Category Archives: Genealogy

Viva the Tidewater!

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodward in his book, North American Nations.

A map depicting the various American Nations identified by Colin Woodard in his book, North American Nations.

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.

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County -- the before shot

Hardy Family Home in Bertie County

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.


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The Angel Moroni and Joseph Smith

The Angel Moroni and Joseph Smith

My father had a ginormous number of cousins – his father had come from a family of thirteen and his mother from a family of ten.  One of these was Cousin Faye, who converted to Mormonism when she married her husband Gil.  I’ve always found religion of any description intriguing, so, when I was thirteen and Cousin Faye came for a visit, I let her try and convert me, thereby earning the thanks of a grateful family. They retired to the living room to drink and otherwise blaspheme, while a woefully decaffeinated Faye and I stayed behind in the family room, poring over the Book of Mormon, which I found secretly hilarious.  For starters, there’s the name of the angel who served as God’s emissary — Moroni.  What kid wouldn’t find that funny?

Back in those days, Mormons were the great genealogists.  One of the core tenets of that creed is that the dead can be baptized by proxy into the faith post mortem – this solves the messy problem of what to do about all those unlucky ancestors who happened to be born before Moroni clued Joseph Smith in on the location of the  Golden Tablets or who otherwise didn’t get the memo.  To do this, however, the Mormons had to determine just who those hapless relatives were.  I mean, you couldn’t let just anybody in.  Hence the great Mormon genealogical project.  And they meant business.  The original records, preserved on over 2 million rolls of microfilm containing 2 billion names, are locked away behind fourteen-tonne doors in the Granite Mountain Records Vault, a climate-controlled depository designed to withstand a nuclear attack.  Think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Only in Utah.

Thanks to Faye’s considerable efforts to trace our family as far back as Mormonly possible, we have a family tree that goes all the way back to 1605 and one Anthony Hardy. It was his son John who first came to the New World, settling initially on the James River in Virginia before hauling up stakes and moving to Chowan in Bertie County, North Carolina, where the family was to occupy property demarcated by such landmarks as “the middle swamp”, the “rooty branch” and “the Great Beaverdam” for the next two hundred plus years.

Plaque on the Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer

Plaque on the Jerusalem Lutheran Church at Ebenezer

My mother’s family also traced the Zant and Loving families (her father’s people) back to their European roots, only without any help from Mormons.  I have in my possession a much faded mimeographed copy of that family tree.  What is new and kind of amazing is how the Internet allows us to fill in some of the blanks as to who those people were.  For my last blog post – Ruminations on the Confederacy —  I noted that my great – times six – grandfather Solomon Zant married Elizabetha Keiffer in 1767 in the town of Ebenezer in Effingham County in Georgia.  I googled ‘Ebenezer’ and found that it was established in 1734 by 150 Protestants expelled as heretics from the Catholic Archbishopric of Saltzburg – they envisioned it as a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, a fanciful notion if ever there was one.   Construction of  the town’s Jerusalem Lutheran Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began in the year of Solomon and Elizabeth’s marriage.  As it turns out, both Soloman’s mother and his wife were from Saltzburg. Wowza! My ancestors were religious refugees and wannabe Utopians.  I did not know that.

Ultimately Cousin Faye not only baptized by proxy some thirteen plus generations of Hardys, but also sealed them in celestial marriage for eternity to their respective spouses.  This upset my older brother no end; he saw it as tantamount to tying cats up in a bag, only forever – in his case, this would prove to be a number of cats.  Did her Mormon magic work?  I hope not, because 1) the idea of a non-alcoholic Heaven isn’t my idea of a Hardy Family Reunion and 2) if I’m to be sealed for eternity, I much prefer my second husband to that other one.

Cousin Faye, the Angel Moroni and the Saltzburgers