Two weeks ago, when I was doing a book-signing at Ferrum College
, I purchased a book from Jean Thomas Schaeffer, who was among the other book-signers. She didn't have a book of her own, though; she had This Pleasant Land: A Blue Ridge History
that her late father, Max S. Thomas, had written.
Because I'm interested in Blue Ridge history, I bought the book. I'm glad I did. Thomas's posthumously published recollection about the Walnut Knob area of Franklin and Floyd counties was a delight.
Thomas's bio, on the back cover, establishes his credential to write the history of his region:
As I read, I loved traveling back in time to learn how the region had changed since it's settlement in the late 1700's. Thomas's research was not based on material dug out of books, but on oral histories from his family and neighbors. From page 1 of the Introduction:
As a kid, I'd get around and make friends with old folks, give 'em a start and they'd tell a lot. All of my grandparents were born in the first half of the 1800s, and they passed on to me, as a boy, information from themselves and from their parents and grandparents—information going back to the time of the 1700s. Some of the first settlers in this part of the Blue Ridge were their grandparents.
Thus begins a book rich in both history and culture of the area. I won't go into all the info in the book—you can see the table of contents on the Harvestwood Press
site. The book is very readable—like having a conversation with Mr. Thomas—and it's a treasure for those of us who love the Blue Ridge. I heartily recommend it.
One delightful surprise (for me, at least) is that Thomas's book answered a question I'd been asking for more than a year: When did mules first appear in the Blue Ridge?
Why was I asking this question? Last March, I reviewed a book
set in the Blue Ridge area in the 1760s—in which a mountain settler owned a mule. Although I liked that book, I was pretty sure that mules weren't in the Blue Ridge that early; after all, they didn't become popular work animals until after George Washington began breeding them in 1785. I was pretty sure that oxen and horses were the only work animal options. But I could never find a reference to when the mule appeared—until I read Thomas's book.
"Chapter 7—The Middle Years (1820-1869)" provided my answer. From the third paragraph on page 19: "There were more farm animals than earlier, and horses were replacing yokes of oxen. Perhaps the biggest change in farming was the introduction of the mule." So the mules came to the Blue Ridge after 1820. Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for answering my question.
This Pleasant Land
is available from Harvestwood Press for $15.95. If you're interested in a copy, e-mail info@HarvestwoodPress.com