WYTHE COUNTY, Va., January 18, 2011 — Although I’ve traveled the globe and lived away from Appalachia most of my life, I never hesitate to proudly proclaim it home. In spite of my travel and exposure to countless dialects, I’ve managed to maintain the colorful accent and vocabulary unique to my mountains.
In my younger years, the preconceived notions attached to the accent made me work hard at not sounding like a hillbilly, or as I prefer to call us, “Appalachian Americans.” Far too many false assumptions have been made and perpetuated based solely on the accent, regardless of the wisdom wrapped within it. The one benefit of this is constantly being underrated when compared to the rest of the population. We’re awarded a head start that others are totally unaware of surrendering, till it’s too late.
Lazy, illiterate, inbred, and lacking ambition are but a few of these false assumptions, and I’m tired of enduring the ridicule and quick dismissal that accompany these inaccurate generalizations. However, there are many labels I do endorse, and with a little insight and a few well-turned phrases, I hope to enlighten the misinformed or at least those willing to open their minds and listen. Fiercely independent, creative, self-reliant, giving, hardworking, patriotic, and family-oriented are but a few that come to mind. Bear with me and I’ll make a believer of you.
Down through history, the rules of society that “civilized” man has deemed necessary and proper have always limited how much mobility or success a person could hope to attain. With birth came automatic limits and constraints, regardless of how capable or hardworking a person might be. Yet immigrants flocking to America from all over the world, past and present, look at this country as a place without limits, a true land of opportunity.
What intrigues me most is what motivated those who chose the unsettled territories as their eventual homes. I’ve often sat atop a mountain gazing out at the surrounding peaks and valleys, wondering what drove my ancestors to struggle through this unforgiving terrain. Much like the rest of the population, I have a generous sprinkling of ethnicities in my gene pool, including Irish, Scottish, English, and German.
What did they possess that made them cross that next river or climb the next unfamiliar ridge and not decide to stop dead in their tracks, surrendering to the Herculean task before them? What was within each of them that drove them to go deeper and deeper into a region that even the simplest mistakes were paid for in life and blood?
Some misguided historians will argue the majority of people were running from trouble left behind them and in some cases, I’m sure this was true. However, it’s my belief they were running to something. In layman’s terms they were seeking that place in which they could do as they damn well pleased. They sought out the freedom they had never known, to control their own destiny. The solitude and deprivation that came with it was but a small price to pay for the opportunity to live free.
The ingenuity and creativity that makes the “Bill Gates” in this country were tools of survival back in the mountains. To get by, one had to be resourceful for there was nothing to fall back on. One survived or perished based on his or her adaptability. “Thinking outside the box” is where they started, not where they meandered to after much trial and error. There was no trial and error, for error usually resulted in death. The best way to sum it up is to use one of my favorite phrases that’s as topical now as it was two hundred years ago, “being poor makes you creative.”
These same “illiterate and lazy” refugees came up with a written Declaration of Independence before our founding fathers, commonly known as the Watauga Declaration. They also left their families to face the dangers of the frontier alone and joined together at King’s Mountain in October of 1780 in the collective defense of their precious freedom. King’s Mountain was a battle between Loyalist and Patriot colonials with the patriots winning a very decisive battle. In just a little over an hour, the American Whigs (Patriots, Rebels) totally decimated Ferguson’s American Tories (Loyalists, Royalists) with every last man of them either dead or taken prisoner. It fostered hope where little or none existed and helped sustain the Patriots in their eventual victory over England.
So it was the “lazy hillbillies” who had a “Declaration of Independence” written before the founding fathers. They won one of the most important battles of the American Revolution and helped turned the tide of the war. Their creativity and ingenuity are what helped them survive and adapt, among our most valued characteristics in today’s ever-changing world. Basically the things Americans have come to value most originated in the Appalachians. Not bad for a bunch of isolated immigrants.
To contact L. King see above.
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