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The Meaders family of White County GA keeps pottery traditions alive

Posted by | April 8, 2016

The Meaders family of potters is probably the most influential family in the history of Southern Appalachian folk pottery. The White County, GA family was featured in Allen Eaton’s 1937 book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, and was honored with a special event at the Library of Congress in 1978, when the Smithsonian Institution’s documentary film on the Meaders pottery was released. The ‘face jugs’ created by Lanier Meaders are highly sought by collectors and can fetch as much as $3,000 per jug.

In the days before the advent of mass-produced tin cans and glass bottles, before the mechanized commercial dairy and the home refrigerator, the potter functioned as an indispensable adjunct to rural life. Through the nineteenth century, general stores in all parts of the South maintained large stocks of preserving vessels, pitchers, churns, and jugs freighted to them by pottery entrepreneurs.

The potters themselves clustered around naturally occurring clay deposits, thereby creating numerous “jugtowns” of a dozen shops and more. While the ceramic product turned out by these potters varied with the area, its clays, its traditions, the basic steps in the production process varied little throughout the South. Most of these men fashioned their own tools with the assistance of local blacksmiths, built their own kilns of homemade bricks, and processed their own clay and glaze materials.

Meaders pottery yard ca. 1920Pots drying in the Meaders pottery yard, waiting to be fired. Circa 1920.

And while the potters and the society around them regarded pottery-making as a respectable and reasonably profitable trade, its adherents rarely sought —or found —the professional status of their fellows in the North. More often than not, southern stoneware potters worked anonymously, characteristically combining pottery-making with farming.

“I remember very distinctly about Pa talking with my older brother, said: ‘We’ll just put us up a ware shop, we’ll have something to work at.’ And course they were young, chucky boys, that just suited ‘em. They just cut the logs and pulled ‘em right up to that place where that old chimley’s at and built the shop.”

The founding of the first Meaders Pottery during the winter months of 1892-93 was hardly an auspicious occasion. If the account of L.Q. Meaders, one of the founder’s sons, is to be believed, it began as something of a whim, as a diversion from farming and as a means to gain a small supplemental income. Since the Meaderses had virtually no antecedents in the field (unlike many of their potter neighbors in the hill country of White County), it was mostly chance circumstance that brought them to pottery-making at such a late date.

John Milton Meaders, a taciturn, humorless man noted mainly for his unusual strength, had very little disposition for farming. Rather, for years he maintained himself at odd jobs like blacksmithing, wagon building, and carpentry. At other times he found solace hauling wagonloads of farm vegetables between north Georgia hamlets.

As his youngest son remembers: “Well, Pa was a-wagoning. He was a terrible fellow to go back over the mountain and take a load of produce and buy up a big coop, chicken bed full of chickens. Take ‘em off to Athens and he’d make money on ‘em.”

Along with his staples, John M. Meaders also freighted jugs, churns, and pitchers for his potter neighbors.

Given his background and personality, it seems surprising that John M. would elect to enter into such a disciplined craft as pottery making. Nevertheless, he apparently found his neighbors’ success at the trade irresistible: “They was other pott’ries around here that was making good about it and he decided he had the boys — let them go to making it.”

His son also suggests that the decision was influenced by his experience as a merchandiser of ceramic ware: “Well, he’d always try to take a load of this pott’ry ware over there [to Athens] to swap for chickens. They’d trade for the ware. And [if] he hadn’t a-been a-wagoning so much with his team across there and buying up stuff and selling it, I don’t think he ever would have put [a shop] up.” In any event, the germ of an idea had taken hold, for at length John M. Meaders called his growing family together in the fall of 1892 and announced his intention to build a “ware shop.”

Because of their late entry into pottery-making, the Meaderses did not enjoy too many years of great stability in their chosen craft. Even as they developed skills and built a clientele, changes were on the horizon, changes that would bring about a social and economic transformation with the dawning twentieth century.

For a few years, however, they worked in an environment not very different from that of the previous decades.

During these years, the economy of White County depended upon agriculture. Settlers for the most part occupied subsistence farmsteads, congregating occasionally at a few tiny general stores that dotted the countryside. Of these, the Leo store and post office stood closest to the Mossy Creek voting district. Several times a year, business took the family a three-mile distance to the county seat, Cleveland, which boasted a physician, a dentist, an attorney, a courthouse, and two dry-goods stores; these trips, however, depended on necessity.

The trade network, in which the Meaderses participated actively, relieved the isolation of their rural existence to an extent. Wagon freighters criss-crossed the region, trading produce and bringing news to the outlying settlements. After 1895, these wagoners introduced commercially manufactured glaze materials to the potter’s benefit and, after 1900, introduced vast numbers of glass bottles and tin cans to his eventual disadvantage.

By 1910, Q. Meaders took over his father’s role as principal sales representative and spokesman for the Meaders family potters. Two decades later, he further documented the family’s importance to Southern Appalachian folk pottery when he taught at Brenau College in Gainesville.

Today, John Milton Meaders’ great grandson Clete Meaders, of Cleveland, GA, is dedicated to preserving the traditional process of making folk pottery, from digging his own clay to firing his face jugs in a wood kiln. Indeed, Cleveland holds an annual Meaders Pottery Face Jug Festival to recognize the more than century old contribution of this one North Georgia family.



Yes, Lorena is still with me, and considered one of the most beautiful girls in the village

Posted by | April 7, 2016

Part 2 of 2
Continued from yesterday…

“It was a trying hour indeed,” said Mrs. McFerrin. Lorena learned of their predicament, and fearing that she would be permanently separated from her kind friend, trembled with emotion, saying in Spanish, “Do not leave me! Please do not leave me!”

The situation was explained to the officer in charge of the health office, with an earnest appeal to give Lorena a good health certificate, as she had not been exposed to small pox. “No, she must be vaccinated; and she cannot be vaccinated until office hours, 2 to 4 p.m.,” was the stern reply. This would be two hours after the departure of the steamer.

Mrs. McFerrin learned of a mission home in Havana. She hurried with Lorena to the home. Here arrangements were made to have the child vaccinated and remain there until she could be sent for. It was all made clear to Lorena and Mrs. McFerrin bade her an affectionate farewell and hurried to her steamer, not expecting to see her again for several weeks.

That dear little orphan girl should not have been separated from her loving protector. We sometimes find foolish rulings, with fools to execute them-fellows that will strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. If the official who refused to issue a good health certificate to Lorena had been a broad-gauge man he would have ignored the fool rules, precedents and red tape and given her a good health certificate; and if that were impossible, if he had been a sympathetic and resourceful man–a man big enough for the place–he could have put the child in a big basket, covered her over with the stars and stripes, and had the basket and contents carried on board the steamer.

But all’s well that ends well.

Fortunately the steamer was detained as stated above, and Lorena received a vaccination certificate in time to join her protector before her departure. I shall never forget, and the passengers who witnessed their meeting and greeting will never forget, how this affectionate and appreciative Cuban child threw her little brown arms around Mrs. McFerrin’s neck and shed tears of joy–tears that were more eloquent than words.

The above narrative was written in May, 1889, after my return from Cuba for an Ohio journal. This summer I sent a copy of the narrative to Mrs. McFerrin and wrote to her making some inquiries about the little, dark-eyed Cuban damsel. The answer follows:

Oliver Springs, Tenn., July 31, 1906.

“My Dear Mr. Mann:–Of course I remember you and have often wondered if I should ever again see any of those who came over from Cuba with us, and can assure you I was so glad to get the copy of the newspaper article you sent me.

“Yes, Lorena is still with me and she is considered one of the most beautiful girls in our village, and she is as good as she is beautiful. Her devotion to me is truly lovely; but I will lose her now, as she recently married Mr. John C. Walker, a corporal in the Tenth Infantry, United States Army. So you see Lorena is ‘under the flag of her lovely beloved America.’

“After I brought Lorena home, she said: ‘Mama, America dead,” (You know it was a late spring, and the trees were dead so far as the leaves are concerne,d especially to Lorena, coming from a tropical and always green island). ‘No”, I said, ‘America is not dead, but sleeping.’ A few weeks later she ran into the house and said: ‘Mama, America waking up, come and see,’ and she pointed to the trees which had begun to put forth their green leaves.

“I do wish you could see her, Mr. Mann. We would be glad to have you repay us a visit. This is a beautiful wild country and you could find much to interest you; so just pack your trunk and come down. We will give you a hearty welcome. Come soon, as Lorena leaves in a few weeks for Chattanooga.

“My son, Colonel H. Hannah [torn] of Tennessee I enclose you a photograph of Lorena. It is not as good as it could be, but I send it to let you form some idea of how she looks. Will send you a better picture as soon as we can have some taken. Also send you a clipping from the Nashville Banner. You will see by the engraving that I am veteran of two wars. My husband wore the gray, my son wore the blue; and I thank God there is no South nor North; no West nor East, but one great America, and I pray it may be so forever.

“Hope you are well, and with best wishes for your success, I am you friend,
Mrs. R.A. McFerrin.”

Colonial Hall, Oliver Springs TNColonial Hall, Oliver Springs, TN. In this house, Elizabeth “Lillie” Gerding Hannah raised her two sons, Harvey Horatio and Gerald (by her first husband, Maj. John Hannah), her daughter, Bernice McFerrin (by her second husband, Dr. R.A. McFerrin), and the orphaned Cuban girl, Lorena Maria Lacarada Paidrone, whom she brought from Cuba following the Spanish-American War.


Mrs. Hannah would have to leave the Cuban orphan girl behind

Posted by | April 6, 2016

Romance of the War.
Cuban Girl Who Was Brought to Tennessee by Gen. Harvey Hannah’s Mother.

The Rockwood Times, Rockwood, TN
Thursday, 13 Sep 1906, Vol. XXVI, No. 34.

The steamer Whitney left Havana harbor April 6, 1899, for Tampa, FL. The boat was advertised to leave to 12 p.m., but did not leave until 6 p.m. The delay was caused by the late arrival of the Fourth Virginia Volunteer Infantry. A government official had secured transportation on the Whitney for the Virginia regiment. There were also several squads of Ohio soldiers returning home on the vessel.

The steamer was anchored in the bay and all passengers were brought to the Whitney in big row boats and small tugs. I was with the returning Ohio soldiers and was standing on the upper deck of the vessel watching the landing of the delayed Virginians, when I noticed a little Cuban girl in a row boat, accompanied by a lady and an oarsman.

The little girl was clapping her hands and throwing kisses to someone on board the steamer. An American lady who was standing near me was waving her handkerchief at the little girl while tears were rolling down her cheeks. When the Cuban girl and the American lady met on board the steamer they hugged and kissed each other and both were weeping–an unusual sight–an American woman and a Cuban girl fondly embracing each other and both shedding tears. What did it mean?

Spanish American War in Tampa FLLoading camp supplies at Tampa, 1898. The scene must have looked quite similar from the Cuban dock as Mrs. Hannah embraced the young Lorena on the USS Whitney’s deck.

The lady was Mrs. McFerrin of Oliver Springs, TN. Her son, Col. Harvey H. Hannah, was Lieutenant Colonel in the Fourth Tennessee and commanded a detachment at Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. Mrs. McFerrin had been visiting her son. The Fourth Tennessee was stationed at Sancti Spiritus and Mrs. McFerrin occupied a tent in the camp. She was now returning to the United States on board the Whitney.

The little girl’s name was Lorena Marie Lacarada Paidrone. She was the daughter of a Cuban patriot. Her home was at Sancti Spiritus (City of Holy Spirits.) Mrs. McFerrin told me that when she arrived at her son’s quarters at the camp of the Fourth Tennessee regiment at Sancti Spiritus she “found this sweet, sad-faced child in the camp.”

Through an interpreter she learned that the little girl’s father was a Cuban soldier who died from the effects of a wound that he received in battle; that soon after father’s death her mother became seriously ill. Lorena went to the soldiers to get a candle–the light of fate—to offer her dying mother, but when she returned with the candle her poor mother was dead.

Mrs. McFerrin became interested at once in the child and tenderly helped the little orphan and did all she could to relieve her distress. Lorena soon began to love the kind American woman and Mrs. McFerrin loved the Cuban dearly. Love begets love. She wanted to adopt her, and as Lorena had no home she shared her tent with her for two months.

On March 29 Mrs. McFerrin left the camp of the Fourth Tennessee, taking Lorena with her. She was going with her adopted child to her Tennessee home. At that date before leaving Cuba one had to go to the board of health and get a vaccination certificate. Mrs. McFerrin did not learn of this until she arrived at Havana the morning of the day she was to leave on the steamer. Her vessel would leave at noon.

She went at once with Lorena to the health office and was told that the child could not leave for the United States until she was vaccinated. Mrs. McFerrin was exempt, having been vaccinated just before coming to Cuba. Tickets had been purchased for passage on the steamer Whitney and the arrangement for their departure had been made in such a way that it could not possibly be postponed without considerable additional expense and great inconvenience to others.

The boat was soon to leave, and the Cuban girl who had learned to love this kind American woman, could not leave because she had not been vaccinated. What was the poor woman to do?

Part 1 of 2
Continued tomorrow…



It was daytime, but the sky was as dark as night

Posted by | April 5, 2016

It still stands on record as the 5th deadliest twister in American history. Shortly before 9:00 A.M. on the morning of April 6, 1936, the citizens of Gainesville, a prosperous northeast Georgia textile mill center, were dealt an agonizing blow when a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through the heart of the city.

Gainesvile GA tornado damageEyewitness reports recalled seeing at least two tornadoes strike the southwest section of Gainesville, then move northeast through the commercial district and on to the residential neighborhoods near North Green Street. From the northeastern residential area, the tornado traveled east two miles towards the textile center of New Holland where it destroyed nearly one hundred homes, as well as the Pacolet Manufacturing Company. The whole thing was over in under ten minutes.

William M. Brice, a prominent citizen and correspondent for the Atlanta Journal and Associated Press, described Gainesville in his writings as “a city laid waste.”

“We were talking about how dark it had become,” then teenager John “Rudy” Rudolph remembered many years later. “My friends and I stopped in front of a store in downtown when the owner came out and told us to take cover. I really didn’t understand what he meant. It was daytime, but the sky was as dark as night.

“We’d never seen anything like it…just before it struck there was a sound so loud that I felt in my body… When I woke up, I couldn’t move my leg. I waited for what seemed like hours for someone to come and help me…my leg was broken (from falling debris).”

Minutes after the attack, numerous fires erupted throughout the Public Square and downtown area. Damage from the tornadoes immobilized the Gainesville Fire Department and forced rescuers to dynamite buildings on the Public Square as a means of controlling the rapid spread of fire.

The most tragic of these fires occurred at Cooper Pants Factory, a two-story garment factory located on the corner of West Broad and Maple Streets. When the tornado struck, many of the 125 workers, most of who were young women and girls, rushed to seek shelter in the basement level of the factory. The sudden clamor of the employees coupled with damage sustained from the tornado caused the building to collapse and ignite into flames. Sixty of the factory’s employees died.

In the days following the tornado disaster, an army of 2000 relief workers converged to haul away the millions of tons of debris in the city’s business section. The American Red Cross reported that over 500 homes were destroyed and nearly 750 dwellings were damaged. More than two hundred men, women, and children were killed and an estimated 1,600 citizens were injured.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt paid two visits to Gainesville, a brief one three days after the tragedy and one two years later. Of the rebuilt city he stood before in 1938, he noted “You were not content with rebuilding along the lines of the old community. You were not content with throwing yourselves on the help that could be given to you by the State and by the Federal Government.

“On the contrary, you determined in the process of rebuilding to eliminate old conditions of which you were not proud; to rebuild a better city; to replace congested areas with parks; to move human beings from slums to suburbs. For this you, the good people of Gainesville, deserve all possible praise.”



Quakers and Bloody Harlan

Posted by | April 4, 2016

guy aiken headshotPlease welcome guest author Guy Aiken. Aiken is a PhD Candidate in American Religions at the University of Virginia. He is writing a dissertation on a Quaker humanitarian group, the American Friends Service Committee, that fed millions of children in Germany (among other countries) after the Great War, and tens of thousands of children in Appalachia during the Great Depression. He presented a version of this post as a paper at the recent Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.


Late one summer night in 1931, Florence Reece, songwriter and wife of a Harlan County coal miner, watched in terror as mine-guard deputies ransacked her home looking for radical labor literature they believed her husband was harboring. The deputies might have intended to kill her husband that night, but he had been tipped off and wasn’t home when the deputies showed up. After the men left, Mrs. Reece tore a page off her kitchen calendar and wrote a song. One of verses goes like this:

If you go to Harlan County
There is no neutral there.
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

—Florence Reece, “Which Side Are You On?”

Well, the Quakers of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) put Reece’s thesis to the test, feeding Harlan County’s most desperately hungry children over three years between fall 1931 and spring 1934. The AFSC workers believed in a divine unity above all conflict—the unity of the Holy Spirit as experienced in the Quaker “sense of the meeting,” a near-unanimity by which the local body of Quakers makes all of its corporate decisions.

All people, whether strikers or operators, women or children, bore the light of Christ within and were therefore spiritually one. Industrial warfare, like the military variety, violated this sacred unity. The practical antidote to conflict of any kind, the AFSC believed, was absolute neutrality. The AFSC’s carefully cultivated and protected neutrality won it the trust of Harlan’s coal operators and elected officials.

President Herbert Hoover, a Quaker himself, asked the AFSC in May 1931 to feed the children of striking and unemployed or underemployed miners in Appalachia. The AFSC had already proposed by the end of the month that “a few most difficult points be picked out first to begin and the work be extended from those points as funds and personnel permit.” It wanted to fly the banner of industrial peace by feeding hungry miners’ children on the front lines of the coal wars just as it had flown the flag of world peace by feeding five million German children after the Great War. AFSC districts 5 through 7 covered five counties in Kentucky, where the epicenter of the AFSC’s work was “Bloody Harlan.”

Photo from AFSC bulletin “Coal’s Children,” published in 1933.

Photo from AFSC bulletin “Coal’s Children,” published in 1933.

The AFSC’s Coal Committee laid out the “principles” of the work at its first meeting in early June. One principle was neutrality: “We shall attempt to be unbiased in the treatment of local unions in their relations with each other, in the relations between organized labor and the operators, and in the relations of organized labor to the forces of the State.”

Another was the right, if not the duty, to be prophetic: “If in the course of our work we discover situations which we feel need publicity and which indicate weak spots in our social order, we reserve the right to speak out concerning them.”

Harlan County was to bring these two principles into stark relief. Wage cuts, United Mine Workers organizing, and mine-operators’ firing, evicting, and blacklisting of union and suspected-union workers culminated in the Battle of Evarts on May 5, 1931, in which three mine guards and one miner were killed. The UMW general strike that followed fizzled out over the summer, and the communist National Miners Union entered the county and set up soup kitchens.

Soon, however, local law enforcement—or “gun thugs,” as the miners called the deputized mine guards, led by the notorious County Sheriff J. H. Blair—terrorized the kitchens. They dynamited one, closed down another by arresting and allegedly beating the man who ran it, forcing him to flee the county, and killed two kitchen workers at a third.

Unlike the NMU, the AFSC was not communist, atheistic, or partisan. The AFSC was progressive, yes, but Christian and neutral. It was also determined to enter the county. Two of its workers, Homer Morris and Anna Haines, met with the president of Berea College in early October ’31. He gave them a letter of introduction to Judge D. C. Jones. Morris and Haines crossed into Harlan on October 14th and went straight to the county seat.

Collection of  American Friends Service Committee.

Collection of American Friends Service Committee.


“Having arrived at this center of civil warfare,” Morris wrote AFSC headquarters in Philadelphia, “we presented ourselves at the office of the Judge about ten o’clock.” The judge gave them a cold reception. But after he read the Berea president’s letter and was convinced that Morris and Haines were neither communists nor agitators, “his whole attitude changed….He promised his complete cooperation and said we could depend upon his support in every way possible.”

Morris and Haines spent the next week convincing the rest of the county that they were neither communists nor agitators. In early November they started feeding children one supplementary meal every day at school.

The AFSC fed almost 1500 children in Harlan by the end of the 1931-2 schoolyear, as well as about a hundred nursing and expectant mothers. As in Germany, the AFSC used need alone to determine who got fed. They fed strikers’ children as well as the employed, blacks as well as whites.

Theoretically, even operators’ and owners’ children were eligible: all a child had to do to qualify for the feeding was weigh in at 10% under “normal” weight. AFSC workers weighed Harlan children in the spring and found that most had gained weight, none had lost, and those who hadn’t gained had grown. And the children were better students.

The two AFSC volunteers who took over for Haines and Morris in Harlan in January, Paul Hund and Mary Cook, visited the school in the company town of Draper on Good Friday, March 25, 1932, and distributed clothes to the children. “But we had forgotten,” Cook wrote, “that Friday was Good Friday and so a holiday [Quakers traditionally do not observe holidays].

Photo from AFSC bulletin “Coal’s Children,” published in 1933.

Photo from AFSC bulletin “Coal’s Children,” published in 1933.

The children had had an Easter egg hunt and had gone home. But when they saw us come into camp, some straggled into school. The principal was quite anxious for the clothing distribution so she rang the school bell. Children came from all directions. We had broken up school, but never called it before. While we were in the midst of the distribution one little girl piped up ‘This is a nice Easter, isn’t it Mrs. Roberts?’ We outfitted about 100 children that day.”

The Tuesday after Easter the school principal, Mrs. Roberts, sat her children down and had them write individual thank-you letters to “Mr. Hund” and “Miss Cook.” All of the children thanked them for bringing clothes—shirts, skirts, dresses, stockings, bloomers, coats—and said that they had worn their new clothes on Easter.

The children offhandedly mixed the tragic with the everyday. Reba Baker “was certainly glad to get those nice new clothes. My mother and father is dead and I sure did appreciate them.” George Edd Kelly thanked Mr. Hund for the clothes—”My father is dead and will appreciate them.”

“Yours friend, Cleda Johnson” wrote Miss Cook precisely as follows: “My mother is dead and I sure was glad to get those new clothes….I am in the fourth grade and I am eleven year old. My sweater and skirt just fit me. My dady and grandma said it was make just for me it fited me so good. I wish you would come back in again. I thank you and Mr. Hund very much for you sure have ben very good to the Draper Children.” And Irene Mullins wrote simply, “I sure appreciate all you gave me.” The gratitude was palpable.

But what about peace, justice, and reconciliation? These were the AFSC’s ultimate purposes, after all. Well, the AFSC intentionally put men and women in Harlan who would not “speak out.” Any such outspoken bias would have scuttled the AFSC’s relief work in Harlan. Anna Haines commended Philadelphia on its selection of Hund and Cook for Harlan: their very “unawareness” of the industrial conflict simmering around them made them ideal for Bloody Harlan.

Collection Appalachian Archives/Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Collection Appalachian Archives/Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.


As the AFSC’s Coal Section chief wrote in early 1932 to a Quaker supporter of radical leftist groups in Harlan, “The reason we were asked to go into Germany and to Marion, N. C. and the bituminous coal regions was because the authorities had confidence in our tact, discretion and ability to heal some of the wounds of military and industrial conflict. Our method has been to go quietly into a community, tactfully get the cooperation of everybody concerned, quietly go about our own work, talking but little, avoid complicating relations with other organizations and by Quaker methods try to bring the spirit of reconciliation into the situation.”

The next two years there was no talk of reconciliation, but only feeding hungry children. The AFSC might have proven Florence Reece wrong, that there were neutrals in Harlan County, helping the children of the combatants stay alive, but the price of neutrality was silence—not the silence of a Quaker meeting feeling its way toward peaceable unity, but the silence of humanitarians pure and simple, who can’t afford to risk even trying to reconcile a warring diversity.

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