Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Rev. John Corn, Another Son of Elder Rev. Adam Corn

We’ve traced the story of Elder Adam Corn who moved to Union County from North Carolina as early as 1839 and of his second son, the Rev. Alfred E. Corn, both of whom were noted as missionaries to the Indians and were instrumental in planting churches in the new settlements to which they moved.  The first son of Adam and Hannah Heatherly Corn was John who was born October 18, 1813 near Cullowhee in what was then Buncombe County, North Carolina, now Jackson County.  John was already married when his father Adam and the rest of his siblings relocated to Union County, Georgia.  John and his wife and one child under five were listed in the 1840 census of Union, but the census taker mistakenly spelled John’s last name as Carne instead of Corn. 
John Corn’s marriage to Mary Wade (known as “Polly”) Carter was recorded in Rabun County, Georgia as occurring on November 10, 1836 with the Rev. Robert Wood, also a Justice of the Peace, performing their marriage ceremony.  Polly’s parents were Jesse Carter and Lavina Sams Carter.  The Carter line went back to Edward Carter from Oxfordshire, England who settled in Pennsylvania about 1682.  Before Jesse and Lavina Carter moved to Rabun County, they had lived in Buncombe County near Cullowhee and their daughter Polly and John Corn knew each other then, and probably fell in love.  He went to Rabun County to court and marry her in 1836.  Polly was about three years older than John, having been born September 20, 1810 on the farm where her parents then lived at the Atkins Branch of the Big Ivy River near Cullowhee, NC.  The young couple made their home at first at Cullowhee, but then when Adam Corn, John’s father, decided to migrate to Union County, Georgia to secure land available for settlement there, John and Polly decided to move, too.

We have seen from previous stories about Adam and Alfred that Rev. Adam Corn baptized his two older sons in the Hiawasee River near Macedonia Baptist Church in 1841.  John Corn’s license to preach was issued by Macedonia Church on December 17, 1842.  Two years later, on November 16, 1844, John Corn was ordained to the gospel ministry by that same Macedonia Church.  Serving on the presbytery and ordaining council to question John were his father, Rev. Adam Corn, and neighboring pastors Rev. James Kimsey and Rev. Singleton Sisk. 

A very significant event took place in Augusta, Georgia in May of 1845.  Messengers gathered from states having Baptist Conventions and cooperating Baptist churches to discuss and act upon the proposal to form the convention and establish a Board of Domestic Missions, of Foreign Missions, of Education and other benevolent entities.  Four friends discussed the importance of the meeting in advance, and they were made messengers from their respective churches in Union County to attend the organizational meeting.  They had been given credentials for voting on proposals presented at the Augusta meeting.  The men rode in Major Josiah Carter’s carriage drawn by two fine horses.  With the routes available then from Blairsville to Augusta, we can imagine they went provisioned to camp out along the way since it would have been a several-days journey.  In the group were the Rev. John Corn, the Rev. Elisha Hedden, the Rev. Elijah Kimsey and Major Josiah Carter.  Major Carter was a brother-in-law to Rev. John Corn, the brother of John’s wife, Polly Carter Corn.  Not only did these four men from Union County vote to form the Southern Baptist Convention, but Major Carter himself pledged there to contribute to foreign missions.  Not only would he hold true to his pledge, but three of his granddaughters and one great grandson later became appointed foreign missionaries.  The long trip to Augusta for these three ministers and one layman had far-reaching effects.

Rev. John and Mary Carter Corn lived in the Upper Hightower section of Towns County, a portion taken in when Towns was formed from Union in 1856.  There they had a farm and reared their family:  Lucinda Caroline who married Lafayette McKinney and Rev. Will Eller; Hannah Lavina who married Marion Stonecypher; John Heatherly who married Sarah Elizabeth Dillard; Mary Adeline (an invalid) who never married; and Nancy Elizabeth who married Ransom Smith. 
Rev. John Corn was pastor of the Upper Hightower Baptist Church in his community for many years.  It was said that, because that church was in his home district, he would never accept money for his services.  Other churches he pastored were Old Union and Bell  Creek in Towns County, and at Franklin and Valley River in North Carolina.  He was listed as the first moderator of the Hiawassee Baptist Association when it was organized in 1849.
But farming and preaching were not the only two interests of the Rev. John Corn.  When the Civil War was looming and the secession of Georgia from the Union seemed eminent, Rev. John Corn and Rev. Elijah Kimsey were elected representatives from Towns County to attend the secession convention held at the state capitol, then located at Milledgeville, Georgia, a four-hundred miles round trip by horseback from Hiawassee.  Each of these representatives voted against Georgia’s seceding from the Union.
Rev. John Corn was a slave owner.  He bought two young slave girls from his brother-in-law Major Josiah Carter.  Harriet, a slave girl, age 7 was purchased for $750 in 1861, and Susan, age 14, for $1,600 in 1863.  He purchased a 17 year old slave lad at a slave auction in South Carolina for $850 in 1862.
When he was 48, Rev. John Corn was drafted into the Confederate Army and served,  according to his pension record, as Captain of Company D, 24th Regiment of the Georgia Volunteers.  His service lasted from June 21, 1861 through May 22, 1862.  When the elder Rev. John Corn resigned his commission, his son John Heatherly Corn  enlisted in the Georgia Cavalry, Company A of the Sixth Regiment and served until the end of the war.
In 1874, Rev. Corn was elected as Towns County’s representative to the Georgia Legislature.  By then, the state capitol had been relocated from Milledgeville to Atlanta. While  in route to his legislative duties, he became ill and had to return home. He died from complications with pneumonia at his home at Upper Hightower on January 2, 1875.  He was interred in the Corn family cemetery at Upper Hightower near his home.  Mary Polly Corn died January 14, 1879 and was also laid to rest in the family cemetery.
A special election was held through orders of Georgia Governor James Smith, and Samuel Y. Jameson, the great-uncle of Dr. S. Y. Jameson, President of Mercer University, Macon, was elected as Rev. John Corn’s successor to represent Towns County in the Georgia Legislature. Just as John Corn’s son, John Heatherly Corn, followed his father’s example and served in the Civil War, so he entered politics, becoming Towns County legislator for the 1884-1885 term. John Heatherly Corn also served as postmaster of the Visage post office in Towns County from 1875 through 1913, the entire life of that post office.  The Corn families contributed much to early development of both Union and Towns Counties.

©2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones.  Published March 29, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject.  All rights reserved.

[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.  She may be reached at e-mail; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Rev. Alfred Corn, Son of Elder Rev. Adam Corn

The Rev. Elder Adam Corn and his wife, Hannah Heatherly Corn, had at least nine known children, all of whom grew up to be solid citizens.  When Union County gave up a section of its land to form Towns County in 1856, the Corn families were in a new county without having to move from the farms on which they had settled.

As we saw in last week’s article about Elder Rev. Adam Corn, he was a Baptist preacher and a church planter.  He helped to organize several churches within the Union and Towns Counties areas.  One was the Macedonia Baptist Church southeast of Hiawassee.  Into the membership of that church, the Elder Rev. Corn baptized his two older sons, John and Alfred in the year 1841.  Both of these men became outstanding leaders in church, associational and missions work, and both became ordained ministers and denominational leaders. The story is told that one of the favorite pastimes of these brothers when they were young was to find a stump to use as a pulpit and to “preach away” to anyone who would take the time to listen, perhaps their younger siblings or neighbor children.  But even with this early practice as pulpiteers, it was not until John was twenty-eight and Alfred was twenty-four that they were baptized by their father in the Hiawassee River and accepted into the membership of Macedonia Baptist Church.

We will trace first some of the work of Alfred E. Corn, the second child of Adam and Hannah Corn.  He was born January 19, 1817 before the Corn family left Buncombe County, NC to begin their travels to other points where they settled.  He married Nancy T. Cook on January 16, 1842.  I thought I might find their marriage record in Union County, Georgia marriages, since the Corn family moved from North Carolina to Georgia about 1839.  I found that Rev. Alfred Corn performed marriage ceremonies for several in Union, but his marriage record to Nancy was not listed in Union.  Rev. Alfred and Nancy Cook Corn had children Arminta Jane (1843-1932) who married Mangum Bryson; John Adam (1845-1864) who died in the Civil War but had married Ivy Ann Loudermilk on May 13, 1862.  John Adam and Ivy Ann had a son, John Alfred, born in 1863.  After his father’s death, his grandfather reared him.  This young man became a prosperous property owner and served as both a state legislator and a Senator from the Towns County area.  Rev. Alfred Corn’s first wife Nancy died in 1884 and he married, second, to Amanda Matthewson on May 22, 1885.  

Alfred Corn was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Antioch Baptist Church of Union County on October 19, 1850.  Little did those who sat in on his presbytery realize what a stalwart leader he would become in denominational work.  He served for a number of years as an appointee of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (known then as the Baptist Board of Domestic Missions) to the Indians in North Carolina.  He had to preach through an interpreter to be understood by the Cherokee.  He was pastor of the Old Union Baptist Church at Young Harris for about 20 years.  He was recognized as an outstanding leader in the Hiawassee Baptist Association and the Georgia Baptist Convention.  He and Alphaeus Swanson led in organizing the West Union Baptist Church in Hiawassee Association.

He kept journals which tell of hardships during the Civil War.  In one, he told how glad he was to see his son, John Adam, home for a brief leave from the Civil War.  But later he lamented that, because of his son’s death, his family could never be together again as they once were on this earth.  In 1864 his journal shows that he could not get to some of his church appointments because of unrest and “invasion of Yankee troops” that pillaged and robbed.  Those same “snipers” stole his faithful steed that had taken him thousands of miles on his journeys to preach and do his missionary service.

He was also noted as an itinerant preacher and was invited to preach at summer camp meetings such as that at Fightingtown, a summer gathering held on a former Cherokee Indian Council Ground in Epworth, Fannin County, Georgia.  He was one of the early invited guests after the camp meetings were reinstated following the Civil War. Known for his level-headedness and attention to duty, he left his mark in several North Georgia and North Carolina counties as he labored to build stronger churches.  He and his first wife Nancy Cook Corn were buried in the Old Union Baptist Church Cemetery, Young Harris, Georgia.  She died December 26, 1884 and Alfred died July 16, 1905.

©2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones.  Published March 22, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject.  All rights reserved.

[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.  She may be reached at e-mail; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Early Union County Settler Adam Corn Noted as a Minister

He was likely referred to as “Elder” Corn among those who knew him.  His name was Adam Corn, an ordained Baptist minister, who was living with his family in Union County Georgia by the time of the 1840 census.  Extant family stories about this pioneer state that he moved here from North Carolina by 1839.  In the 1839 census, his household had four males and four females.  By age distribution, one male was five to ten, one was ten to fifteen, one twenty to thirty, and one fifty to sixty; females were two aged fifteen to twenty, one thirty to forty, and one fifty to sixty.  The elder two listed in the household would likely have been Rev. Adam Corn and his wife, Hannah Heatherly Corn.  Although the last name of another family living in Union at the time of the 1840 census was spelled Carne, it was likely intended to be Corn, the eldest son of Rev. Adam Corn.  In that household were John Carne (Corn) who was between thirty and forty, his wife, and one child, a female under five.           

As we shall see, this early Baptist minister was what we call today a church planter, for everywhere he went, including Union and Towns Counties in North Georgia, he started new churches.  He was aided in this work (especially in the North Carolina area) by two more noted ministers of that early settlements era, the Rev. Humphrey Posey and the Rev. Stephen Smith.  Bonded together in their work with frontier settlements and mission work with the Cherokee Indians, these men contributed significantly to early church establishment and mission work in Virginia, North and South Carolina and North Georgia.
Adam Corn was born May 2, 1783 in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of John Peter and Elizabeth Parr Corn.  His father was a Revolutionary War soldier.  His grandparents were Matthew and Millie Corn and John and Miriam Parr, all of Henry County, Virginia.  When Adam was a young lad of about eleven, his family moved from Virginia to Surrey County, North Carolina, then on to Wilkes County where so many who migrated from Union County had settled. 
Adam Corn met Hannah Heatherly in Buncombe County, North Carolina.  Her parents had migrated there from the old Pendleton District in South Carolina.  Adam and Hannah were living near her parents, the John Heatherlys, in the 1810 census of Buncombe County.  Adam was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1812 by the Mud Creek Baptist Church in Henderson, North Carolina.  Thus began his career as a minister, church organizer and itinerant preacher and pastor.  We trace several moves over the next years as he assisted the Rev. Humphrey Posey of the Board of Domestic Missions and the Rev. Stephen White, sometimes called a “hardshell Baptist preacher” to organize churches.  “Hardshell” often referred to an anti-missions position of doctrine.  Since Corn and Posey were obviously quite missions-minded, one wonders how the three then cooperated.  Perhaps the demarcations in beliefs were not as divisive in those early years and people welcomed ordained itinerant preachers to deliver sermons, perform funerals and weddings, and baptize converts at the locations of scattered churches.
We trace Adam Corn’s ministry to the Cullowhee District in Jackson County, North Carolina where their eldest son, John, was born in 1813, and where he assisted with missions to the Indians and in organizing the Cullowhee Baptist Church.  He was also an organizer of the Tuckaseegee Baptist Association at Cullowhee and presided at the meeting.  He was present and led in organizing the Waynesville Baptist Church in 1823.  He, the Rev. Stephen White and the Rev. Humphrey Posey organized the Cowee Baptist Church on March 15, 1828, and Rev. Posey served as its first pastor.  Other churches he and the Rev. Humphrey Posey founded were the Locust Field Baptist Church in Canton (now First Baptist of Canton, NC), Mt. Zion Baptist Church at the Arneechee Ford of the Oconaluftee River, as well as the Luftee Baptist Church, the latter in 1836. 
Then when Indian lands opened up in Union County, Georgia, Elder Adam Corn moved his family there about 1839.  Within that area Rev. Corn led in organizing Macedonia Baptist Church which is south of present-day Hiawassee in Towns County, Brasstown Baptist Church, and Old Union Baptist Church in Young Harris. Towns County was formed from Union in 1856.  Without moving, Rev. Adam Corn became a resident of the new county.  Their farm was in the Bell Creek Community.  He continued active in the ministry for all of his long life.  Records show that he baptized his two older sons, John and Alfred, in the Hiawassee River in 1841 and they became members of the Macedonia Baptist Church their father had helped to organize.  Alfred himself became a noted minister.  Adam’s son John Corn served as the first moderator of the Hiawassee Baptist Association in 1849.
The graves of Rev. Adam Corn and his wife Hannah Heatherly Corn are in the Lower Bell Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.  She died February 8, 1859 and he died September 12, 1871, at age 88.  He had served as a minister for sixty years.

©2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones.  Published March 15, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject.  All rights reserved.

[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.  She may be reached at e-mail; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Appalachian Values and Some People Who Exemplify Them (Part 3)

We have looked at Appalachian Values as specified by Loyal Jones in his book, Appalachian Values (Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994) and listed thus far religion, independence (that covers also self-reliance and pride), neighborliness, familism (love for family) and personalism (or relating well with others).  Today we will complete his list with humility (modesty), love of place, patriotism, sense of beauty and sense of humor.

Mountain people hold to humility and modesty.  They do not like to take credit for any achievements they might have accomplished.  They had rather defer compliments to others, or at least deflect them from themselves by saying such things as, “Well, this of which you speak is really not that good, not worthy of honor, anyway.”  Take for example a man from Union County, who had to bear much of the responsibility of helping his mother rear his siblings after his father died.  After a hard youth and manhood, he went forth from the mountains and did quite well as a leader in the state of Georgia.  His name was Mauney Douglas Collins who for twenty-five years served as the state school superintendent. During his decade in the top school position in Georgia, he led in innumerable achievements  in educational advancement to his credit.  Among them were moving scattered one-teacher schools into consolidation, getting the “Minimum Program of Education” funded and a more stable tax base for education established, free textbooks, school and public libraries, nine months of school for all students, bus transportation. The list could go on of accomplishments under his administration.  But when commended for his work, as is so often the case with mountain-bred persons, he would reply with, “It was time for a change, the people were ready for change, the time was right.”  He did not like for credit to accrue to his own name.  Yet the record is there for all to examine and admire.  Loyal Jones describes this sense of modesty and humility:  “We believe that we should not put on airs, not boast, nor try to get above our raising” (p. 90).

Love of place is almost a built-in part of our mountain ways.  “Where’re you from?” one is likely to ask a person when hearing his/her mountain talk and wondering what cove or valley in Appalachian is home.  Sense of place is deeply ingrained.  There’s more truth than fiction to the saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”  We could substitute “mountains of Appalachia” for country and have a true evaluation of how much we who were born there cling to place.  North Georgia Poet Byron Herbert Reece had the right idea when he wrote lovingly of his home and mine, “Choestoe,” the Cherokee Indian name meaning “Dancing Place of Rabbits.”  It is a long poem, three pages published, so too long to quote here.  But a few lines carry the strong sense of place he knew of the community where he was born, reared and lived:
“What does a land resemble, named for rabbits?...
There is peace here, quiet and unhurried living,
Something to wonder at in aged faces;
These are not all I mean, but symbols for it,
A thing, if one but has the spirit for it,
Better, I say, than many rabbits dancing.”

Patriotism seems almost to be a built-in characteristic of Appalachian people.  Next to family, another beloved entity for which one will die is country.  So many people now dwelling in the hills and hollows of Appalachia can trace their ancestry back to someone who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Likewise, when the rift came between the states in the 1860’s, many mountain people sided with the Union in that fray.  The county of Union, when founded in 1832, was named Union because the representative, John Thomas, when asked what to name it, declared, “Union, for only Union-like people reside there!”  From every war in which America has engaged since the Declaration of Independence was declared in 1776, Appalachian mountain military persons have fought with the bravest to win and maintain freedom.

A sense of beauty permeates place with majestic purple-clad mountains rising toward the sky and green valleys with meandering streams rushing through the rocks and rills of what is Appalachia.  But as if nature is reflected in what hands produce, beauty is seen in creative projects from looms, needles, workshops, blacksmith shops.  Mountain music played on banjo, dulcimer, and fiddle pays tribute to beauty of sound and accompanies voices that might have composed the songs telling about the land and its people.  A concert of beauty rises in place, project and pursuits as if in tumultuous offering of what the people enjoy in Appalachia in loveliness.  Is life not hard there?  We wonder and yet know that it often is, but amidst the hard toil and sometimes deprivation, the imagination and industry of a people seek after and produce beauty.

And, finally, all the characteristics of mountain life are wrapped in a sense of humor.  Loyal Jones assizes the humor of the mountaineer by stating:  “Humor is more than fun; it is a coping mechanism in sickness or hard times” (p. 123).   We often make ourselves the brunt of our own jokes.  I remember the Rev. Jesse Paul Culpepper who was born and reared in Wetmore, Tennessee and who, for 26 and ½ years of his ministry was the director of missions among churches in rural Fannin and Gilmer Counties in Georgia.  He was known far and wide for his preaching, and the points he could easily make on a difficult passage.  He had the ability to do that oftentimes by telling one of his funny stories, with himself more likely than not the one who had put himself into a humorous position which would help the people to remember the point he was making.  For example, in teaching tithing as a biblical way of giving, he would sometimes tell:  “Our churches need a better way to raise money than to make punkin’ pies with foam on top (his word for merinque) and try to sell them to the highest bidder. I got one of those pies one time, and it was awful. We’re not winners when we get something like that.  Why not give the money to the Lord’s treasury to start with?”

In closing his book on Appalachian Values, Loyal Jones appeals to us all to help correct the abuses to place and people that have occurred within our environs.  We can no longer put on blinders and hope the problems of environment and social conditions will go away on their own.  He implores:  “The reasons for change (must be) sound and desired by mountain people” (p. 138).

[Resource:  Jones, Loyal.  Appalachian Values.  Photography by Warren E. Brunner, with an Introduction by John B. Stephenson.  Ashland, KY:  Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994.-

©2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones.  Published March 8, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject.  All rights reserved.

[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.  She may be reached at e-mail,; phone, 478-453-8751; or mail, 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.].

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Appalachian Values and Some People Who Exemplify Them (Part 2)

Continuing on author Loyal Jones’s list of Appalachian Values as given in his book by the same title (Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994), we focus on neighborliness (also known as hospitality), familism (obligation to family) and personalism (relating well to others).

In recent decades, dwellers in Appalachia have adopted the customs of people in other areas, which, unfortunately, has somewhat curtailed our normal tendencies toward neighborliness and hospitality. Distrust and suspicion, and the fear of harm from strangers have erected walls of suspicion so that we are querulous of helping people. The time was, when persons passed through as strangers in the vicinity, with hotels and motels almost non-existent in the hill country, people “took in” the travelers and treated them to the best they had available in food and lodging. Sometimes, for a stranger, a bed in the hayloft on stacks of newly-threshed hay was welcomed, and the persons who offered such rest for the weary were thanked volubly. That was back in the day of trust and the desire to share what a family had with those who might happen by. Now, if we have people in our homes for meals, or to be overnight guests, we extend a special invitation in advance. This, of course, still shows the spirit of neighborliness and hospitality, but it somewhat takes away from the old mountain custom of “keeping the welcome mat” out.

Back in the nineteenth century there came through Choestoe community periodically a person who at one time had lived in the valley but who had migrated west to Texas. His name was Phillip Humphries (b. ca. 1841, a son of Kizziah Souther Humphries and John Humphries). He had served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and many said his shock from battle left him somewhat deranged and with a desire to wander the country. He would come preaching on the end times. People knew of his family connections to the Souther families of the valley. They showed hospitality and neighborliness, listened to Phillip and gave him food and lodging, warm water for bathing, and clean clothes to wear. Then his restless nature caused him to move on. Someone, taking compassion on him, finally found him a permanent home in a veterans’ home in North Carolina.

Familism, or obligation to family, is a strong trait of Appalachian people.

The general idea is that you don’t talk badly about “my” people, nor do you treat them with unkindness. Loyal Jones states: “Family loyalty runs deep and wide and may extend to grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins and even in-laws. Family members gather when there is sickness, death or a disaster” (Appalachian Values, p. 75). An example of this loyalty to family shows in remorse that occurs if there has been a rift in a family relationship and apologies and reconciliations have not been made before the death of one or the other at odds with each other. Another example of deep familism is the obligation felt by mountain people to “take care of one’s own.” Until recent decades, assisted living and nursing homes were not a consideration, since children cared for aging parents or other relatives not as closely kin as parents. And if a young mother or father died and the widow or widower needed help with young children in the family, relatives were quick to take in the children and love and rear them as their own. Union County did have a “Poor House” back in the nineteenth century where, as a last resort, persons were housed and cared for if relatives could not, due to their own circumstances, take care of the indigent. Or maybe the residents of the Poor House had no kin who could take them in. But the general principle has been for generations in the mountains to “take care of our own.” Family is a strong entity. Even divorce is a more recent blight in Appalachian society because of the strong sense of family.

Personalism is a bit harder to define. Loyal Jones sees it as “relating well to other persons…going to great lengths to keep from offending others…not alienating others” (Appalachian Values, p. 81). However, don’t think that mountaineers are easy to give in. Consider, for example, when Tennessee Valley Authority was buying up land to build lakes in the area for generating hydro-electric power. Because much of the land had been a legacy, passed down from generation to generation, people were reluctant to let it go, even to sell it for the ‘purpose of progress’ as the promoters proclaimed. When the government prevailed, and the land had to be sold, the people would comply, but dissatisfaction often remained, and some of the most adamant against selling their land refused for years to “hook up” to the electrical lines that came into their communities. In summarizing how Appalachian people relate to others, Mr. Jones states: “We may not always like or approve of other people, but we normally accept them as persons and treat them with respect” (p. 82).

[Resource: Jones, Loyal. Appalachian Values. Photography by Warren E. Brunner, with an Introduction by John B. Stephenson. Ashland, Ky: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994.]

c2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones. Published March 1, 2012 online with permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Appalachian Values and Some People Who Exemplify Them

Senior scholar, Loyal Jones, a native of nearby Cherokee County, North Carolina, and for many years director of Appalachian Studies at Berea College, Kentucky, wrote an essay on “Appalachian Values” first published in Twigs in 1973. His intention when he first wrote the essay was to dispel the misconceptions often held about people of the Appalachian mountain region. Betty Payne James of Disputanta, Kentucky, suggested to Mr. Jones that his essay be made into a book with pertinent photographs. The word artistry and depth of thinking from “Appalachian Values” of Loyal Jones were combined with excellent black-and-white photographs by prize-winning photographer Warren Brunner of Berea, Kentucky to make a book published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation of Ashland, Kentucky in 1994. If you have not yet read this provocative book, I recommend that you find a copy at your library—or better still—purchase your own copy, because you will want to refer to it again and again.

It occurred to me, while thinking about a worthy subject on which to write for his column, that it would be appropriate to name the values Loyal Jones calls to our attention and think of persons within Union County, Georgia, past and present, who exemplify the values worthy of emulation. I thank Loyal Jones for such a thought-provoking book. I give him deserved credit for calling to our attention the characteristics and values held dear and lived out by our ancestors. And Warren Brenner’s excellent photographs brought to my own mind persons and places with whom I am acquainted that fit so well the values Loyal Jones enumerates. I only wish I had photographs to illustrate this article that carry the same sense and depth that those in Appalachian Values convey. I ask my readers, therefore, to think of persons you know, and make a “mountain pictorial” of them as you read about these values, still alive and well in the coves, valleys and hillsides of our beloved Appalachian region.

Loyal Jones sets the stage for Appalachian Values by devoting a chapter to the early settlers to the region and their origins. Many Scots-Irish, German, English and Welsh people came to America and eventually found their way to our Appalachian wilderness and mountains, an ideal place with plenty of wild game, land for clearing and farming, and isolation that afforded them the seclusion they desired, “away from ‘powers and principalities’” (p. 24) that would rob them of their desire for freedom. “They came for many reasons, but always for new opportunity and freedom—freedom from religious, political, and economic restraints, and freedom to do much as they pleased. The pattern of their settlement shows that they were seeking land and solitude.” (p. 29)

Here we have but to do a roll-call of people who were listed on the 1834 (first) Union County census. Which from that list of 147 heads-of-households enumerated in 1834 are your ancestors? They fall into Loyal Jones’s category of people with European ancestry that came seeking freedom and independence. We salute them all.

Religon is one of the values cited by Loyal Jones. “Mountain people are religious…we are religious in the sense that most of our values and the meaning we find in life spring from the Bible. To understand mountaineers, one must understand our religion” (p. 39). I thought of the Rev. Milford G. Hamby (1833-1911), who became a Methodist Circuit Rider in 1852. As a minister in the North Georgia Conference, he often filled as many as twenty-nine appointments for preaching per month. He married Eleanor Hughes on May 9, 1850. She was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas M. Hughes. Her father was also a faithful minister in Union and nearby counties in the early settlement days. Eleanor’s grandfather, the Rev. Francis Bird, was likewise a minister. A brother-in-law to Rev. Hamby was the Rev. John Wesley Twiggs (1846-1917) who married Eleanor Hughes Hamby’s sister, Sarah Elizabeth Hughes. Rev. Twiggs was a noted minister, school teacher and farmer. These early ministers in the county did much to set a pattern of religious practice. Rev. G. W. Duval, writing in his eulogy of Rev. Milford Hamby in the 1911 Conference Journal of the North Georgia Conference Methodist Episcopal Church South (pp. 80-81) said of him: “He conferred not with flesh and blood but was obedient to the heavenly vision…He made the Bible the man of his counsel, the guide of his young life. His library was not extensive. He made his sermons from the revelation of God’s love to man.” Here I have briefly cited only three of the early ministers in the county; there were many more, both then and since. Oftentimes laboring under great hardships and certainly without much monetary remuneration for their labors, they planted the gospel in hard-to-reach places as itinerant preachers and religious and educational leaders.

Mr. Loyal Jones combines three of our Appalachian Values in chapter three, perhaps because the three are so inter-related and so vital a part of the fabric of our mountain people’s lives. These are independence, self-reliance and pride.

He quotes John C. Campbell (for whom Campbell Folk School is named) by saying in the mountains “independence is raised to the fourth power” (p. 52)—meaning we have an exceeding strong spirit of independence. I think of John Thomas, chosen to be the first representative from Union County in 1832 to the state legislature. When a name for the new county was being considered, he said, “Name it Union, for none but union-like men resides in it” (The Heritage of Union County, 1944, p. 1). Although our ancestors were patriotic and supporting of our nation, their geographic isolation and dependability on local resources bred independence. Several of the early-settler men had seen service in the American Revolution and desired independence from tyranny and outside rule. The lay of the land to be tamed and a living to be made from the wilderness inspired an independent spirit.

Closely tied to that spirit of independence is self-reliance. I think of my own ancestors, the Collins, Dyer, Souther, Hunter, Nix, Ingram, England and other settlers who began productive farms, established churches, set up mills, began schools, were elected to government positions—all showed the spirit of self-reliance. True, our ancestors sometimes over-did the self-reliant bent and depleted the land and its resources, like cutting timber and not allowing it to be replenished, before they learned to be conservators. Not all qualities of self-reliance are applaudable.

Then pride is a part of our values; not the puffed-up, vain, egotistical, arrogant, “better-than-thou” kind, but a sense of self-esteem and self-respect for a job well done. I think of my Aunts Avery and Ethel Collins who fashioned many quilts, woven coverlets, and other handcrafted items, entering them into the Southeastern Fair in Atlanta, Georgia and consistently winning blue ribbons. Dr. John Burrison and his crew of historical preservation people from Georgia State University filmed my Aunt Ethel before her death as she showed many of the items that had won acclaim. Never did she seek accolades for her work, but it was worthy of notice and was recorded in a documentary entitled “The Unclouded Day.” She and Aunt Avery had pride in their work, and rightly so. As Loyal Jones notes: “The value of independence and self-reliance, and our pride, is often stronger than desire or need” (p. 68).

In my next column, I will explore more of Loyal Jones’s listing of Appalachian Values. Dr. Stephenson asks this question in the introduction: “Who really knows Appalachia?” (p. 9, 11). This is a probative question. Even though I was born and reared in that area of America, and have experienced all the values named by Mr. Jones, I realize that we only begin to scratch the surface of the complexity and depth of a people whose characteristics, as he writes, represent “the core elements of regional culture, the bones upon which the flesh of a people is layered” (p. 10).

[Resource: Jones, Loyal. Appalachian Values. Photography by Warren E. Brunner, with an Introduction by John B. Stephenson. Ashland, Ky: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994.]

c2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones. Published February 23, 2012 online by permission of the author at the GaGenWebProject. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Singing in the Cotton Mills or Mountain Music from the Sweat Factories

In these parts, Union, Towns, Fannin and surrounding counties in North Georgia and also in nearby Tennessee and North Carolina, we like what we call “country music.” During the Great Depression era and even prior to that economic downfall in America, many people had to leave their farms and seek employment elsewhere. Many went to towns where cotton mills operated, offering jobs for men, women and children at very low wages. But the employment provided enough to keep food on the table, if they could find food to buy, a shelter of sorts over their heads, and clothing on their backs. Out of this sad time came much “country music,” for those with the abilities to play guitar, banjo, fiddle, “French” harp and autoharp and sing their plaintive, sad folk songs, brought about what has been called “Singing in the Cotton Mills.”

Recently I came across and read a delightful book about how our mountain folk music was preserved by those with a will to be happy despite circumstances. Patrick Huber has written/compiled a book chronicling the history of country music. It tells of those who got their start as music artisans as they worked in cotton mills of the Piedmont South. The title is Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South.

Huber devotes a chapter to Fiddlin’ John Carson (1868-1949) who, some biographers say, was born in Fannin County, Georgia. Carson described himself on one of his OKeh recordings in 1929: “I’m the best fiddler that ever jerked the hairs of a horse’s tail across the belly of a cat.”

Life was not easy for cotton mill workers in the era covered by the “Linthead Stomp” book, 1923-1942. Many left farms that had been their way of life for a long time and sought work in the cotton mills. Many with musical inclinations took with them their ability to play the fiddle, a guitar or a banjo—and their plaintive voices that sang the ballad-type songs they had heard all their lives. Others, with a talent for writing rhyme, composed new ballads about the life they had left for hard work in the cotton mills. In John Carson’s case, he wrote a song about a newsworthy event, the murder of a young girl in Atlanta in April, 1913.

John Carson wrote “Little Mary Phagan” about the murder trial of Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year old pencil factory worker who was murdered and her body buried in the basement of the factory. Leo Frank, manager and part-owner of the factory, was accused of the murder and a notorious trial ensued. While he was in prison serving a life sentence, a group calling themselves “Knights of Mary Phagan” stole Frank out of prison and hanged him.

Fiddlin’ John Carson wrote his song about Mary Phagan in 1915 and sang it from the steps of the Georgia State Capitol to a crowd gathered to hear. In 1925, his daughter, Rosa Lee Carson, who was his guitar player and did duets with her father, sang the Phagan song and it was recorded. Those interested may access U-Tube clips of many of the John Carson songs as well as this ballad sung by his daughter.

John Carson, and another musician, Ed Kincaid, another Fannin County native, who was a member of Carson’s Virginia Reelers Band, often did concerts together, and both appeared at the annual Georgia “Old Time Fiddler’s Convention” at which entrants were judged for their playing ability. In 1913, John Carson entered the competition for the first time and was named to fourth place that year. However, with more practice and much determination, Fiddlin’ John Carson was named first place winner seven times from the years 1914-1922. Both Carson and Kincaid worked at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in Atlanta. Their work at the mills and association through their music and recordings gave them the distinction of being included in the Huber compilation, “Linthead Stomp.”

For the country music lover, especially of the more vintage (old-fashioned) type, Huber has included valuable information in appendices in his book. Appendix A is a directory of southern textile workers who made hillbilly recordings between 1923-1942. And Appendix B lists the discography of recordings of these artists during the same time period. Many of the old records have been re-recorded and are now available on disk. Johnny Carter of Rome, Georgia, who has Union County roots (his grandfather was Frank Dyer of Choestoe, who was a noted “shaped note” music teacher of the twentieth century, and inducted a few years ago into the Union County Gospel Music Hall of Fame) has the National Recording Studio in Rome. He is on a mission to re-record many of these old songs and save them for posterity. We commend John Carter for this mission. You can read about him and his recording studio by going online to National Recording Studio. He is not included in Linthead Stomp because he is after that era; but he is saving some of the recordings of the era Huber writes about.

In looking through Huber’s appendix on recording artists, not only did I read about John Carson and his daughter, Rosa Lee, nicknamed “Moonshine Kate,” and Ed Kincaid, all of whom were partners in recording on the OKeh records, with Carson’s first being made in 1923, but I also found the listing of Hazel Cole who was born in Fannin County. She left Fannin County to go to Rome, Georgia to work in a textile mill there. She met her future husband at the mill, Henry W. Grady Cole from LaFayette, Georgia. Since both liked to sing and play, they formed the “Grady and Hazel Cole Duo.” During 1939 and 1940, Hazel and Grady recorded twelve sides on RCA and Victor recording labels. Huber gives a total of twenty-five natives of areas of North Georgia who contributed significantly to this particular era of country music. I don’t know if any of these were natives of Union County, as he either did not know or did not give the origin of their birth other than Georgia. Noted among them were three with the last name Chumbler: George Elmo (1907-1956), Irene (1913-?) and William Archer (1902-1937) who often recorded as the Chumbler Family and also with “Jim King and His Brown Mules” as well as with “Hoke Rice and His Southern String Band.”

With the Great Depression and its financial woes a very real challenge to cotton mill workers (as well as everyone) during a major portion of the period covered by Huber’s history of country music in Linthead Stomp, there’s a heartening note to think that they might have been singing in the cotton mills as they operated the looms or made garments and worked hard to make their production quotas. The tone of much of the music they produced matched the depressed times, sad and plaintive, longing for better times, and remembering why they had to leave their farm homes in the first place. Carson’s “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” touched on that very nostalgic theme. But then, on their time off, the fiddlers could play at barn dances and community gatherings, providing music for weekend parties and get-togethers where they might share food they’d bring for the best meal their means could provide. They sang their blues away by singing sad songs and dancing. They were grateful for work, whatever it was, and singing in the cotton mills was better far than crying, even though their songs were often melancholy. Their music and their expressed pathos is part of the fabric of America and the hard times they lived through.

c February 16, 2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published online by permission of author at GaGenWebProject All rights reserved.