Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Nineteenth-Century Ceramics and Consumer Behavior among the "Mountain Folk" of the Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Nineteenth-Century Ceramics and Consumer Behavior among the "Mountain Folk" of the Upper Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

Article excerpt

In 1880, English author Thomas Hughes established the utopian colony of Rugby, Tennessee for England's "second-sons." When the colony opened, a number of young gentry men traveled from England to Rugby, along with several middle- and upper-class English families. The Rugby colonists, as they referred to themselves, constructed a number of houses, along with public buildings and businesses, including a library, church, school, hotel, print shop, and general store. After a few prosperous years, the colony declined and by 1890, only a handful of English families remained (Brachey and Brachey 1987; Dickinson 1993; Egerton 1977; McGehee 1998; Owsley 1968; Stagg 1973; Wichmann 1963).

These English colonists, however, were not the first white settlers into this area of Tennessee's Upper Cumberland Plateau. Settlement began in force during the 1820s and steadily increased throughout the subsequent decades. These settlers, referred to locally as the "mountain folk" or more regionally as the "plain folk" (Owsley 1969), were primarily white, middle-class farmers. The Massengale family was one of the earliest families to settle the area that later became Rugby. In 2002, archaeological excavations took place at their ca. 1860 home site (40MO146) in order to aid Historic Rugby, Inc. with interpretations for a planned nature trail to the site (Pyszka 2003, 2011). Opened in 2010, the Massengale Homeplace Trail includes an informational kiosk at the site, which discusses the findings from archaeological excavations and the lifeways of the Massengales and other area residents.

This present study compares the Massengale's ceramic assemblage to those of four nearby, contemporary domestic sites (Figure 1). Three of these sites - the Old Tackett Place (40ST210), Mason's Gold (40ST211), and Jake's Place (40PT6) - are located north of Rugby in what is now the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area, more commonly referred to as the Big South Fork (BSF). Similar to the Massengales, these three sites represent Appalachian farming families. Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) staff, under the direction of Prentice, conducted archaeological and historical research at these three sites (Prentice 1999). The fourth site, Uffington House, was the Rugby residence of Margaret and Emily Hughes, the mother and niece of Rugby's founder, and later, other affluent families. Avery (2001) directed research at Uffington House. The results of this comparison provide an overview of the affordability and availability of ceramics in this relatively remote region, as well as a discussion of the variety of factors that influenced consumer behavior and the selection of ceramics. Additionally, this study joins others in presenting information that contradicts stereotypical images of Appalachian people as courageous frontiersmen, typically of Scots-Irish descent, or as poverty-stricken, backwoods people living in log cabins cut off from civilization (Dunaway 1996; Groover 2003; Horning 2002; Howell 1981; Jones 1989; McNeill 1989; Walls 1976; Walls and Billings 1977).

Ceramics are the focus of this study for a number of reasons. Their extensive use throughout the historic period means that archaeologists recover them from nearly every site and usually in large numbers. Because they are so widespread, archaeologists also use ceramics to research the effects of globalization and capitalism, as well as the transportation networks that moved them throughout the world. Due to changing technology and the immense variety of decorative styles, ceramics are one of the best indicators of a site's date of occupation. As ceramics have recorded monetary value, they can serve as an indicator of socioeconomic status. Additionally, because ceramics are associated very closely with the storage, preparation, and consumption of food, they provide information about one of our most basic activities. Although an analysis of container glass, specifically of vessel forms, also could address many of these topics and perhaps offer a better understanding of consumer behavior, such a study was not possible at the Massengale site. …

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