The Old German Baptist Brethren
Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: University of Illinois Press
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Prologue: Of Soil and Stories
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Despite romantic notions of “the land” often associated with agriculture, small farms are not natural places that exist apart from human communities. Rather, farms are the work of people interacting with nature over time, in often unromantic and hardscrabble ways. What people do, believe, and say about their work on farms, in...
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I dedicate this work to the farmers in Franklin County, and also to those who once possessed and lost farms there, including members of my family. I especially appreciate the participation of those who maintain the Ancient Order today. I also express my gratitude for help and support on this project to Rob Amberg, Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon...
Note on Photographs
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Most of the Old German Baptist Brethren members interviewed for this book told me they did not wish to have their faces appear in photographs as portraits. Appearing to seek “publicity,” as some put it, would be anathema to their belief regarding living plain lives. For this reason, many of the photographs in this volume focus on people at work, in many cases from...
Introduction: Nonresistance and Change
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They offered no resistance to assaults against them as they made their way down the narrow trading path to Virginia. If under attack by displaced Iroquois or by outlaw highwaymen, they prayed that God’s will be done and turned the other cheek. Some died in the process. Dressed in conservative black clothing, German Brethren traveled...
PART I: SAINTS IN THE WILDERNESS
1. The Ancient Order
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The first German Baptists were eight exiles who gathered clandestinely three centuries ago in Alexander Mack’s millhouse to read the Bible and pray. It was 1708 and Germany was then but a hodgepodge of provinces, all of them war-torn and struggling to redefine and rebuild themselves, and vying for tribute and allegiance, following the Thirty...
2. The Carolina Road
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Along much of the great trading route through Virginia, the Brethren and other Germans were either the first European pioneers or closely followed the Scotch Irish settlers.1 Yet, the German Brethren and others among them were far from the stereotypical rugged individualists or explorers seeking land for profit or power. Rather, they were a...
PART II: WILDERNESS NO MORE
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For decades the Old German Baptist Brethren of the Pigg River District of Franklin County had charge of a small congregation in Clemmons, North Carolina. By 1994, the last remaining North Carolina district—called Fraternity—retained only two families: a couple in their late fifties along with their son, his...
3. Raising Citizens
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Farming not merely for the sake of producing food but as a way to build a life for a family and a community is a theme Old German Baptist Brethren return to again and again. They speak of religious beliefs and lifestyle intertwined, of clothing, cars, and business ethics all as part of living by example. They cultivate values, not just corn. They build community, not just barns. And, more important than cattle...
4. Community-Based Agriculture
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Family farming is not enough. To survive as a farmer on a small scale, one needs not only family members, but also neighbors. Neighbors help with work, creative financing of farmland purchases, and collective purchasing power. They swap labor and equipment, help one another with repairs, tend to one another’s farms when someone has to be away, respond to emergencies, and encourage one another...
5. Adversity and Perseverance
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Though Franklin County is still rural and has more farms than any county in the southern Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, agriculture there is in jeopardy, and so are its farmers. The pressure mounts from a variety of sources both local and national, even international, including the low prices farmers receive for their milk and other products...
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“We’re Franklin County people,” said Elsie Turner. “I’ve spent all my life right here, and I’m ninety-three years old.” She was a second grade schoolteacher for forty-five years and taught my mother, among thousands of other children raised in the county. Along with teaching, she continued to live and help out on the family dairy farm...
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From the fallow ground of farming’s decline emerge a few sprigs of hope for community-based agriculture. Though farms have gone out of business, new German Baptist farm families now grow pickyour- own-strawberries, sell their own produce at the Rocky Mount Farmers Market, and plant orchards in hopes of direct sales to consumers. Though farm futures seem bleak, an exciting small-scale...
Epilogue: They Go Quietly
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From the time of their arrival in Franklin County in the mid- 1700s to today, the German Baptist Brethren have tried to remain a quiet people who avoid self-aggrandizement, never speak out on political issues or engage in lawsuits, always keep to themselves, and accept ridicule and even persecution without protest. While avoiding the...
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Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006