Migration Patterns of Jackson County People

by Larry Crawford

[Webmaster's Note: Thanks to JCGS Member Larry Crawford for this interesting and informative article. Wherever a county or state name is mentioned, I have inserted a link to the appropriate USGenWeb resource.]

The area we know today as Jackson County was inhabited by Cherokee Indians prior to treaties with white settlers, but we are fortunate in that Jackson County remains even today part of the home of the Qualla Boundary, the reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. As for white settlement of the area, any words we could say here would be superfluous after the subject was treated in scholarly historical fashion by H. Tyler Blethen and Curtis W. Wood in The History of Jackson County (1987, Jackson County Historical Association, Max R. Williams, Ed., ch. 3 "The Pioneer Experience to 1851" pp. 67 - 96.). Suffice to say that Caney Fork and Scotts Creek were settled very early, some parts prior to 1800, and as various treaties with the Cherokees opened the way, white settlement poured in over all of the area we now call Jackson County.

Some families and parts of families would put down their roots here. But families were very large, by today's standards, and parts of these families would push on west, always in search of more and better land and better opportunity for their families. In each place they stopped, a few would stay, be buried there, and create another genealogical crossroads for those persons who decide to try to search their families backward along migration routes. We must remember also that Jackson County was another of those stops for Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina families, and eventually our search takes us to those states, along with a few others, before we can jump the Atlantic to Ulster Ireland, England, Wales, the German Palatinate, and lowland Scotland, just to name a few.

By the time Jackson County was formed in 1851, the extended families of her people already lived in north Georgia and eastern Tennessee, along with the North Carolina counties found west of Jackson. The 1850 census of Union County, Georgia, for example, is dotted with the brothers and sisters of persons who would be enumerated in the 1850 census of Haywood and Macon counties, from which Jackson was formed. Some of the other north Georgia counties of which this would be true would be Rabun, White, Towns, Fannin, and Gilmer. Eastern Tennessee would show the same patterns, in such counties as Blount, Monroe, McMinn, Polk, and Bradley. The western counties of Swain, Graham, Clay, and Cherokee (formed nine years before Jackson) in North Carolina also held their share of Haywood, Macon, and thus Jackson County people. This pattern is interesting in that all of these three locales were geographically close enough so that persons seemed to move back and forth at will between, for example, Towns County, Georgia, Monroe County, Tennessee, and Jackson County.

As the nineteenth century progressed, of course a few Jackson County families made their way to other parts of the United States. But in the 1880's, a significant out-migration could be observed to especially Arkansas, Colorado, and Idaho. Again, the primary focus or motivation of those folks leaving this area of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and north Georgia would be land. Some families also went to Texas, some to Oklahoma, some to Missouri, a few to other states. The difference in this migration would be that these folks could not just take a week or so in the fall when the crops were laid by and come back to Jackson County to visit. Some undoubtedly never saw the Tuckaseigee River again.

By the turn of the century and for the first two decades of the twentieth, a different kind of working the land drew families from Jackson. The timber industry in the Pacific Northwest led to families moving there in great numbers. The Jackson Countians knew the woods, and they could make more money there than they could possibly hope to see at home. Few of us whose roots are deep in the nineteenth century of Jackson County could say that we don't have relatives living in Washington and Oregon. Some of the towns there, such as Darrington and Sedro-Woolley in Washington, have so many Jackson Countians in their populations that our people still go there with regularity to visit their "folks." This migration would continue, with ebb and flow, all the way into the 1950's. The Jackson County Genealogical Society has a significant number of members and correspondents in this area. [Web: Also Skagit County]

Also beginning in the early nineteen hundreds, but reaching its pinnacle in the late 20's and the 30's, would be the movement of families to piedmont towns in North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. The reason is a simple economic one. Mills, especially textile factories, but with some other jobs included, offered a regular wage that was simply not available at home. Families moved in large numbers to such towns as Gastonia, Morganton, and Greenville [SC] (and its area) to take advantage of those wages.

Another large magnet for Jackson County families was exercising its power by World War I, and this would only increase through the next four decades. Also not tied to the land, this migration led workers to the Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton area of Virginia. Many families still make their ways back and forth to and from these areas to Jackson County today, even though economies there have diversified just as they have at home. Mention should be made here also of the appeal of Detroit, with its automobile industry giving workers yet another economic opportunity. Likewise the other large cities of the midwest, but the movement from here was certainly nothing like the migrations from West Virginia and Kentucky to those places.

By the close of the 1950's, these patterns can no longer be discerned. Society became so much more mobile after World War II that persons could generally go where they saw opportunity. (This had always been true of one tiny part of Jackson County's population...those with adequate means to educate their children. Those children in turn had far greater choices than the great majority of the population.) The distinctions brought about by money, or the lack of it, began to blur as more and more Jackson Countians were able to have the kinds of consumer goods enjoyed by others and the opportunity for education and other advancements. Even today, however, economic opportunity is limited here, and most of our young people will eventually settle somewhere else. The difference in 1998 and 1908 is that those young people might be in Florida or New York or California or anywhere else that appeals to them, and it would be impossible to detect any kind of pattern.

All three races have been affected by these patterns. Perhaps the Cherokee would appear to be less - affected than whites or blacks, but economic opportunity is colorblind. Blacks saw jobs, as well as a chance to live in a less racist society, as reasons to move to northern cities. Although our black population has always been quite small percentage-wise here, there is no reason to assume that their patterns were motivated any differently than those of their race in the deeper South. Cherokee culture is enjoying a popularity now beyond that of the tourist industry as more people learn true respect for their fellow man. And the Jackson County Genealogical Society is convinced that persons of any race or culture have the right to know not only who they are, but where they came from, who their "folks" were, and how they fit into American society as a whole. Only by careful study of all of these patterns will that knowledge be complete.

Comments to the Author: Larry Crawford, c/o Jackson County Genealogical Society, PO Box 2108, Cullowhee, NC 28723.

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