Friday, December 21, 2012

Oysters for Christmas

My paternal grandmother used to make oyster stew every Christmas Eve.  Some years, my parents would follow suit.  My father associates this Southern tradition with his Tennessee boyhood.  I enjoyed it,too, but since my parents and I lived in Florida when I was a little girl, the oysters weren't such an exotic treat to me.  My grandmother would also put oysters in her stuffing.'s site not only gives a recipe for stewed oysters, but it also explains the connection between Christmas and oysters.  In the days before refrigeration, it was not safe to transport oysters from the coast until cold weather set in.  In most of the South, including Tennessee, the cold doesn't hit until Christmastime.  Thus, the first shipments of oysters inland would coincide with the holidays.

I imagine that this also explains the old saying that it was only safe to eat oysters in months that have the letter r in them.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"The Granny Woman"

Ferrous sulfate known to Mrs. Sutton, the Granny Woman, by the ancient name of copperas
In the history of Appalachian Tennessee, a granny woman was a mid-wife.  Aunt Zilphie Sutton was such a granny woman.  She lived in Chestnut Branch, which is near Mt. Cammerer in the northeastern section of what is now the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  She talked of her experiences to Joseph Hall, who interviewed many Smokies residents during the 1930's and published his recollections of them in 1960.

"I handled over two hundred babies," she told Hall.  "I commenced when I was young.  I was long-headed -- wasn't afraid of nothing'.  An' I never lost a woman in the whole boundary of 'em."

She also spoke of making cloth, as many mountain women needed to do in order to sew for their families.  "I've spun many a thread and wove many a cloth."

She noted that "Linsey" was used for underwear.

To dye the cloth, her family boiled walnut bark and put copperas (ferrous sulphate) in it.  The copperas was also used, she said, to de-worm hogs.   You can see from above that the copperas has a pretty color; I don't know whether or not that lovely shade transferred to the cloth.  I do know that copperas was thought to hold dye in cloth, or, in other words, to set a dye. 

She showed Hall how to card and bat cotton, and she boasted that she could "bat enough cotton in a day to quilt a quilt."  

She spoke of mountain medicine, and the remedies she ascribed were a mix of herbalism and
magic superstitions drawn from local folklore.  Below are two examples of her doctoring. 

"Indian physic tea is good to clean your stomach off.  Hit's good blood medicine, too," she said.

For croup and the phthisic, she prescribed this: "Take a sourwood switch, make a mark on it even with the top of the child's head, lay it over the door, and let it stay there."

Mrs. Sutton told Hall that the mountain people used to set fire to the forest underbrush every fall as a way of controlling insects.  She was upset that the practice had been outlawed. Shes said that she, herself, had "hopled set fire and fought fire, too".

Source:  Smoky Mountain Folks and Their Lore
Joseph S. Hall


Saturday, November 24, 2012

History of Thanksgiving Football

Today's historical tidbit doesn't have to do with Tennesee, per se, although many Tennesseans take part in the following tradition:

Yale and Princeton played each other on Thanksgiving Day, 1876.  This began their tradition of playing each other every Thanksgiving.  Other teams followed suit, and, thus, football has become an integral part of American Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving Weekend celebrations. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Over Paradise Ridge

In her novel, Over Paradise Ridge, Maria Thompson Daviess speaks through one of her characters about the beauty and importance of Tennessee farm life:

"It’s this way, Betty.  That valley you are looking down into has the strength to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry men, women, and children when they come down to us over Paradise Ridge from the crowded old world; but men have to make her give it up and be ready for them.  At first I wasn’t sure I could, but now I’m going to put enough heart and brain and muscle into my couple of hundred acres to dig out my share of food, and that of the other folks a great strapping thing like I am ought to help to feed.  I’ll plow your name deep into the potato-field, dear,” he ended, with a laugh, as he let go my hand, which he had almost dislocated while his eyes smoldered out over the Harpeth Valley, lying below us like an earthen cup full of green richness, on whose surface floated a cream of mist."

Daviess wrote about the people of middle Tennessee, and her writing is filled with optimism, romance, concerns of the day, domesticity, rural life, and a celebration of 'salt of the earth' Tennesseans.  You can find many of her works online, where they can be read for free.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paths in the Sea -- Matthew Maury

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!  From Psalm 8.

Matthew Maury, Photo From Library of Congress
My mother used to tell me about the man from Tennessee who found the currents or paths in the ocean.  This Tennessee native, Matthew Fontaine Maury, is often called the Father of Oceanography -- a title which is recognized worldwide.  Maury was born in Virginia in 1806 but grew up in Franklin, Tennessee.

In 1825, Matthew Maury joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman (officer in training). His father was angry with Maury for accepting it, since Matthew's brother John had joined the navy and had died of yellow fever on ship.  Maury went on to become an officer and continued his naval career, even after an injury meant that he could no longer work at sea. 

A Christian, Maury's study of the Bible led him to many discoveries about the world's oceans.  Likewise, his curiosity about the seas he sailed motivated him to observe things such as ocean winds and currents.  He kept complete logs of his adventures on ship.  He dropped thermometers, attached to ropes, into the water so that he could chart changes in water temperature. He studied old ship.  By his studies, he discovered  and charted the currents of the oceans.  After he published a book locating the ocean currents surrounding South America, sailors were able to sail much more quickly around the continent.

Why was Maury so intent that the ocean must hold "paths" or currents?  He drew inspiration from Psalm 8, which talks about the paths in the sea.  He reasoned that if God said that there were paths in the sea, there must be paths.

Maury studied every navigational book that he could find, including ones that the U.S. Navy hadn't studied.  Then, he wrote his own navigational book, which was considered the best navigational textbook ever written by an American. Throughout his book, he included Biblical passages of meteorological and other scientific interest. 

One passage that interested him was Job 28:25 which refers to God's making the weight for the winds.  Here are his thoughts about that:

‘. . though the fact that the air has weight is here so distantly announced [in Job], philosophers never recognized the fact until within comparatively a recent period, and then it was proclaimed by them as a great discovery. Nevertheless, the fact was set forth as distinctly in the book of nature as it is in the book of revelation; for the infant, in availing itself of atmospherical pressure to draw milk from its mother’s breast, unconsciously proclaimed it.’
Maury organized a an international conference, during which he persuaded a number of countries to keep records of every ship's log.  This material was used to  prepare charts of the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean between the U.S. and Europe.  This hinted at the possibility of laying undersea cables.

Maury died in 1873.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

For Maury, science and faith did not conflict, and his faith became a springboard for his scientific explorations.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Civil Rights Training In Tennessee -- Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you know that a center called the Highlander Folk School (now the Highlander Research and Education Center) provided training for some leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950's. 

The center has moved to another place in Tennessee, but it was originally located in the community of Summerfield, which is between Monteagle and Tracy City.  Among notable leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who received training there are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.  The training espoused nonviolent ways to effect change.

Sadly, a backlash against the school's role in the movement led to it being closed by the state of Tennessee in 1961.  It did, however, reorganize and move to East Tennessee, where it still operates.  The focus of the school has not been just on the needs of African-Americans, but also Appalachia, labor, and the entire Southern U.S. 


Friday, September 14, 2012

Ragtime hero

Charles Hunter, of Maury County, TN is considered by music historians to be one of the founding fathers of ragtime music.  Ragtime is considered an original Black American art, but Hunter was white and, thus, plays a unique role in the genre.  He was almost totally blind from birth.  He made his living tuning pianos.

Music seems to have been part of the family as his father Jordan was a musician with the Sixth Cavalry during the Civil War, and his uncle  was a bugle man with the First Cavalry, both Confederate units.

Charles taught himself to play the piano.  When he started composing, he chose "rags", which were written in early folk style.  His first number was "Tickled to Death" composed in 1899, followed by "A Tennessee Tantalizer" in 1900.  How about this name for one of this compositions:  "Possum and Taters."  Yep, he's on of us Tennesseans, all right.

Charles was born at some time in the 1870's in Columbia, TN and died in in St. Louis, MO in 1907 from tuberculosis.

Oddly, most of what has been written about him has come from outside of Tennessee, despite the fact that he is clearly a part of Tennessee heritage.

Historical Source:  Hither, Thither, and Yon by Jill K. Garrett

Monday, September 10, 2012

What famous Admiral was born in Tennessee?

Who'd have thought that the landlocked state of Tennessee would have produced on of this country's most famous generals? 

David Glasgow Farragut was born near Knoxville, Tennessee in 1801.  He was appointed as a midshipman in 1810, and the served in the Pacific during the War of 1812.  After, Farragut commanded his first vessel in David Porter's Mosquito Fleet, and he fought pirates in the Gulf and in the Caribbean.  In the Mexican War, he was involved in blockade duty.

Farragut established the naval yard at Mare Island, California, and he was commandant there until 1858.  He was living in Norfolk at the time of Virginia's secession from the Union.  He was a Union sumpathizer, so he moved to the state of New York.  As you can imagine, though, his southern ties aroused suspicion, and he was not given an important assignment in the War Between the States until January 1862.  Then, the Department of the Navy gave him command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, with orders to ascend the Mississippi River and take on New Orleans.  By April 18, 1862, Farragut's fleet consisted of 17 vessels and a mortar flotilla.  Farragut reached the twin forts of Jackson and St. Philip which were on opposite sides of the Mississippi just south of New Orleans.  He defeated a Confederate flotilla and anchored at New Orleans.  The forts surrendered on April 28, and Union troops entered the city on May 1.

Farragut attempted to reduce Vicksburg, but he failed.   However, he did control the Mississippie between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, and his operations contributed to U.S. Grant's ultimate takeover of the city.

He succeeded in stifling Confederate blockade running int he Gulf of Mexico, except at Mobile, and he attacked that port in 1864, despite the fact that it was defended by two forts, a double row of torpedoes (or mines), and a Confederate flotilla.   He defeated Franklin Buchanan, the leader of the Confederate flotilla.  The forts surrendered shortly afterward, and blockade running ended, though the city did not fall until April 1865.         

Farragut was the first officer in the U.S. navy to receive the ranks of vice admiral and admiral. 


Friday, September 7, 2012

Buried in the Walls of the Capitol Building

The Greek Revival movement had a big impact on American architecture, and its influence is still seen today. One of the founders was architect, William Strickland.  He was born in New Jersey in 1788, and he died in 1854 while working on what is perhaps his greatest building, the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.  He fell seriously ill while working on the project and asked that he be buried within the walls if he should die before it's completion.  Sure enough, he did pass away and is entombed in a crypt on the north wall. 

Strangely, another person -- Samuel Morgan - is also buried in a crypt in the building.  He was chairman of the building committee for the construction of the capitol.  When he died, he was buried elsewhere, but his family requested that he be moved to a  niche in the east wall of the south portico.

President James K. Polk and Sarah Childress Polk are buried on the grounds.  They had originally been interred at their home, but when the home's future was called into question, they were moved to a garden at the capitol.  

Who knew?  What an interesting state Tennessee is!

(The photo of the Polks' grave was taken by Joseph A. and shared on Flickr.) 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who was the first Nashville Born Governor of Tennessee?

In 1933, Governor Hill McAlister was elected governor.   He was the first Nashville-born governor of Tennessee.

Source:   Nashville, Athens of the South
Henry McRaven


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

First sewing machine Carter Carter County, Tennessee

Here's the story of what is believed to be the First sewing machine Carter County in Tennessee.

Today, we cannot imagine how this invention changed the lives of women.  Back in the day, people had large households with many people to clothe.  In many, if not most, families, a good deal of the family's clothing was made at home.  In addition, there was usually a great deal of mending to do, for people tended to have fewer garments and to extend their life through maintenance.  Add to that the making of curtains, blankets, quilts, handkerchiefs, table linens, and such.  The average woman of that time spent many hours with her needle in her hand.  Mechanized home sewing greatly cut down those hours. 

According to History Today, the American journalist and campaigner for women, Sarah Hale (1822-79), wrote in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1867 that to make the average shirt by hand required 20,620 stitches.  At a rate of thirty-five stitches a minute, a skilled hand-seamstress could fashion a shirt in ten to fourteen hours. Sewing machines moved at the pace of 3,000 stitches a minute.  This meant that  a seamstress could assemble a shirt in an hour with more consistently neat results.

Unfortunately, while the sewing machine was a labor saving machine for families, it is thought that it actually added to the work load of women and children who made their livings by sewing.  Along with the advent of the sewing machine came the beginnings of "sweat shops". 

This was just one of the many 19th century and early 20th century inventions that propelled Tennessee, the U.S., and the whole western world into a modern society.  

During my grandfathers' lives, for example, the following things came into wide use:  automobiles, planes, the nuclear bomb, space travel, penicillin, tractors, combines, radios, TV, old-time computers, electric lights, etc.  My grandparents, who were Tennesseans, started life in the horse and buggy age and ended life in the space age.



Monday, July 9, 2012

President Teddy Roosevelt and the sprinkling carts...

When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Nashville, Tennessee in 1907, he arrived at Union Station.  A parade of fifteen carriages and twenty-four automobiles escorted him to the Ryman Auditorium. where he gave a speech. After that, he got into a car to be driven to the Hermitage, the former home of President Andrew Jackson.

Eighteen sprinkling carts had worked on Lebanon Road, the route to the Hermitage, on the night before.  This was to keep the dust down so that it would not bother the President and his party.

I have a hard time imagining Lebanon Road as a dirt highway and without a ton of traffic.

Source:  Nashville "Athens of the South" by Henry McRaven


Friday, June 29, 2012

Memories of high school in Nashville in 1911 (Not my memories, LOL)

in 1980, a relative of mine, Mary Lindsay White McBurnett, wrote a book about her memories, including those of her years in high school.  In 1911, she was among the first students in the brand new Hume Fogg High School.  It sounds to me as if her education was still very much in the classical style.  She writes:

"To me it was the most beautiful building in the world.  I loved the Grecian finish at the top. I loved all four floors.  In ever minded running up and down those wide stairways for the next two yeasr.

"To me, everything in that school was superlative -- my teachers, my studies, classrooms, my friends.  I never stopped being amazed at being a student in such opulent surroundings, with such truly great personnel.

"My German teacher kept us on our toes.  She declared it was impossible for us to correctly speak German.  I never could say 88 in German to please her, but I did learn by heart some German songs, such as 'De Lorelei.'  That pleased her.

"Ancient History, I learned to truly love because my teacher, Mr. Kamerer, loved it too, and made it all so real to us.l  He gave us hard tests, I remember.  The day following a test I would rush in early, afraid that I had failed.  Mrs. Kamerer would smile and say, 'You made only 90.'

"In Latin, my first year teacher was Mr. Fisher, a kind and gentle man.  It was easy to learn Latin under him.  In my senior year, my Latin teacher was Mr. Kirkpatrick.  Virgil's 'Aeneid' seemed very romantic under this tutelage, especially, when I remembered that he had dated my aunt years ago. "The Aeneid' is pure romance anyway."

She goes on to describe various math classes and English classes.  She  sums up her high school experiences in this way:

"Those years I spent in Nashville high schools were very special to me.  All my teachers were highly intellectual and every well educated.  Things they taught me have been most helpful all along my pathways.  They will always live in my fondest memories." 

Mary lived with her aunt's family during her high school years.  Her parents had moved to Texas and had become established there.  However, there was no high school in the area at that time.  Her parents reluctantly sent Mary and a sibling back to Tennessee to finish their educations.  

Mary speaks of her aunt:  "That family made me feel as if I were one of them.  they were delighted when my report cards were good.  They provided me with suitable clothes, books, food, and a pretty room of my own.  Often, we went to the opera and to important plays at the Ryman Auditorium and to the Bijou Theater.  Once we went to the Ryman Auditorium to hear a fine lecture by William Jennings Bryan.  That lecture, his wonderful voice, I never will forget."

For her graduation in 1913, she wore a white, hand sewn and hand embroidered dress.   She and all the other girls in her class carried a shower bouquet of pink sweet peas.  Hume Fogg was coeducational, but she does not describe how the boys dressed.

Among her graduation presents were a chartreuse evening gown, a cameo lavalliere, and a train ticket home to Texas.  Later, Mary returned to Tennessee to live.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Magnolias and French Secet Agents....

Andre Michaux was a French botanist and horticulturist who was first recommended to the U.S. by the French king, Louis XVI.  One reason the French had an interest in his work in the fledgling U.S. and its territories was that its own forests had been depleted by war, particularly by the building of ships.  They hoped Michaux would find new species of quick growing trees that could be grow in France.

That seems an innocent enough reason for the French government to work with the U.S. in Michaux's exploratory missions.  Along came the French Revolution, however, and Andre lost his place in the royalist administration.

He then became involved with a liason of the Revolutionary Government named Genet. Genet, for his part, was engaging in war like acts against the English and the Spanish.  Naturally, this made U.S. relations with France a bit awkward, and it severely strained our ties to England and to Spain.

At one point, Genet was interested in a plot by an American named Clark.  Clark wanted to mount a militia to take the Louisiana territory from Spain.  Genet gave Michaux the mission of evaluating Clark's plot and also serving as a go-between for Clark and himself.     

At the same time, Thomas Jefferson wanted to further the exploration of the North American west, which, in that day, started just on the western border of the original colonies plus a few and extended to the Pacific Ocean.  To that end, he briefly supported the work of the famous French botanist.

Jefferson instructed Michaux to find the shortest and best route to the Pacific.  He also gave him this misson: to "take notice of the country you pass through, it’s general face, soil, river, mountains, it’s productions animal, vegetable, and mineral so far as they may be new to us and may also be useful; the latitude of places…; the names, numbers, and dwellings of the inhabitants, and such particularities as you can learn of them."

On the surface, Michaux was the logical choice for this work.  He was skilled, scientifically minded, and had already conducted explorations in other lands.  He had already worked in the U.S. and had proved himself in his field. Unfortunately, Michaux's double missions as explorer and botanist for Jefferson and secret agent for Genet didn't work well together.   Some accounts say that Jefferson learned of Michaux's spying and ordered him to halt his journey in Kentucky, as well as to leave the U.S.  Others think that Jefferson knew all along of Michaux's activities on behalf of Genet, but let Michaux go on with his exploration anyway.  At any rate, whether due to Jefferson or to poor funding, Michaux did not get any further than Kentucky on that occasion.  Clark's plan failed, as well.  

Though that particular exploration didn't uncover the best route to the Pacific, Kentucky, itself, was a field of study.  After, Micheaux continued to spend considerable time in the U.S. and territories.  throughout his entire time in America, he produced works detailing the flora and fauna he found there, one of which was a book devoted solely to the oaks of the north American continent.  You can buy copies of some of his botanical prints today.

Among Michaux's finds was a rare species of magnolia.  After all, who doesn't love a good southern magnolia?  Michaux noticed this rare type on journeys in the Carolina Piedmont, and later, he  found it in bloom in the wilderness of Tennessee, which is how our Tennessee theme ties in to the story.  He named this tree the Magnolia macrophylla, but some botanists and horticulturists wanted to call it Magnolia michauxii after him.

It is one of the most majestic magnolias, with leaves that are up to two to thee feet long and up to a foot wide.  It's flowers are up to a foot and a half in diameter.

I doubt that this was used to repopulate French forests, but it did become a sensation in France.  The empress Josephine planted it in her garden.    

Not only did Michaux study our native species, he also introduced other plants to the U.S.  Some of these have become southern favorites.  For example, he introduced  the crepe myrtle, and what would Tennessee and the rest of the south be without our gorgeous crepe myrtles?

Micheaux was born in in 1746 at Satory, which is near Versailles in France, and he died in Madagascar in 1802.  Among his famous travels was an expedition to Persia, which is a tale unto itself.  Among other feats, he cured the Shah of a dangerous disease.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Something to celebrate...

On June 1, 1796, Tennessee was added to the Union.  It became the 16th State.

Tennessee had a long and interesting journey to statehood.  It began as part of North Carolina.

In April of 1784 North Carolina ceded what was known as the Washington District to the Federal Government.  Some counties seceded in August of that same year to form what was known as Franklin. Frankland.  This section of Tennessee petitioned to Congress to become the state of Frankland and denied Federal Government claims.  It did not become a state, and, in 1788, this little autonomous government disbanded and was re-acquired by North Carolina.

From May from May 26, 1790, until June 1, 1796, Tennessee was known as the Southwest Territory.  We don't think of Tennessee as being in the southwest today, but in the southeast.  At the time, however, the U.S. had not spread as far west as it does today.   

Later on, it was the last state to leave the union and become part of the Confederate States of America. Tennessee furnished more Confederate soldiers than any other state.  Ironically, it also furnished more soldiers for the Union than any other state.  It was the first state to be readmitted to the Union after the Confederate wore.

Because Tennessee was part of North Carolina during the Revolutionary War, soldiers who fought for North Carolina were often given land grants in unsettled (by Europeans) parts of Tennessee.  My great-great-grandfather was awarded 4500 acres in Maury County, TN, and his relatives were also awarded grants here, as well. 

My relatives and many other families did move west to claim their pensions.  Some soldiers, who did not care to move west, sold their land grants.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Milky Way Farms!

During the Depression, a well known candy bar brought a little sweetness to Giles County, TN.  Frank Mars put his now famous confection, the Milky Way Bar, on the market in 1920, and he made a fortune of several million dollars.

Ten years later, he bought land in Giles County, and he started a farm there.  In time, he owned 3,500 acres there.

At the time, things were bleak in Tennessee, as they were in many other areas of the country.  However, Mars farms, which began as his bobby, brought some prosperity to the area. In the beginning, the farm employed 600 people directly.  Not only that, but many local businesses were tapped for the farm's development, and many more people were thus indirectly employed by the Milky Way Farms.  This was a huge boon to the local economy.

Once the farms were up and running, the direct employment and the money spent in development dropped; however the farms still benefited the area.

In April of 1934, Frank Mars died at age 51, and he was buried in a mausoleum on one of the highest hills on his farms.  People filling 12 Pullman cars came down from Chicago for the funeral.  In 1944, Mars' widow, Ethel, had his body moved to Minneapolis.

In the spring of 1945, she sold the farms.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Those Girls from Tennessee

Be careful what you say, as you may live to eat your words.

 In 1824, Lucius Junius Polk, a young man of 22 years, served as a groomsman at the wedding of his cousin, James Knox Polk.  He could not have known then that his cousin would one day become President of the United States.

After the wedding, Lucius wrote relatives that "Tennessee girls are not of the first order either in accomplishments or beauty."

I wonder if he included James' bride, Sarah Childress,  in that statement.  Sarah couldn't be faulted for her accomplishments, as she was unusually well educated for a woman of her day.  She was also praised for her "noble beauty" or her "handsome beauty", and her exotic dark looks had earned her the nickname of Sahara Sarah. Her front teeth were a little prominent, however, and she hid them by tightening her lips across them. Some did not realize that this was from self-consciousness and thought she looked disapproving.   All in all, she was a remarkable woman, as time would prove.

Wouldn't you know it?  After putting down Tennessee girls, Lucious soon fell in love with one.  Her name was Mary Eastin, and she was the great niece of the late Mrs. Andrew Jackson.  Her great uncle, Andrew Jackson, was President at the time, and she was a favorite relative of his.  She lived in the White House while her uncle was President. 

Unfortunately for Lucius, she was already engaged to a man from Washington, D. D.  His name was Bolton Finch of the U. S. Navy.  Mr. Finch had previously been engaged to a string of girls, but this time, things seemed serious.   The day for the wedding had been set, and, according to one account of the story, the guests had been invited.

Lucius took off to Washington in a coach and four to make one last appeal for her hand.  Miss Eastin changed her mind and heart and decided to marry Lucius instead.   Tradition says that she did this at least partly because of some advice from President Andrew Jackson urging her to marry for love.

Lucious and Mary were married in the White House in April 1832.  They returned to Tennessee to live and had eight to twelve children, depending on which account you read.  Sadly, Mary died in childbirth or shortly after delivering her last two children, which were twins.  Lucous married again, and, naturally, his second wife was a woman from Tennessee.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Rolling Stones...

In an article about her memories of growing up in Tennessee (Her life spanned from horses and model T's to the Internet!), a woman named Ruth Shannon mentioned rolling stones.  This, apparently, was a name for peddlers.  She mentioned that peddlers came to her family home twice a week and that bartering and trading for goods was a way of life.   

Am I the last person in the U.S. to know this name for peddler?  I associate the name with the song, "Papa was a rolling stone", which I don't think meant peddler, and, of course, the Rolling Stones.  I suppose it wouldn't be a short jump from calling a peddler a rolling stone to using the term to mean anyone who travels about, seldom staying at home and living a wild life. 

My mother and aunts used to tell of traveling photographers who came through the middle Tennessee countryside, as they did in many parts of the country.  We have many photographs, some quite old, that were taken when these photographers came through.  Whoever was at home prettied up in a hurry for a picture taking.  My father's west Tennessee family were uptown, as they had some of theirs done in a studio.



Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What famous Tennessee preacher said "No" to the Civil War?

David Lipscomb, a preacher in the churches of Christ and the man for whom David Lipscomb University is named did not believe that followers of Jesus should participate in war. In a work entitled, "On Civil Government, he said, "All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man's effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God.

In a letter, reprinted as "To His Excellency The President of The Confederate States of America," Lipscomb appealed to Jefferson Davis so that "members of the churches of Jesus Christ" would be exempt from serving as soldiers in the Confederacy.

Unlike some pacifists, Lipscomb seemed to take his beliefs directly from his mentor, Tolbert Fanning and from the scriptures, rather than from philosophy or from other well known pacifists of the era, such as Tolstoy.

This article is too short to explain his views fully.   If you'd like to learn more about his thinking, there are books and articles written about his view of the scriptural duties of a follower of Jesus.

He was not the only theologian of the time to wrestle with the issue of Americans participating in a war, particularly in a Civil War.  In particular, he had a counterpart in the northern branch of the restoration movement, who felt the same.  He believed that the northern cause was right, but that Christians should not take up arms to support it.   

Whether for political or religious reasons, the decision to secede from the Union was a hard one for Tennessee in general.  Tennessee was the last of the states to secede from the Union and to join the Confederate States of America.  It was the first of the Confederate States  to be readmitted to the Union.  Even after readmission, however, there continued to be local squabbles over the same issues of the Civil War for decades after.

All the wars and strifes between tribes, races, nations, from the beginning until now, have been the result of man's effort to govern himself and the world, rather than to submit to the government of God.
David Lipscomb, On Civil Government p.14

And, the winner is...

Rose has won a copy of my novel, A Tree Firmly Planted.

Rose, please send me your contact info at elizabethatmundiedotus, and I will get the book to you!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Tennessee man who created an alphabet from scratch

Who was, so far as we know, the only man to develop an alphabet from scratch?  His name was Sequoyah, and he created the first alphabet for the Cherokee language.  

Sequoyah and other Cherokee people were fascinated that white people could use letters or symbols to read their languages.  The Cherokee termed these marks of the Europeans, "talking leaves".  Isn't that a lovely way to think of the characters of the alphabet?

Sequoyah set out to make a way for the Cherokee people to read and write their own language.  He came up with 86 characters, each of which represents syllable in the Cherokee language.  Some of these symbols were borrowed from Latin, and the alphabet is said to look something like the Roman, Cyrillic, or Greek characters, as well as Arabic numbers. However, any symbols that Sequoyah might have borrowed from other alphabets have their own sound in Cherokee and cannot be sounded out in any other language.

Sequoyah's system  enabled the Cherokee people to read and write their own language, and, using his alphabet, they rapidly became literate.

Sequoyah was born in 1770 in Taskigi, a town of the Cherokee Nation that was near present day Knoxville, Tn.  He died in 1843 in Tamaulipas, Mexico. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Feather Crowns (death crowns, angel crowns ) Tennessee folk lore

Have you heard of feather crowns?  This little bit of Tennessee folk lore was not part of our family legends.  However,  it is a bit of middle Tennessee folk belief with possible connections
 to northern Alabama and to bayou country in Louisiana, as well.  (Perhaps, it is found in many other places, too.  If you have heard of this, please leave me a comment and a note about where you are from.)

The feather crown is a clump of feathers found in a feather pillow after someone has died.  One old explanation for this is that as the soul leaves the body, the feathers are sucked or woven into a hard not.  Another variation is that the crown is found if the person went to heaven, and a variation of this tale is that the crown forms as a crown for someone to wear upon entering heaven.   Of course, some have offered logical explanations, such as the feathers forming around a thread or some other object in the feather ticking.

One woman, Mrs. D. B. Andrews, was quoted by middle Tennessee historian, Jill Garrett as saying that it was bad luck to find one if someone had not died.  That meant that a death was coming.

People opened the pillows, pulled out the feather crowns, and kept them as memorials to the deceased.  Jill Garrett's own family kept two such crowns in their own family, one from 1894 and one from 1918.  the earlier one fell apart in the 1930's, but as of 1979, Ms. Garrett's family still had the 1918 one.

Many claim that these form only when a person has died, thus simply tossing and turning during an illness doesn't make it happen.

Of course, this is superstitious rather than scriptural, but interesting nonetheless.  I'd love to know if they really only do form in someone's last illness, for whatever reason.  Perhaps, as someone is dying, their movement is restricted, and their head stays put in one place for a long time.  This could make a permanent indentation, I suppose, if the feathers did clump around something within the ticking.

In the 2010's, most of us sleep on foam pillows, and only those who really love feather pillows seek them out. So, we have less scope for studying this phenomenon.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Do you know how Tennessee got it's name?

Here's the short and hopefully sweet version:

There was an important Cherokee village on a river that we now call the Little Tennessee.  It was known as Tanasi or Tanase or many variations of spellings.  There was another village named Tanasi, either on the Little Tennessee or the Hiwasee. 

The Little Tennessee River took its name from the village, at least by European Americans.  A larger area also began to be known as Tanasi.

The spelling we use today, Tennessee, was recorded as early as 1754.  When a constitutional convention met in Knoxville on January 11, 1796, to organize a new state out of the Southwest Territory, it chose to apply the name "Tennessee” to the whole state.

There are little variations on this story, as well as more details and longer stretches of history, including the story of the Spanish explorers in Tennessee.  If you'd like to, you can study all that on your own.  But, this, in one Tennessee moment, is how the state got its name.


Monday, March 26, 2012

My mother's corn lightbread recipe

My mother passed on to me her family's recipe for genuine middle Tennessee corn light bread.  Corn light bread is what it says, a light bread, rather than the heavier (but just as tasty) corn pone, Johnnycake, corn muffins, crackling bread, hush puppies, etc.  It's sweeter than most corn breads.

The ingredients are
2 cups cornmeal -- self rising or with 1 tsp. salt and 1 teaspn. soda
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon powdered yeast
2 cups buttermilke
2 or 3 Tbsps. melted shorning.

Mix. Pour into greased loaf pan and let rise.  Bake at 375 for 55-60 minutes.

 I have not encountered this form of cornbread outside of middle Tennessee, but I do not know if it originated there or not.  Try it for a little variety and for some genuine Tennessee flavor.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where does the Mississippi delta begin?

According to the famous saying, attributed to author David Cohn, it begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.  The saying is that the Delta ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but, being on the Tennessee end of things as I am, I usually hear just the first part of the quote.
Did you know that western Tennessee north of Memphis is called "The Little Delta"?  It formed a culture that is distinct from, but similar to the Mississippi Delta culture.


Who got here first? Missippian culture.

Did you know that parts of Tennessee, especially in the west, were settled by an early native American culture called Missippean.  This culture came in three phases:  Early Missippean culture, which flourished from around 500-1000 B.C, the Middle Missippean period, from about 1200-1400 B.C., and the Late Missippian period, from about 1400 B.C. to the time that Europeans came.   

During the first period, different groups of native Americans transitioned from very small local tribe based societies to a more complex society.  They emerged from and became distinct from another culture, known as the Woodland culture.  Regional chiefdoms developed, as well as distinct centers of population.  This was supported by the culture's production of surplus corn. There is some debate about just how far regional cheifdoms extended.   

During the middle period, the culture developed to its peak.  Along with this development of the society, the people's art and symbolism developed, too.

Alas, during the third period, the culture was characterized by more political turmoil, as well as by increasing warfare.  It's possible that the society declined due to what was  known as the Little Ice Age and resulting drought and crop failures.  The population shifted away from the major centers as people sought land that was neither overhunted or overdeveloped.

One feature that we associate with this Missippean culture are the many mounds constructed throughout the midwest and the south.  You can see an example of this near Franklin in Williamson County.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

11 June 1875 -- Cathey's Creek News Items

Here's a colorful news bulletin from Cathey's Creek, TN dated 11 June 1875:

"T. B. Brooks, a well to do farmer of this creek boasts of the finest mule colt in his district.  Mr. Brooks is an enterprising man and we wish him much success at the world's fair in 1876.

Mr. B. Worley is still cultivating his unlimited genius for mechanism.

The villagers of Worleysville recently awakened from their reverie by the cry of "a deer, look at the deer" in in less than a minute all was a hum and stir in the village.  Bud Worley dashed frantically from his shop with a gouge and chisel in hand, and with the fleetness of a terrified Indian, dashed over fences, bogs, gullies and stumps till he finally exhausted fell. Borkley Dicky, the Nimrod of the creek, was behind the pursuers, and was moving with great velocity, when to his utter astonishment, he found that he had forgotten his gun. at this point, a dead silence ensued.  All eyes were eagerly bent upon him,as much to say, 'You deserve not the appellation of Nimrod'.  With faltering steps and quivering limbs, each one marched slowly back into the village, and spent the remainder of the day in discussing the events of the panic. "

Note:  While the term Nimrod is used in the northern U.S. as an insult, I believe that it refers here to a reference in the Bible about Nimrod being a mighty hunter.

I assume that the World's Fair mentioned in the news article is this one, as described in this excerpt from an article in Wikipedia:

"The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official World's Fair in the United States, was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 10 to November 10, 1876, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. It was officially the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was held in Fairmount Park, along the Schuylkill River. The fairgrounds were designed by Herman J. Schwarzmann. About 10 million visitors attended, equivalent to about 20% of the population of the United States at the time." 

I believe that there might have been another fair claiming the title of the World's Fair at the time, but I am not certain.


Monday, March 12, 2012

German POWS worked middle Tennessee farms...

Did you know that during WWII German prisoners were often brought to the U.S. to work on farms and in other endeavors?  Since so many American men were away fighting, there was a dearth of laborers to fill their roles.  Thus, groups of prisoners were often sent to detention camps in Tennessee, from which they could go out to work.

Truly hardcore Nazis who might be disruptive were sent to a special camp in Oklahoma.  Other soldiers were were less likely to make trouble, and some were quite young.  There were some escapes among those who went out to work in middle Tennessee, but no one was harmed.    

According to an article by Jill Garrett, prisoners were paid the same wages as other workers.  However, their wages were paid to the government, who then gave the German prisoners an allowance of 80 cents a day, from which they could spend 10 cents.

Ms. Garret describes some young soldiers, who were assigned to work on the farm of a family named Parks.  They had their first taste of watermelon and loved it.   Some wrote to Mrs. Parks after returning home to Germany.

All of this reminds me of the book and movie, The Magic of Ordinary Days.


Friday, March 9, 2012

The Sky is Falling! (1833 Leonid Meteor Shower)

In 1833, all of North America that lay east of the Rocky Mountains witnessed an unparalleled meteor storm.  According to an article on Wikipedia, estimates place the count of meteors seen as between 100,000 and 200,000 meteors an hour.  These meteors were of a particular type known as Leonids, which have produced prolific showers of meteors at various times in recorded history.

When this spectacular astronomical event occurred in 1833, many people in the U.S. thought that the stars were falling and that the end of the world had come.  To some, it looked like a rain of fire. 

In her book, Hither and Yon, middle Tennessee historian, Jill Garrett, describes how this event affected many people in middle Tennessee.   She cites Nat Jones of the town of Mt. Pleasant, who wrote that few people went to bed that night.  in Columbia, Caroline Nicholson woke from her sleep by "cries of wonder and alarm" and she was terrified to look out the window.

One man in Maury County was reported to have become alarmed that he was about to meet the Lord while being a slaveholder, so he freed his slaves on the spot.  Unfortunately, his repentance did not last, and he rescinded his action when the day came and the world had not ended.  So much for his having had a true change of heart.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

That Jazzy New Coal Oil Lamp

In his memoir as recorded in Hampshire Now and Then, Paul Delk says, "It was at Mr. A. B. Cathey's and Miss Tennessee Smith's wedding supper that the first coal oil lamp was used in this community. People were afraid to get close to it for fear that it might blow up."

Who knew that coal oil lamps took so long to catch on? Who knew that people feared that the lamps might turn into bombs? I might be naive, but I'd think I'd be more concerned about it spilling and starting a fire than I would be about an explosion.

My great-grandparents' wedding took place on September 27, 1859. (I'm not as old as you'd think; it's another story, but there are long generations in the Cathey clan). I'd have thought that such lamps were in common use by then. Apparently, that's not true. In an article by Mary Bellis about lamps and lighting, she states, "In 1859, drilling for petroleum oil began and the kerosene (a petroleum derivative) lamp grew popular, first introduced in 1853 in Germany. Coal and natural gas lamps were also becoming wide-spread. Coal gas was first used as a lighting fuel as early as 1784."

Did you also know that there is a connection between the Aladdin Lamp Company and Nashville? You can read about that here.

How the Smiths or the Catheys came to be among the first to use coal oil lamps in the Hampshire/Cathey's Creek area, I don't know. Of course, it might have been purchased to give an extra special touch to the wedding supper. I'd like to think that the light's glow matched their glowing happiness.

In my novel, A Tree Firmly Planted, I describe the wedding of the fictional Ellen Hamilton and Jonathan Blair. I pictured this sweet scene in the story as being lit by candles.

Here's just a snippet from the wedding:
The blazing candelabras on the mantle of the huge, Italian marble fireplace bathed the moment in a golden radiance. From the corner of her eyes, Ellen saw her parents’ faces shining like lights. Alexander’s beamed brightly, while her mother’s glowed softly.
Ellen thought her heart would stop when she saw Jonathan’s face. His eyes shone with awe and joy as she glided towards him. Jonathan looked so handsome, so gentlemanly in his dove gray watered-silk waistcoat and his darker gray suit. His arm was strong as he took hers, and her hand trembled as his fingers closed around her slender ones.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Both sides of my family have lived in Tennessee for generations. Despite the fact that my parents moved away from Tennessee when they married, and I grew up elsewhere, I have somehow ended up being a repository of Tennessee history. I visited my Tennessee relatives throughout my childhood, and they passed along family and state lore.

Then, wouldn't you know it, life brought my husband and myself, along with our children, to live in Nashville and Memphis. Truly, I didn't see that one coming! But, I love living in the Volunteer State, and I love to share little stories and facts about Tennessee that I've learned along the way.

Additionally, my mother's clan, the Cathey family, is one that is full of amateur genealogists and has been heavily researched. I have lots of family books and papers, which I hope to share with any other Cathey descendants out there. Plus, I may share a few things about the various other branches of my family. I share it partly for my children's sake, but also for anyone else who is interested. Obviously, our family history is bound up in the state's history, along with the histories of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, North Carolina, and Texas, among other places.

Despite being interested in all of this history and in spite of having some fascinating research materials on hand, I'm by no means an expert. So, if you'd like to contribute to this little store of Tennessee or Cathey knowledge, please leave a comment on any post.

You are welcome to use any of this information for personal use, including for elementary or high school assignments or for home school assignments. Since I am not an expert historian, however, I would suggest that you supplement anything you find here with your own research. If you wish to use this material for any other reason, please contact me. I know all you Catheys out there have a lot to contribute!