We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the right side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with a look at the impact of African American builders in Appalachian Tennessee. The architectural landscape of Tennessee’s rural areas, small towns, and large cities is comprised of hundreds of historic buildings designed and built by African Americans, but one East Tennessee county is quite out of the norm in this regard. Established in 1794 along the North Carolina border, Sevier County has never featured a large black population; however, black builders constructed nearly every important late nineteenth and early twentieth century private and public building in the county.
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
West Virginian Dr. Patrick W. Gainer dedicated the balance of his life to a personal crusade to revitalize folk traditions, and to elevate the image and self-esteem of the Appalachian people at a time when derogatory stereotypes flourished. His Appalachian folklore course at West Virginia University, where he taught in the English Department from the end of WWII till his retirement in 1972, was perhaps the most popular class ever offered on campus. In this next segment, we’ll listen in as Dr. Gainer sings “The Devil’s Questions.” The devil asks the maid difficult questions, which she must answer satisfactorily or be carried off to hell. When she answers the questions wisely, the devil disappears.
It’s tent revival season throughout Appalachia – the region that invented the tent revival. The first camp meeting took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger one was held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801, where between 10,000 and 25,000 people attended, and Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist ministers participated. It was this event that stamped the organized revival as the major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists, who were newly converted by the teachings of John Wesley.
Long before it became the brand of a search engine, the creature whose uttered cry gave it a name haunted Kentuckians. Daniel Boone told tales of “killing a ten-foot, hairy giant he called a Yahoo,” says John Mack Faragher in a 1992 biography of Boone. The Yahoos are hairy man-like creatures in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, one of Boone’s favorite books. But it appears Swift did not simply make up the name ‘yahoo’ for his novel. “The natives are greatly terrified by the sight of a person in a mask,” says Australian Aboriginal Words in English (1835), “calling him ‘devil’ or Yah-hoo, which signifies evil spirit.”
We’ll wrap things up with a profile of Mrs. Augusta Robinson of Castle Hill, VA, who was interviewed in 1955 by the Lexington Gazette for their ‘Past 80 Club’ column. She wasn’t famous or rich, but her observations on social customs and mores of the area during the late 19th and early 20th century are priceless to us. She courted her husband for 7 years before marrying him, for example, and was of a generation that transitioned from cooking over a fireplace to cooking on a stove.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Frank George in a 1970 recording of the classic dulcimer/fiddle tune “Grandfather Clock.”
So, call your old blue-tick hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.