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Blue Ridge Folklife

Ted Olson

Publication Year: 1998

In the years immediately preceding the founding of the American nation the Blue Ridge region, which stretches through large sections of Virginia and North Carolina and parts of surrounding states along the Appalachian chain, was the American frontier. In colonial times, it was settled by hardy, independent people from several cultural backgrounds that did not fit with the English-dominated society. The landless, the restless, and the rootless followed Daniel Boone, the most famous of the settlers, and pushed the frontier westward.

The settlers who did not migrate to new lands became geographically isolated and politically and economically marginalized. Yet they created fulfilling lives for themselves by forging effective and oftentimes sophisticated folklife traditions, many of which endure in the region today.

In 1772 the Blue Ridge was the site of the Watauga Association, often cited as the first free and democratic non-native government on the American continent. In 1780 Blue Ridge pioneers helped win the Revolutionary War for the patriots by defeating Patrick Ferguson's army of British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. When gold was discovered in the southernmost section of the Blue Ridge, America experienced its first gold rush and the subsequent tragic displacement of the region's aboriginal people.

Having been spared by the coincidence of geology and topography from the more environmentally damaging manifestations of industrialization, coal mining, and dam building, the Blue Ridge region still harbors scenic natural beauty as well as vestiges of the earliest cultures of southern Appalachia.

As it describes the most characteristic and significant verbal, customary, and material traditions, this fascinating, fact-filled book traces the historical development of the region's distinct folklife.

Ted Olson is a college instructor, folklorist, freelance writer, and former Blue Ridge Parkway ranger.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii

Folklife, a familiar concept in European scholarship for over a century, is the sum of a community's traditional forms of expression and behavior. It has claimed the attention of American folklorists since the 19508. Each volume in the Folklife in the South Series focuses on the shared traditions

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pp. ix

It is highly unlikely that I would have written this book without the encouragement of a number of people, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge some of them. First, for supporting me in my various endeavors over the years, thanks to my mother, Claire Thomes Olson...

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pp. xi-xvi

The Blue Ridge often lives up to the name it was given several centuries ago by European mapmakers. On summer days the forests growing on Blue Ridge slopes emit huge quantities of hydrocarbons, which, when mixed with the region's characteristically humid air, distort the dense vegetation's...

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1. The Blue Ridge Region through 1800

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pp. 1-30

The first human settlers in the Blue Ridge were aboriginal Native Americans, the descendants of people who had journeyed from Asia to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge as early as 50,000 years B.C. Exactly when these aborigines first arrived in the Southern Appalachians...

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2. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

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pp. 31-69

In 1799, twelve-year-old Conrad Reed, walking on his father's farm on the western edge of the North Carolina piedmont (in present-day Cabarrus County), spotted an unusual rock. According to local legend, Conrad brought the seventeen-pound rock to his father's cabin and used it as a...

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3. Verbal Folklore

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pp. 70-103

For the purpose of analysis, folklorists often separate the various modes of folk expression in a given culture into three categories: verbal, customary, and material. Of these three, it is the Blue Ridge region's verbal folklore that has most fascinated mainstream America. Indeed, American popular...

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4. Customary Folklife

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pp. 104-138

The term customary folklife refers to traditional behaviors which generally possess both nonverbal and verbal (and sometimes material) components. The Native American presence in the region produced some fascinating customary traditions, all of which are now absent from the Blue Ridge...

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5. Material Culture

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pp. 139-173

In Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States, folklorist Henry Classic observed that, since the middle of the nineteenth century in the United States, "[T]he most usual result of the influence of popular upon folk material . . . has been the replacement of the traditional object...

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6. The Blue Ridge Today

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pp. 174-186

Growing up in Washington, D. C.,1 had visited the Blue Ridge many times during my youth, but my first opportunity to stay there for an extended period came when I worked as a counselor at a summer camp located just over the Virginia border in Hampshire County, West Virginia. That was...

Bibliographic Notes

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pp. 187-200


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pp. 201-211

E-ISBN-13: 9781604739022
E-ISBN-10: 1578060230
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578060238

Publication Year: 1998