Black history in Appalachia is largely hidden. Many people think that slavery was largely absent in central and southern Appalachia due to the poverty of the Scots-Irish who frequently settled in the area, and who were purportedly more “ruggedly independent” and pro-abolitionist in their sentiments. Others argue that the mountainous land was not appropriate for plantations, unlike other parts of the South, and so slavery in the area was improbable.
As historian John Inscoe and sociologist Wilma Dunaway show us, this is not the case. According to Inscoe, slavery existed in “every county in Appalachia in 1860.” Dunaway—who collected data from county tax lists, census manuscripts, records from slaveholders, and slave narratives from the area—estimates that 18% of Appalachian households owned slaves, which compares to approximately 29% of Southern families, in general.
While enslaved people in the Appalachian region were less likely to work on large plantations, their experiences were no less harsh. They often tended small farms and livestock, worked in manufacturing and commerce, served tourists, and labored in mining industries. Slave narratives, legal documents, and other records all show that slaves in Appalachia were treated harshly and punitively, despite claims that slavery was more “genteel” in the area than the deep South.
My own research, which focuses on the life experiences of Leslie [“Les”] Whittington, whose grandfather was enslaved, helps to document the presence of slavery in Appalachia and the consequences that exploitative system had for African Americans in the region. Les’s grandfather, John Myra, was owned by Joseph Stepp, who lived in Western North Carolina. Census records show that Joseph Stepp owned seven slaves in 1850, five women and two men, who together ranged from one to 32 years of age. Ten years later, in 1860, schedules show Stepp owned 21 slaves, making him one of the wealthiest property owners in Buncombe County, the county in which he and John Myra lived.
Joseph Stepp was not unique. According to Dunaway, slave owners in Appalachia “monopolized a much higher proportion of their communities’ land and wealth” compared to those outside the area, driving wealth inequality in the region. Part of the legacy of slavery, these inequities remained in place after the Civil War, reinforced by Jim Crow legislation that subjugated African Americans socially, culturally, and politically. Sociologist Karida Brown explains how Jim Crow Laws led approximately six million African Americans to migrate from the South to the North between 1910 and 1970.
Those who stayed in Appalachia, such as John Myra and his descendants, faced continued restrictions, like living in racially segregated neighborhoods, having limited employment opportunities, and not being able to attend racially integrated schools. Such systematic forms of discrimination explain why racial disparities continue to exist today, even within a region where poverty among whites remains above the national average. To understand these existing inequities, we must document the past accurately.
Jacqueline Clark, PhD is a professor of sociology at Ripon College. Her teaching and research interests include social inequalities, the sociology of health and illness, and the sociology of jobs and work.
Les Whittington — March 22, 2019
Thank you for bringing our history to light!
https://www.bestbariatricsurgeon.org/laparoscopic-roux-en-y-gastric-bypass-mumbai — March 22, 2019
Thanks for any other wonderful article. The place else could anyone get that type
of information in such a perfect approach of writing?
I've a presentation subsequent week, and I'm on the look for such
Kathy Buckner — March 23, 2019
After searching for genealogical information for many years, I learned how difficult it is to find some details of families due to the lack of some records. A more complete history is necessary to be honest about how our ancestors lived. This is a great illustration of what has been hidden too long.
Wex — March 23, 2019
Being a descendant of John Myra Stepp, it's rewarding to see your work being published and shared with others. Thank you :)
Richard Slatta — March 23, 2019
Thanks for disrupting some comfortable assumptions about southern history. Just as not every southerner in the 1960s was a racist, so no every mountain person was a freeholder, free to the taint of slavery. Not surprisingly, when sociologists do history, we get good social history.
John — March 24, 2019
You are painting with a very broad paint brush. If you wish to examine black history and slavery in the south and Appalachia, you need to make it clear that the two are not the same. Yes there is a lot of overlap. However it is not limited to whites owning blacks. You must also look at the Irish, debtors, Native tribes and groups such as the Melongeons.
Angie Dotson — May 3, 2019
As far back as I can trace, I’m the 8th generation of purely Appalachian heritage on all sides. I’m the 8th generation living in the same western North Carolina county to this very day. Per DNA, I am 13% non-white, traced all the way back to 8 generations ago. We were racially commingling hundreds of years before it was socially acceptable or even legal. I can’t say African people were treated equally, but I can say that we largely lived in peace with Native Americans and African Americans. The proof is in my blood and in my family tree dating back hundreds of years. Segregation was more forced on us, hundreds of years after the racial commingling began. In western NC, many slaves were owned by Native Americans, as opposed to the Scots-Irish. I am only 8% English, per my DNA. I am more non-white than I am English. One of my third great-grandfathers was an African who was openly married to my third great-grandmother. Most Appalachian people are of mixed race to some, or to a large degree dating back hundreds of years, and well-before slavery ended. I would say you should factor in DNA evidence which would disprove a lot of what you’re saying, simply based on the fact that we openly engaged in racial mixing at the same time you claim immensely poor treatment of minorities. I’d say you’re findings are somewhat skewed if you didn’t include dna evidence to the contrary. And maybe African-Appalachian history hasn’t been well-documented on paper, but it’s well-documented in our DNA.
ashton — June 24, 2019
Wow! It is beautiful!
ddfasdsdsd — September 20, 2019
Thsdcasefcdsvdank you so much for this. I was into this issue and tired to tinker arofdsfsdund to check if its possible plex.software but couldnt get it dsfsdfssone. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys
Collin — November 24, 2019
My family lived in Appalachia as I still do today, but most of them were free. They moved back and forth across the Va./NC line at various times, but they were free from the early 1700s and in some cases late 1600s. Two of my ancestors(Sol Sawyer and John Venable) and a few relatives in Surry County NC fought with the Confederacy, one as an actual soldier. Most of them seemed to be racially ambiguous or at the least Mulatto. I suspect that may be the reason that they could not be enslaved legally, due to the laws of descendancy that state that a child born to a Native or White woman could not be made a slave, nor could any of their descendants. Some of my ancestors did descend from Wythe County Virginia's Rachel Findley of the Findley vs Draper case. There were definitely a lot of free colored people in their community though, but there were also some slaves.
Collin — November 24, 2019
BTW, Hi Angie Dotson... in the earlier days of slavery, the Native Americans from the smaller tribes in Va. and the Carolinas were actually ENSLAVED themselves right alongside of Blacks. They don't teach that in history for some reason, but it's in the records. Excerpt from Heinegg... " ACCOMACK COUNTY
pp. 210, 211, 213, 218, 230, 231, 235, 237, ages of a total of ten Indian slaves adjudged.
p.244, December 1699, Indian Roger runaway serve extra time.
p.251, March 1699/1700, Henry Trent brings his servant Nick an East Indian adjudged 11 years old.
pp. 34, 36, Charles Indian was by the Sheriff brought to the Court upon suspition of murdering a white boy named Thomas Pratt ... deneyed the fact ... no one appearing to prosecute discharged paying fees.
28 December 1712, This day Indian Oliver acknowledges himself indebted to John Lecat a large chest buck Skin
p. 10a, 14 April 1715, Sebastian Croper against Long Indian Johney for 140 pds.
p.36a, 28 Oct. 1717, Jonathan Chambers complained that Long James Indian was justly indebted to him.
Orders 1717-9, p.14, 9 July 1718, Matt Indian stands indebted to Griffin Savage Twelve drum fish, 6 days work & 12 armes length roanoak.
Orders 1724-31, p.55, 5 May 1726, This Day Annis a Malato petitioned the Court setting forth that she & her children worked on the plantation of Peter Cornelius decd., by agreement with him ye sd. Peter. She to have half of tobacco & potato made on sd plantation.
Orders 1731-6, p.132, 3 September 1734, An Indian boy named Charlton Son of Betty an Indian Woman is now bound to William Finney to be a shoemaker.
Orders 1744-53, pp.283-4, Presentment of Church Wardens against Isabell a free Negro Woman for having a Bastard child ... George Douglas security. Ordered Sam and Sabra two children of the above named Isabell bound to Adam Miser ... Sam 3 months old ... a shoemaker ... Sabra two years old.
Wills & Deeds 1748-52, p.8, 22 July 1749 inventory of Bernard Gaines:
Sam a Molattoe boy to serve to 31 years of age - 20 pounds
Orders 1737-46, p.276b, 21 July 1744, Ordered the Church Wardens bind out a mulatto girl living with James Akins.
p.277b, 17 August 1744, Ordered the Church Wardens bind out Peter, a boy, and Effie and Ann, girls, children of Sarah a mulatto woman.
p.384a, 16 November 1745, to Harry a free Indian, 1 old wolf, by Wm. Watson.
Orders 1746-51, p.9, 20 June 1746, Ordered the Church wardens bind out Charles, Jemmy, Bobb and Isaac Indian Children to Diborah an Indian woman to Samuel Jordan.
p.95, 20 June 1748, Richard Denn ... for taking up Will a Mulattoe Boy servant belonging to Henry Robertson." http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/free_Indians.htm
Brenette Rundquist — July 25, 2020
I am recently researching my ancestry and came across this article. I appreciate your work. My grandmother Ruth was the youngest daughter of John Myra Stepp.
- BrenettL (Stepp) Rundquist
Alex21Weesly — June 19, 2021
Mitchell Reilly — November 13, 2022
I appreciate your fantastic post. Thank you for sharing this post; it made me pleased to read it slope game. I frequently read the shorter essays and explain the authors' motivations, as I did with this one.
totoguy — December 5, 2022
I'm so glad to see you. I've also written several articles similar to the topic of your article. I found your writing more interesting because you have similar opinions and others don't. I want to use your writing on my blog. Of course, please leave your blog address. 메이저토토사이트
totovi — December 5, 2022
Very useful information shared in this article, well written! I will read your article and use useful tips. I'm looking forward to reading a knowledgeable article. 토토사이트
totoright — December 5, 2022
What a wonderful and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading it. 토토사이트
gamerun — December 6, 2022
Everything is very open and honest, and the challenges are broken down in great detail. The information is without a doubt beneficial to have. Is my website extremely successful in terms of making money? Please take a look at this: stumble guys