The First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860

By Wilma A. Dunaway | Go to book overview

1
THE TRANSITION TO CAPITALISM ON AMERICAN FRONTIERS: TOWARD A PARADIGM SHIFT

Appalachia and the Agrarian Myth

Outsiders have had a long-running love affair with Southern Appalachia. Setting forth at the Gulf of Mexico, the Spaniards undertook three sixteenthcentury expeditions into the inland mountains to search for silver and the "fountain of youth" among the vast indigenous chiefdoms of northern Georgia, western North Carolina, and East Tennessee. Because they believed these ranges to be mineral rich and inhabited by exotic kingdoms, the French and the British were also lured into the southern backcountry, labeling it on their early maps the "Montes Appalatci." Numerous pre-Revolutionary explorations were made into the rugged terrain, and early travel diaries called attention to the region's primeval splendor and geological significance.1

Euro-American settlers on the Atlantic Coast were just as infatuated with this region. The Allegheny-Appalachian mountain systems lay at the back doors of seven of the original colonies, separating the seaboard from the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys (see Map 1.1). Southern Appalachia is the land of the Cumberland Gap, the first western frontier of the United States, and the Watauga Association--all glorified in popular culture as symbols of the American dream of freedom and equality. Imposing mountain sites like Hawk's Nest, the Cyclopean Towers, the Natural Bridge, and the Tallulah Gorge rejuvenated the spirits of antebellum adventurers. Those escaping the summer epidemics of the plantation South sought serenity and "exclusive company" at 134 mineral springs sprinkled throughout the mountains. The persistence of the region's tourist appeal is evidenced by contemporary public funding of forests and recreational areas, like Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smoky Mountains. In fact, federal and

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