The history of the Cumberland Highlands of Central Appalachia can be exceedingly difficult to weave from the dearth of reliable, well-preserved source documents; conflicting layers of oral tradition; local legend; and an abundance of downright “wishful thinking” of its narrators.
The foremost handicap to accuracy is the curse of widespread illiteracy that plagued large segments of the population during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Even the official record — in the form of governmental requirements such as deeds, land patents and surveys, birth, death and marriage records, and transcripts of judicial actions — may be woefully inaccurate or insufficient to recount the lives of the pioneers of the highlands. The deficiencies of the public record were only compounded by the turmoil of the Civil War years, when courthouses were burned and/or the exercise of civil government was effectively “on hiatus”.
The ravages of years of rough handling by the public and official inattention to preservation techniques have also exacted a toll on some of the region’s primary source materials.
Added to these impediments has been the fundamental lack of formal means of mass communication — telegraph lines, regular mail service, and printed local newspapers — in much of the region for much of its history. Except in the most populous towns, such “amenities” would not arrive until the dawn of the Twentieth Century — or later. And the same conditions applied to mass means of transportation — reliable roads and railroads that could facilitate travel and exchanges with the larger community and nation.
Finally, any serious researcher of the region’s history must lament the lack of appreciation by some possessors of family memorabilia, such as family Bibles, diaries, ancient photos, and legal or military papers — the source materials that enrich and validate the genealogies and that can raise them above the level of legend.
In this context, I am making a feeble personal effort to gather and present to Internet users a collection of historical and geographical sketches, and narratives of the people of Appalachia, that will be constantly filtered and tested by users to become a reliable lamplight into the past. To that end, I will:
- emphasize clear citations and attributions of materials presented herein;
- encourage feedback from all users who will adopt similar standards of care;
- minimize the sentimental as well as the sensational; and
- clearly distinguish between documented fact and speculation.