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!