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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Family heritage dating back to the colonial era in the southern Appalachian region

In this excerpt, Harriet Arnow describes her family heritage. Born in Wayne County, Kentucky in 1908, Arnow's ancestry in America extended back to the colonial era. She mentions the names of several prominent family members throughout the southern Appalachian region, but especially Virginia and South Carolina, dating back to the American Revolution. Her description demonstrates her strong familial ties to the region she heralded and dramatized during her later career as a writer.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harriette Arnow, April, 1976. Interview G-0006. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

HARRIETTE ARROW:
I was born in Wayne County, Kentucky. That's the most I can say. It was near Monticello, but the post office, I think it was Coopersville. The government has done away with all those small post offices, so that about all I can say is, I was born in Wayne County in 1908, the daughter of Elias Thomas Simpson and Millie Jane Denney.
MIMI CONWAY:
And could you give me the exact date of your birth?
HARRIETTE ARROW:
July 7, 1908.
MIMI CONWAY:
And can you tell me first a little bit about your mother's family and what her name was before she married and a little bit about her family and her history? Wilton Eckley, Harriette Arnow, 1974, Twayne's United States Authors Series (chronology, selected bibliography, and summary of her life and writings).
HARRIETTE ARROW:
Mama was Mollie Jane Denney. Her father died, leaving her mother-who was Harriette Foster, married James Braxton Denney-a widow with three small children when she was only in her mid-twenties. And my mother, Mollie Jane Denney, was almost five years old. My Grandmother Denney's people (the Fosters), by that date, had already gone to Missouri. As you know, many people migrated from the South long before we heard of the Southern Appalachian migrant. They usually went to Texas, Missouri, Illinois, and Oklahoma. They went there to farm; they didn't turn north to the industrial centers.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did your Grandfather Denney do?
HARRIETTE ARROW:
He had been a teacher. After his death, Grandma Denney's father-in-law, Jackson Denney (that's my mother's paternal grandfather), was most insistent that they come live with him. And my mother grew up more or less in his home. He was then an old man; he'd been born in 1817, and he knew many men who had been in the War of 1812, and a few of the very old. . . . Born thirty-six years after the close of the Revolution, he knew many Revolutionary soldiers.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was one or many of your ancestors also in the Revolutionary War? You talk about a Thomas Merritt, a beautiful description at the beginning of Seedtime.5 Seedtime on the Cumberland.
HARRIETTE ARROW:
Yes, Thomas Merritt was on my father's side. On that side I also had a White and a Shrrell who were in the Revolution. On Mama's side there was a Taylor and Anthony Gholson and a Dick who were in the Revolution. My father's Simpson ancestor was a Tory, so the story goes, but the others were in the Revolution.
MIMI CONWAY:
Do you know when your mother's family first came to this country, where they came, and where they came from?
HARRIETTE ARROW:
That I am not certain of. Somewhere I read that "Captain Joseph Collins, Gentleman, led a party against ye Indians." This happened in Virginia in 1753. But I don't know where the Denneys came from. I think they were Scotch-Irish, but I'm not sure.
MIMI CONWAY:
Is your heritage all Scotch-Irish? You have some French, I think, too.
HARRIETTE ARROW:
Yes, my grandmother's name was Harriette LaGrande Foster. And one side of her family-I've never had much time to spend on genealogy, I mean far back-they, I believe, settled on the Santee River.
MIMI CONWAY:
In Kentucky.
HARRIETTE ARROW:
No, the Santee River is in South Carolina. That was during colonial days, before there was a Kentucky. And she used to tell stories about the people who had lived, as she said, "on the other side of the mountains."
MIMI CONWAY:
And then your father's family, do you know when they came to this country?
HARRIETTE ARROW:
No, I don't. I only know that most were English. I've tried to get past Reuben Simpson-that was his great-great-great-great-grandfather-he's the one who was a Loyalist. So far I've been unable to do so. I haven't spent any time on it. But the story goes that he was living in Virginia. Some of his relatives were for the colonists; others were Loyalists. He didn't want to kill any of them, so left Virginia and went to South Carolina and was living near the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain. You know, Kings Mountain is near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. His ancestors, the Whites, came from England at a very early date. Most of my people were living in the colonies well before there was a Revolution.