Weaving the Past

l to r, Edith Weaver MEA wife of Daniel Pettiford, Lynn Weaver, and Morticia Weaver, enhanced

l to r, Edith Weaver, wife of Daniel Pettiford; Lynn Weaver; Morticia Weaver


Someone recently left a comment under another BWWW blog, in which I mentioned some of the non-European ancestors of a popular country music artist who is widely perceived as “white”.

The person commenting suggested that the use of comparative DNA analysis and genealogy by this blog and podcast to highlight non-European ancestry might be causing confusion, because using “white” society’s historical methods for assigning ethnicity via “blood quantum” and ancestry does not place adequate focus on “culture” as the central determiner of identity.

The most important thing to say here is that this blog and podcast NEVER presumes to assign an ethnic identity to anyone; and certainly not on the basis of ancestral lineage or DNA.

While genealogy and DNA cannot tell us who we are TODAY, they CAN tell us something about who our ancestors were or were not IN THE PAST.

It is absolutely true that our present identity is (or should be) built mostly from our lived culture, not our DNA.

But a problem arises when people try to ascribe certain aspects of their current lived culture to particular historical ethnic groups, in order to bolster a particular historical myth or worldview.

The most egregious example of this is when people identify as “white”, and then go on to claim for this caste identity virtually every notable American achievement.

Doing this allows them to express pride in their “race”.  By extension, “pride in being American” and “American exceptionalism” become bound-up with this so-called “high-achieving race”.

Another regional example of this is the widespread claiming of “Scots-Irish” identity among Appalachians, with a self-reinforcing virtuous circle in which people claim that identity, look around at how their community lives, and then say “This is Scots-Irish culture”, and thus “Scots-Irish culture = Appalachian culture”.

I have written elsewhere about how this identity came to be the “go-to” ethnic identity for multi-ethnic Appalachians who stood to lose almost everything if they did not fall into the right category within the American racial caste system.

Just because a group of people have come to repeat a falsehood again and again does not make it harmless.

If we throw our hands in the air and agree to cede this territory, and allow “white” and “Scots-Irish” to become the blanket terms describing Southern Appalachian culture and ethnicity, then we cede true history itself, and agree to live a mythology.

The truth and lived experience of millions of people becomes null, void, extinct.

I am sharing a short extract from a memoir written in the 1920s by an old man named Thomas Weaver.

These sorts of memoirs are scarce as hen’s teeth.  Most underclass rural Americans at the time had little access to education and were thus largely illiterate.  If they were free people of color, this counted doubly.

Thomas Weaver was born in the North Carolina Piedmont.  His family pioneered and settled in Indiana during the 1840s.

The Weavers might have gone down in history as simply another family with an Anglo- or Anglicised German-American (Weber) surname, taking the trail west like thousands of others.

From their movements and locations, some might even have suggested or presumed they were “Scots-Irish”.

But thanks to genealogical and historical records, along with DNA data and the great good fortune of his rare literacy, we learn some astonishing things.

He himself states that he was “…of largely Indian extraction of the Cherokee tribe of North Carolina”.

It is unclear whether “largely Indian” meant that he was aware or unaware of his other ancestry, which appears to have included South Asian people brought into the Carolinas as labourers during the 1600s and 1700s.

At any rate, as a person of color along the American frontier who narrowly escaped death and being captured and sold into slavery, his is an extraordinary story, and a very American story.




“…The writer of this memoranda was born in Guilford County. North Carolina, February 17, 1841, and my father and Mother started to Indiana, September 28, 1846. The first thing that happened after we had been only three days on the road, I, with another little boy, were stolen. The mode of theft was by enticing us into a shop by showing us bright, new tin cups, something we had never seen before. It took all the afternoon to find us. Had it not been for a kind lady that saw the man take us into his Shop they never would have found us, and I can now say, thank God for the lady, as she gave the snap away. She saved us from Being taken away that night and being sold.

Well, we traveled on for about a week without anything transpiring, crossing several rivers the names of which I do not remember. My faithful little dog Ut his name, traveled with us about three days, and as he did not like to travel he turned and went back to his old home. At one time he saved my life, when I had rambled off into the weeds and laid down to sleep, by killing snakes until he was bloody all over. When he got time he ran to the house and mother saw what had happened to save my life; he had killed some fifteen or twenty snakes and how they came there I will never tell.

We will now go on as we are about four days on the road, and A very serious thing happened just after we had crossed a river by Ferry boat. A man was chopping wood a little ways from the ferry, and he came down to our wagon train and demanded Hardy Evans to show his free papers, to which Hardy objected, and without further words he struck Hardy on the cheek with the pole of his axe and smashed his cheek bone into his mouth and throat, a happening that caused us to have to stop there one week, and if the people had Caught him that afternoon they would certainly have killed him. Well, when Hardy got so he could travel, we started on our journey again.

This being the third week we had now reached the summit of the Blue Ridge mountains, at Wytheville. We then came down the Mountains until we reached the Kanawa river valley, and the next day we crossed the river, by ferry boat, and you may guess how afraid I was to get on that boat. After we had crossed the river and traveled a short distance, we came to the Kanawa Salt Works, and oh, what a sight it was, to both old and young. They were hauling salt in very large kettles, and hauling it around like gravel. We passed this place and the slogan was, “On to Point Pleasant.” But we had to yet cross the Gauley mountains and Gauley river, over which is the natural bridge. When we arrived there we children soon discovered something which to us was wounderful. We would throw stones over the precipice and when they would strike the bottom the echo would sound back and oh, how curious it was to us. But this fun was all broken up when out mothers came up. They caught us up by the nape of the neck, or any old way as for that matter, and threw us right and left out into the middle of the road, and made us get away from there in a hurry.

Now on to Point Pleasant. We arrived there about the close of the third week on the road. Agnin here were ferry boats, steam boats, horse boats, row boats, and pole boats, but our fathers chose the steam boat, and they in a very short time landed us in old Ohio. now the slogan changed to “On to Chillicothe,” where we will drink plenty of coffee.

Oh now we had traveled all these miles together, but now had come to the parting. Uncle Jim Pulley left us and went to Cincinnati, and in a few more days we all would be separated…”




#beforewewerewhite #southasianamerican #americanfrontier


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