Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

This page was created 06 Sep 2008

Tall Tales & Folklore of Scott County

[EDITOR’S NOTE – The following article, researched and written by Scott High School Appalachian Studies Class student Erica Todd, was to have been included as a part of last week’s FNB Chronicle, which was published in conjunction with the Independent Herald. The article was mistakenly omitted, and is printed here in its entirety.]

SHS Appalachian Studies Class

If you have an older family member who likes to tell old tales every once and a while, folklore is probably a familiar part of your life. The elders of our society have tried to keep these age-old stories, which they learned from their parents and grandparents, alive. But most people don’t take the time to appreciate, or try to understand, the significance of the folklore of our ancestors.

The first settlers on the Cumberland Plateau were mostly made up of the Scotch-Irish. The Irish and Scotch-Irish settlers were descendents of the Celts, who inhabited the British Isles around 250 B.C.. The Celtic people had a unique flair for story telling and folklore. That same flair still exists in the stories which are told today. The folklore included the belief in witches, ghosts, premonitions, good and bad omens, and the supernatural. Now, these things are usually only told about in a fictional, joking, way, but back then it was like a religion.

Most of Scott County’s folklore derived from these peoples’ beliefs, such as the belief that if you go into a house and find three lamps burning, there will be a death in the family soon, or that if you let a child swallow three live minnows, it will cure the whopping cough. Some people would read the bible verse Ezekiel 16:6 three times over an open wound to stop the bleeding. Another widely believed superstition is the tale that if you sprinkle the blood of a black chicken on a person with shingles, it will instantly cure it; or the belief that the seventh son of a seventh son could cure the thrush, a contagious disease caused by a fungus that occurs in babies, by flowing [blowing?] into the infant’s mouth. According to the folklore of old Scott County, if you put the brains of a rabbit on a baby’s gums, it will help with teething. Not all of these old remedies are so grotesque, but most of them were practiced at one time.

Early Scott County settlers also believed, and feared, witches. They believed that to become a witch, you could put one hand on top of your head, and the other hand on the bottom of your foot and say, "What’s between these hands belongs to the devil." Folklore told that witches could transform into a hawk and catch chickens; they also believed that witches caused brilliant lights in the night. In order to keep these witches away, one had to keep a bible under his pillow, or sprinkle salt on the ground. Although no one was ever put to death for witchcraft in Tennessee, three people in Fentress County were arrested and tried for practicing "in the diabolical art."

Folklore in Scott County also consisted of the believe in good and bad omens. An omen that was considered good would have been to catch a falling leaf, find a rusty nail, or to dream of clear water. Bad luck would have been to address a letter before you write it, to skip a row while planting corn, or to sneeze before breakfast. Although these may seem ridiculous to us, these beliefs were kept as a way of life and were considered sacred to these Scotch-Irish descendents.

If you had happened to have been getting married during those days of our ancestors, you would have never entered the church with your left foot; it was a sign that you would have an unhappy marriage. You also would never even think of making your own wedding dress, for you wouldn’t live to wear it. Instead, you would have carried salt in your pocket, or you would have worn something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

We should hope to preserve these old customs, which were developed and passed on by the Scotch-Irish. Although statistics show that one in four Americans could claim Scotch-Irish descent, there is not much effort put forth to preserve the Scotch-Irish folklore in Tennessee. These Celtic ancestors left us a legacy, a legacy in cultural wealth, and sacrifice. Indeed, their sacrifices and determination, which was what brought the Scotch-Irish to American in the first place, has been a part of all of our lives. It is in our dialect, our customs, and our beliefs. We can only hope that the people of Scott County will pass on a greater appreciation for our descendents’ folklore. (Source: Independent Herald, 6 Apr 2004, p4)

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This page was created by Timothy N. West and is copyrighted by him. All rights reserved.