views updated Jun 11 2018


ETHNONYMS: Briars, Highlanders, Hillbillies, Mountaineers, Mountain Whites, Plain Folks, Southern Appalachians


Identification. "Appalachians" refers to a largely rural people who reside in the southern Appalachian region covering about 110,000 square miles in the states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Although these rural people are only a minority of the regional population, the region has long been defined in terms of their traditional culture. Geographically isolated throughout much of their history, they are thought to have retained cultural traditions of early nineteenth-century pioneers. Their language and music are thought by some to be "pure" survivals of Elizabethan forms, although many scholars believe that this is something of an exaggeration. It is no exaggeration, however, that White inhabitants of southern Appalachia were cut off from the mainstream of American culture and that their culture is conservative. Their ethos and values center on those traditionally associated with small, rural communities in the United States including individualism, familism, loyalty in personal relationships, and egalitarianism. Appalachians are known to the general American population through television and comicstrip stereotypes as "hillbillies."

Location. As noted above, Appalachians are spread through the Appalachian Mountains in nine states. This area consists of three physiographic regions. The Blue Ridge Mountains, with the highest peaks in the area, constitute the eastern region; the central, southern, East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia valleys and their ridges constitute the central region; and the Appalachian plateau forms the western region. Settled areas and cultivable land are scattered along streams and their basins, coves, and hollows.

Demography. At the time of the first U.S. census in 1790, the population of southern Appalachia was 175,000 with most of these people settled in what is now Virginia. Settlement throughout the rest of southern Appalachia was completed after the removal of the Cherokee in 1836 and the discovery of gold in northern Georgia. The area remained largely isolated until the Civil War. By 1960 there were 5.7 million people living in the southern Appalachians, with the population expanding steadily up to that time because of a high birthrate that offset periodic population declines stemming from outmigration. Outmigration has produced large Appalachian enclaves in industrial towns in Ohio and Kentucky as well as in cities such as Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. The southern Appalachian population is now thought to be either stable or increasing. There are relatively few African-Americans in the region, compared to the rest of the South, although a number of biracial American Isolate groups are found in Appalachia.

Linguistic Affiliation. Appalachians speak a regional dialect of English that is described by some as being difficult for outsiders to understand.

History and Cultural Relations

The early settlers of the region were primarily of English, Scots-Irish, and Highland Scots ancestry with some Germans and Dutch. The life-style of the early settlers was much like that of other rural southerners and centered on farming, livestock herding, and hunting, both for subsistence and for a surplus to sell in nearby villages. When much of the South shifted to large-scale cotton growing after the Civil War, the soil and terrain in southern Appalachia could not support intensive agriculture and the prewar economy and life-style survived. Eventually, isolation from the regional economy, early pioneers' methods of clearing land for farming, and coal-mining and lumbering activities left the southern Appalachians an area of severe economic depression and the inhabitants labeled as "hillbillies." Since then, Appalachia has often been identified as an area characterized by widespread poverty, with less attention given to the growing middle class. Although education, health care, transportation, and economic conditions have all improved since the 1960s, the region still lags behind the nation. In the 1980s little of the traditional culture survives, save that which is exhibited for tourists.


Those identified as still adhering in some ways to the traditional culture live mostly in rural settlements in the valleys and in the larger basins, coves, and hollows. These settlements vary from scattered houses constituting a neighborhood, to small villages with a general store, to incorporated towns serving as county seats and commercial centers. Isolated homes, however, constitute the way of life for many. They are found in remote areas and contact with any but close family members is unusual. The residential groups that inhabit the coves and hollows are usually described as Neighborhoods rather than communities. Throughout the history of the area, neighborhoods have been impermanent owing to large families and agricultural practices that rapidly deplete the soil.


Traditional Appalachians relied on subsistence farming, with the mountain terrain allowing only scattered farming on relatively small amounts of tillable land. Commercialization, which revolutionized farming elsewhere in the nation, had little impact in Appalachia. Early in the twentieth century, lumbering and coal mining lured Appalachians off the land with the promise of steady employment. With the decline of these industries, people have been forced to migrate, commute to jobs, or find work in other industries. Almost everyone maintains family gardens, with corn and tobacco common crops. Cattle, chickens, and hogs are widely raised.

Large-scale commercial exploitation of the forests began after the Civil War when the national demand for timber increased and the spread of rail lines made the transportation of lumber possible. Lumbering was managed by outside syndicates who hired local labor. Production peaked in 1909, but by 1920, with the forests nearly depleted, the large companies were moving out. Small companies, relying on small mills and circular saws, took over what was left of the industry. By the 1960s only temporary work at low wages was available, and workers, who might have two or more lumbering jobs each year, had to supplement their wages through other forms of employment.

Coal mining is the largest mineral industry in southern Appalachia, although manganese, zinc, lead, copper, pyrite, marble, feldspar, kaolin, and mica are also mined or quarried. Large-scale coal mining began in the late 1800s, boomed during World War I, declined during the Great Depression, and then boomed again during World War II. Since then, owing to competition from other fuels and the mechanization of the industry, coal mining has declined as a primary source of employment. The declines in agriculture, mining, and lumbering have forced Appalachians to look elsewhere for income, migrating to cities, commuting to towns, receiving government assistance, selling land, or cultivating and marketing shrubbery.

Kinship, Marriage and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. The rural neighborhoods of southern Appalachia are kin-based. The "clans" that inhabit the hollows are actually large extended families with a patriarchal authority structure and patrilineal inheritance of surnames. There are no corporate kin groups, and kinship is reckoned bilaterally.

Marriage. Marriages are often contracted when the individuals are quite young, and they are usually locally endogamous, if not within the "clan." Postmarital residence is said to be up to the couple. Some children in every generation move away, but there is a clear preference for residence near kin. Usually the husband's family will offer the couple land; if this is not possible, the wife's family will make the offer, leading to the development of the large, extended family neighborhoods.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the ideal, though there is much variation in actual household composition. There are six or seven children in the average family, although families with ten or more children are not uncommon. Inbreeding is reported to be very common.

Sociopolitical Organization

Neighborhood residence is sometimes based on a common occupation, and residents of a neighborhood usually share a church, school, and grist mill. They also tend to interact more often with each other than with outsiders, and there is some limited sense of neighborhood unity. Neighborhoods are often named after family names, geographic features, or manmade features. The combination of the strong family ethic, the familial basis of the neighborhoods, and lack of trust in the judicial system provided a social environment conducive to the development of "clan" feuds. The feuds grew largely from divided loyalties during the Civil War. Although the southern Appalachians have been described as an island of Union sympathy within the otherwise united South, there was considerable difference of opinion within neighborhoods and even within families. The feuds began shortly after the Civil War and continued until about 1915, with the most famous being the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Today, with social relations still much the same, disputes often force individuals to side with their family and grudges can run deep.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. Most Appalachians are fundamentalists, with the Southern Baptist church and the Methodist church the major denominations. The current tone of Appalachian religion was set by a series of revivals that took place through the 1800s. Basic characteristics include a puritanical sense of morality, biblical fundamentalism, revivalism, fatalism, and a clergy that differs from the laity only in the extent of its zeal for universal salvation. Church organization is very informal, with neighborhoods sharing a minister who makes a monthly series of rounds. The primary goal of religious behavior is salvation or conversion through a personal experience of God. These experiences most often occur at the summer revivals, which include spirited preaching, hymn singing that builds in intensity to the point of trance, hand waving toward heaven, speaking in tongues, and faith healing.

Arts. Appalachian art, handicrafts, amusements, dance, music, and folkways in general have been brought to the attention of the general population thorough a variety of publications, including the Foxfire series of books.


Bryant, Frances C. (1981). We're All Kin: A Cultural Study of a Mountain Neighborhood. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Ford, Thomas R., ed. (1962). The Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Hicks, George L. (1976). Appalachian Valley. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Keefe, Susan Emley, ed. (1988). Appalachian Mental Health. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Speer, Jean Haskell (1989). The Appalachian Photographs of Earl Palmer. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.


Appalachian Mountains

views updated May 18 2018


Named for the Apalachee Indians, the Appalachian Mountains form a great continental divide which runs roughly parallel to the eastern seaboard of the Unites States. On the eastern side of the mountains waterways drain into the Atlantic Ocean; on the western side they drain into the Gulf of Mexico. The Appalachians extend 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers), from Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula to Birmingham, Alabama. The chief ranges include the Notre Dame (in Quebec), the White Mountains (in New Hampshire), the Green Mountains (in Vermont), and the Catskills (in New York). South of New York the Appalachians divide into three sections: farthest to the east lie the Blue Ridge Mountains (which include the Appalachians' tallest peaks, in the Black Mountains of North Carolina); the middle section is called the Great Valley (which includes the Cumberland, Lehigh, and Shenandoah valleys); the western-most section is the Ridge-and-Valley Province (whose western boundary is formed by the Cumberland and Allegheny mountains).

Although the mountain range was a barrier to the settlement of the country, British acquisition of the territory west of the Appalachians in 1763 prompted people to cross the mountains and move into the fertile land beyond them. In the late 1700s settlers followed the Great Valley south to the Cumberland Gap near the intersection of North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. They followed the narrow trails forged by Native Americanswidening them for wagons. The chief trail was the Wilderness Road forged by U.S. pioneer Daniel Boone (c. 17341820). Settlers also followed a western route to the Ohio River through the river valleys of Pennsylvania and into Pittsburgh. In 1811 construction of a federal route called the National Road began. The northernmost westward trail was the Mohawk, which ran through New York state. It followed the southern shores of the Great Lakes. In 1825 the completion of New York's Erie Canal aided westward movement. By the 1840s railroads crossed the mountain range.

On this frontier farmers cultivated crops in the valleys. Settlers were mostly Scots-Irish, English, and German. The principal products in the northern regions included apples, barley, hay, potatoes, wheat, and dairy. Chief products in the South included corn, tobacco, and poultry. Trees from the Appalachians were cut for the U.S. furniture industry, centered in North Carolina. Approximately 50,000 square miles (130,000 square kilometers) of the mountains were rich in coal and other mineral deposits. These resources were important to the economies of Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

See also: Back Country , Cumberland Gap, Erie Canal, National Road, Maysville Road, Subsistence Agriculture, Wilderness Road

Appalachian Mountains

views updated May 23 2018

Appalachian Mountains a North American mountain system, stretching from Quebec and Maine in the North to Georgia and Alabama in the South. For some 200 years it served as a barrier to westward expansion by early European settlers.
Appalachian Trail a 3,200-km (about 2,000-mile) footpath through the Appalachian Mountains from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia.


views updated May 21 2018

Appalachians Mountain system stretching 2570km (1600mi) from e Canada to Alabama, USA. Comprising a series of parallel ridges divided by wide valleys, the mountains restricted early European settlers to the e coast. The Appalachians includes the White Mountains, Green Mountains, Catskills, Alleghenies, Blue Ridge, and Cumberland Mountains; the highest point is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 2037m (6684ft). Rich in timber and coal, the ranges are home to many national parks.