Winds of Change Along The Blue Ridge

Carolina’s Final Frontier

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During the onset of the Revolutionary War many families were just beginning to adapt to their new surroundings. After enduring the hardships of the Great Wagon Road , many were weary and seeking peace and comfort.  The obstacles that stood in their path consisted of King George’s Army, the local Indians and sickness. The Piedmont lands of North Carolina were open to settlers, as well as the neighboring foothills. The Blue Ridge Mountains were forbidden to the settlers during the migration years of 1735 through 1775.. Any person who decided to settle west of the mountains did so without the consent of England. The first inhabitants along the Blue Ridge were the Cherokee and the Catawba Indians. The Old Buffalo Trail traveled through the mountains and later was used as a route for the settlers.

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The Old Buffalo Trail would be worn due to centuries of traveling herds passing through the area. The Cherokee would use these lands as a primary hunting ground and several Indian “towns” were known to be located south of the steep cliffs. Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg was one of the first explorers to visit and document the area west of the Blue Ridge. The area was harsh and rugged as described by the Bishop, “Part of the way, we crawled on hands and feet, dragging our saddles and horses behind us.” The Bishop was surveying the area with hopes of a possible site for a new Moravian settlement in December of 1752. They camped near present day Blowing Rock where they stumbled across a large meadow. While setting up camp, a strong wind blew in and soon snow was on the ground and the fresh water they collected was quickly frozen. The settlers who dared to travel west of the mountain ridges were met with frigid winters and the Cherokee. These pioneers were following Daniel Boone and his comrades who knew the area very well. Even though, it was against the law for anyone to settle these lands, many families pushed westward. By, 1775, the Wilderness Road became active with travelers headed beyond the mountains to Kentucky. This was due to the Cherokee ceded lands in this area and westward.

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Land was plentiful in the mountains but the survival was much different from anything the settlers may have known before.  A few Cherokee warriors fought against the settlers and forced the newcomers to arm themselves and to always keep a constant watch for attacks. For the most part, the settlers bargained with the Cherokee. The settlers offered goods in trade for lands. The pioneers chose their lands wisely in order to have fresh water during droughts and game to hunt for food until land could be cleared for farming. They were met with the spectacular beauty of the mountain views and rocky ridges. Cutting down trees for a cabin was best accomplished during the winter months when the tree sap was low. A skilled man could use an axe to chop down the trees, remove the bark and notch the wood to build his cabin. Before the first crops could be planted, land had to be cleared. While clearing the land, the family still had to eat and wild game was plentiful.

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Settlers would invent traps to entice wild game to enter such as pictured above. They also utilized the practices of the Cherokee and used woven baskets to catch fish. The land provided them with naturally grown black walnuts, persimmons, mulberries, chestnuts and hickory nuts. Majority of the pioneers built their cabins facing east to capture the morning sun and at the foot of a hill to shield them from the winds. The level section of their land was reserved for the garden location.

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Many of the first cabins located in the High Country were windowless and during the summer months, a quilt would be hanging at the doorway.  The weather played a vital role with the survival of the settlers. Droughts and heavy rains would plague the pioneers with mudslides. Deep snows in winter along with frigid temperatures and cold winds brought sickness to many. The Cherokee moved west by 1790 and the population tripled during this time among the settlers. They consisted of Scots, English, Germans, Welsh and Irish. John Green arrived in the area after 1780 and built his cabin along the Old Buffalo Trail. Thomas Hodges arrived and soon after, Samuel Hix, David Hix and James Holtsclaw. The Baird family arrived from South Carolina. Other family names are Eggers, Council, Horton, Greer, Hicks, Ward and Miller. James Tompkins and James Chambers were involved with the origins of Three Forks Baptist Church.

Supplies were not readily available and the pioneers would substitute these items with natural resources found around them. For instance, nails were not commonly used, instead, logs were notched to fit together. Women would create their own cloth for clothing, linens, etc. Animal hides and fur were put to use as well for shoes, clothing and much more. Families of the Blue Ridge were more isolated versus the families of the Piedmont and foothills area. Many of the settlers preferred the remoteness that the mountains offered. Couples would wed, have a large number of children who were taught tradition from one generation to the next.

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The social gatherings would mostly occur with church activities. Neighbors could be close to one another but due to the trails and the mountainous terrain, the travel time to reach one another could be as long as a day on foot. This allowed gatherings within the community to be very special events.

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The roads of present day are still the roads of long ago. The appearance of the area may have changed but the core of the terrain would still be recognizable to our ancestors.  Mountain peaks, such as Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock have not changed since the arrival of the settlers during the 18th century. As our ancestors were passing lessons down to their children, the proof of their lives remain with us in the form of stories and traditions.

Shady Grove

This song has been in existence since circa 1786. Singing was performed in each and every home of the 18th century. All members of the family would sing and memorized their favorite tunes. Shady Grove was a popular song during that time.

I went to see my Shady Grove

Standing in the door

Shoes and stockings in her hand

Little bare feet on the floor

Shady Grove my little love

Shady Grove I say

Shady Grove my little love

I’m a going away

Sunset behind Grandfather Mountain seen from Blowing Rock, NC

 

1776 A Year In North Carolina

The Birth of a New State

The citizens living during the late 18th century in North Carolina were met with many challenges and many achievements. The eventful year of 1776 desires a closer look and the details are filled with blood, pride and a determination of survival in a troubled world. The atmosphere among the majority of settlers held resentment to the crown and longed for a chance to allow more freedom to change the current status. Individual households, churches and other gathering “hot spots” inspired either loyalty to the King or the opportunity to live without a monarchy. By year end, North Carolina begins a new chapter of statehood and freedom on the horizon.

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January 10-Royal Governor Josiah Martin, pictured above, appealed to the Loyalists to end the rebellion which was now raging across Carolina. Martin called upon the people to be “faithful subjects” and defend the Crown. Those who refused were labeled “Rebels and Traitors”. The Governor was planning an attack by February and was trying to raise 9,000 men in order to create an army of Highland Scots, Regulators and Tories. He expected Lord Cornwallis to arrive with 7 regiments and Sir Peter Parker’s fleet of 54 ships. He also expected Sir Henry Clinton from Boston to bring his 2,000 experienced British troops. Martin expected everyone to arrive in Brunswick no later that February 15th.

Flora Macdonald

February 18-A Scottish heroine, Flora MacDonald, pictured above, was challenging her fellow countrymen to fight the Patriots. It is said that Flora mounted a white horse and addressed the men in Gaelic to encourage them to cross the Cape Fear and end the Patriot’s rebellion. As the army marched away, Flora returned to her estate in Anson County. Within 9 days, her husband would be taken prisoner along with many fellow Highlanders.

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February 27-The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, pictured above, takes place on this date. The Patriots removed many of the boards from the center of the bridge prior to battle. They also smeared the remaining portions of the bridge with soap and bear’s grease. The Patriot’s then hid on the eastern bank waiting on the 1,600 Highlander Scots to arrive. The Scots arrived at the bridge just before dawn armed with swords and daggers. An explosion of gunfire from the Patriots rained down on the Scots leaving 50 wounded, killed or drowned. After this battle, the Loyalist  army scattered and the British left Carolina headed for Charleston.

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April 12-Delegates to North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress adopted the Halifax Resolves. The delegates were all for independence and urged the Continental Congress to declare independence for all colonies and to form alliances. The document also stated that North Carolina held the right to form it’s own constitution and laws.

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May 5-British General Henry Clinton, pictured above, finally arrives with his troops to North Carolina. With Lord Cornwallis, Clinton conducted several raids throughout North Carolina. General Clinton offered amnesty to all rebels who would lay down their arms with the exception of Cornelius Harnett and Robert Howe of Wilmington. Clinton’s offer was ignored and he followed Lord Cornwallis back to Charleston.

May 21-The Fourth Methodist Conference meeting located in Baltimore appointed 3 preachers to serve the Carolina circuit. The circuit riders brought the word of God and the message of John Wesley at a time when independence was felt throughout the area. Edward Dromgoole, reared in the Catholic Church in Ireland, brought the “flow of tears” during his sermons. Francis Poythress was a serious man who often mispronounced common words; “this he attributed to the loss of his teeth.” Isham Tatum traveled for a few years, then married and ceased his travels.

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June 22-Four men, believed to be army deserters, entered into the Moravian community of Salem. They entered the tavern, pictured above, and ordered brandy and liquor. They began loading their guns and arguing about the bill. They struck a man in the head with a gun barrel and threatened to kill everyone in the room. Several men entered the tavern and chased the criminals to the Single Brother’s House. “They kicked open the door, smashed windows, broke furniture and wounded 5 people with tomahawks”. The 4 men were eventually caught and a trial began. The prisoners were sent to the Salisbury jail escorted by Captain Henry Smith.

Cherokee village

July-During the month of July, the battle between the Patriots and the British had shifted southward to South Carolina, but other battles were fought. Indian uprisings during the month of July were keeping the settlers on constant alarm. General Griffith Rutherford led 2,400 men to Swannanoa Gap and crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains. 36 Indian villages were burned to the ground along the route. Majority of the Cherokee fled, but some stayed and fought it out. An excerpt from a soldier’s journal stated that he found the body of an Indian woman. “She had painted and armed herself as if she were a warrior.”

August 2-The Declaration of Independence was actually signed on this date. The July 4th date portrayed only two signatures, John Hancock and Charles Thomson. 3 men represented North Carolina as they signed the document. Joseph Hewes, John Penn and William Hooper

September-Neighbor against neighbor was beginning to terrorize many communities. The Loyalist refused to accept paper currency and were destroying neighbor’s property such as crops and livestock. The Patriots often would seek Tories who refused to pledge allegiance to the Revolution. Once found the Tories would be “tarred and feathered”, escorted out of the community or at times, hanged until death.

November 12-The Fifth Provincial Congress Convened in Halifax to draft a new state constitution. The delegates decided to vote by “voice” rather than by town or county. The hero of Moore’s Creek Bridge Battle, Richard Caswell, was unanimously chosen president of the convention.

December 18-North Carolina’s state constitution is complete allowing North Carolina to be named as a state.

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The words portrayed here can only give a small glimpse into the past. The fact remains that each and every family member living in 1776 witnessed and endured the year’s events. Many planted their crops only to watch them burn by British soldiers, or Indian raids or even by their own Loyalist neighbors. There were many family members who perished due to the events of 76, but just as many, if not more, proclaimed in it’s glory. North Carolina gained the reputation of standing on her own as a new state with a people united together for independence and freedom.

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Fields of Green Leaves

The History of Tobacco Farmers in North Carolina

Majority of North Carolina households know the appearance of tobacco fields. Although, they are not as widely seen today, many have experienced the labor involved while harvesting the plant. During the 1880’s through the 1960’s, tobacco was listed as North Carolina’s main cash crop. Farmer’s seized the moment to cultivate, fertilize and grow the best plants in order to obtain the best price at the warehouse. Small tobacco companies located statewide, grew to huge corporations that employed entire communities. Tobacco built cities and North Carolina was known worldwide for their tobacco products.

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Tobacco, in North Carolina, was born during the 16th century along the eastern sandhills and coastal areas. The seeds were favored as an export, but the leaves produced a high quality when planted in the North Carolina area. These seeds reached Sir Walter Raleigh and he planted the crop in Ireland during the year of 1586. He successfully harvested the fields and was able to dry the leaves to produce pipe smoking tobacco. This success was heard in England and soon more fields of tobacco began appearing along North Carolina’s landscape. Tobacco was scarce and wanted during this time. In England during the year of 1590, records show 1 pound of tobacco was $125.00 and $15.00 for poor inferior grades. Either sum was extremely expensive to anyone who had the urge for smoking tobacco.

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Tobacco was introduced by the Native Indians in the area who shared the smoking pipe with settlers. Later, cigars became popular during the 18th century as well as plug tobacco. Through the years, the demand grew as we reached the industrial age. Machines were invented to mass produce different products and tobacco was just one of them. More and more farmers began to cultivate acres of plant along with their other crops. Tobacco quickly became the big winner because of the low maintenance required and the big returns after harvest. At the end of the Civil War, farmers in the southern states were looking for a more productive way to support their growing families and tobacco was the answer to many.

Beginning in January and February, seedbeds were prepared. It took approx. 40 square yards of seedbeds for each acre of tobacco. The ground was cleared, burned and leveled before the seedlings were planted by mid March. In colonial days, pine boughs covered the seeds and by the mid 20th century, plastic was used. Once they began sprouting, they would be thinned to 1 plant for every 4 inches. If the seedlings survived, they were transplanted in the fields by May. The farmer would wait until a steady rain fell before transplanting the plants. They would enter the muddy fields and hope the plants would take root. Many had to be transplanted more than once and many would not make it all.

Tobacco Planter

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Weekly weeding and hoeing around the plants were required until they were knee high. Then the bottom leaves were removed along with the top leaves. This was done to produce larger leaves and to not allow the plant to flower. After a plant was topped, it tended to produce suckers or shooters, these would have to be removed as well in order to enhance the growth of the leaves.

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During the growing process, diseases were common. The worst pest of the tobacco was the horned worm. Worms were hand picked off of the plant, but left alone could easily destroy the crop. A good farmer knew exactly when to harvest his crop usually in late August to early September. They would look at how easily the leaves would break off of the stem and they would look at the overall color of the leaves. If harvested early, it would drop the price at market.

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The entire plant was cut in between the bottom leaves and allowed to lay in the fields during the 18th century. Sometimes, they were covered with straw to allow the leaves to wilt before drying. By the late 19th century, 1st priming, 2nd priming and so on was introduced. Leaves were picked off the stem by hand and placed on a sled to be transported to the barn for hanging. Curing the tobacco was all about timing. If the heat was too intense, it could result in mold which could ruin the entire crop. Wood burning barns required constant attention 24 hours a day. Once the tobacco was cured, it was ready for the market. This required loading the crop and taking a trip to the nearest tobacco warehouse. Buyers would be lined up while an auctioneer would take bids. Or farmers could have a deal already made with a buyer with a protected price.

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During the 1700’s, tobacco was hauled in hogshead barrels to England. The tobacco leaves were twisted and rolled, then spun into a rope prior to shipping. The average weight of tobacco in a hogshead barrel was a thousand pounds. Tobacco was easily marketed from the 18th century to the 20th century. The fast return on the crop allowed farmers to prosper. Fertile soil was essential to a good crop and tobacco required so many nutrients from the soils to mature, it allowed the lands to become useless if used over and over again with the same crop. Therefore, farmers often switched fields during the years in order to keep producing high quality plants.

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Before the 20th century, men were usually the smokers of the home. However; by 1920, women began smoking as well and this doubled the market through the Great Depression years. This trend allowed many farmers to survive the harsh economy of the 1930’s.

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Farming consisted of working with the land, making careful decisions and tending the crops in order to maximize the highest quantity and quality. North Carolina was home to numerous farmers and among them stood tobacco.

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