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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

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.

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