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Fisher's River
(North Carolina)
Scenes and Characters (1859)

  
 

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I. -- DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY.

The scenes and stories found in this work were encacted and told between the years 1820 and 1829.  Some description of the wonderful country where such striking scenes were acted and such marvelous stories were told, and of the men who figured prominently in them, is imperatively demanded.  I frankly confess, however, that I am utterly incapable of doing the subjects ample justice.  But an effort must be made; apologies will not do; so I address myself to the important and mighty task, and hope that the united world will return me a vote of thanks for rescuing from Oblivion's fell grasp such important items in the history of our country.

Surry County is one of the northwestern counties of North Carolina, and joins Grayson, Carroll, and Patrick counties, Virginia.  These scenes are laid in the extreme northwestern part of this county.  It is a romantic section, and produces a people equally romantic.  The highest part of the majestic Blue Ridge, a branch of the great Alleghany, stands in bold view, overlooking the whole country.  From its base flow many crystal streams as cold as ice-water can be made in southern cities.  Some of them are dignified with the name of "river."  Thus there are "Mitchell's River," "Big Fisher's River," and "Little Fisher's River;" and of creeks there are "Stewart's Creek," "Ring's Creek," "Beaver Dam Creek," and so forth.  All these streams, with branches and springs constantly pouring into them, after running a short and swift course, precipitate themselves into the pure, clear, and rapid Yadkin.  Near the foot of the Blue Ridge, on its spurs and ridges, and on those rivers and creeks, lived the heroes whose wondrous feats and stories are recorded in the following pages.

But "Shipp's Muster-Ground," on Ring's Creek, lying between Big Fisher's and Little Fisher's Rivers, being the common centre of rendezvous for the whole country, I choose to call my work "Fisher's River Scenes and Characters."  These two rivers took their names from the loftiest peak of the Blue Ridge chain of the Alleghany, called "Fisher's Peak."  It is a peak of overwhelming beauty and grandeur.  It was named after Colonel Daniel Fisher, who ran the line between Virginia and North Carolina to the top of this peak.  The line crosses this lofty point near its centre.  The tradition of the country says---and I suppose it is correct---that, Mr. Fisher being a fleshy man, the ascent of the mountain overcame him; he fell sick, died, and was buried on its height.

From the top of Fisher's Peak one has an unsurpassed view, east, west, north, and south, of mountain piled upon mountain, lifting their heads high in the immense blue horizon far as the eye can take in an object, strengthened and assisted by the clear and pure atmosphere of that elevated region.  If heathen mythology were true, this might have been the place where giants piled mountain upon mountain to scale the walls of heaven.  Then "knobs" of lesser size more modestly lift up their heads to aid and swell the grand variety, while hills and ridges assist the spectator to gradually descend to small valleys, river and creek bottoms, where now and then may be seen small farms, cabins, and houses.  But the view is indescribably grand, and I shall attempt no farther description of it.  One must see it to realize its grandeur.

Near the base of the mountain, and a few miles east, south, and southwest of it, lived a healthy, hardy, honest, uneducated set of pioneers, unlike, in many respects, any set of pioneers that ever peopled any other portion of the Lord's globe.  They came mostly from Virginia, and a portion of them from the middle and lower parts of North Carolina, and a few from other sections---a sufficient number from all parts to make a singular and pleasing variety.  The emigrants from Virginia furnished exceptions to the general claims of Virginians, most of whom claim to belong to the "first-families;" but it was honor enough for them that they came from "Fudginny."  This section was settled between the years 1770 and 1780.  They had stirring times during the Revolution.  The early settlers were pretty equally divided between Whigs and Tories.  A majority were probably Tories, but the Whigs, headed by a few daring spirits, held the Tories in check, and drove them to the mountain fastnesses.  Many thrilling incidents could be narrated, but that is not my business in these sketches.  Well do I remember hearing the old soldiers of the Revolution tantalize the Tories and their descendants.

A large portion of these early settlers were wholly uneducated, and the rest of them had but a rude and imperfect rudimental education.  Each settler brought with him the rustic vernacular of his native section, and held on to it with great tenacity, thus making a common stock of the richest unwritten rustic literature that ever graced any community.  They had no use for grammar nor for grammarians; they had no dictionaries; what few literary questions arose among them were decided by Meshack Franklin, for he was the only well-educated man in the community, and had been to Congress.  Jesse Franklin, for several years United States Senator, and afterward Governor of North Carolina lived and died here.  For his opportunities, he was the greatest man North Carolina has ever produced.  But with most of the people a rifle, shot-pouch, butcher-knife, and an article they dubbed "knock-'em-stiff" were of vastly more importance than "larnin';" while the younger ones preferred the wound of the "fiddle," a "seven-handed reel," and "Old Sister Phebe" to a log-pole schoolhouse.  Yet, for all this, they were a clever folk, and one raised among them, who knows their worth every way, has ventured to record some few of their deeds of daring.

It is emphatically a "poor man's country."  There is but little good land in it.  All the valuable land lies on the small rivers and creeks, in very narrow bottoms.  No rich man will ever be tempted to live there.  But notwithstanding their long, cold winters and poor lands, the inhabitants, by hard labor and by the most rigid economy, live well.  All extravagance, however, is necessarily excluded, and the people make the greater part of the own apparel, material and all.  Money is very scarce, and corrupting fashions seldom reach them.  That is one place where Paris, London, and Broadway seldom reach.  I visited them in 1857, and found "sacks" and "joseys" in full fashion.

But the reader is tired, I fear, of this prelude, if he has read it at all.  A long introduction to a book is treated as unceremoniously as a long grace at table when men are hungry.  It is like a green field to a starving horse when the fence is sorry.  But what has been said is essential to what follows, and if I have erred it has been in being too brief.

 

 

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