Date of Completion

Spring 5-12-2013

Thesis Advisor(s)

Robert Gross; Micki McElya

Honors Major



United States History


The history of West Virginia is full of stories of surviving in the beautiful but challenging terrain, and of individuals who are innovative, courageous, and independent. But, beyond this positive image of the mountaineer lie many negative stereotypes prolonged by outsiders of the region. Industrialists and corporations eager to exploit the area’s natural resources (from timber to coal to natural gas) have over the years encountered locals who are not willing to change how they live just to maximize company profits. Popular representation have characterized the land and people of Appalachia and West Virginia as backward, lazy, and not quite American like the rest of the country. The goal of this essay is to show how a tradition of telling family stories and keeping family history has been used to combat negative stereotypes that have continued to be relevant to Appalachian identity. Utilizing interviews and narratives from my family (West Virginia citizens who can trace their roots to Morgan Morgan, considered the founder of the state), as well as primary source documents and historical data from the region, this essay illustrates that West Virginia and its people are not, as observed by late 19th century travel writer Will Wallace Harney, “a strange land and a peculiar people.”1 The practice of telling family stories and the continuing relevance of past ancestors and relatives in present day exemplifies the pride that locals of Appalachia and West Virginia have in both their past and present.

1Will Wallace Harney, "A Strange Land and a Peculiar People," Appalachian Images in Folk and Popular Culture, ed. W.K. McNeil (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1989).