawn and quartered, and his head impaled atop an English pike. England's warrior King Edward I (1272-1307) then harried the north with such violence that he was called the "Hammer of the Scots"; as he lay dying in Cumberland, Edward ordered his bones to be carried into Scotland by an avenging English army. His hapless son Edward II (1307-27) tried to obey, but was beaten at Bannockburn (1314) by the Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, whose followers looted, burned and raped the northern counties of England, and part of Ireland for good measure. England's Edward III (1327-77) took his revenge in the campaign which is still remembered as the "burnt Candlemas" a systematic destruction of the Scottish lowlands as far north as Edinburgh. The act of savagery led to new atrocities by the Scots, and new expeditions by England's Richard II (1377-99) and Henry IV (1399-1413).

All the while, private fighting continued between warlords on both sides of the border. Through the fifteenth century, North Britain was reduced to anarchy. Scotland's James I (1406-37) was assassinated by his own henchmen; James II "of the fiery Face" (1437-60) was blown to pieces while attacking the English at Roxburgh; James III (1460-88) was murdered by a family of rampaging border warlords; end dames IV (1488-1513) died fighting the English on Flodden Field. English vengance reached its bloody climax when Henry VIII (1509-47) ordered the ruin of hundreds of border villages in a retribution that Scots remember as "the Rough Wooing."

The border fell quiet after 1567, when dames VI became King of Scotland and later King of England as well. But in the reign of Charles I, English and Scots went to war again, and hostilities continued under the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Major raids and border risings also occurred in 1680, 1689, 1715 and 1745. Altogether, two historians of the border write that "until after 1745, the region never enjoyed fifty consecutive years of quiet." This endemic violence caused heavy loss of life on both sides of the border. It was written that "a Scots raid down toward the Tyneside often did as much killing in relation to the local population as the plague did nearly everywhere."4 The cultural effect of violence was magnified by a climate of fear which continued even in periods of peace. Long after the "Forty-five," English diaries often recorded rumors that the Scots were "over the borders." Fear itself remained a social fact of high importance after so many centuries of strife.5

Dynastic stuggles between the monarchs of England and Scotland were only a small part of the border's sufferings. The quarrels of kings became a criminal's opportunity to rob and rape and murder with impunity. On both sides of the border, and especially in the "debatable land" that was claimed by both kingdoms, powerful clans called Taylor, Bell, Graham and Bankhead lived outside the law, and were said to be "Scottish when they will, and English at their pleasure."6 They made a profession of preying upon their neighbors "reiving," it was called along the border.7 Other families specialized in the theft of livestock "rustling" was its border name. Rustling on a small scale was endemic throughout the region. Large gangs of professional rustlers also "operated on a scale more reminiscent of the traditional American model than any English equivalent," in the words of an historian.8

This incessant violence shaped the culture of the border region, and also created a social system which was very different from that in the south of England. On the border, forms of tenancy were designed to maintain large bodies of fighting men. Lord Burghley noted, " . . .there is no lease in that country, but with provision to find horse and arms, to be held by an able man."' In the great manors of Wark and Harbottle, it was observed that "customary tenure was very secure . . . descent was by partible inheritance, so that potential fighting men were guaranteed subsistence."9

Endemic violence also had an effect upon the economy, which lagged far behind other parts of England in the pace and pattern of its development. In 1617 the Venetian ambassador noted that the border country "at a distance of forty miles from the frontier, and especially the county of Northumberland was very poor and uncultivated and exceedingly wretched . . . from the sterility of the ground and also from the perpetual wars with which these nations have savagely destroyed each other." For centuries the region remained in the grip of a vicious cycle. Poverty and violence caused much poverty and more violence.10 The insecurity of the borders created a unique style of architecture throughout this region. The gentry lived in buildings called peles, stone towers three or four stories high. The ground floor was a windowless storeroom with walls ten feet thick. Stacked above it was a hall for living, a bower for sleeping and a deck for fighting. Camden wrote that "there is not a man amongst them of the better sort that hath not his little tower or pele.''l2 Poor tenants dealt with danger in another way, by erecting rude "cabbins" of stone or wood or build within three or four hours." The destruction of these temporary buildings was not a heavy loss, for they could be rebuilt almost as rapidly as they were wrecked.13

Border violence also made a difference in patterns of association. In a world of treachery and danger, blood relationships became highly important. Families grew into clans, and kinsmen placed fidelity to family above loyalty to the crown itself. One officer, who was charged with the thankless task of keeping the King's peace among the borderers, reported in despair in 1611:

They are void of conscience, the fear of God; and of all honesty, and so linked in friendship by marriage, and all or most of them of one flesh, ending to make their gain by stealing, that of a hundred felonies scarcely one shall be proved.14

Borderers placed little trust in legal institutions. They formed the custom of settling their own disputes by the lex talionis of feud violence and blood money. There was also a system which the borderers called "blackmail," involving the payment of protection money to powerful families.15

As we shall see, endemic violence shaped the culture of this region in many other ways in attitudes toward work, sport, time, land, wealth, rank, inheritance, marriage and gender. This culture was much the same on both sides of the border. "English and Scots Borderers had everything in common except nationality," writes historian George Fraser. "They belonged to the same small, self-contained, unique world, lived by the same rules and shared the same inheritance.16

This border culture was carried across the Irish Sea to Ulster by the settlers who would be called Scotch-Irish and Anglo-Irish. Those immigrants came from many parts of Scotland and England, but an historian observes that "the greatest numbers came from the Borders." In Ireland they found another environment of endemic violence. There the old folkways survived for centuries after they had disappeared on the border itself, and still go on today in northern Ireland, with its Protestant drums and Catholic bombs and savage knee-cappings and tortures in the Maze. In the unceasing torment of that beautiful ravaged land, the long legacy of border violence still bears its bitter fruit.

But in the borderlands themselves, the old culture began to be transformed in the seventeenth century mainly by new political conditions. The two warring kindgoms gradually became one, in a long consolidation that began when Scotland's James VI inherited the English throne in 1603, and ended in the Act of Union in 1706-7.

In this process, the borders experienced a sweeping social revolution. There are many truths to be told about this event. One was the truth of its agents, who saw it as a process of "pacification." Another was the truth of its objects, who thought of themselves not as villains but victims. In any case, this ordering process was as violent as the world that it destroyed. The pacification of this bloody region required the disruption of a culture that had been a millennium in the making. Gallows were erected on hills throughout the English border counties, and put busily to work. Thrifty Scots saved the expense of a rope by drowning their reivers instead of hanging them, sometimes ten or twenty at a time. Entire families were outlawed en masse, and some were extirpated by punitive expeditions. Many were forcibly resettled in Ireland, where officials complained that they were "as difficult to manage in Ireland as in north Cumberland," and banished them once again this time to the colonies. The so-called Scotch-Irish who came to America thus included a double-distilled selection of some of the most disorderly inhabitants of a deeply disordered land.17

The pacification of the border transformed its social system. The old border warlords were deprived of their income and fell deep in debt, losing their properties to the merchants of expanding towns. A romantic account of their fate was the history of the Osbaldistone family, in Scott's great border novel Rob Roy. An actual example was Sir William Chaytor, seized for debt in his ancient pele and carried off to London's Fleet Prison raging helplessly, "From Hell, Hull, Halifax and York, Good Lord deliver us." 18

The old warrior families were replaced by a new class of entrepreneurs who saw the future of their region in commerce and coal. Arable lands along the border passed into the hands of agricultural capitalists. Most great landlords in Cumberland and Westmorland were absentees who never knew their tenants and rarely visited their estates. One of the largest holders, the Duke of Somerset (1682-1748), saw his Cumbrian lands only once in sixty-six years. These properties were run by stewards and bailiffs. The income that they extracted from the ten; ntry was sent to southern England. The distribution of wealth, always unequal in the borderlands, now became still more so.19

Some middling families of the class called statesmen were able to improve themselves. Even these small holders were technically tenants, but in fact they owned everything except the mineral rights to their lands for the payment of nominal rents. Some enlarged their holdings, and were able to pass them to their children for the payment of a fine equal to two years' rent, plus a piece of silver called "God's Penny."20

Others were not so lucky. When the borders were pacified, changes were made in the form of tenure. "When fighting men were no longer needed," one historian has written, "landlords began to argue that customary tenants were in fact tenants of the will of the lord."21 In the process, both tenants and undertenants became vulnerable to exploitation. The cruelties of rack renting became commonplace throughout the region, and evictions were widespread. Many emigrants brought to America an indelible memory of oppression which shaped their political attitudes for generations to come.22

Some tenants resisted by going to law against the landlords. Others took the law into their own hands. This was specially the case in southwestern Scotland, where the rural population rose against their oppressors and leveled the stone walls that landlords were building for livestock. The largest of these insurrections was the so-called Galloway Levellers' Revolt of 1724. In northern Ireland, tenants banded together in violent vigilante groups called Hearts of Steel and Hearts of Oak against rack-renting landlords. The absentee proprietors themselves were safe in London or Dublin, but many an agent was brutally assassinated. 23

More violence occurred when new roads began to be built throughout the region, and were forcibly resisted. A custom called "pulling up the ways" became a common form of rural protest against encroaching civilization. England's new standing army was called out to suppress road riots along the border.24

As if these miseries were not enough, the people of the borders were also afflicted by famine and epidemic disease, which so often accompanied rapid change in the early modern era. A large part of the population lived close to the edge of subsistence, and became highly vulnerable to harvest fluctuations. Major crop failures occurred repeatedly in the eighteenth century notably in the years 1727, 1740, and 1770. Each scarcity was followed by a surge of emigration.

These trends also occurred in Ireland, where Calvinist colonists were caught between a rapacious Anglican elite on the one hand, and a fast-growing Catholic majority on the other. They were increasingly exploited by rack-renting landlords, bullied by county oligarchies, and taxed by a church to which they did not belong. Another factor in Ireland was the depression of the linen trade. This industry suffered a prolonged decline throughout the period of emigration, and experienced a major collapse in the early 1770s.

The cause of these various troubles was a social transformation of high complexity. Their consequence was a surge of emigration so strong that observers compared it to an "epidemic" or "rage" or "distemper." Authorities were appalled by the loss of population, but could find no way to stop it. One of them wrote in 1728:

The whole north is in a ferment at present, and people every day engaged one another to go next year to the West Indies. The humour has spread like a contagious distemper, and the people will hardly hear of anybody that tries to cure them of their madness. The worst is, it affects only Protestants.25

In Ireland, so desperate did people become that some attempted to escape in open boats across the Irish Sea and drowned in those treacherous waters.26

These people were refugees from a great historical transformation which had caught them in its complex coils. Some wished only to keep their own customs; others thought more of the future than the past. For both groups, the New World held the promise of a happiness which eluded them at home. In their teeming thousands they fled to America.

The American Backcountry

The borderers entered America principally through the ports of Philadelphia and Newcastle. They moved quickly into the surrounding countryside, and in the words of one official, simply squatted wherever they found "a spot of vacant land." The Quakers were not happy about this invasion. "Our people are in pain," wrote Jonathan Dickinson in 1717, "From the north of Ireland many hundreds [have come]."27 The North Britons brought with them the ancient border habit of belligerence toward other ethnic groups. As early as 1730, Pennsylvania officials were complaining of their "audacious and disorderly manner." One of them wrote, "I must own from my own experience in the land office that the settlement of five families from Ireland gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people. Before we were now broke in upon, ancient Friends and first settlers lived happily; but now the case is quite altered."28


Among Quakers there was talk of restricting immigration as early as 1718, by "laying a Duty of 5 pounds a head on some sorts and double on others."29 But this idea cut against the grain of William Penn's holy experiment, and was not adopted. Instead, the Quakers decided to deal with the problem in a different way, by encouraging the borderers to settle in the "back parts" of the colony. In 1731, James Logan informed the Penns in England that he was deliberately planting the North Britons in the west, "as a frontier in case of any disturbance. " Logan argued that these people might usefully become a buffer population between the Indians and the Quakers. At the same time, he frankly hoped to rid the east of them.30

With much encouragement from Quaker leaders, the North Britons moved rapidly westward from Philadelphia into the rolling hills of the interior. Many drifted south and west along the mountains of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. They gradually became the dominant English-speaking culture in a broad belt of territory that extended from the highlands of Appalachia through much of the Old Southwest. In the nineteenth century, they moved across the Mississippi River to Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. By the twentieth century, their influence would be felt as far west as New Mexico, Arizona and southern California.

The area of their settlement may be observed in the first U.S. Census of 1790. The distribution of surnames shows that immigrants from North Britain found their way into every part of the American colonies. But by far the largest concentration was to be found in the backcountry region that included southwestern Pennsylvania, the western parts of Maryland and Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.31

Throughout that broad area, more than half of the population came from Scotland, Ireland and northern England. Other ethnic minorities also moved into the backcountry, but their numbers remained comparatively small. The largest of the non English- speaking groups were the Germans, who swarmed into the west- central parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and also in the northern reaches of the Valley of Virginia. But altogether, the Germans made up only about 5 percent of the population in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky in 1790. They remained a very small minority in the southern highlands.

Other ethnic groups also included scattered settlements of French Huguenots, Swiss Protestants, Welsh Baptists, West Indians and even a colony of Greeks. But 90 percent of the backsettlers were either English, Irish or Scottish; and an actual majorit came from Ulster, the Scottish lowlands, and the north o England. North Britons were 73 to 80 percent of the population in Virginia's Augusta, Rockbridge, Fayette and Lincoln counties 75 percent in Pennsylvania's Washington County, 90 percent in some counties of Tennesses and Kentucky, nearly 100 percent in the Hillsboro district of North Carolina and a large majority in much of the South Carolina upcountry. These areas would become the seed settlements of the southern highlands.32

Numbers alone, however, were not the full measure of their dominion. These emigrants from North Britain established in the southern highlands a cultural hegemony that was even greater than their proportion in the population.33 An explanation of this fact may be found in the character of this American environment, which proved to be exceptionally well matched to the culture of the British borderlands.

The southern backcountry was a vast area roughly the size of western Europe, extending 800 miles south from Pennsylvania to Georgia, and several hundred miles west from the Piedmont plateau to the banks of the Mississippi. The terrain consisted of corrugated ridges and valleys, rising from the coastal plain to the crest of the Appalachians (the highest point was Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet), then falling away to the western rivers.

In the mid-eighteenth century this area was a great deciduous forest of oak, hickory and chestnut. In the mountains, the forest changed to birch, evergreens and maple. On the banks of the Mississippi it turned into stands of tupelo, red gum and cypress; and further south it became the "pineywoods" of loblolly and long leaf pine. Scattered throughout the region were canebreaks and grassy openings such as the Kentucky bluegrass which attracted early settlement by their fertility. The backcountry was a beautiful land in every season of the year. On sunny spring days the woods were dappled with a golden light that filtered through the trees. The undergrowth was bright with blooming dogwood, mountain laurel, wild azaleas and trailing arbutus. In summer mornings, the countryside was shrouded by a mist that rose like a white cloud from the hollows; the author can remember how it awakened a sense of mystery even in the mind of a child. On summer afternoons, the distant hills were masked in a shimmering haze that gave the mountains their names: Great Smoky, Blue Ridge, Purple Mountain. When fall came to the southern highlands, the hills were as colorful as New England a riot of red maples, yellow hickories and russet oaks beneath a bright October sky. Even winter brought an austere beauty to the landscape when its gothic tracery of bare branches showed black against the setting sun.

The climate of the backcountry was very moist, with forty or fifty inches of rain a year, rising as high as eighty inches on the mountain slopes of North Carolina. The land was laced by falling waters and mountain springs that never ran dry. This abundance of water became a social fact of high importance in the backcountry, for it allowed small family farms to flourish independently without the aid of any earthly power, and encouraged a sense of stubborn autonomy among the farming folk who settled there.

Temperatures tended to be moderate throughout the region another important fact. By seventeenth-century standards, the southern highlands proved to be healthy for Europeans during the first years of settlement, before the malaria parasites followed their human hosts into the interior, and the disease called the "milk sick" came to be a major problem. Even at their worst, mortality rates in the upcountry were much lower than the tidewater, and far below the fever-ridden valleys of the old southwest. Low levels of endemic illness made the backsettlers highly vulnerable to epidemics which struck with deadly force, but families increased rapidly and were not so often shattered by death as in other parts of British America.

Before the borderers arrived, the backcountry was occupied by strong and warlike Indian nations, from the Shawnee in the north, to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw in the south. These proud people did not give way easily before white settlement. Savage warfare began in the late seventeenth century, and continued to the early nineteenth century in some of the fiercest Indian wars of American history.

To the first settlers, the American backcountry was a dangerous environment, just as the British borderlands had been. Much of the southern highlands were "debateable lands" in the border sense of a contested territory without established government or the rule of law. The borderers were more at home than others in this anarchic environment, which was well suited to their family system, their warrior ethic, their farming and herding economy, their attitudes toward land and wealth and their ideas of work and power. So well adapted was the border culture to this environment that other ethnic groups tended to copy it. The ethos of the North British borders came to dominate this "dark and bloody ground," partly by force of numbers, but mainly because it was a means of survival in a raw and dangerous world...

A large proportion of Appalachian place names were drawn from the geography of Britain with a heavy bias toward the border region. The most common British county name in Appalachia was Cumberland the extreme northwestern county in England. There was a Cumberland town in western Maryland, a Cumberland River in Tennessee, the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky, Cumberland Knob in North Carolina, Cumberland Gap through the Appalachians, and Cumberland counties in most states throughout this region. The name had a double appeal to English borderers, for it also commemorated the Duke of Cumberland who broke their ancient highland enemies at the battle of Culloden...

A large proportion of Appalachian place names were drawn from the geography of Britain with a heavy bias toward the border region. The most common British county name in Appalachia was Cumberland the extreme northwestern county in England. There was a Cumberland town in western Maryland, a Cumberland River in Tennessee, the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky, Cumberland Knob in North Carolina, Cumberland Gap through the Appalachians, and Cumberland counties in most states throughout this region. The name had a double appeal to English borderers, for it also commemorated the Duke of Cumberland who broke their ancient highland enemies at the battle of Culloden.

The distribution of these place names defined the cultural boundaries of a region that was called the "back settlements" or the "backcountry" or simply the "back parts" in the eighteenth century. Scarcely anyone thought of it as a "frontier" in Frederick Jackson Turner's sense during the first two centuries of American history. The fact that it was thought to be "back" rather than "front" tells us which way the colonists were facing in that era.33


Feeling lost in the Wilderness? Want to go Home?

The Colonial Mood: Anxiety and Insecurity in the Back Settlements

A backcountry gentleman was once heard to pray, "Lord, grant that I may always be right, for thou knowest I am hard to turn."' This supplication captured the prevailing cultural mood in the back settlements, which were profoundly conservative and xenophobic. The people of this region were intensely resistant to change and suspicious of "foreigners." One student of the Appalachian dialect found that "the word foreigner itself is used here [in Appalachia] in its Elizabethan sense of someone who is the same nationality as the speaker, but not from the speaker's immediate area." All the world seemed foreign to the backsettlers except their neighbors and kin.


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Backcountry Speech Ways:Border Origins of Southern Highland Speech

In the United States, a distinctive family of regional dialects can still be heard throughout the Appalachian and Ozark mountains, the lower Mississippi Valley, Texas and the Southern Plains. It is commonly called southern highland or southern midland speech.34

This American speech way is at least two centuries old. It was recognized in the colonies even before the War of Independence, and identified at first in ethnic rather than regional terms, as "Scotch-Irish speech." In the backcountry, it rapidly became so dominant that other ethnic stocks in this region adopted it as their own. As early as 1772, a newspaper advertisement reported a runaway African slave named Jack who was said to "speak the Scotch-Irish dialect."35

The earliest recorded examples of this "Scotch-Irish" speech were strikingly similar to the language that is spoken today in the southern highlands, and has become familiar throughout the western world as the English of country western singers, transcontinental truckdrivers, cinematic cowboys, and backcountry politicians.

This southern highland speech has long been very distinctive for its patterns of pronunciation. It says whar for where, thar for there, hard for hired, critter for creature, sartin for certain, a-goin for going, hit for it, he-it for hit, far for fire, deef for deaf, pizen for poison, nekkid for naked, eetch for itch, boosh for bush, wrassle for wrestle, chancy for china, chaw for chew, poosh for push, shet for shut, tea-it for bat, be-it for be, narrer for narrow, winder for window, widder for widow, and young-uns for young ones.36 When they would say presence, they say lettinon....Its grammar also differs in many details from other English dialects. Verb forms include constructions such as he come in, she done finished, they "rowed up, the plural they is judged, the interrogative you wasn't there, was you, the emphatic he done did it, and the use of hoove as a past participle of heave. The indefinite article as she had a one frequently occurred in the southern highlands, as did the emphatic double negative, he don't have none.37 It also used prepositions in a curious ways. In the early nineteenth century, James Parton recorded examples such as "He went till Charleston" and "there never was seen the like of him for mischief." Parton wrote, ". . . these are specimens of their talk."38

Southern highland speech also has its own distinctive vocabulary in words such as fornenst (next to), skiff (dusting of snow), fixin (getting ready to do something), brickle (brittle), swan (swear), hant (ghost), hate (it ain't worth a hate), nigh (near), man (husband), cute (attractive), scawmy (misty), lowp (jump), lettinton (pretend), sparkin (courtin), hippin (a baby's diaper), bumfuzzled (confused), scoot (slide) and honey as a term of endearment.39

Scholars generally agree that this language developed from the "northern" or "Northumbrian" English that was spoken in the lowlands of Scotland, in the North of Ireland, and in the border` counties of England during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.9 Every vocabulary word which we have noted as typical of American backcountry speech also appears in word lists colpected in the English border counties of Cumberland and Westmorland during the nineteenth century. W. Dickson observed, for example, that man was "the term by which a Cumbrian wife refers to her husband," as in "stand by your man." He noted that honey was "a term. of endearment expressive of great regard" in the English border counties, northern Ireland and the southern lowlands. Dickson and others recorded in Cumbria usages such as let on for tell, scawmy for thick or misty, cute for attractive, nigh for near, fixin for getting ready, and lowp for jump, hoove as a past participle for heave, and fang sen or langseyne for long since. This emphatic double negative had long been common in border speech. One Northumbrian gentleman wrote to another, "I assure your honour I never sold none."40

In North Britain, this speech way tended to be broadly similar on both sides of the border. One early nineteenth century student of speech in Cumberland and Westmorland observed that "in the Border and all along the verge of the old Marches or debateable lands the speech of the people is completely Scotch, in everything, excepting that there is but little tone."41 North of the border, another speech-scholar described the accent of the Scottish lowlands as "nothing more than a corruption of that which is now spoke . . . in all the northern counties of England."42

This border dialect became the ancester of a distinctive variety of American speech which still flourishes in the southern highlands of the United States. The process of transmission was complex. Southern highland speech was not merely an archaic North British form this was not a simple story of stasis and replication. New words were required to describe the American environment, and many were coined in the backcountry. Other expressions were borrowed from Indians, Spanish, French and Germans. But the strongest ingredients were the speech ways of North Britain in the seventeenth century.


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Backcountry Building Ways: Border Origins of Cabin and Cowpen

As early as the mid-eighteenth century, travelers also found a characteristic style of vernacular architecture in the Appalachian highlands. "These people live in open log cabins with hardly a blanket to cover them." Charles Woodmason observed in 1767.43

Log cabins had not been much used by English colonists in Massachusetts, Virginia or the Delaware Valley during the seventeenth century and were not invented on the American frontier. The leading authority on this subject, H. B. Shurtleff, concludes after long study that the log cabin was first introduced by Scandinavians, and popularized mainly by Scots-Irish settlers in the eighteenth century. "The log cabin did not commend itself to the English colonists," Shurtleff wrote. "The Scotch Irish who began coming over in large numbers after 1718 seem to have been the first . . . to adopt it."44

The historiography of the log cabin has centered mostly on the history of the log, but at least equally important is the history of the cabin. The trail of that topic leads from the American backcountry to the British borderlands. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, cabin architecture was commonplace throughout the Scottish lowlands and northern Ireland, and also in the English counties of Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland, but not often in the south of England. Travelers in the border country expressed surprise at the state of housing they found there. One soldier from the south of England, marching north near Duns a few miles beyond the river Tweed, noted that the "husbandmen's houses ... resemble our swine coates, few or none of them have more storeys than one, and that very low and covered usually with clods of earth, the people and their habits are suitable to the dwellings."45

Small and impermanent houses were common throughout North Britain, in part because the system of land tenure gave no motive for improvement. An historian of Scotland wrote in 1521:

In Scotland, the houses of the country people are small, as it were, cottages, and the reason is this: they have no permanent holdings, but hired only, or in lease for four or five years, at the pleasure of the lord of the soil; therefore do they not dare to build good houses, though stone abound, neither do they plant trees or hedges for their orchards, nor do they dung their land; and this is no small loss and damage to the whole realm.46

On the borders, this factor was compounded by chronic insecurity. There, cottages became cabins of even more primitive construction. The word "cabin" itself was a border noun that meant any sort of rude enclosure, commonly built of the cheapest materials that came to hand: turf and mud in Ireland, stone and dirt in Scotland, logs and clay in America....

Methods of construction also tended to be much the same on both sides of the water. The spaces between the logs or other materials were "daubed" with clay. In the English border county of Cumberland, this was done in a communal event called a "claydaubin" where neighbors and friends of a newly married couple came together and built them a cabin with weathertight walls. The work was directed by men called daubers. The same technique of wattle and clay daubing (sometimes called wattle and funk) was widely used in the American backcountry. In 1753, for example, James Patton had two "round log houses" on his Shenandoah farm, with "clapboard roofs, two end log chimnies, all chunked and daubed both inside and out."

....Cabin architecture was striking for its roughness and impermanence. It was a simple style of building, suitable to a migratory people with little wealth, few possessions and small confidence in the future. It was also an inconspicuous structure, highly adapted to a violent world where a handsome building was an invitation to disaster. In that respect, cabin architecture was an expression of the insecurity of life in the northern borders.47

The cabin was also the product of a world of scarcity. It was a style of vernacular architecture created by deep and grinding poverty through much of north Britain during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. In that barren country, cabins made of earth and stone were an adaptation to an environment in which other building materials were rare.

Cabin architecture was also a style of building well suited to a people who had a strong sense of family and a weak sense of individual privacy. Travelers from the south of England expressed horror at the lack of respect for privacy. Much the same observations were also made in the American backcountry. "They sleep altogether in common in one room, and shift and dress openly without ceremony," Woodmason wrote, "... nakedness is counted as nothing." Sometimes there was not even a bed. William Byrd described one backcountry family that "pigged lovingly together" on the floor."48

In the eighteenth century, these cabins began to rise throughout the American backcountry wherever migrants from North Britain settled. The strong resemblance of these houses to the vernacular architecture of the borders was noted by travelers who knew both places. One English traveler noted of a Scots-Irish settlement in the backcountry of Pennsylvania that the people lived in "paltry log houses, and as dirty as in the north of Ireland, or even Scotland."49

Cabin architecture was not static in its new environment. Folklorists have studied in fascinating detail the hewing of cabin logs, the notching of corners, the development of floor plans and the refinement of fenestration. This was mostly a form of cultural involution, in which things changed by becoming more elaborately the same.50

The architecture of the cabin itself was merely one part of an , entire regional vernacular which also included other structures. Barns and stables were crude, impermanent shelters, often made of saplings and boughs a method widely used in the border country.51 Cattle were kept in simple enclosures called cowpens, descended from border "barmkins" which had been built for centuries in North Britain. Historians Bouch end Jones note that "the basis of medieval settlement appears to have been the 'barmkin,' a sort of corral or stockade, where behind a timber fence, cattle and dependents could shelter, defended by menfolk." Cowpens became very common throughout the southern highlands in the eighteenth century. One such area in the Carolina upcountry became the site of the battle of Cowpens during the American War for Independence.52

In North Britain the architecture of cabin and cowpen began to be abandoned during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as violence diminished and prosperity increased. The vernacular architecture that one finds throughout the region today was a later development. "In the seventeenth century," one local historian writes, "the statesmen had begun to build better houses, in imitation of Jacobean manor halls, and evolved a type of their own the low, rough-cast building with porch and pent- house, a dead-nailed door and massive threshwood, mullioned windows, and behind the rannel-balk a great open fire-spit where peat burned on the cobble-paved hearth."53

But the architecture of cabin and cowpens persisted for many generations in the American backcountry. As late as 1939 there were 270,000 occupied log cabins in the United States. Many were in the southern highlands. In the county of Halifax, Virginia, 42 percent of all houses were log cabins as recently as World War II.54

Even today an architecture of impermanence survives in new forms such as prefabricated houses and mobile homes, which are popular throughout the southern highlands. The mobile home is a cabin on wheels small, cheap, simple and temporary. The materials have changed from turf and logs to plastic and aluminum, but in its conception the mobile home preserves an architectural attitude that was carried to the backcountry nearly three centuries ago.


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Backcountry Family Ways:Border Ideas of Clan and Kin

The family ways of the backcountry, like its speech and building ways, were also brought from the borderlands of North Britain and adapted to a new American environment with comparatively little change. "The conquest of the back parts," writes Carl Bridenbaugh, "was achieved by families.... The fundamental social unit, the family, was preserved intact . . . in a transplanting and reshuffling of European folkways."55

From the perspective of an individual within this culture, the structure of the family tended to be a set of concentric rings, in which the outermost circles were thicker and stronger than among other English-speaking people. Beyond the nuclear core, beyond even the extended circle, there were two rings which were unique to this culture. One was called the derbfine. It encompassed all kin within the span of four generations. For many centuries, the laws of North Britain and Ireland had recognized the derbfine as a unit which defined the descent of property and power. It not only connected one nuclear family to another, but also joined one generation to the next.

Beyond the derbfine lay a larger ring of kinship which was, called the clan in North Britain. We think of clans today mainly in connection with the Scottish Highlands. But they also existed in the lowlands, northern Ireland and England's border counties where they were a highly effective adaptation to a world of violence and chronic insecurity.

The clans of the border were not precisely the same as those of the Scottish Highlands, and very different from the Victorian contrivances of our own time. They had no formal councils, tartans, sporrans, bonnets or septs. But they were clannish in the most fundamental sense: a group of related families who lived near to one another, were conscious of a common identity, carried the same surname, claimed descent from common ancestors and banded together when danger threatened.

Some of these border clans were very formidable. The Armstrongs, one of the largest clans on the Cumbrian border in the sixteenth century, were reputed to be able to field 3,000 mounted men, and were much feared by their neighbors. The Grahams held thirteen towers on the western border in 1552, and bid defiance to their foes. The Rutherfords and Halls were so violent that royal officials in 1598 ordered no quarter to be given to anyone of those names. The Johnston-Johnson clan adorned their houses with the flayed skins of their enemies the Maxwells in a blood feud that continued for many generations.56

The migration from North Britain to the backcountry tended to become a movement of clans. A case in point was the family of Robert Witherspoon, a South Carolinian of Border-Scots descent. Witherspoon recalled:

My grandfather and grandmother were born in Scotland about the [year] 1670. They were cousins and both of one name. His name was John and hers was Janet. They lived in their younger years in or near Glasgow and in 1695 they left Scotland and settled in Ireland in the county of Down . . . where he lived in good circumstances and in good credit until the year 1734, [when] he removed with his family to South Carolina.

When Witherspoon used the word "family" he meant not merely a nuclear or extended family but a clan. His grandparents, their seven children, at least seventeen grandchildren and many uncles and cousins all sailed from Belfast Lough to America and settled together in the same part of the southern backcountry. Witherspoon described their exodus in detail:

We did not all come in one ship nor at one time. My uncles William James and David Wilson, and their families with Uncle Gavin left Belfast in the beginning of the year 1732 and Uncle Robert followed us in 36.57

Here was a classic example of serial migration or stream migration which was common in the peopling of the backcountry. A few clan members opened a path for others, and were followed by a steady stream of kin.

These North British border clans tended to settle together in the American backcountry. An example was the Alexander clan. In North Carolina's Catawba County, the first United States Census of 1790 listed 300 nuclear families named Alexander. Most were blood relations. Similar concentrations appeared throughout the backcountry the Polks of Mecklenberg, the Calhouns of Long Cane, the Grahams of Yadkin, and the Crawfords of upper Georgia, to name but four examples.

These concentrations of kinsmen, all bearing the same surname, created endless onomastic confusion. We are told that in Catawba County, "so numerous were the tribe of the Alexanders that they had to be designated by their office, their trade or their middle name." The most eminent Alexander was called "Governor Nat" to distinguish him from "Red Head Nat" and "Fuller Nat." This became a common custom throughout the southern highlands.58

The clan system spread rapidly throughout the southern highlands, and gradually came to include English and German settlers as well as North Britons, because it worked so well in the new environment. When George Gilmer compiled his classic history of upper Georgia, he organized his book by clans, beginning with the Gilmers and moving to others in order of their kinship with the author. He specifically described these groups as clans, and wrote that their members "called each other cousin, and the old people uncle and aunt. They lived in the most intimate social way meeting together very often."59

The internal structure of the clan was not what some modern observers have imagined. Historian Ned Landsman writes, ". . . among the distinctive features of clan organization was the emphasis on collateral rather than lineal descent. In the theory of clan relationships, all branches of the family younger as well as older, female as well as male were deemed to be of equal importance. This fit in well with the mobility of the countryside, which prevented the formation of 'lineal families' in which sons succeeded to their fathers' lands."60

Admission by marriage was a process of high complexity. "When a Scottish man or woman took a spouse who was not of Scottish descent," Landsman writes, "the whole family could be absorbed into the 'Scottish' community."61 But when the bride had belonged to a rival clan, then the question of loyalty became more difficult. Generally a new bride left her own kin, and joined those of her husband. Elaborate customs regulated the relationship between the wife and the family she had joined by marriage. These customs were highly complex, but by and large they established the principle that marriage ties were weaker than blood ties. One marriage contract in Westmorland explicitly stated that a newly married wife could never sit in her mother-in- law's seat.62

In many cases the husband and wife both came from the same clan. In the Cumbrian parish of Hawkshead, for example, both the bride and groom bore the same last names in 25 percent of all marriages from 1568 to 1704. Marriages in the backcountry like those on the borders, also occurred very frequently between kin.63

Within these family networks, nuclear households were highly cohesive, drawing strength from the support of other kin groups round about them. Landsman writes: "The patterned dispersal of the Scots, rather than isolating individual settlers from their homes and families, served instead to bind together the scattered settlements through a system of interlocking family networks. Rather than a deterrent, mobility was an essential component of community life." The effect was reinforced by exchanges of land, by rotations of children, and by chain migrations.64 The clan was not an alternative to the nuclear family, but its nursery and strong support. The pattern of cohesion was different from the nuclear families of Puritans and Quakers which had exceptionally strong internal bonds, powerfully reinforced by ethical and religious teachings. Among the North Britons the clan system provided an external source of cohesion supporting each nuclear family from the outside like a system of external buttresses.

Nuclear households were large in the backcountry among the largest in British America during the eighteenth century. The Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason wrote with his usual mixture of fact and prejudice, ". . . there's not a cabin but has ten or twelve young people in it . . . in many cabins you will see ten or fifteen children children and grand children of one size and the mother looking as young as the daughter."65

Woodmason's account was exaggerated, but other evidence confirms the same general pattern. North Carolina's governor Arthur Dobbs, who had served as surveyor general of Ireland, took his own informal census of household size in the backcountry, and found that of thirty households on Rocky River, near the boundary of North and South Carolina, there were "not less than from five or six to ten children in each family."66

In the first comprehensive census of the backcountry, taken in 1800, fertility ratios in the southern highlands were 40 percent higher than in the Delaware Valley, and higher also than on the northern frontier. An unusually large proportion of backcountry households were intact, with both husband and wife present. Many were also joint households, with more than one nuclear family living under the same roof. As late as 1850 one-third of all households in the southern highlands included members who were not of the primary nuclear group.67

There was no "emergence of the modern nuclear family" in this region, through its first two hundred years. The very opposite was the case. As time passed, clans became stronger rather than weaker in the southern highlands. In the early twentieth century, a mountain woman wrote:

All the children in the district are related by blood in one degree or another. Our roll-call includes Sally Mary and Cripple John's Mary and Tan's Mary, all bearing the same surname; and there is, besides, Aunt Rose Mary and Mary-Jo, living yon side the creek. There are different branches of the Rogers family Clay and Frank, Red Jim and Lyin' Jim and Singin' Jim and Black Jim Rogers in this district, their kin intermarried until no man could write their pedigree or ascertain the exact relation of their offspring to each other. This question, however, does not disturb the children in the least. They never address each other as cousin; they are content to know that uncle Tan's smokehouse is the resource of all in time of famine; that Aunt Martha's kind and strong hands are always to be depended on when one is really ill; that Uncle Filmore plays the fiddle at all the dances, and Uncle Dave shoes all the mules owned by the tribe.68

These clans fostered an exceptionally strong sense of loyalty, which a modern sociologist has called "amoral familism," from the ethical perspective of his own historical moment.69 In its own time and place, it was not amoral at all, but a moral order of another kind, which recognized a special sense of obligation to kin. That imperative was a way of dealing with a world where violence and disorder were endemic. Long after it had lost its reason for being, family loyalty retained its power in the American backcountry.

An example was the persistence of the family feud, which continued for many centuries in the southern highlands. These feuds flowed from the fact that families in the borderlands and backcountry were given moral properties which belonged mainly to individuals in other English-speaking cultures. Chief among them were the attributes of honor and shame. When one man forfeited honor in the backcountry, the entire clan was diminished by his loss. When one woman was seduced and abandoned, all her "menfolk" shared the humiliation. The feuds of the border and the backcountry rose mainly from this fact. When "Devil Anse" Hatfield was asked to explain why he had murdered so many McCoys, he answered simply, "A man has a right to defend his family." And when he spoke of his family, he meant all Hatfields and their kin. This backcountry folkway was strikingly similar to the customs of the borderers.70

Historians of a materialist persuasion have suggested that the feud was a modern invention in the southern highlands. One has called it a "response to industrialism." Another has interpreted it as the product of changes in the means of production. These modern processes would indeed provide many occasions for feuds.71 But they were not the cause of the feuding itself, which had deeper cultural roots. Other historians have argued that southern feuds were mainly a legacy of the Civil War. But feuds occurred in the backcountry before 1861. They were part of the brutal violence of the American Revolution in the backcountry. Strong continuities in family feuding may be traced from the borders of North Britain to the American backcountry a pattern that persisted throughout the southern highlands even into the twentieth century.72


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Backcountry Marriage Ways:Border Origins of Bridal Customs

Marriage customs among the people of the backcountry alsc derived from border roots. An ancient practice on the British borders was the abduction of brides. In Scotland, Ireland and the English border counties, the old custom had been elaborately regulated through many centuries by ancient folk laws which required payment of "body price" and "honor price." Two types of abduction were recognized: voluntary abduction in which the bride went willingly but without her family's prior consent; and involuntary abduction in which she was taken by force.73 Both types of abduction were practiced as late as the eighteenth century. It was observed of the borderlands and Ulster during this period that "abductions, both 'under the impulse of passion and from motives of cupidity,' were frequent." 74

The border custom of bridal abduction was introduced to the American backcountry. In North and South Carolina during the eighteenth century, petitioners complained to authorities that "their wives and daughters were carried captives" bv rival clans....75

Most backcountry courtships (though comparable) were not quite as primitive as this. The strict Protestantism of Scottish and Ulster Presbyterians created a heavy overlay of moral restraint. But many backcountry marriages included mock abduction rituals that kept the old customs alive in a vestigial way. A wedding in the back-settlements was apt to be a wild affair. On the appointed day, the friends of the groom would set out for the wedding in a single party, mounted and heavily armed. They would stop at cabins along the way to fire a volley and pass around the whiskey bottle, then gallop on to the next. Their progress was playfully opposed by the bride's friends, also heavily armed, who felled trees along the road, and created entanglements of grape vines and branches to block the passage of the groomsmen....

Marriage customs in the American backcountry bore a striking resemblance to those of the British border lands complete even to the abductions and mock abductions, the competitions and mock combats, bidden weddings and bridewain, the wild feasts and heavy drinking, wedding reels and jigs, the rituals of the wedding chamber, and the constant presence of Black Betty. Some of these customs were shared by other cultures. But in their totality the backcountry wedding was a unique adaptation of ancient border customs to the conditions of an American region.

The distinctiveness of this system also appeared in quantitative indicators. Age at marriage in the backcountry was different from every other American region. Both brides and grooms were very young. South Carolinian David Ramsay wrote of the backcountry, ". ...marriages are early and generally prolific. In one district, containing upwards of 17,000 white inhabitants, there is not one woman at the age of twenty-five who is neither wife or widow." 75 That impression has been solidly confirmed by statistical fact. Historian Mark Kaplanoff finds that in three districts of upcountry South Carolina during the eighteenth century, women married at the average age of nineteen; men at twenty-one. In no other region of British America did both sexes marry so early. Nowhere else were the ages of males and females so nearly the same.76

This was partly the result of a frontier environment, but not entirely so. Other frontiers were very different. And it is interesting to observe that of all the regions of England, age at marriage was lowest in the north as much as three years below southern England. Here again, the backsettlers followed their ancestral ways.77


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Backcountry Gender Ways:Border Rituals of Love and Violence

In his account of backcountry marriages, Samuel Kercheval recorded another curious custom called the wedding toast. After dinner, as Black Betty passed from hand to hand, each male guest raised the bottle in his right fist and cried: "Here's to the bride, thumping luck and big children!" Kercheval explained:

Big children,especially big sons, were of great importance, as we were few in number and engaged in perpetual hostility with the Indians, the end of which no one could foresee. Indeed many of them seemed to suppose war was the natural state of man, and therefore did not anticipate any conclusion of it; every big son was therefore considered a young soldier.

Here was the basis of gender relationships in the backcountry. The first principle was that men were warriors. The second was that women were workers. These ideas had long flourished on the borders of north Britain. When they were combined with the ethics of Christianity, the result was a gender system of high complexity which might best be described as a bundle of paradoxes.

One paradox concerned gender distinctions. In the backcountry, work roles were not as sharply divided by sex as in other English cultures. But at the same time, the people of the backcountry had exceptionally clear-cut ideas of masculinity and feminity in manners, speech, dress, decorum and status.78

Travelers in the backcountry often reported that women and men routinely shared the heaviest manual labor. Both sexes worked together in the fields, not merely at harvest time but through the entire growing season. Women not only tended the livestock but also did the slaughtering of even the largest animals. Travelers were startled to observe delicate females knock down beef cattle with a felling ax, and then roll down their sleeves, remove their bloody aprons, tidy their hair, and invite their visitors to tea. Females also helped with the heavy labor of forestclearing and ground-breaking. William Byrd noted that women in the back settlements were not merely "up to their elbows in housewifery," but also busy with what other English cultures took to be a man's work.79

Those customs have sometimes been explained as a response to the frontier environment. But they did not exist in quite the same way on the Puritan frontier, and the same patterns had long been observed by travelers in the borderlands of North Britain. One anonymous visitor to the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland wrote that wives of even landowners were expected to share equally in the heavy farm work. "These petty landowners work like slaves," one traveler observed in 1766. "They cannot afford to keep a manservant, but husband, wife, sons and daughters all turn out to work in the fields."80


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Backcountry Sex Ways:The Border Celebration of Sensuality

On the subject of sex, the backsettlers tended to be more open than were other cultures of British America. Sexual talk was free and easy in the backcountry more so than in Puritan Massachusetts or Quaker Pennsylvania, or even Anglican Virginia. So too was sexual behavior.

The Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason was astounded by the open sexuality of the backsettlers. "How would the polite people of London stare, to see the Females (many very pretty) . . . ," he wrote. "The young women have a most uncommon practice, which I cannot break them of. They draw their shirt as tight as possible round their Breasts, and slender waists (for they are generally very finely shaped) and draw their Petticoat close to their Hips to show the fineness of their limbs as that they might as well be in purl naturalibus indeed nakedness is not censurable or indecent here, and they expose themselves often quite naked, without ceremony rubbing themselves and their hair with bears' oil and tying it up behind in a bunch like the indians being hardly one degree removed from them. In a few years I hope to bring about a reformation."81

The backsettlers showed very little concern for sexual privacy in the design of their houses or the style of their lives. "Nakedness is counted as nothing," Woodmason remarked, "as they sleep altogether in common in one room, and shift and dress openly without ceremony . . . children run half naked. The Indians are better clothed and lodged."82 Samuel Kercheval remembered that young men adopted Indian breechclouts and leggings, cut so that "the upper part of the thighs and part of the hips were naked. The young warrior, instead of being abashed by this nudity, was proud of his Indian-like dress," Kercheval wrote. "In some few places I have seen them go into places of public worship in this dress."83

Other evidence suggests that these surface impressions of backcountry sexuality had a solid foundation in fact. Rates of prenuptial pregnancy were very high in the backcountry higher than other parts of the American colonies. In the year 1767, Woodmason calculated that 94 percent of backcountry brides whom he had married in the past year were pregnant on their wedding day, and some were "very big" with child. He attributed this tendency to social customs in the back settlements:

Nothing more leads to this than what they call their love feasts and kiss of charity. To which feasts, celebrated at night, much liquor is privately carried, and deposited on the roads, and in bye paths and places. The assignations made on Sundays at the singing clubs, are here realized. And it is no wonder that things are as they are, when many young people have three, four, five or six miles to walk home in the dark night, with convoy, thro' the woods? Or perhaps staying all night at some cabbin (as on Sunday nights) and sleeping together either doubly or promiscuously? Or a girl being mounted behind a person to be carried home, or any wheres. All this contributes to multiply subjects for the king in this frontier country, and so is wink'd at by the Magistracy and Parochial Officers.84

Another factor was a scarcity of clergy to perform marriages in the backcountry. But there was also a different explanation. Rates of illegitimacy and prenuptial pregnancy had long been higher in the far northwest of England than in any other part of that nation. The magnitude of regional differences was very great. Rates of bastardy in the northwest were three times higher than in the east of England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Regional disparities persisted from the beginning of parish registers to the twentieth century. Historian Peter Laslett notes that "in early Victorian times Cumberland . . . had the highest recordings [of bastardy] in the country." Westmoreland was also very similar. High rates of illegitimacy and prenuptial pregnancy in the backcountry were not the necessary consequences of frontier conditions. Puritans also moved onto new lands in the northern colonies and continued to behave in puritanical ways. The same continuities appeared among the Quakers when they moved to the frontier. The sexual customs of the southern backcountry were similar to those of northwestern England....85


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Backcountry Age Ways:The Border Idea of the Elder-Thane

Not many elderly emigrants moved to the back settlements during the first few years. This was a country for young people. In the eighteenth century, less than 1 percent of the population were over sixty-five a very small minority. But a few older folk were to be found in even the newest settlements. The manner of their treatment tells us many things about this regional culture. Even more than in most societies, the status of elders in the backcountry tended to vary from one older person to the next. Some received deference and deep respect. A case in point was Patrick Calhoun, "Squire Calhoun" as he was called, the founder and family patriarch of the Calhouns of Long Cane, and also his wife Catherine Calhoun. This aged couple sat in the seats of honor on public occasions. Their wisdom was routinely consulted on domestic questions, and their word was law in the community....86

In North Britain, from time immemorial, the rule of tanistry (or thanistry, as in thane) had long determined the descent of authority within a clan, It held that "succession to an estate or dignity was conferred by election upon the 'eldest and worthiest' among the surviving kinsmen."87 Candidates for this honor were males within the circle of kin called the derbfine all the relatives within the span of four generations. By the rule of tanistry, one man among that group was chosen to head the family: he who was strongest, toughest and most cunning. This principle became an invitation to violent conflict, and the question was often settled by a trial of strength and cunning. The winner became the elder of his family or clan, and was honored with deference and deep respect. The losers were degraded and despised if they were lucky. In ancient days they were sometimes murdered, blinded or maimed.

This rule of tanistry had long existed throughout parts of Ireland and Scotland. For many centuries, it had been formally invoked to decide the descent of the Scottish crown.88 Tanistry caused much violence in the history of North Britain. It was also a product of that violence, for it was a way of promoting elders who had the strength and cunning to defend their families, and command respect. But those elders who were unable to do so became a danger to their people. They were degraded and even destroyed. Here was yet another custom by which the culture of North Britain adapted itself to conditions of chronic disorder. By the rule of tanistry, families, clans and even kingdoms gained strong leaders who were able to protect them....


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Backcountry Death Ways:The Border Idea of Nescient Fatalism

In the borderlands of North Britain, death had long been the constant companion of life. Warfare and raiding took a heavy toll of the population on both sides of the border. Communities shattered by violence also suffered much from famine, and their weakened inhabitants became easy prey for epidemic disease. This pattern changed during the eighteenth century, when the toll of epidemics diminished, and the worst excesses of violence were also suppressed. But life remained precarious upon the borders, and death was still its dark companion.

The American backcountry, for all its romantic reputation as a "bloody ground," was healthier than the British borderlands had been. Rates of morbidity were higher in the southern highlands than in the northern colonies largely as a consequence of the malaria which the colonists themselves introduced, and later of other environmental illnesses such as the "milk sick." But rates of mortality were lower than in the Chesapeake country, and below those of North Britain as well.89


Even so, there were dangers enough in the formative years of this region. Settlers and Indians warred constantly upon one another. Bandit gangs roamed the wilderness, and many an unwary traveler disappeared without a trace. Regulators enforced order with vigilante violence as savage as the acts they condemned. Major wars broke out at least once in every generation from 1689 to 1865. These bloody events did not drive death rates as high in the backcountry as in the Chesapeake region, or other places in British America. But they created a climate of danger and uncertainty that kept old border customs alive. Attitudes toward death in the backcountry long remained very much the same as they had been in the borderlands....

The people of this culture were very superstitious about death. They searched the world for signs and portents.... (People of the Cumberland Gap share this belief in portents as well.)

The rituals of dying in the backcountry also differed from those of other English-speaking people, in ways that were connected to these attitudes and to the conditions which produced them. When the last moment came, the dying man or woman was gently lifted from the bed and lowered to the floor, where the spirit was thought to be in touch with the mysterious forces of the earth. Then the corpse was laid upon a board and watched constantly by friends and relations. A platter of salt was mixed with earth and placed on the stomach of the corpse. The salt was a symbol of the spirit; earth represented the flesh.90

Everyone in the neighborhood was expected to pay a visit, friend and foe alike. All were compelled to touch the corpse. This practice derived from an ancient belief that when a murderer laid hands upon the body of his victim, the corpse would begin to bleed again. Every "touching" was closely watched, for on the borders foul play was often suspected.91

The death watch was followed by a wake in which many folk rituals were performed by family, friends and neighbors:

On the death of a person, the nearest neighbors cease working till the corpse is interred. Within the house where the deceased is, the dishes and all other kitchen utensils are removed from the shelves or dressers; looking-glasses are covered or taken down, clocks are stopped, and their dial-plates covered.

Except in cases deemed very infectious, the corpse is always kept one night, and sometimes two. This sitting with the corpse is called the Wake, from LikeWake (Scottish), the meeting of the friends of the deceased before the funeral. Those meetings are generally conducted with great decorum; portions of the Scriptures are read, and frequently a prayer is pronounced, and a psalm given out fitting for the solemn occasion. Pipes and tobacco are always laid out on a table, and spirits or other refreshments are distributed during the night. If a dog or cat passes over the dead body, it is immediately killed, as it is believed that the first person it would pass over afterwards, would take the falling sickness. A plate with salt is frequently set on the breast of the corpse.

These customs were recorded in Carrickfergus, northern Ireland, during the eighteenth century. They continued to be kept in Appalachia for two hundred years.93

In North Britain, the corpse was carried to the burying ground while the church bells were rung in a complex rhythm that announced many things about the deceased. The cadence of the bells told the age, gender, estate and reputation. The funeral itself was a great event; guests were "bidden" to attend in large number. The Cumbrian "statesman" Benjamin Browne invited 271 guests to the funeral of his first wife. His own funeral was attended by 258. The service and burial were followed by an elaborate ritual of dining and drinking. Small cakes called "arval bread" were served to the guests. These were taken home by the mourners, as "a parting gift from the deceased."94 Most wills in the border country contained a provision for these presents, which often consumed a large portion of a small estate. The will of a Cumberland statesman named John Wilson declared, "I hereby order that all persons that shall attend my funeral shall be treated with ale and bread according to the custom."95

People of wealth distributed presents to the entire community on a lavish scale. An example was the funeral which a rich Cumbrian gentleman named Daniel Fleming of Rydal Hall arranged for his wife, who died 13 April 1675, two days after having given birth to her fourteenth child. Her grieving husband ordered six quires of paper (150 large sheets) for folding "sweetmeats." He also ordered that the poor of Cumberland should receive four pennies apiece, and for that purpose he set aside the sum of 30 pounds, ten shillings, and four pence enough for 1,831 poor people.96

Daniel Fleming also spent another large sum on ringing, singing, sermons, gravemaking,and a "coffin and clasp." But this was an exceptional event. Coffins were not generally used in this impoverished region. Borderers were buried in cloth sacks. A statue of 1678 required that south of the Scottish border, only English wool could be used. The Scots and Irish preferred linen, but in most respects the customs were much the same.97

These border customs were carried to the American backcountry in the eighteenth century. The same process of death-watching and laying-out was followed. Even the smallest details were observed in the New World. The corpse was laid out on an open board, and touched by the mourners, just as on the border.98 A plate of salt and earth was placed on the body in the back settlements, as it had been in North Britain. One North Carolinian told a folk-lore collector in the twentieth century: "The corpse is stretched on a board. On it is placed a platter of salt and earth, unmixed. The salt is an emblem of the immortal spirit, the earth of the flesh."99

A backcountry funeral was a great event which brought large crowds together. When a North British immigrant named Robert Stuart and his three sons were killed by sulphur vapors in a well that they were digging, their burial attracted a great throng. "They were buried in one ground, where was judged to be a thousand people," one neighbor noted in 1767. This was not an unusual attendance. In the same neighborhood, two years later, an ordinary funeral of a borderer named John Scarborough drew "above a thousand people."100

Death rituals which had long existed in the borderlands of North Britain were preserved in the southern highlands for two hundred years. Even in the twentieth century, folklore collectors were astonished by the continuities which they observed in the death ways of this American region.101


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Backcountry Religious Ways: The North British Field-Meeting Style

The backcountry was indeed very mixed in its religious denominations much as the borders of North Britain had been. But most visitors observed that Presbyterians generally predominated by the middle decades of the eighteenth century.102 The English also tended to include growing numbers of dissenters of many different sects. Even members of the Church of England behaved like dissenters in the backcountry, as they had often done in the north of England. On both sides of the British border there had been a strong antipathy to state churches, religious taxes and established clergy.103

Throughout the backcountry and borderlands, Anglican priests were held in special contempt for their lack of personal piety, and for their habit of subservience to landed elites. Clerical diaries from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century suggest that there was truth in these complaints. The diary of an Anglican clergyman named George Williamson in the English county of Cumberland was an extraordinarily secular document, full of detail about his hunting, fishing, coursing, drinking and gambling but with little mention of spiritual questions. One of the few references to church affairs was the record of a bet on whether a colleague would continue as rector of a parish. Established clergymen such as Williamson were regarded as corrupt and alien presences on the borders. That prejudice was carried to the backcountry where Anglican missionaries met with much hostility, not only from Scots and Scots-Irish, but from English settlers as well.104

There was, however, no hostility to learned and pious ministers of acceptable opinions. Presbyterian settlers sent home to Scotland and Northern Ireland for their own college- trained clergy who came out to serve them. As early as 1736, it was written that "about this time, the people began to form into societies and sent back to Ireland for a minister."105 These Presbyterian ministers were proud of their learning. One of them infuriated a Quaker by allegedly arguing that "the most ignorant College learnt man could open the true meaning of the Scriptures better then the best and wisest of God's children that had not College learning."106

These ministers were valued for their skill at preaching, which combined appeals to reason with strong emotions. In the backcountry, before the end of the eighteenth century, a familiar form of evangelical religion was the camp meeting. This was an outdoor gathering, commonly convened in some sylvan setting, where a large number of people worshiped together for several days. Many historians have mistakenly believed that the camp meeting was invented on the American frontier. In fact it was transplanted to America from the border counties of Britain, where it was well established by the eighteenth century. Even the Anglican population of that region often met in outdoor "field meetings" during the eighteenth century. So also did Scottish Presbyterians who held frequent "Holy Fairs," which were camp meetings by another name.

The following hostile description of a Scottish Holy Fair dates from the year 1759:

At the time of the administration of the Lord's supper, upon the Thursday, Saturday and Monday, we have preaching in the fields near the church. Allow me then, to describe it as it really is: at first you find a great number of men and women lying upon the grass; here they are sleeping and snoring, some with their faces toward heaven, others with their faces turned downwards, or covered with their bonnets; their you find a knot of young fellows and girls making assignations to go home together in the evening, or to meet in some ale-house; in another place you see a pious circle sitting around some ale-barrel, many of which stand ready upon carts for the refreshment of the saints.... In this sacred assembly there is an odd mixture of religion, sleep, drinking, courtship, and a confusion of sexes, ages and characters. When you get a little nearer the speaker, so as to be within reach of the sound, tho' not of the sense of his words, for that can reach only a small circle . . . you will find some weeping and others laughing, some pressing to get nearer the tent or tub in which the parson is sweating, bawling, jumping and beating the desk...there is such an absurd mixture of the serious and comick, that were we convened for any purpose than that of worshipping the God and Governour of Nature, the scene would exceed all power of farce."107

Many borderers deeply believed in this form of worship and had been persecuted for it in Great Britain and Ireland. Robert Witherspoon remembered that his father had been "one of the sect that followed field meetings, some of his kindred and himself were much harassed."108

Presbyterian emigrants such as the Witherspoons introduced field meetings to the American backcountry as early as 1734, probably earlier. Outdoor assemblies of the same sort were held by Presbyterians and Baptists before the Revolution. Woodmason recorded many instances of "big meetings," as they were called, as early as 1768."109 After the Revolution, Presbyterians and Methodists began to sponsor large "field meetings" on a regular basis.

At Mabry's Chapel, Brunswick circuit, Virginia, a quarterly meeting was thought to have drawn 4,000 souls, black and white together, on 25 and 26 July 1785. An even larger one was held et Jones Chapel, 17-28 July 1785. On the first day, 5,000 people attended; on the second day, the meeting was so large that nobody could count it. More startling than the size of the crowd was the intensity of its behavior. The shouting was heard half a mile away, and on the ground there were wild displays of emotion. "Such a sight," wrote one observer, "I never had before. Numbers were saints in their ecstasies, others crying for mercy, scores lying with their eyes set in their heads, the use of their powers suspended, and the whole congregation in animation."110

The Methodist itinerant Francis Asbury preached at many such meetings in the 1780s500 people at Bayside Chapel, on Maryland's eastern shore (1783); 400 gathered round a great sycamore in western Virginia (1784); 1,000 in an urban meeting at Baltimore (1785)."111 Most were held for two days. These assemblies began with prayer and preaching, reached their climax in what was called a "great shout," and ended in a Christian "love feast."

Other camp meetings followed in a series of waves, spreading south into the Carolinas and west to the far frontier. There they developed into something called the "Kentucky style" which was marked by close cooperation among denominations, careful preparation and much advance work, a battery of skillful preachers, the use of anxious seats, and fellowship meetings.112

The borderers also introduced another form of worship which had spread widely among reformed Christians throughout Europe. This was a ceremony of fellowship which in North Britain was called the "Feast of Fat Things" or the "Love Feast." A backsettler named Benjamin Ferris wrote, in the year 1726,

"I came into communion with the Presbyterian Church and ate bread and drank wine with them at that feast of fat things as they often called it and many times they used to call it a love feast. But I could not see it to be so; for many of the members was often in contention and quarreling, back-biting and slandering."113


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Backcountry Magic Ways: The Border Obsession with Sorcery

... Each Anglo-American folk culture was the product not merely of a place but of a period. The people of the backcountry brought with them the magic that existed on the borders of North Britain in the early and middle decades of the eighteenth century. These beliefs included an interest in witchcraft, wizardry and other forms of diabolical magic but not the same sort of witchcraft obsession that had flourished among the Puritans a century earlier.

Witchcraft still survived in this culture. Daniel Drake remembered meeting a borderer in the American backcountry named Old Billy Johnson who was "an implicit believer in witchcraft, and 'raising' and 'laying' the Devil."114 The folklore of the southern mountains was full of witches and goblins for many generations. As late as the 1930s, collectors of folk beliefs in the southern mountains were told of many witch-beliefs....

The folk culture of the back country ran strongly to another category of magic, which might be called experimental sorcery or secular superstition. It consisted mainly in the pragmatic use of conjuring, sorcery, charms, omens, spells, potions, incantations and popular astrology to change the course of events, or to predict them.

This magic contained a vast repertory of practices for any imaginable occasionfor troubles with animals, crops, neighbors, children, weather, illness. It recommended actions for the control of any possible emotion, and for the execution of any imaginable purpose in the world. In the early twentieth century, one group of folklorists collected nearly 10,000 of these prescriptions in North Carolina, from which a few examples might be selected. A few of these prescriptions have been confirmed by science:

  • Eating cornbread causes pellagra.

  • For scurvy, apply uncooked potatoes sliced and soaked in vinegar.

  • To cure snake bite, if no wound is in the mouth, suck out the poison and spit it out; cauterize, cut so as to make the place bleed freely.

Others were positively lethal:

  • A cure for homesickness is to sew a good charge of gunpowder on the inside of the shirt near the neck.

  • To cure a fever, climb a tall tree with your hands (do not use feet), and jump off.

Many were contradictory:

  • It is lucky for a bird to come into the house.

  • If a bird flies into the house there will be bad luck.

  • It is bad luck to kill a cat.

  • For good luck, boil a black cat alive.

  • Many charms and potions showed a spirit of extreme brutality:

  • Against epilepsy wear a bit of human cranium.

  • A piece of rope by which a person has been hanged will cure epilepsy by its touch.

  • For fever, cut a black chicken open while alive, and bind to the bottom of a foot. This will draw the fever.

  • The blood of a bat will cure baldness.

  • Eating the brain of a screech owl is the only dependable remedy for headache.

  • For rheumatism, apply split frogs to the feet.

  • To reduce a swollen leg, split a live cat and apply while still warm.

  • Bite the head off the first butterfly you see, and you will get a new dress.

  • Open the cow's mouth and throw a live toad-frog down her throat. This will cure her of hollow horn....

This self-renewing backcountry magic needed none of the institutional apparatus which the Puritans of New England brought to bear upon witchcraft. It did not require any of the intellectual refinement which country gentlemen in Virginia devoted to the study of fortune. The magic of the backcountry was a simple set of homespun superstitions, designed for use by small groups of unlettered people.

The magic of the backcountry was remarkably secular in its nature and purposes. It retained vestigial beliefs in the Devil, witches, stars and planets. But mainly it sought to control worldly events by the manipulation of worldly things.

Backcountry magic was highly materialist,experimental and empirical in its nature. Its ancient rituals and homespun remedies were mainly a device by which these people struggled to understand and control their lives in the midst of many uncertainties of their world.


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Backcountry Food Ways: North British Origins of Southern Highland Cooking

In regard to diet, the southern back settlements differed fundamentally from other regions of British America. Samuel Kercheval recalled that the "standard" supper dish in the mid-eighteenth century was a wooden bowl of milk and mushseasoned with a splash of bear oil. The Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason regarded these backcountry meals with horror, and complained incessantly about what he was expected to eat. "Crabber, butter, fat mushy bacon, cornbread," he wrote, "as for tea and coffee they know it not . . . neither beef nor mutton nor beer, cyder or anything better than water." When he visited a community of Ulster emigrants, Woodmason noted that "the people are all from Ireland, and live wholly on butter, milk, crabber and what in England is given to hogs.115

Many visitors remarked that backsettlers ate food which other English-speaking people fed to their animals. This observation was repeated so often that it became a clichi of travel literature in the southern highlands. It is interesting to discover that precisely the same statements were made by English travelers in the borderlands of North Britain.116

Backcountry food ways are sometimes thought to be the product of frontier conditions. So they were, in some degree. But mainly they were an expression of the folk customs that had been carried from the borders of North Britain. Strong continuities appeared in favored foodstuffs, in methods of cooking and also in the manner of eating.

One important staple of this diet was clabber, a dish of sour milk, curds and whey which was eaten by youngsters and adults throughout the backcountry, as it had been in North Britain for many centuries. In southern England it was called "spoiled milk" and fed to animals; in the borderlands it was "bonny crabber" and served to people. Travelers found this dish so repellent that some preferred to go hungry.117

Another important foodstuff in the borderlands and the back settlements was the potato. This American vegetable had been widely introduced to western Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became especially popular in Ireland, Scotland and the north of England. Despite its American origins, the potato had been uncommon in the English colonies until the North Britons arrived during the eighteenth century, and made it an important part of backcountry diet.118

Yet another staple was a family of breadstuffs variously called "clapbread," "haverbread," "hearth bread," "griddle cakes," and "pancakes." Sometimes they were also called scones, after an old Norse word for crust. Ingredients varied, but methods of cooking were often the same: small cakes of unleavened dough were baked on a flat bakestone or a circular griddle in an open hearth. These breadstuffs were brought from the borderlands to the backcountry, where they remained a major part of regional cuisine for many generations.119

In other respects, backcountry food ways necessarily departed from the customs of North Britain. Oats yielded to maize, which was pounded into cornmeal and cooked by boiling. But this was merely a change from oatmeal mush to cornmeal mush, or "grits" as it was called in the southern highlands. The ingredients changed, but the texture of the dish remained the same.

Another change occurred in the consumption of meat. The people of North Britain had rarely eaten pork at home. Pigs' flesh was as loathesome to the borderers as it had been to the children of Abraham and Allah. But that taboo did not survive in the New World, where sheep were difficult to maintain and swine multiplied even more rapidly than the humans who fed upon them. Pork rapidly replaced mutton on backcountry tables, but it continued to be boiled and fried in traditional border ways.120

New American vegetables also appeared on backcountry tables. Most families kept a "truck-patch," in which they raised squashes, cushaws (a relative of squash), pumpkins, gourds, beans and sweet roasting ears of Indian corn. Many families also raised "sallet" greens, cress, poke and bear's lettuce. Here again, the ingredients were new, but the consumption of "sallet" and "greens" was much the same as in the old country.121 The distinctive backcountry beverage was whiskey. A taste for liquor distilled from grain was uncommon in the south and east of England. But it was highly developed in north Britain, and was brought to the American backcour try by the people of that region. "'Wheyski,"' the Marquis de Chastelleux wrote in backcountry Virginia, "was our only drink, as it was on the three days following. We managed however to make a tolerable towdy [toddy] of it."122

A change of ingredients was made necessary by the new environment. In the back settlements Scotch whiskey (which hadbeen distilled from barley) yielded to Bourbon whiskey (which was made mainly from corn and rye). But there was no other change from the borders, except perhaps in the quantity of consumption. Whiskey became a common table drink in the backcountry. Even little children were served whiskey at table, with a little sugar to sweeten its bitter taste.123 Temperance took on a special meaning in this society. Appalachia's idea of a moderate drinker was the mountain man who limited himself to a single quart at a sitting, explaining that more "might fly to my head."124


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Backcountry Sport Ways: North British Origins of Southern Highland Games

The people of the backcountry also brought their own folk games which had long been popular on the borders of north Britain. These entertainments were often very violentas many folk amusements had been throughout England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But the games of the border country had a special quality which derived from the endemic fighting in that region. "Scots and English," for example, was a favorite game on both sides of the border. Two teams of boys faced each other with their hats and coats in piles behind them. The object was to make a raid across the line, and to plunder the other team of its possessions without being captured. The boys shouted the ancient war cries of their region.124

Border folk-games, like so many other parts of its culture, not only reflected the insecurity of life in that region.They also prepared men to deal with it. More than other parts of England, the sports of the border were contests of courage, strength and violence.

Special importance was given to wrestling, an ancient sport on the borders, commonly pronounced "wrasslin" or "russlin." There were two types of wrestling in this region. One was care" fully regulated and elaborately staged in annual tournaments. The burly contestants commonly dressed in sleeveless vests, long tights tucked into stockings, and velvet trunks incongruously embroidered with delicate flowers. Each man stood facing the other, arms locked around the opponent's body and chins tucked into each other's right shoulder:

When both men have taken hold, the bout begins, slowly at first as competitors move crab-like, sizing each other up, but suddenly with a flutter of legs there is action as one man is thrown. If any part of his body other than his feet touches the ground, the 'rout is lost; similarly if a competitor loses his hold he forfeits the bout Clearly such a sport calls for not only great reserves of strength but also for skill, stamina and physical fitness.125

This sport was brought to Appalachia where wrestling tournaments were regularly held. A North Carolina settler named Cyrut Hunter recalled that "wrestling and jumping [were] two om` the most prominent sports" of that early period.126

The borderers also engaged in another sort of combat called "wrassling" or "fighting." This was a wild struggle with no holds barred that continued until one man gave upor gave out.127 These events often began with a contest in "bragging and boasting" between men who had been drinking heavily beforehand. In the Lake District of England, one gentleman justice witnessed such a happening, and put a stop to it. "On Thursday," he wrote, "I went again to Ambleside . . . to see the wrestling. It was very good. A man from Cumberland with a white hat and brown shirt threatened to fling everybody, and fight them afterwards. The fighting I put a stop to."5 ve out.4 These events often began with a contest in "bragging and boasting" between men who had been drinking heavily beforehand. In the Lake District of England, one gentleman justice witnessed such a happening, and put a stop to it. "On Thursday," he wrote, "I went again to Ambleside . . . to see the wrestling. It was very good. A man from Cumberland with a white hat and brown shirt threatened to fling everybody, and fight them afterwards. The fighting I put a stop to."128

The border sport of bragging and fighting was also introduced to the American backcountry. where it came to be called "rough and tumble." Here again it was a savage combat between two or more males (occasionally females), which sometimes left the contestants permanently blinded or maimed. A graphic description of "rough and tumble" came from the Irish traveler Thomas Ashe, who described a fight between a West Virginian and a Kentuckian. A crowd gathered and arranged itself into an impromptu ring. The contestants were asked if they wished to "fight fair" or "rough and tumble." When they chose "rough and tumble," a roar of approval rose from the multitude. The two men entered the ring, and a few ordinary blows were exchanged in a tentative manner. Then suddenly the Virginian "contracted his whole form, drew his arms to his face," and "pitched himself into the bosom of his opponent," sinking his sharpened fingernails into the Kentuckian's head. "The Virginian," we are told, "never lost his hold . . . fixing his claws in his hair and his thumbs on his eyes, [he] gave them a start from the sockets. The sufferer roared aloud, but uttered no complaint." Even after the eyes were gouged out, the struggle continued. The Virginian fastened his teeth on the Kentuckian's nose and bit it in two pieces. Then he tore off the Kentuckian's ears. At last, the "Kentuckian, deprived of eyes, ears and nose, gave in." The victor, himself maimed and bleeding, was "chaired round the grounds," to the cheers of the crowd.129

Sporadic attempts were made to suppress "rough and tumble." Virginia's tidewater legislators passed a general statute against maiming in 1748, and in 1772 added a more specific prohibition against "gouging, plucking or putting out an eye, biting, kicking or stomping. "130 In 1800 the grand jury of Franklin Country, Tennessee, in the manner of American juries, generally indicted the "practice of fighting, maiming and pulling out eyes, without the offenders being brought to justice."131

But in the southern highlands, rough and tumble retained its popularity. During the War of Independence, and English prisoner named Thomas Anburey witnessed several backcountry gouging contests. "An English boxing match," he wrote, ". . . is humanity itself compared with the Virginian mode of fighting," with its "biting, gouging and (if I may so term it) Abelarding each other."132 Anburey described "a fellow, reckoned a great adept in gouging, who constantly kept the nails of both his thumbs and second fingers very long and pointed; nay, to prevent their breaking or splitting . . . he hardened them every evening in a candle." Bloodsports have existed in many cultures, but this was one of the few that made an entertainment of blinding, maiming, and castration."133


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Backcountry Work Ways: Border Attitudes toward War and Work

Where the warrior ethic is strong, the work ethic grows weak. This was so among the borderers and backsettlers, on both sides of the water. A traveler in North Britain remarked that the inhabitants were "indolent in high degree, unless roused to war."134 In the American backcountry, other travelers frequently made similar observations.... Crop farming remained very primitive in Appalachia. It was mainly a system of hoe-husbandry that was also introduced from North Britain. In the 1730s, the tools for each hand in one settlement were "one axe, one broad hoe and one narrow hoe," with very little use of the plow.135 Except for the abandonment of the plow, this system of farming had been followed very generally throughout the English border counties, the Scottish lowlands and northern Ireland. It was introduced to the American backcountry at an early date.136 A traveler in the backcountry noted, "A fresh piece of ground . . . will not bear tobacco past two or three years unless cow-penned; for they manure their ground by keeping their cattle . . . within hurdles, which they remove when they have sufficiently dunged one spot"137

At some seasons of the year, large herds of grazing animals were allowed to browse freely in the forests and canebreaks of the old southwest, and later on the open range of Texas. In 1773, a surveyor for South Carolina described this system in detail. He reported that vast herds of cattle, often more than a thousand animals, were raised in the woods throughout the backcountry between the Savannah and Ogechee rivers. They were tended by "gangs under the auspices of cow-pen keepers, which move (like unto the ancient patriarchs or the modern Bedouins in Arabia) from forest to forest in a measure as the grass wears out or the planters approach them." Once a year, these animals were rounded up, penned and driven to market on the hoof.138

This system of herding had also been practiced in the North British borderlands, and was transferred to the American backcountry. A few important changes were made necessary by the new environment. Sheep, which had been the main support of British animal husbandry, became an easy prey for predators in the American wilderness. They were replaced by swine which were allowed to breed freely on the range, rapidly reverting to the wild species from which they had descended. This process of devolution produced the backcountry razorback, which was more like a wild boar than a barnyard pig. It became so wild that it was hunted with a rifle....


The backsettlers also kept...temporal customs of high complexity. Their culture assigned many fixed seasons for doing things. Their folklore told them, for example:

  • Never mix April 30th milk with that of May 1st or the butter will be slow in coming.

  • Make soap on the full of the moon or else it won't set.

  • A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.

  • A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.

  • As slow as Christmas coming.

  • Sprinkle ashes on animals and fowl on Ash Wednesday.

The flow of life was regulated by many of these rhythms annual, monthly, weekly, even daily. Sunday, of course, was a day of worship. Mondays and Tuesdays were favorite days for visiting Fridays were days for going to market. But Friday and Saturday were thought to be unlucky for new enterprises. President Andrew Jackson, "to the end of his life, never liked to begin any thing of consequence on Friday, and would not if it could be avoided."139

At the same time that these folk rules were kept with great care, the people of the back settlements startled travelers from other cultures by their complaisant attitudes toward the use of time. The proverbs of the backcountry showed a strong spirit of temporal fatalism in a world of insecurity:

  • To-day's to-day and tomorrow's tomorrow.

  • Come day, go day, God send Sunday.

  • You can't rush God.

  • Never trouble trouble, 'til trouble troubles you.

  • Do not argue with the wind.

These were not a people who took time by the forelock. The folkways of the backcountry differed very much in that respect from the attitudes of New England, the Delaware, and even tidewater Virginia. Of all the inhabitants of British America, the back settlers were the most conservative and the least instrumental in their time ways. By and large the people of the backcountry tended to believe that the rhythms of life were inexorable and ineluctable, and beyond the capacity of mere mortals to change in any fundamental way. In place of the more instrumental attitudes of improving time, or redeeming time, or even killing time, the backsettlers had a fatalistic idea of passing the time letting it happen in its ineluctable way. Here was another striking paradox of backcountry culture. The more these people moved through space, the more rooted they became in time.


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The Backcountry Comity: Patterns of Migration, Settlement, and Association

The borderers were a restless people who carried their migratory ways from Britain to America. There had been many folk movements in their history before the Atlantic crossing, and many more were yet to come. The history of these people was a long series of removals from England to Scotland, from Scotland to Ireland, from Ireland to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania to Carolina, from Carolina to the Mississippi Valley, from the Mississippi to Texas, from Texas to California, and from California to the rainbow's end.

Rates of geographic migration were very high in this culture. In Britain, some of the highest rates of rural migration were to be found on the northern borders. The Scottish village of Fintray, for example, had a turnover of 75 percent in five years (1696-1701) a rate much above the parishes of southern England.141

The backsettlers thought about moving in a way that was different from more sedentary people. There was a folk-saying in the southern highlands: "When I get ready to move, I just shut the door, call the dogs and start." This was the footloose way in which . Andrew Jackson was said to have come into the backcountry, with nothing but two riding horses, a gun at his side, and a pack of hunting dogs at his heel.142

Most geographic migration in both the British borderlands and the American backcountry consisted of short-distance movements that covered only a few miles, as families searched for slightly better living conditions. Frequent removals were encouraged by low levels of property-owning and by characteristic atti. tudes toward wealth and land and work in this culture.

During the first few years of settlement, backcountry folk settled close to one another for mutual protection. The result was the planting of "stations" in Tennessee, and "forts" in Kentucky. But as the backcountry gradually became more secure, another pattern appeared one that was very different from the comities of Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The backcountry ideal was a scattered settlement pattern in isolated farmsteads, loosely grouped in sprawling "neighborhoods" that covered many miles. The German traveler Schoepf observed that in North Carolina the farms were "scattered about in these woods at various distances, three to six miles, and often as much as ten or fifteen or twenty miles apart."143 North Carolina Congressman Nathaniel Macon startled his Yankee colleagues by arguing that "no man ought to live so near another as to hear his neighbor's dog bark."144 That attitude was widely shared in the backcountry. In this culture, a house became a hermitage, beyond sight and sound of every human habitation. Once again, Andrew Jackson personified his culture. Jackson's home in Tennessee was actually called the Hermitage. When he was away from it he wrote home to his wife expressing his longing for "sweet retirement," apart from other people.145


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Backcountry Order Ways: The Border Idea of Order as Lex Talionis

Within this comity, personal relations between backsettlers were often brutally direct. The mother of President Jackson prepared her son for this world with some very strong advice. "Andrew," said she, "never tell a lie, nor take what is not your own, nor sue anybody for slander, assault and battery. Always settle them cases yourself."146

That folk saying was a classical expression of backcountry attitudes toward order, which differed very much from other regions of British America. In the absence of any strong sense of order as unity, hierarchy, or social peace, backsettlers shared an idea of order as a system of retributive justice. The prevailing principle was lex talionis, the rule of retaliation. It held that a good man must seek to do right in the world, but when wrong was done to him he must punish the wrongdoer himself by an act of retribution that restored order and justice in the world.

This backcountry idea of order rested upon an exceptionally strong sense of self- sovereignty. Something of the same principle had also existed in tidewater Virginia, where the gentry were fond of quoting the old English cliche that every man's home was his castle. But the people of the backcountry went a step farther. A North Carolina proverb declared that "every man should be sheriff on his own hearth."147 That folk saying had been brought to the backcountry from the borderlands of North Britain, where it existed in almost the same words: "Every man is a sheriff on his own hearth."148 This idea implied not only individual autonomy, but autarchy. Further, it narrowly circumscribed the role of government, for if every man were sheriff on his own hearth. then there was not very much work for a county sheriff to do, except to patrol the roads that lay in between.

The same ideas also appeared in the ordering institutions of the backcountry. There were official sheriffs and constables through out that region, but the heaviest work of order-keeping was done by ad hoc groups of self-appointed agents who called themselve' regulators in the eighteenth century, vigilantes in the nineteenth, and nightriders in the twentieth. This was not a transitional phenomenon unless one wishes to think of a transition five centuries long. Nor was it the reflexive product of a frontier environment, for other frontiers experienced little or none of it. It rose instead from a tradition of retributive folk justice which had been carried from the British borderlands to the American backcountry.

During the eighteenth century the back settlements suffered much from "banditti" whose depredations were punished by the summary justice of these self-styled "regulators." When, for example, one robber gang grew so bold that it tried to steal the horses of an entire congregation as they sat in church, the backcountry rose spontaneously. In retaliation' a "posse" of regulators reported it had "pursued the rogues, broke up their gangs, burnt the dwellings of all their harborers and abetters whipped 'em and drove the idle, vicious and profligate out of the province, men and women without distinction."149 Conflicts between bandits and "regulators" continued on the southwestern frontier for many generations. But it was not characteristic of the frontier itself. Nothing quite like it occurred on most parts of the northern frontier in New England or in the upper northwest.150

Vigilante movements began in the southern backcountry during the 1760s. Their legitimacy rested upon a doctrine called "Lynch's law," which probably took its name from Captain William Lynch (1742-1820), of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, and later Pendleton District, South Carolina. Captain Lynch was a backcountry settler of border descent. "Lynch's Law" began as a formal agreement among his neighbors:

Whereas, many of the inhabitants of Pittsylvania have sustained great and intolerable losses by a set of lawless men .. . we will inflict such corporal punishment on him or them, as to us shall seem adequate to the crime committed or the damage sustained.151

Lynch's law was swift and violent. Its victims were often flogged and sometimes killed without much attention to due process, or even to the evidence. One backcountry gravestone read: "George Johnson, Hanged by Mistake."152

This system of justice captured the two vital principles of backcountry order ways the idea that order was a system of retributive violence and that each individual was the guardian of his own interests in that respect. Even sheriffs in the backcountry shared the same ideal of retributive violence, and often took the law into their own hands. Alabama's Tombigbee County, for example, had five justices of the peace in 1810, of whom three were themselves fugitives. Two were wanted on charges of murder, and a third for helping an accused murderer break jail."153

The idea of retributive justice was also reflected in common forms of disorder throughout the southern backcountry. One example was the prevalence of the blood feud in the southern highlands. The custom of feuding had been very common on the borders of North Britain. Bloody strife continued for many generations between families on both sides of the border.

During the eighteenth century, this custom of the blood feud was introduced to the backcountry. In that new environment it flourished for more than two hundred years. Feuds occurred in many forms between individuals, families, clans and communities. They began in a variety of ways loss of property or reputation, political rivalries, sexual jealousies, moral insults and material injuries. In the classical feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, the casus belli was a dispute over two razorback hogs which led to the killing of twenty people and the wounding of at least twenty more. Both families were of border stock; their feud arose more generally from an entire culture and its concept of order as retributive justice.

Another expression of lex talionis was the heavy preponderance of crimes against persons over crimes against property. One study of criminal indictments in Ohio County, Virginia (1801-10), found that murders and assaults were more common than all other crimes and misdemeanors combined, and more than five times as common as property offenses.154 This pattern persisted for two centuries. In the 1930s, an Appalachian lawyer wrote:

Our people . . . are as a rule only charged with crimes of impulse, such as assault and battery, homicides of the different degrees, etc., or crimes against prohibitory statutes which they think interfere with their personal freedom, such as moonshining, and~ offenses of that nature. Seldom do you find them accused of crimes such as larceny, burglary or what are known as social crimes.155

Treatment of the disorderly was also different from other regions of British America. Backcountry courts tended to punish property crimes with the utmost severity, but to be very lenient with crimes of personal violence. In Cumberland County, Virginia, during the eighteenth century, a court administered the following punishments: for hog stealing, death by hanging; for scolding, five shilling fine; for the rape of an eleven- year-old girl, one shilling fine."156 This structure of values continued for many generations in the backcountry. Historian Edward Ayers finds that in the southern upcountry during the nineteenth century, county courts "treated property offenders much more harshly than those accused of violence."157

This system of order created a climate of violence in the American backcountry which remained part of the culture of that region to our own time. The proverbs of the backcountry are full of the spirit of violence: "A word and a blow and the blow first," Carolinians would say. "Evil words cut mair than swords."158 This ethic of violence in the backcountry was far removed from the chivalric ideals of the tidewater elite. It is interesting that the proverbs of the backcountry justified the use of violence only when it promised to succeed. The backsettlers said:

  • Better a coward than a corpse.

  • Better a living dog than a dead lion.

  • He that fights and runs away Will live to fight another day.

Backcountry proverbs did not glorify fighting for its own sake, but fighting for the sake of winning. Here was an ethic of violence which had been formed in ambuscades and border-raiding. It had nothing to do with combats of chivalry or the idea of war as a gentleman's game. The classical example of this instrumental attitude toward violence was Andrew Jackson. A friend who knew him well for forty years said that "no man knew better than AndrewJackson when to get into a passion and when not. " James Parton commented that Jackson's anger was "a Scotch-Irish anger. It was fierce, but never had any ill effect upon his purposes; on the contrary, he made it serve him, sometimes, by seeming to be much more angry than he was; a way with others of his race.159

But backcountry violence also had another side. Andrew Jackson's strategy of controlled anger worked because most rage was genuine in this culture. Violence often consisted of blind, unthinking acts of savagery by men and women who were unable to control their own feelings. Much backcountry violence occurred within the family. Visitors recorded with horror the violence of parents against children, husbands against wives, and friends against neighbors....


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Backcountry Power Ways: The Politics of Personal Government

This system of order gave rise to a special style of backcountry politics which was far removed from classical ideas of democracy and aristocracy. It was a highly distinctive type of polity which Charles Lee appropriately called "macocracy" that is, "rule by the race of Macs."160 This system of macocracy was a structure of highly personal politics without deference to social rank. In that respect it was very different from Virginia. In the early eighteenth century, William Byrd observed of the back settlements, "They are rarely guilty of flattering or making any court to their governors, but treat them with all the excesses of freedom and familiarity."161 It was also a polity without strong political institutions, and in that regard very far removed from New England. There was comparatively little formal structure to local government no town meetings, no vestries, no commissions, and courts of uncertain authority. But within the same broad tradition of self-government common to all English-speaking people, the borderers of North Britain easily improvised their own politics....

Men who rose to positions of leadership in this culture comrnonly did so by bold and decisive acts. An example comes from the life of Andrew Jackson. In the late eighteenth century, Jackson was in the backcountry hamlet of Jonesboro, Tennessee, for a court day. At midnight, fire suddenly broke out in a stable, and ignited a large quantity of hay. An eyewitness recalled:

The alarm filled the streets with lawyers, judges, ladies in their nightdresses, and a concourse of strangers and citizens. Gene. Jackson no sooner entered the street than he assumed the command. It seemed to be conceded to him. He shouted for buckets,and formed two lines of men reaching from the fire to a stream that ran through the town; one line to pass the empty buckets to the stream, and the other to return them full to the fire. He ordered the roofs of the tavern and of the houses most exposed to be covered with wet blankets, and stationed men on the roofs to keep them wet. Amidst the shrieks of the women, and the frightful neighing of the burning horses, every order was distinctly heard and obeyed. In the line up which the buckets passed, the bank of the stream soon became so slippery that it was difficult to stand. While General Jackson was strengthening that part of the line, a drunken coppersmith, named Boyd, who said he had seen fires at Baltimore, began to give orders and annoy persons in the line.

"Fall into line!" shouted the General.

The man continued jabbering. Jackson seized a bucket by the handle, knocked him down, and walked along the line giving his orders as coolly as before. He saved the town.162

The politics of the backcountry consisted mainly of charismatic leaders and personal followings, cemented by strong and forceful acts such as Jackson's behavior at Jonesboro. The rhetoric that these leaders used sometimes sounded democratic, but it was easily misunderstood by those who were not part of this folk culture. The Jacksonian movement was a case in point. To easterners, Andrew Jackson looked and sounded like a Democrat. But in his own culture, his rhetoric had a very different function. Historian Thomas Abernethy observes that Andrew Jackson never championed the cause of the people; he merely invited the people to champion him. This was a style of politics which placed a heavy premium upon personal loyalty. In the American backcountry, as on the British borders, loyalty was the most powerful cement of political relationships. Disloyalty was the primary political sin.

Andrew Jackson's political style was explicitly drawn from the borders of North Britain. He required his wards to read the history of the Scottish chieftains whom he deeply admired and made the models for his own acts. The memory of the great border captains continued to inspire leaders in the backcountry for many generations. This system of politics was nourished on its members. Andrew Jackson always remembered the stories that his mother told him about aristocratic oppression and the cruelties of rack-renting landlords in the old country. The result was a very strong tradition which John Roche has called "retrospective radicalism." The folk memory operated as a powerful political amplifier when triggrered by symbolic events.


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Backcountry Freedom Ways: The Border Idea of Natural Liberty
said Woodrow Wilson: "In these mountains is the original stuff of which America was made"

The backsettlers, no less than other colonists in every part of British America, brought with them a special way of thinking about power and freedom, and a strong attachment to their liberties. As early as the middle decades of the eighteenth century their political documents contained many references to liberty as their British birthright. In 1768, the people of Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, declared, "We shall ever be more ready to support the government under which we find the most liberty."163

No matter whether they came from the England or Scotland or Ireland, their libertarian ideas were very much alike and profoundly different from notions of liberty that had been carried to Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The traveler Johann Schoepf was much interested in ideas of law and liberty which he found in the backcountry. "They shun everything which appears to demand of them law and order, and anything that preaches constraint," Schoepf wrote of the backsettlers. "They hate the name of a justice, and yet they are not transgressors. Their object is merely wild. Altogether, natural freedom . . . is what pleases them."164

This idea of "natural freedom" was widespread throughout the southern back settlements. But it was not a reflexive response to the "frontier" environment, nor was it "merely wild," as Schoepf believed. The backcountry idea of natural liberty was created by a complex interaction between the American environment and a European folk culture. It derived in large part from the British border country, where anarchic violence had long been a condition of life. The natural liberty of the borderers was an idea at once more radically libertarian, more strenuously hostile to ordering institutions than were the other cultures of British America.

In 1692, for example, a British borderer named Thomas Brockbank, who had been born and raised in the county of Westmorland, sent a letter to his parents on the subject of natural liberty. "Honored parents, " he wrote, "liberty is a thing which every animate creature does naturally desire, yea and even vegetables themselves also seem to have a great tendency towards it. But man, the perfection of the vast creation, who is endowed with a rational soul, does more eagerly pursue freedom, because he has knowledge and can give a just estimate of the true value thereof."165

In North Britain this idea of natural liberty as something which "every animate creature does naturally desire, yea and even vegetables themselves," was rapidly in process of decay during the eighteenth century. But in the hour of its extinction, it was carried to the American back settlements, where conditions conspired to give it new life. The remoteness of the population from centers of government and the absence of any material necessity for large-scale organization created an environment in which natural liberty flourished...

When backcountrymen moved west in search of that condition of natural freedom which Daniel Boone called "elbow room," they were repeating the thought of George Harrison, a North, Briton who declared in the borderlands during the seventeenth century that "every man at nature's table has a right to elbow room." The southern frontier provided space for the realization of this ideal, but it did not create it."166

This libertarian idea of natural freedom as "elbow room" was very far from the ordered freedom of New England towns, the hegemonic freedom of Virginia's county oligarchs, and the reciprocal freedom of Pennsylvania Quakers. Here was yet another freedom way which came to be rooted in the culture of an American region, where it flourished for many years to come.

Don't worry! I haven't left you alone in the Wilderness...