Category Archives: Uncategorized

A ‘pearl rush’ grips Clinch River residents

Posted by | May 13, 2015

“From about 1895 to 1936 Tennessee was one of the nation’s six leading states in marketing pearls,” announces the historical marker on Market St. in Clinton, TN. “Clinton was listed as one of three Tennessee towns known as centers of the pearling industry.”

Clinton sits astride the Clinch River, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was home to 45 different varieties of mussels. “The finest pearls in TN,” said W.R. Cattelle in ‘The Pearl,’ “are found in the fluter, or lake shell, which is the same as the mussel known on the Wabash as the washboard.  A yellow shell is found in the Clinch River similar to the mucket of Arkansas, from which pearls are taken.”

A "pearling crew" sets out on a mussel shell hunting expedition. Circa 1920's.

A “pearling crew” sets out on a mussel shell hunting expedition. Circa 1920’s.

Pearls had been routinely hunted on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and their tributaries for many years prior to the outbreak of a ‘pearl rush’ on the Clinch River just before the turn of the 20th century.  “The search had been conducted in a moderate way by pleasure parties in the summer and by farmers after the crops had been laid aside,” began an account of the rush in ‘The Book of Pearls.’

Then, in 1899, The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review of Chattanooga reported: “Engineer Hall, in charge of the Government survey of the Clinch and French Broad rivers, while in the city a few days ago for the purpose of leaving the results of the Clinch River survey with Major Kingman, had a number of highly interesting and amusing things to relate in regard to the pearl fisheries in the Upper Clinch River.

“Mr. Hall stated that the populations along the banks of the Clinch are greatly excited over the finding of several large pearls the past year that brought good prices, as well as a large number of other stones of lesser value.  As a result farming and husbandry have, to a certain extent, been abandoned by the Clinch River people for pearl hunting.”

The ‘Book of Pearls’ account picks up the thread: “Many [Clinch River] pearls reportedly brought $100 or more. The fact that little experience and no capital were required for the business drew large numbers of persons. Vivid and picturesque accounts published in the local papers reported hundreds of persons as camping at various points along the streams, some in tents and some in rough shanties, and others going from shoal to shoal in newly built houseboats.

“They were described as easy going pleasure loving people, the men women and children working hard all day, subsisting largely on fish caught in the same stream, and dancing at night to the music of a banjo around the camp fires that line the banks.

Mussel shell buttons from the collection of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Mussel shell buttons from the collection of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.

“The center of the new industry was Clinton, the county seat of Anderson County, whither the successful hunters betook themselves each Saturday, the preferred time for selling the catch.”

The ‘South Jersey Republican’ of Hammonton NJ, offered an in-depth profile of a blind Clinch River pearl hunter in 1908:

“Joseph Gossett, aged 42, of Clinton, Tenn., the center of the great pearl hunting industry, is totally blind, but he hunts pearls as successfully as any of the thousands of mountain people who swarm along the Clinch and Holston rivers looking for pearls.

“Gossett was among the first persons to discover that the Clinch River pearl existed. He was then hardly 21.  He sold his first pearl for $50 and after that became an eager pearl hunter.

“While wading in the river he contracted malaria and lost his eyesight, but he did not give up.  The next spring found him at the head of a gang of pearl hunters, and he has since been persistent in his work.

“He finds the mussels with his hands or feet by the sense of touch.  After gathering a quantity of the bivalves he will sit in his boat and open them, slowing feeling in the shells of the mussel for the pearl.

“No sooner has he found one than he can estimate its value in every particular except as to the color. For this element he trusts his sister, Miss Melinda Gossett.

“He lives in a suburb of the town in a house which he owns.  He buys many pearls.  He has bought from pearl hunters already this year $5,000 worth of pearl and states that he will handle four times as much before the year has closed.

“’I will go to New York next fall,’ he says.  ‘I intend to buy a large stock and go with my sister. I am sure that I would find a ready market instead of dealing with the brokers as I do.’

“Gossett has never married and takes no interest in anything but his profession.  He wears a glove on his left hand constantly, as he says that this is his ‘pearl hand,’ meaning that with it he feels pearls when making purchases.”

But the pearl rush couldn’t, and didn’t, last forever.  The Tennessee Valley Authority had plans for the rivers of eastern Tennessee that didn’t bode well for the mussel population.

Current day Clinton resident Eddie Stair remembers the tail end of the pearl industry heyday.  “There was a shell processing tower, now long abandoned, on the Clinchmore Farm where I grew up,” he says. “It stood on the river bank about 200 yards downstream from the Clinton water treatment plant, across from the current Hammer’s Store location.

“The shells salvaged from the pearler’s trade were sent to button manufacturers and they made very beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons for the fashion industry.

“Norris Dam certainly killed off the pearl industry. Then when Melton Hill Dam was completed, the lower river areas went dry as well, as far as river mussels.

“When the river is down low you can still find some live and huge river mussels though. They’re a protected species now.”


sources: ‘The Pearl, its story, its charm and its value,’ by W.R. Cattelle, JB Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1907

The Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review, Chattanooga, TN, Volume 38, 1899

“The Book of Pearls,” by G.F. Kunz & C.H. Stevenson, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York,  1908

“Blind and a Pearl Expert  —  A Sightless Tenneessean Who Hunts for and Deals in Gems,” South Jersey Republican, Hammonton NJ, May 2, 1908


Ohio’s Little Cities of Black Diamonds

Posted by | May 12, 2015

In 1996, on my last visit to San Toy, Ohio, I had to stop and ask directions twice. Driving down a long, unpaved road to the bottom of a deep, wooded valley, I came to a crossroads with a signless post marking the intersection. This was the San Toy of my seeking. My very own Appalachian city of Cibola. I had heard about it since I had starting working in the area, and now I had found it.

Sunday Creek Coal Mine #2 Celebration in San Toy, OH. No date.

Sunday Creek Coal Mine #2 Celebration in San Toy, OH. No date.


“Only a couple of houses down the road were occupied; these, along with a small church that was being refurbished, were the last viable traces of an incorporated community that once was home to hundreds of people. Out in the woods were the foundations of the old company store and a school, along with the brick skeleton of the jail.

“The remains of the old town were now scarcely visible; the new community of sycamores, sumacs, beeches and poison ivy were moving back. I hear it hasn’t changed much.

“San Toy, sometimes spelled Santoy, is only one of the many old mining communities that historian Ivan Tribe of the University of Rio Grande dubbed “The Little Cities of Black Diamonds,” borrowing a term originally coined by a local newspaperman in the 19th century and used to describe the newly prosperous city of Nelsonville.

“The black diamond was of course coal, and coal helped more than 50 such small communities in Athens, Hocking, Perry, Morgan and surrounding counties to found and flourish in the period between the 1860s and the 1920s.

“Some of their names are familiar, such as Murray City, Glouster and Chauncey. Others, such as Hemlock, Congo, Hatfield Town and Orbiston are not as well known. Among them, San Toy is almost completely forgotten. To those who remember, it was a boomtown, albeit a short-lived one. It started out as a traditional (read temporary) mining town and was known as a rough place, complete with wild shoot-outs and moonshining.

“When it was sold from the New England Coal Company to the Sunday Creek Coal Company in 1915, the new owners of the mine and the town vowed to make it a ‘modern mining system and a model community,’ according to the recorded memories of resident W. G. ‘Shorty’ Addington.

Congo miners, no date. Courtesy Corning Alumni History Panels / Corning History Group.

Congo miners, no date. Courtesy Corning Alumni History Panels / Corning History Group.


“The aforementioned buildings were erected, along with a drug store, a hospital and a theater. In 1920 it was said to have 2,500 residents. By the end of the decade, the estimates ranged from 50 to 168. A changing economy, distant corporate decisions, and the consequences of the big strike of 1927 had conspired to erase San Toy from history.

“Joe Fabiny, a local farmer and old-time miner whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know recently, was a young boy in nearby Moxahala when San Toy was still thriving. (Moxahala, or “Moxie” as many locals know it, is one of my favorite regional place names — as it sounds exotic, like something out of the deepest South.)

“Joe is 87. His voice is strong and tempered by years of hard work. His father John was born in Slovakia in 1877 and moved to the United States around the turn of the century. John lived with his family in Moxahala and worked as a miner; in the late 1910s he worked in San Toy.

“Joe remembers how his dad would gather provisions and walk 10 miles to work at the San Toy mines. He carried his lunch and water down into the shafts and was paid for loading coal by the ton. Joe can’t remember how much his dad earned, but he does remember that when he worked the mines at Congo in the 1930s he was paid 68 cents a ton. This usually worked out to about $3 a day, or more when enough cars and ponies were available to keep loading.

“Joe, John and the other San Toy miners most often used carbide lamps, which utilized an archaic system of producing acetylene to fuel a live flame projecting from their helmets. Joe also remembers taking his dad to work at the at the Number 9 mine at Rendville and being surprised to find the area occupied by the Ohio National Guard during a labor dispute.

Map of the Little Cities region in southeast Ohio. Map by Chad Seurkamp /

Map of the Little Cities region in southeast Ohio. Map by Chad Seurkamp /


“He even remembers the hour-long drive down old Rt. 13 in a Model T to Millfield the day after the big mine disaster. It was Nov. 6, 1930 when he and his father came to support the families and friends of miners while the rescue was still on. Eighty-two died, and it was destined to become the worst mine accident in Ohio history.

“The heyday of the old ‘Black Diamond’ communities varied. For some towns, the best days were already over by the 1880s; for others it was much later. By 1930, one of the San Toy mine houses had burned and the few families left in town were given a chance to buy their houses for $50 to $75 apiece. This was the last picture show. For many years, old residents gathered at various places for San Toy reunions, but it appears that these have ended now, too.

“We have a rich cultural and natural history in our area. The glory days of the mining towns were a big part of it. Places like San Toy and good neighbors like Joe Fabiny remain as a testament to the drama and human spirit that preceded us in the southeastern Ohio hill country.

“With the help of concerned individuals and active groups, we can preserve our rich local history. And it is a history worth preserving. The old mining towns are even becoming a tourism draw of sorts, attracting a new breed of “heritage tourist.” These new tourists are starting to take note of the old sites and several related annual festivals, including a “Black Diamond” auction that is emerging as an event of its own.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how interesting our own area is. If you don’t believe it, turn off the History Channel, go out, and talk to one of the many people right next door who have lived history.”


source: Zuefle, Matt; I Reckon…San Toy: Ghost Town or a Black Diamond in the Rough?, Athens News, December 9, 2002


The memory jug

Posted by | May 11, 2015

Here’s a memory jug from the collection of Melver Jackson Hendricks (1867-1933) who served in the North Carolina House of Representatives in the early 1920’s. Memory jugs made from bottles, urns, bowls and other vessels have been found on graves, particularly in the South, and almost always on African American graves. Often they are decorated with trinkets including seashells, glass shards, jewelry, coins, mirrors or other visual reminders of a loved one.

The memory jug shown here is currently in the North Carolina Museum of History. The museum’s information on the provenance of the jug is a bit sketchy. Its creation date is estimated at about 1900, probably because of the gray salt glaze used on it and the specific items attached to it, and the museum assumes it was local to Davie County, where Hendricks lived.

North Carolina memory jugIt’s easy to conclude that memory jugs existed as inexpensive memorials for poor families who couldn’t afford headstones for loved ones. But that explanation too easily overlooks the influence of Africa’s Bakongo culture on slaves brought to America.

The Bakongo culture believed that the spirit world was turned upside down, and that they were connected to it by water. Therefore, they decorated their graves with water bearing items such as shells, pitchers, jugs or vases, which would help the deceased through the watery world to the afterlife. They also adorned graves with items such as crockery, empty bottles, cooking pots and/or personal belongings of the deceased that he/she may need in the afterlife. Items were placed upside-down, which symbolizes the inverted nature of the spirit world.

Items were also broken to release the loved one’s spirit and enable it to make the journey. The fragmented possessions, reconformed in the memory jug, paid homage to and simultaneously appeased the spiritual beings, encouraging them not to interfere with the lives of the living. The container could be placed on a grave or held in the home to contain the unquiet spirit.

A memory jug can be any type of vessel or container that has first been covered with a layer of adhesive, such as putty, cement, or plaster. Then, while the adhesive is still damp, a variety of objects are embedded into the surface, including beads, buttons, coins, glass, hardware, mirrors, pipes, scissors, seashells, tools, toys and watches. The endless variety of adornment causes the surface to take on such importance that the form becomes secondary. Memory jugs are also called forget-me-not jug, memory vessel, mourning jug, spirit jar, ugly jug, whatnot jar, and whimsy jar.

A grass-roots revival of ‘Memory Jug Making’ swept through Appalachia and the African-American south in the 1950’s and 60’s.


Sources: Martin, Frank, Mosaic as Community Culture: The Art of the Memory Vessel, Groutline (Quarterly Newsletter of the Society of American Mosaic Artists), Vol. 1 No. 4, Winter 2000
Botsch, Carol Sears, African-Americans and the Palmetto State, South Carolina State Dept. of Education, Columbia, 1994
South-Price, Tammy S., An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Bradford Cemetery at Paris Landing State Park


The WV family that brought us Mother’s Day

Posted by | May 8, 2015

It took the individual effort of each Jarvis, mother and daughter, over two generations to forge the Mother’s Day we recognize today. And it’s a story with a twist, so buckle up!

Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, of Grafton WV, had attempted starting a series of Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi in 1858 to improve sanitation. She continued to organize women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides.

Ann Jarvis. Courtesy  West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

Ann Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

In the summer of 1865, Jarvis organized a Mothers’ Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs. The goal was to work in conjunction with local doctors to provide health care to war veterans plagued by diseases such dysentery, small pox, and tuberculosis.

The event was a great success despite the fear of many that it would erupt in violence. Mothers’ Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.

Ann Jarvis’ daughter, Anna Jarvis, would of course have known of her mother’s work. Much later, this second Jarvis started her own crusade to found a memorial day for women.

After her husband’s death in 1902, Ann moved to Philadelphia to live with her son Claude and daughters Anna and Lillian. Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis died in Bala-Cynwyd, west of Philadelphia, on May 9, 1905 at the age of 72.

Anna led a small tribute to her mother at St. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church back in Grafton, where her Mother had spent 25 years teaching Sunday School, on May 12, 1907. Then on May 10, 1908, the first official Mother’s Day celebration took place at both that church and also at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John Wanamaker was one of the founders of today’s modern day department store.  He no doubt recognized the profit possibilities of a potentially national event that could generate lots of gift sales, and he had the finances to push it. And as a former U.S. postmaster general, he had the political weight to advance it.

That same year, Elmer Burkett, a U.S. Senator from Nebraska, proposed making Mother’s Day a national holiday at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The proposal was defeated, but by 1909 forty-six states, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico, were holding Mother’s Day services.

Anna Jarvis devoted herself full time to the creation of Mother’s Day, endlessly petitioning state governments, business leaders, women groups, churches and other institutions and organizations.  She did have her ticks: she incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, and claimed copyright on the second Sunday of May.

Anna Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

Anna Jarvis. Courtesy West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection.

She finally convinced the World’s Sunday School Association, a key influence over state legislators and Congress, to back her. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother’s Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured on the holiday’s commercialization. She and her sister Ellsinore ultimately spent themselves into poverty campaigning against the holiday.

In 1943, the 79 year old Jarvis, partially deaf and blind, entered a sanitarium in West Chester, Pennsylvania. For reasons unrecorded, the Florists’ Exchange, a trade association, picked up some of her bills, unbeknownst to her. And even after she told a reporter she was sorry she ever started the whole thing, she received thousands of Mother’s Day cards each May until she died, in 1948.

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” she is quoted as saying in her New York Times obituary. “And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

She never married and was never a mother.

St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton WVSt. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday School Room, 1911, Grafton, WV. Oval portraits on wall show Anna Jarvis (left) and Ann Jarvis (right).




Ann+Maria+Jarvis Anna+Jarvis Mother’s+Day appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Grafton+WV


Here, then, is a group of dislocated people who know almost nothing except farming

Posted by | May 7, 2015

Hearings before the Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, House of Representatives, Seventy-seventh Congress, first session, pursuant to House Resolution 113, a resolution to inquire further into the interstate migration of citizens, emphasizing the present and potential consequences of the migration caused by the national defense program.

MAY 7 AND 8, 1942
Huntsville AL


Late in November of 1940 information was given out that some 27,000 acres of land in Talladega County bordering the Coosa River north and west of the small town of Childersburg (515 population in the 1940 census) were to be taken as site for a powder plant. The location was tentatively outlined in January and agricultural agencies, both Farm Security and Extension workers, were set to work warning people to vacate this property.

Because no certain information as to the location of boundaries could be obtained, the actual work of relocations did not get under way until the last of January and February. By the time Farm Security had made its original survey a good number of families had moved, both from the area finally taken and from land around it.

After this survey had been made, and after 80-odd families had been moved from land finally not included in the area, an accurate boundary line was established. While no official confirmation was made of the original territory marked out on maps used in the area, all indications pointed so clearly to its being taken that farmers in this territory decided to move while there was still time to find a new place, and to make another crop.

displaced farmers 1941 Talladega ALOriginal caption reads: Local family moving off of government reservation to make room for bag loading plant development. May 1941

The section of land finally taken was one containing much river land. Some of this 14,000 acres was good farm land, ideal for large farm operations. Most of it was poor, carelessly operated by Negro tenants, or lying out. Of the farm operators, almost 30 percent were receiving Farm Security aid. When the final area was chosen, 210 families were displaced.

The survey revealed that the area contains very few owners who will be financially able to relocate without some assistance. The number of cash renters, sharecroppers, and cotton renters constitute the largest group in this area.

Note these things: While 39.2 percent of Talladega County’s total number of farm operators are colored, 72.3 percent of the farm operators in this section were colored. Note also the comparatively large number of Negro landowners. In the county 22.3 percent of the Negro operators are landowners. In this section almost 32 percent were landowners.

In other words, about one-fifth of all Negro farm owners in Talladega County were in this section. Their holdings were small. The bulk of the land was owned in large tracts either by white resident operators or absentees. The comparatively small number of nonfarm workers is significant, especially since so many of these displaced families have gotten their first taste of “public works money” at the powder plant. Will they want to go back to this kind of marginal living again?

This was a section of old plantation holdings that had gradually been abandoned or partially abandoned by the old families who held on to them. In it, along the river and in the low places, were a few very small communities of Negro landowners who supplemented their farming income with fishing, hunting, and working for white men who came to enjoy these sports.

The average of all grants for moving totaled $37.50, which again reveals how little these people had to move.

Here, then, is a group of dislocated people who know almost nothing except farming, and of that the cruder kind. Some few of these were making a new beginning and, where they could get some of the better land, were succeeding on a very moderate scale. Some few were making a fair living from the game and sportsmen, whom the very desolation of the place had brought to the area. Only a few are going to make alone the readjustments life in a new place will call for.

displaced farmers 1941 Talladega ALOriginal caption reads: Local family moving off of government reservation to make room for bag loading plant development. May 1941

Few [Farm Security Administration loan] applications for next year have come in. The county supervisor expects many to come in during the next few weeks, because the powder plant job is “turning off” men at the rate of 300 to 600 a week. The full tide of applications will not come, he said, until late February, when many farmers (especially Negroes) who have had their first taste of public works wealth will suddenly realize there is little hope of getting more such work and will want to farm again.

Farm Security will, he said, get more than its share of these people because they have broken their relations with their old landlords, sometimes without ceremony, and in the middle of crop season, and will not be able — or will not want to — go back again.

About 90 percent of the Farm Security Administration borrowers have gotten at least a few weeks of work on the [bag loading plant] project. E. E. Wilson, county FSA supervisor for Talladega Countv, knew of only two who had paid back loans with defense-earned money (one paid $150, another $250). The rest have wasted some of the money. But not as much as people think. We’ve had practically a crop failure in here for the past 3 years. These people have gone without, all that time. They’ve had other debts and they’ve had to buy clothes and something to eat and some of the other people they’ve owed have put the kind of pressure on them [the FSA] can’t.


↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2015 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive