Appalachia

Southern Boys Trying To Pull South Into 21st (Or At Least The 20th) Century

 

God takes a moment out of his busy schedule to remind everyone in Southern Kentucky that Hell is really, really hot.

After reading Hillbilly Elegy with its Horatio Alger slant on problem solving (just work hard and it will all work out), I started reading more books dealing with Southern, and mostly Appalachian, people to better understand my heritage. As stories posted on this site indicate, my family tree runs mostly through Appalachian America. I normally read books like Albion’s Seed and have preordered What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte since I follow her blog and respect her opinion.

So when I stumbled upon The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark by Trae Crowder, Drew Morgan, Corey Ryan Forrester, I wasn’t sure I would like it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Funny, With A Message

Although I’ve never heard the trio, they do comedy and are successful at it. But fairly deep into the book, I knew they were bona fide southern when one of them mentioned chocolate gravy. The (mostly) Appalachian treat was a staple in my childhood home — it is a sweet chocolate sauce with the consistency of gravy that is poured over biscuits for breakfast.

As the trio would say — it hits.

They set the tone early in the book proudly stating their love of their heritage while at the same time expressing extreme dissatisfaction — and at times hate — for the archaic thinking that has hindered Southern progress. They touch all the subjects one would expect — from religion to WIC payments. The strength of the book is it does, albeit with humor and at time ‘rough’ language, give an outsider a glimpse of the southern mindset.

Rewriting The Constitution

An early section of the book deals with the Bill of Rights, which they flip on its head, calling it the Bill of Wrongs. One amendment deals with the anti-government sentiment which runs deep and strong through the South. This sentiment was so strong during last fall’s election that I finally exited Facebook because in the virtual world, just like real life, most of my Friends were family or community members and I grew very tired of the mindset.

But in the book, I found a common spirit with the trio, who had this to say about the hypocrisy of the anti-government movement.

“If you’re gonna be antigovernment, be consistent. The police are the government. Stop pretending like government overreach is a problem everywhere but in the criminal-justice world. Also, Black Lives Matter.”

For students of American history, especially those wanting to understand how we ended up with the Orange Menace, it’s a book that provides insight from an insider — and as a bonus the reader can enjoy some dry, Southern wit.

Rated 4 out of 5. My only complaint with the book is it’s a bit shallow, but I think that’s the intent of the authors. Despite only hitting the surface on some issues, they still make their point: It’s time to grow up South and be part of a diverse society.

Favorite Anti-Trump Comment Of The Week

Colonel Morris Davis, born in North Carolina, is a retired Air Force Officer and Lawyer — and a huge Trump critic on Twitter. Since he is a critic, thin-skinned 45* blocked him. This has not stopped Davis from going after Trump with a vengeance. This week, when 45* engaged in a distraction tactic by arbitrarily Tweeting that transgenders were banned from the military, Davis called him out saying,

“I served for 25 years and never served with a Trump…pathetic for 5-Deferment @realDonaldTrump to ban anyone with patriotism he lacked.”

And commenting on Trump’s campaign stop at the Boys Scouts a day earlier, Davis said,

Aren’t vanity, narcissism, cruelty, vulgarity, bullying and self-aggrandizement @boyscouts core values? @realDonaldTrump.

Spoken like a true patriot.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Books I have read, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags:

New York Times Bestseller, ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ Mentions My Hometown, Describes Region’s Poverty

My father, far right, with his brothers in Cumberland County, Ky.

My father, far right (holding infant), with his brothers in Cumberland County, Ky.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis is described as one to read to understand the Trump win but, I was drawn to the book for a different reason.

I happened upon a TED Talk by the book’s author, J.D. Vance, about a year ago (The struggles of America’s forgotten working class) and when Vance mentioned he was from Middletown — located about 30 miles south of my home — I decided to read his book. Upon reading it, I discovered that as a grade school student he lived in Preble County (where I live) for a short time.

When I was about nine years old things began to unravel at home. Tired of Papaw’s presence and Mamaw’s constant ‘interference’ Mom and Bob decided to move to Preble County, a sparsely populated piece of Ohio farm country approximately thirty-five miles from Middletown.

The ‘experiment’ in Preble County ends, he says, when his mother overdoses and Vance returns to his grandparents’ home in Middletown.

Shared Lineage

The book has garnered good and negative reviews — and some reviews raise legitimate questions, but as a resident of the region with a similar background, I can relate with much of the story he tells, even if his characters are significantly more colorful than the ones I know. (The volume and type of cursing that exists in the book starkly contrasts with the language I heard growing up, even from the ‘unsaved,’ in my lineage.)

Vance’s lineage is from Jackson, Kentucky, mine is from Cumberland and Clinton County, Kentucky.

His tale is about a hardworking, tenacious and, quite often, self-destructing culture. As Vance unveils a landscape of poor, unrepresented Americans we see a group that does not escape its impoverished past. In southwest Ohio, where much of the story takes place, Kentuckians migrated here during the 1950s-1970s because union jobs offered a better standard of living. The company Vance’s grandfather worked for — AK Steel — actively recruited working-age men from Jackson County and the surrounding area, Vance reports.

By the time Vance is raised, though, the livable wage jobs are mostly gone as unions lost their foothold.

Dysfunction and Hard Times

So, the book is a tell-all about his dysfunctional family and the economic hardship they faced. The story is real and relatable since many people still live that way here.

My qualm with the book is the heavy-handed advise sprinkled throughout, that quite frankly, will not work. He is writing to ‘his people’ telling them government policies won’t change their situation, only they can. As the Jacobin review points out Vance overlooks the reality that systems already in place had, in many ways, locked this demographic into perpetual poverty. As Bob Hutton writes,

It’s a somewhat eccentric but fairly harmless idea. But at no point does Vance suggest that Kentucky and Ohio residents might benefit from higher wages, better health care, or a renewed labor movement… Hillbilly Elegy is misnamed. Elegies are poems dedicated to the dead. The American hillbilly isn’t dead; he’s just poor. The book should have been titled Hillbilly Reprimand, because Vance doesn’t want to mourn the hillbilly — he wants to make him a good worker.

What Is Versus What Could Be

I agree with Hutton. More than 200 years of history has proven this demographic has not found a way to achieve the American Dream. On the whole very few escape the poverty. Their communities have been filled, as Vance points out, with hardcore drug problems, addictions that are nearly impossible to shed (like meth and heroin), something he indirectly proves through the reoccurring theme of his mother’s failures and drug abuse.

As I am seeing in my own community, drug abuse will not resolve itself. It requires government intervention. As I write, in today’s local paper, out of the 21 indictments handed down by the Grand Jury in January, 15 were drug-related. We are a county of 40,000 residents.

‘Hillbillies’ also have few economic opportunities because their job options are often fast food or retail, so even those ‘hard-working’ individuals with multiple jobs will not achieve any upward mobility on those salaries. One 50-something man I recently met from the Middletown area, who had taken on seasonal work, noted that with his new job he was now working about 90 hours a week. Another woman I met stated the temporary job was her third source of income. They were doing their part — working hard — but they were hardly ‘living the dream.’

The real underlying story in Vance’s memoir is he was lucky to make it out. And it is his escape, that points to the real solution. He openly admits the upper echelon of our society have a different set of mores and values and, to become successful, Vance embodies them.

Brain Drain

His story also reveals he is the exception, not the rule. Vance follows the tried-and-true method of upper mobility for most Appalachians. He leaves the region. In his case, he goes to the Silicon Valley where more economic opportunities exist. Most of ‘his people’ do not have that option. They will not become a Yale-educated attorney. Instead, their life and economic choices are significantly more bleak and they will be exploited by the existing economic conditions in their communities.

And, because of their poverty, many will die prematurely.

Rated 4 out of 5: In spite of his ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality, the book does provide a peak inside the mores and values of some Appalachian working poor.

Categories: Appalachia, Books I have read

Mary (Hull) Beaty Pays Unbearable Price During Civil War

-flagsIn the modern era, starting over in one’s 50s usually mean reinventing or redefining a career — or maybe working through a mid-life crisis  — but for Mary (Hull) Beaty, my grandmother from the Civil War era, it was about rebuilding her life after the death of several family members.

When the War of 1861 — as it is called on government documents from the late 1860s — broke out, Mary Beaty, who went by Polly, had no way of knowing the high price she was about to pay.  By the time it was over, it would cost her two sons Andrew Jackson (AJ) and Thomas as well as her son-in-law Andrew Owens and shortly after the War ended, her husband Alexander and an infant grandchild, would also be dead.

The War, and the death of her family members especially her third oldest son Thomas, left Mary destitute and dependent on the charity of others to subsist.

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

As Unionists, Mary and her family had the misfortune of living in northern Tennessee when the War began. This created a deadly situation after the State joined the Confederacy. In the borderland region of the Cumberland Plateau, it essentially put a target on the backs of the Beatys and other Unionists. Gangs, vigilantes and former neighbors turned on each other in what would become one of the bloodiest regions of the conflict. The only other portion of the country where a comparable level of violence and brutality existed was the Missouri-Kansas border.

In these two regions the War became very personal and acts of War were often thinly-veiled murderous acts of revenge and retribution. It was, in a very real sense, a return to the Biblical concept of an ‘eye for an eye.’ Due to the unconventional manner in which the War was fought in the borderland, civilians were subject to attack. These civilians were often women, children or the aged, left to fend for themselves after the males entered military service. Loyalists on both sides of the conflict utilized a ‘no-quarter’ approach to the War. Simply put, if you were captured, you were killed. And some of the murders were grisly, from beheadings to tortured deaths, carried out in front of pleading family members.

But before the War intensified to that level, there was an exit from the region and it is possible that Mary, Alexander and the younger children left. My grandfather’s (Rob Beaty) grandfather, James Knox Polk — later known as Big Jim — would have been about 12 or 13 when all of this was unfolding. Whether or not they left Tennessee is difficult to prove. But in a letter written by Mary’s nephew, Morgan Hull about six months before Morgan and Mary’s sons became POWs in 1863, Morgan notes that Jonathan’s family is in Kentucky (pdf). However this could mean Jonathan’s wife and son.

If the Beatys did move north to Kentucky, it was a matter of practicality and not cowardice as Mary’s husband Alexander, 17 years her senior, crippled by arthritis and closing in on 70, would have most likely found it difficult to protect his family. If they left the area, they probably went to Adair County (Kentucky) to join other Unionists from northern Tennessee. If Alexander and Mary stayed on their homestead, they were undoubtedly protected by Unionist Tinker Dave Beaty.

What is known for certain, is three of Mary’s sons and one son-in-law (Julia Ann’s husband Andrew Owens) enlisted in the Union Army and were mustered in at Somerset, Kentucky on Sept. 28, 1861. They became members of Company B 2nd Regiment of the Tennessee Volunteers. This regiment would see action at Mills Spring and pursue CSA John Hunt Morgan into Ohio before nearly 500 members of Company B were captured near Rogersville, TN in 1863. (Click here to see how they were treated. You can also read John Ransom’s Andersonville Diarya first person account of the ordeal.)

No Stranger To Hard Work

Based on pension records, even before the War broke out Mary was no stranger to a hard life. At the time of Alexander’s death in 1867, a doctor’s affidavit stated Alexander had suffered with ‘crippling’ arthritis for at least 25 years. This meant, Mary and the children tended the farm. But as the children aged, most of this work fell on her third-oldest son, Thomas.

In the 1868 Mother’s Pension application Mary filed, we uncover two facts about Thomas. First the application reaffirms that Thomas financially supported his mother (she states he gave her $10 per month). The application also means Thomas was unmarried and had no children. If he were married or had surviving children, his mother could not receive a pension based on his military service.

Pension Application

Reading the application, you get a sense of how much Mary needs the pension to survive. She is now 56 years old, her husband has been dead for about a year and she has no source of income. It appears she has not had any significant source of money for nearly five years. The only money she brings in is from sewing or knitting jobs. Thomas began financially supported her in 1855 and continued until his capture in 1863. Besides money, Thomas was also supplying labor. He had also been planting and harvesting the crops (oats, wheat and corn) on her 28-acre  farm.

The $8 per month pension was approved.

Death of Her Sons

Although it is difficult to know when Mary learned of her sons’ deaths, the first son to die is her oldest, Andrew Jackson. He dies on Feb. 15, 1864, on Belles Island, roughly three months after being captured. He was about 32. Thomas lasts a few months longer, passing away on May 16 around the age of 28, in the Andersonville, Ga. prison. Their brother-in-law Andrew Owens dies less than a month later on June 9th in Andersonville. He was about 28 years old.

Survivors

Andrew Jackson is survived by his wife, Jane. They had been wed nearly a decade — married on Christmas eve in 1854. Andrew Jackson also left behind two sons, John A., born April 26, 1861 and James, born on Dec. 8, 1863 — a month after his capture. This younger son, though, dies in 1865. One would presume Andrew Jackson never saw this son.

About two year’s after Andrew Jackson’s death,  his widow, Jane, remarries. She is 28 or 29 when she wed William Gunter on July 18, 1866. After’s Andrew’s Owens’ death, July married Creed Garrett.

Life Before The War

In 1860, a year before the War broke out, the Beatys were living in Fentress County. The oldest son, Andrew Jackson, has his own place. According to the Census report, Andrew Jackson, 29, and his wife Jane, 25, have an infant son, John. The report lists Kentucky as Andrew Jackson’s birthplace. Find a Grave lists it as Clinton County, Ky. which should be correct since his father, Alexander, owned land in Clinton County.

1850 Census Records

Just 10 years before the War, Mary and her family are living in Overton County, TN. She is listed as 40 years old (she may be slightly younger since she appears to be born in 1811 or 1812 (North Carolina)). Her husband was 57. The household consisted of the couple’s three teenage children:

  • 17-year-old Jonathan
  • 15-year-old Thomas
  • 13 year-old Rachel

And the younger children:

  • 10-year-old July — or Julie Ann
  • 8-year-old John T.
  • 4-year-old James Knox Polk (my grandfather’s grandfather)
  • 2-year-old Lewis

The only one not listed in her household is her oldest son Andrew Jackson., who, at 19, is one his own.

The Final Decade

According to the 1870 Overton County Census, Mary Beaty’s household consists of Mary, her oldest daughter Rachel, 31, and her youngest son, Lewis C., 19. The son that is in my direct line, James Knox Polk Beaty (Big Jim) and his wife Elizabeth (Garrett) Beaty — both 23, also live in Overton County. Their son John is two months olds.

Both households list farming as their occupation.

In 1881, Mary passes away. According to FamilySearch.org she is buried in Allardt Cemetery in Fentress County, TN.

Timeline

Since there are a lot of names and dates in this post, here’s a barebones timeline:

  • 1850s: All of the Alexander and Mary Beaty family, except Andrew Jackson, are living under one roof in Overton County. At 19, Andrew Jackson is on his own.
  • 1860s: Two households still exists, but now everyone is in Fentress County. Alexander and Mary’s with all of the children at home except Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson’s household includes his wife Jane (Ragan/Reagan) and infant son John.
  • 1861: War breaks out. Tennessee secedes from the Union. Near the end of September, Mary’s three oldest sons — Andrew Jackson, Jonathan and Thomas, as well as her son-in-law, Andrew Owens (July’s husband), enlist to serve with Company B.
  • 1863: A little more than two  years after enlisting, at least three of the four men are captured by the CSA (uncertain if Jonathan is captured).
  • 1864: Two sons, Andrew Jackson and Thomas, as well as son-in-law, Andrew Owens, die as POWs.
  • 1865: Early in the year, Mary’s grandson — Andrew Jackson’s infant boy (James) — dies.
  • 1866: Andrew Jackson’s widow remarries.
  • 1867: Mary’s husband, Alexander dies.
  • 1868: Near the end of the year, October through December, Mary applies for — and receives — a military pension based on Thomas’ years of service.
  • 1870: Mary Beaty — and my direct forefather, James, are living in Overton County in separate households. Mary’s household consists of her oldest daughter and her youngest son. The household of James Knox Polk and Elizabeth includes a child.
  • 1880: James, now known as Big Jim, and Elizabeth live in Fentress County.
  • 1881: Mary Beaty dies.

Mary Hull Beaty’s Family Tree

Based on the research conducted by Jack Masters and presented in his book Smith, Bowers, Hull & Beaty Family History, Mary’s lineage looks like this (just the males are included in the chart I am referencing — found on page 12 of the book):

  • Joseph Hull born in England, 1596
    • Samuel Hull, born in New Jersey, 1649
      • Samuel Hull, born in New Jersey, 1678
        • Samuel Hull born in New Jersey, 1703
          • Moses Hull, born in New Jersey, 1729
            • Moses Hull, born in New Jersey, about 1751
              • Josephus Hull, born in North Carolina about 1772
                • Mary (Polly) Hull

The Rest of The Story (I feel like someone else used that phrase)

This is the year of death for Mary’s children:

  • AJ (Virginia) and Thomas (Georgia) die in 1864.
  • Jonathan dies in 1907 in Fentress County.
  • July died in 1912.
  • My grandfather of the era, Big Jim, passed away in 1920.
  • Louis, the youngest, dies in 1916.
  • Uncertain when Rachel and John died.

Cordell Hull Connection?

Mary (Polly) is the daughter of Moses Hull and Elizabeth Crockett and is possibly a relative of Cordell Hull since he was born in Olympus, TN. Cordell was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations and is the longest serving Secretary of State in U.S. history. On her Civil War Widow Pension application, Mary lists Olympus, TN as her mailing address. Since Cordell was one of five sons, Mary can’t be a sibling, but it is possible they were cousins. At some point I intend to research the connection, if there is one.

Categories: American History, Appalachia, Civil War History, Cumberland Plateau, Family History, Genealogy | Tags: , , ,