39th Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference

I recently learned that my proposal to the 2016 Appalachian Studies Association Conference has been accepted. I have presented at this conference a few times over the past couple of years and it is a thrill every time. I have had the opportunity to read papers in front of academics in the field and to have prominent historians, such as Dr. John Inscoe, critique my papers. Each time I have presented at this conference I learned and evolved as a young scholar looking to finish his masters degree. This year, I amm going to the conference with a paper more personal in nature. I recently began “modernizing” the history of my hometown and county. Specifically, I am looking at antebellum Catoosa County and its relationship with slavery. Here is the proposal I submitted. 

“Graysville: John D. Gray and Industrial Slavery the Northwest Georgia Mountains,” Robert L. Baker

Appalachia is often stereotyped as a people who are backward, poor, and primarily white. The same is true for how many remember the region’s antebellum history. The collective memory of Appalachia before the Civil War is one of mostly white yeoman farmers who were not a part of the deep south slave economy. Despite the work of historians and other notable academics in the field, the region of Appalachia is depicted as largely void of the peculiar institution.

This paper will demonstrate how Catoosa County, a small county in the northwest Georgia mountains, defies the stereotypes of a homogenous white and slaveless Appalachian society. It is true that census records in 1860 reveal Catoosa County to be an area with fewer slaves and less owners than average. However, it will be argued through the use of primary source material and newspaper articles from that era that the census numbers are misleading. By focusing on one of Catoosa County’s many entrepreneurs, John D. Gray, it will be demonstrated that the number of slaves in Catoosa County was higher and that the slaves maintained an important part in this antebellum Appalachia county. Additionally, the focus on Gray will show that slavery played a major role in the area’s emerging and very modern industrial economy.  

I am eager to see what feedback I receive at the conference with this new topic. Additionally, the conference this year is at Shepherd University in Sherpherdstown, WV. It is situated across the Potomac River from Antietam. Needless to say, the entire trip will be a sensory and scholarly pleasure. I cannot wait until March.


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