restricted access 7. Family Life and Social Customs

From: Cades Cove

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7 Family Life and Social Customs If the folk culture of Cades Cove had functioned as only the collective consciousness of the community, there would have been little direct interference in the daily lives and social behavior of individuals. Yet the cove people's intimate knowledge of each other was never passive ; implicit in such knowledge was a subtle form of social control. By the end of the nineteenth century, a very clear consensus about proper behavior existed, and most of the cove dwellers adhered to the unwritten rules and prescriptions imposed by the larger community. Intense scrutiny of one's neighbors meant that very little occurred which escaped public notice, and few families could avoid the opprobrium of having their most intimate private problems become widely known. The primary instrument of enforcement for this social code was the family. By 1900, the cove population reached the greatest growth - 709 people - in its entire history. Yet despite these numbers, there were only thirty-eight surnames listed in the 1900 census.1 With minimal migration into or out of the cove since the Civil War, most of this increase came through natural growth in the existing population. As a result, practically every member of the community in 1900 was related through varying degrees of kinship to most of their neighbors. In this sense, the cove was actually one large extended family, bound together by myriad ties of both kinship and a common past. Some families , notably the Burchfields, Gregorys, l.equires, Myers, Olivers, Shields, and Tiptons, accounted for the largest percentage of the population, but nearly all the smaller families were interrelated to these larger kinship groups. Since most of the larger families did assist needy relatives, 180 Cades Cove I A Southern Appalachian Community however remote the tie of kinship might be, membership in one of the cove families seems to have been the major reason people living elsewhere returned to the cove in the long depression years following the Civil War. Conversely, there appeared to be little incentive for people with no family connections to move into the cove. Exceptions were men with special skills needed by the community- physicians are notable examples. This closed society contrasts strikingly with both the diversity of immigrants entering the cove in the 1850S and the ready acceptance then into the community's life of men with widely varying backgrounds and political views. The Civil War had unfortunately engendered a lasting suspicion of strangers, since these men had often turned out to be marauding guerrillas during the brutal war years. While it was true members of the same family had occasionally betrayed one another during the war, the postwar community still trusted its own kin to the exclusion of all outsiders. Practically everyone could recite the lengthy genealogies and pinpoint exactly where in the family tree his neighbor had become a relation.2 Implicit in this knowledge was a sense of social obligation to family according to the closeness of the connection. The larger families-collectively the whole community-exerted control over its members' social behavior primarily through the distribution of land. As a fertile basin surrounded by high mountains, Cades Cove always had a limited amount of arable land. By 1900, with a peak population, it is not surprising that 36 percent of the heads of households were tenant farmers. A careful examination of these tenants reveals 70.45 percent of them were thirty-nine years old or younger.3 So in Cades Cove land ownership was determined in large part by age. Some 59.62 percent of all the heads of household thirty-nine years old or younger did not own the land they farmed. Yet only 18.57 percent of the farmers forty years or older were tenants. The age group between twenty and twenty-nine was clearly the period when most young men served as tenants; 77.27 percent of all men in this group did not own their farms in 1900.4 These figures demonstrate that young cove farmers customarily expected to work on other people's land until they were able to buy their own farm. Usually they worked on land owned by their family or more distant relatives, with the expectation that at some point in the future Family Life and Social Customs 181 they could buy their farm for a nominal price or have this land left to them in a will. During these crucial years of tenancy, ranging between nineteen and thirty-nine, the...


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