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Appalachia: Culture of the First Western Frontier

Early pioneer living in Appalachia.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 460 (approx.)
Labels: Social Aspect  Pioneer 
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For the first one hundred and fifty years of the infancy of this great country, the forefathers of the new foundling nation were content to bask in the new lands that they had obtained on the eastern shores; soon however, the desire for the opportunities of westward expansion burned wildly in the hearts of the new Americans. The culture of the new frontier was as varied as the people that settled it. This new American West comprised much of the land that we now call Appalachia.

Women were pivotal in the creation of the new West. Women shared the hardships of migration, building of new homes, raising and preserving crops, and the grief of leaving families behind and losing children to the disease and dangers of an untamed frontier.

Most of the food the pioneers ate was either grown in the form of crops or hunted from native game. Cornmeal was a dietary staple. and from that cornmeal mush was made or it was baked into cornbread. Pork was a mainstay at many pioneer tables because it was more plentiful than beef. Hogs could roam the land free, foraging off of acorns or native vegetation and did not have to be fed.

The typical dwelling of new pioneer families consisted of logs, the homes being sixteen to twenty feet in length and often no more than sixteen feet wide. Homes of frame, brick, or stone structure were only seen by the more affluent of families, the size of which increased according to the wealth of the family. The interior of the cabin almost universally had a fireplace from which came the only source of warmth, heat for cooking, and very often light. Most pioneer homes did not have windows and if they did they did not have glass. Instead they were covered with shutters, and in winter animal skins were added to keep out the cold. Most often the door of the cabin faced to the south to let in light during the day and to help mark the passage of time by the movement of shadows across the floor. Space restriction dictated that the furnishings were sparse limited to table, chairs, and mattress ticking stuffed with straw or corn shucks. Homes were often shared by extended family members such as grandparents, in-laws, children of siblings, or cousins. The harsh realities of death on the frontier necessitated the taking in of relatives if a family member died.

To assuage the need for socialization, pioneer families often converted necessary chores into recreational outlets by having house raisings, quilting bees, harvests, and corn shuckings. Other social outlets included church meetings and socials.

Pioneer living in Appalachia produced a hardy group of ancestors. We need to remember and appreciate their lives so that we can better understand our beginnings.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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