Saturday, September 12, 2009

Roarin’ out of Harlan,
Revvin’ up his mill
He shot the gap at Cumberland,
And screamed by Maynordsville

No, let's ignore Robert Mitchum from 1958, and start with 1624, and Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame. Smith was a devious and unreliable bugger. He got many things spot on, though, including:
... as Geography without History seemeth a carkasse without motion, so History without Geography, wandreth as a Vagrant without a certaine habitation.
That is a truism; and googling "influence of geography on history" will produce a thorough time-line of the concept, all the way back to Strabo and Claudius Ptolomy.

If there is one place in the modern United States where geography and history collide, it has to be 1600 feet up in the Appalachians, where Virginia debouches onto Tennessee and Kentucky. Nancy Kriplen is saying just that in this week's New York Times travel section. That article prompted these thoughts from Malcolm.

Across the second great divide

The width of the Atlantic was the first barrier, both physical and psychological. Then the English colonies found themselves chained in by the Appalachian mountains. In 1750 Doctor Thomas Walker followed an animal track and Indian path which opened a route across the mountains, which he named Cumberland Gap.

While one key moment in 1776 decided the former Colonies' political destiny, another in March 1775 was crucial in determining culture and ethos. That was when Daniel Boone led 30 pioneers across Cumberland Gap to establish a settlement at Boonesborough. It was when the former colonials broke the barrier of the Appalachians, and became set on a "manifest destiny'" stretching from "from sea to shining sea." Mountain-men set about moving the frontier ever westward, and French and Spanish, who coveted and claimed the interior, didn't stand a chance thereafter.

Boone (right, aged 70: the only image from life) had been recruited as a guide by Colonel Richard Henderson, founder of the Transylvania Company. The place-names alone tell a story. Dr Walker had named "Cumberland Gap", patriotically, for "Butcher" Cumberland, George II's younger son and Whig hero who had suppressed the Jacobite rebellion. "Boonesborough" is a clearly named on the pattern of all of those bawns the Presbyterian Scots established across Ulster, who transferred the coinage to their new plantations across the Appalachians. For, in Boone's footsteps, came between one and two hundred thousand Ulstermen and their womenfolk.

Daniel Boone, despite some claims to the contrary, was not of Ulster stock. Boones had arrived with a contingent of (mainly) Catholic gentry on board The Ark and the Dove in 1633, to provide one basis of the Maryland colony. Daniel Boone, though, was the fourth son (and sixth child) of Squire Boone (born near Exeter, Devon, who emigrated in 1717) and Sarah Morgan (of a Welsh Quaker family). Perhaps we should not tell the UDA of that, for Abbot Gardens in Newtownards, in the County Down, has (or, until recently, had) a fine mural of Daniel Boone, on horseback, with his monogrammed rifle, depicted as he:
Led the Ulster-Scots Pioneers into Kentucky.
The mural's concept, including the fetchingly-represented brown-and-white hound, is doubtless borrowed from George Caleb Bingham's version (at the head of this blog entry).

Among those early Scots-Irish pioneers would have been Partons. Their scion, born at Sevierville, Tennessee, is Dolly Rebecca, "the Queen of Country Music". She'll make a token appearance here in a moment.

Keep travelling

Take I-75 south from Boonesborough. After a couple of hours one is in Tennessee. Come off I-75 at exit 122, and head for Clinton. Not far beyond Clinton is Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 150 miles from Boonesborough.

Another bit of Appalachia where history and geography collide.

When France was occupied in 1940, 31 tons of uranium ore, from the Belgian Congo, property of Union Minière, was secreted in the arsenal at Toulouse. The American liberators, and in particular Lt-Col Boris T. Pash, sent it to Oak Ridge. By early 1945 the top-secret Clinton Engineer Works, which General Leslie Groves had built at Oak Ridge, as part of the Manhattan Project, was refining it into the 42kg of U-235 that would destroy Hiroshima. Oak Ridge (which didn't formally exist until post-war) remains a centre for US nuclear and security work. There, too, the American people crossed a great divide.

Pigeon Forge

And Dolly Parton? Definitely not "a carkasse without motion".

If you'd stayed on I-75, switched to TN-66, you'd have found Dollywood, Ms Parton's own theme-park.

And, according to some reports, nowhere near as tacky as it sounds.

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