This question has long flummoxed me: “How can I self-identify as both a Southerner and an American and still find the mindset of fully half of my fellow countrymen utterly incomprehensible?”
Or, to put it more succinctly, “What is wrong with these people?”
I’ve finally found my answer in Colin Woodard’s fascinating and compelling book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. According to Woodard — and his arguments are extremely cogent — North America was … and is less a melting pot than a witch’s brew of fundamentally different and often diametrically opposed cultures that do not often see eye to eye. It turns out I am not alone in my fear and loathing of “those people”. We’re all in the same boat . . . just in different camps.
In a post for the Washington Post, Reid Wilson summarizes, as per Woodard, the three nations that made up the Southern block of the “United” States:
“Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.
“Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”
“Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.”
I decided to poke around in my family’s history with a slighter sharper stick than I have hitherto deployed in order to ascertain what the Hell kind of Southerner I am,
This is what I discovered.
My direct forebear, John Hardy, was born in 1665 in Dorchestershire, England, immigrated to the James River in Virginia and traveled thence to the Albemarle region of North Carolina via the Chowan River, acquiring 640 acres in what is now Bertie County in 1695 and taking up residence on a property known as the Manor Plantation. He owned considerable property besides along Salmon Creek and, contrary to my assertions in an earlier blog post, Ruminations on the Confederacy, that we were Crackers, the family was prominent enough that John’s son of the same name held a number of public offices, including sitting as a Member of the House of Burgesses – the oldest legislative body in North Carolina. My people settled in the Tidewater more than three hundred years ago and stayed put for fifteen generations. I think it’s safe to say that I am a Tidewaterite.
When I asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War, he replied, “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by. They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers. They didn’t own slaves.”
Turns out Pops was being a tad disingenuous. Twenty nine Hardys fought on the Confederate side, we did own a small number of slaves, and we were by no means dirt farmers, even though, over time, large land holdings ceased to be the norm in the Tidewater as fathers divided land between their children.
All this explains why there was always something rather courtly about my grandfather, uncle and father — affable, humorous men with nary a whiff of the downright cussedness typical of the denizens of the Nation of Appalachia or the sanctimonious snake-eyed supremicism that characterizes those of the Deep South.
Slavery is a blot on all Southerners’ escutcheon and, no matter how hard you scrub, it doesn’t come out in the wash. That being said, I’ll take my fellow Tidewater natives Thomas Jefferson and George Washington over Andrew Jackson and George Wallace any day.