Sunday, October 14, 2007

Carping Tourist, Pocahontas County, 1821

The October issue of The Pocahontas Times' monthly tourism supplement is finally on the Web. It features an interesting article about Huntersville Traditions Day by Drew Tanner. Published before this year's event, the article describes the ongoing renovation of the old schoolhouse building, and quotes historical notes from a February 1, 1951 article by Pocahontas Times editor Cal Price.

I particularly enjoyed this letter, written by Colonel J. Howe Peyton shortly after the formation of Pocahontas County in 1821. It includes two of my favorite topics: local history of textiles, and insulting accounts of rural people by obnoxious tourists. He boasts of his own palatial slave quarters and condescends toward the dirty backwoodswomen in his letter, so I'm sure his manners made the local folks glad to see the back of him.

"On Tuesday at two o'clock, we arrived at Huntersville, the seat of Justice of Pocahontas County, a place as much out of the world as Crim Tartary. Owing to the bad condition of the roads we were fatigued and bore many marks of travel stain. The so called town of Huntersville consists of two illy-constructed, time worn, (though it is not time which has worn them,) weather beaten cabins built on logs and covered with clapboards. My negro cabins on Jackson's River are palaces in comparison with them.

One of these wretched hovels is the residence of John Bradshaw, the other is called the loom house for these people are self sustaining. They spin and weave. The big wheel and the little wheel are birring in every hut and throwing off the woolen and linen yarn to be worked up for family purposes. The home-spun cloth, too, is stronger and more durable than that brought by our merchants from Northern manufacturers.

In Bradshaw's dwelling, there is a large fireplace which occupies one entire side, the gable end. The chimney is enormous and so short that the room is filled with light which enters this way. It is an ingenious contrivance for letting all the warmth escape through the chimney, whilst most of the smoke is driven back into the chamber. In the chimney corner I prepared my legal papers before a roaring fire, surrounded by rough mountaineers, who were drinking whiskey and as night advanced, growing riotous. In the back part of the room two beds were curtained off with horse blankets--one for the Judge and one for myself. To the left of the fireplace stood old Bradshaw's couch. In the loft, to which they ascended, by means of a ladder, his daughter and the hired woman slept, and at times of a crowd, a wayfarer. The other guests were sent to sleep in the Loom House, in which was suspended in the look a half-woven piece of cloth. Three beds were disposed about the room, which completed its appointments: one was allotted to Sampson Matthews, a second to George Mays and John Brown. The loom was used as a hat rack at night and for sitting on, in the absence of chairs in the day. As there was not a chair or stool beyond those used by the weaving women, my clients roosted on the loom while detailing their troubles and receiving advice.

Bradshaw's table is well supplied. There is profusion, if not prodigality in the rich, lavish bounty of the goodly tavern. We had no venison, as this is a shy season with the deer, but excellent mutton with plenty of apple sauce, peach pie, roasting ears. As a mark of deference and respect to the Court, I presumed, we had a table cloth--they are not often seen on Western tables and when they are, are not innocent of color--and clean sheets upon our beds. This matter of the sheets is no small affair in out of the way places, as it not unfrequently happens that wanderers communicate disease through the bedclothing. Old Bradshaw's family is scrupulously clean which is somewhat remarkable in a region where cleanliness is for the most part on the outside. A false modesty seems to prevent those salutary ablutions which are so necessary to health, and I did not commend myself to the good graces of the hired woman by insisting on my footbath every morning.

We remained five days at Huntersville closely engaged in the business of the Court, which I found profitable. Pocahontas is a fine grazing county, and the support of the people is mainly derived from their flocks of cattle, horses and sheep, which they drive over the mountains to market. There is little money among them except after these excursions, but they have little need of it--every want is supplied by the happy country they possess, and of which they are as fond as the Swiss of their mountains. It is a pretty country, a country of diversified and beautiful scenery in which there is a wealth of verdure and variety which keeps the attention alive and the outward eye delighted."


Geoff said...

This reminds me of one of my favourite insults, from Oscar Wilde on his travels through Newfoundland. He said something like, 'the pristine air of Newfoundland can be attributed to the fact that the people there never open their windows'.

I've wandered over here from Chet Raymo's blog, Rebecca, and I enjoy your mind and diverse interests. I've always been appreciative of folks take an interest in the rich diversity we are and who make things from bits of wool or grass or wicker...


Rebecca Clayton said...

Thank you for the compliment, Geoff, and also for the Oscar Wilde travelogue!