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Southern History Series: The Settlement of Trans-Appalachia

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Editor’s Note: This is a work in progress.

I’m studying the conquest and settlement of Greater Appalachia this morning which was won in a series of 18th century conflicts involving France, Britain, the Cherokee, Shawnee and Creek Indians.

The following excerpts come from Richard B. Drake’s book A History of Appalachia:

“Between 1715 and the American Revolution, it is estimated that 250 thousand Scots-Irish made the journey to America. The German migration was nearly as large during approximately the same period. Such a large infusion of peoples could not help but have an immense influence upon the whole of American society and culture during these decades before the American Revolution.”

As we have seen, the English arrived in the 17th century and built the great cultures of Tidewater and the Low Country on the Atlantic Coastal Plain between the coast and the Piedmont while poorer and more middle class English settlers settled in between in coastal North Carolina. The Scots-Irish and Germans arrived later in the early 18th century and between 1715 and the American Revolution poured out of southeastern Pennsylvania and moved southwest into the Great Valley of Virginia.

“The Scots-Irish spoke a dialect in the eighteenth century that was then a version of a dialect “already old by the time of Elizabeth.”The reference to “magnificent Elizabethan swearing”; the love of the “r,” as in fire (far), hair (har), and bear (bar); triphongs and quadrithongs, as “abaout” (for about) and “hairous” (for house); the “hyander” (yonder); the double and triple negative for emphasis (as in Chaucer); and the omission of the “g” in “ing” endings, all attest to the ancient form of English established in the Appalachian Mountains in the late eighteenth century.

The Scotch-Irish provided the language norm for the backcountry dialect. Despite the numbers of Germans in backcountry culture and the remarkable persistence of the German language (Pennsylvania Dutch) in southeastern Pennsylvania, and for a number of years in the Valley of Virginia, the German language was gradually lost as they migrated into the valley sections of Virginia and the mountains beyond. German culture floated on such a vast sea of English speaking that German as a language of communication gradually lost out. But other distinctly German cultural traits came to be part of the Appalachian backcountry culture – such traits as the sectarian tendency in religion, certain characteristic ways of building, and farming practices.”

This “Pennsylvanian” culture was so blended with Germans and Swedes (the log cabin is of Scandinavian and German origin) that there is some dispute as to whether it can be described as Scots-Irish. The important thing is that the German language disappeared over time and the Upland South became more German and Scots-Irish than the Lowland South. This is the proper distinction because Lowland Virginia is overwhelmingly English and is more like the Deep South in that respect.


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