Posted: June 19th, 2021
Stretching almost 500 miles through North Carolina and Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains stand like a fortress that conceal some of the oldest settlements of both pre-historic and early European settlement. Much of the 200-year-plus history of Appalachian culture still persists by simply discovering what remnants are left. In 1539, the first European expedition to venture into the Blue Ridge region was led by Span’s Hernando de Soto, as his troops landed near Tampa Bay, Florida, with over six hundred soldiers and some additional men (mostly servants and slaves).
Soto’s expedition headed toward the Appalachian interior with two goals — to find adventure and to discover gold and other precious metals rumored to be in the region. Numerous Native American tribes (most of them Mississippian cultures) resisted the Spaniards’ advance (Olson 1988, p. 3). In May of 1540, Soto’s expedition crossed the Blue Ridge, probably guided by Native American scouts who knew of a well-established trail over the mountains. The expedition passed through the domain of the region’s predominate tribe, the Cherokee, quickly and without difficulty.
The reason behind must be that the tribe had already been decimated by smallpox or other European disease that spread to the Cherokee from coastal tribes, which likely had contracted that disease from earlier European explorers. The Peachtree site within the Cherokee county fits the description of the town of Guasili visited by Soto. The Peachtree site is geographically and topographically more accurately situated for the location of Guasili than either the Nacoochee or Etowah mounds, both of which had previously been considered as the site of Guasili.
At present, this site in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the feasibility of trails is limited, coincides more nearly with the expected situation as described by the chronicles than any other location. However, the significant point in this report is not whether this is the site of the ancient town of Guasili as shows at least one trail of importance which passes the site, while several others are connected to it (Setzler, Jennings & Stewart 1941, p. 9).
However, it was England and France that garnered the political control of eastern North America, as many English settlers avoided exposure to the fighting by moving from the North Carolina and Virginia piedmont onto Cherokee lands in the Carolinas. In reaction, the Cherokee staged a series of attacks on English settlements and fortifications, a situation which came to be known as the Cherokee War. The Cherokee won several of these contests, including one major victory, the capture of Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River in 1760.
In retaliation English soldiers under Major Hugh Waddell in 1761 stormed Cherokee towns along the Little Tennessee River; suffering many casualties, the Cherokee pled for peace (Ehle 1988, p. 51). The English, recognizing that they could not fight the Cherokee and the French at the same time, forged a new alliance with the Cherokee. By 1763, this alliance had defeated the French and their Native American allies.
English monarch King George III rewarded the Cherokee for their loyalty by issuing the Proclamation of 1763, which established a boundary line intended to prevent colonists from venturing onto Cherokee land. As the nineteenth century dawned in the Blue Ridge region with several states was mired in political squabbling over territorial boundaries. By 1800, the border between North Carolina and Virginia had already been surveyed, but North Carolina’s border with the new state of Tennessee.
As a cause of the frequent revision of county lines in the North Carolina Blue Ridge, it prompted the slowing the development of stable and productive county governments. The limited state funds allocated to mountain counties were often rendered ineffective by a lack of competent administration within the counties. For decades after the Revolutionary War, counties in the Blue Ridge region not only were generally underrepresented in state politics, but also received little benefit from the federal government.
Much of the western North Carolina landscape had been destroyed by the Revolutionary War, yet the state government of North Carolina put little effort toward boosting the region’s economy. This was in part because the state’s economy was sluggish, the result of many factors: a lack of harbors, the absence of an effective road system by which to conduct trade within the state, high transportation tariffs, and an over-dependence on agriculture (McPherson 1988, p. 65-71). In the North Carolina General Assembly in 1823, the state allocated funds for a trans-mountain road, the Buncombe Turnpike.
Completed in 1827, this road linked South Carolina with Tennessee, allowing safe wagon transport from Greenville, South Carolina, over the North Carolina Blue Ridge, then through the valley of the French Broad River to Greeneville, Tennessee. A toll road, the Buncombe Turnpike profoundly affected the Blue Ridge communities through which it passed, providing economic relief to an impoverished region. Inns, supply outlets, and wagon-repair shops sprang up in a number of places along the turnpike. Owing to its strategic location along the turnpike, Asheville, North Carolina, grew quickly as a supply center for travelers.
An important tourist attraction also emerged along the turnpike: Warm Springs, later called Hot Springs. The Buncombe Turnpike not only benefited the communities through which it was routed, but also served the nation by providing eastern markets with a steady supply of agricultural products, poultry, and livestock raised to the west of the Blue Ridge (Dunaway 1996, p. 113-115). During the Civil War, no major battles took place in the North Carolina Blue Ridge because political loyalties within the region were sharply divided, countless skirmishes occurred there.
These conflicts were particularly frequent after July 1863, when the Confederate congress elected to position militia throughout the South in an attempt to capture draft evaders, return deserters to their commands, and control marauders who were opportunistically exploiting undermanned southern farms and villages. Confederate soldiers were soon present in the Blue Ridge, causing conflict wherever they encountered Union sympathizers. Thus, when the Civil War ended in 1865, marked the slowdown of political and social turmoil in the Blue Ridge region.
The war had a profound impact on the region, as many people became disgusted at their ruined environment and disillusioned with their government. This is even worsened by the fact that political representation of the Blue Ridge people during Reconstruction was marked by corruption. Only after Reconstruction ended in the mid-1870s did state governments reorganize and actively participate in the economic development of the Blue Ridge. Finally, this improved the conditions in the region, which harnessed the forces of industrialization to come in. References Dunaway, Wilma A.
(1996). The First American Frontier: Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Ehle, John (1988) Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, New York: Anchor Press. McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, New York: Ballantine Books. Olson, T. (1998). Blue Ridge Folklife. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. Setzler, F. M. , Jennings, J. D. , & Stewart, T. D. (1941). Peachtree Mound and Village Site, Cherokee County, North Carolina. Washington, DC
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