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Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Early Settlers of Appalachia - Part IV

Image by, D L Ennis
Part IV – Communities and Status
The absence of highly structured communities and formal social institutions contributed to the evolution of a comparatively open and democratic social order in the mountains. It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century did significant economic differences begin to create conscious class distinctions among mountain residents.

In the rural areas of Appalachia the lack of overt class consciousness was reflected in fervent democratic attitudes. Status, rather than class distinctions, was the most significant social division in traditional mountain society. These status distinctions were functions, not of economics-wealth, land ownership, or access to natural resources-but of the value system of the community itself. In these remote mountain communities, where economic differences were minimal, the measure of social prestige and privilege was based on personality characteristics or age, and family group.

The rural social order was divided not into upper, middle, and lower classes, but the respectable and non-respectable and each local community determined its own criteria for respectability. This status system, of course, tended to break down in the villages and county seat towns where class distinctions were more noticeable. Most social events, such as barn-raisings and other gatherings where a large crowd might be present were commonly attended by all who wished to come, regardless of social or moral status. Thus, their communal ways served to inhibit the growth of a rigid social hierarchy.

A robust constitution in the midst of a rugged environment, where the struggle for existence was so difficult, fostered within these mountain folks determination, an intense spirit of freedom and independence.
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