Crossing the Opening by H. David Wright; David Wright Art – Gallatin, Tennessee www.davidwrightart.com Used with the permission of the artist

Two Centuries Ago

The story of early Arkansas is told in many places across the state. The colonial story is told at Arkansas Post. The story of surveying the new lands of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase originates from a swamp in southeast Arkansas. Little Rock tells of the founding of the capital city in the 1820s.

Now, importantly, the 200-year-old story of settlement in the Eleven Point River Valley is coming into focus. Yeoman farmers, some with a few African American slaves, arrived in this valley prior to 1815.

The lifestyles of these pioneering families were rooted in the 18th century. They transferred the culture of their homelands directly to the new land that was to become Arkansas. They established scattered farmsteads along the river banks. They developed the commerce, roadways, and governance for their valley and, indeed, the territory and later the state.

These frontier men, women, and children from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky were part of family groups inter-connected for generations. Many had opened other eastern frontiers before traveling together to the Eleven Point River Valley. The traditions they transferred to their new homeland were not only seen in the structures they built; they were evident in their material culture and activities of daily life. They did not consider themselves exceptional.

Today there is an aura of near disbelief at the tenacity and strength it took to participate in a group migration to a destination hundreds of miles distant. They had the process of migration down to a science. Once these sturdy pioneering families arrived at their destination they planted a seedbed of agricultural heritage that flourishes yet today.

The families who so generously donated the two territorial log structures to Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, Arkansas are themselves descendants of these families and own land first settled by Rice and Looney. They were aware of the significance of this continuity of ‘connections’ as well as the continuity of land ownership. We realized early that this project was destined to go beyond restoring unique examples of the state’s built culture; it would indeed be a journey that would open, as Dr. Dale Greenawald has said, a window into a society.

From initial stages the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council recognized the potential this project held for revealing one of the state’s earliest settlements of yeoman famers with the small number of their African American slaves. Their support allowed for the multi-disciplinary research team of architects, archeologists, and historians to uncover the story over a five year period from 2006 to 2011. Architects uncovered the story of the built culture as they removed layer upon layer of materials that had covered the log framework of the structures. Archeologists uncovered more of the story buried under the ground. Historians uncovered another perspective through official records.  Each discipline has been dependant on the other in order to present the summary of our discoveries shared here.

The diverse group of historians contributing to the research and interpretation of the early settlement in the Eleven Point River Valley includes living history re-enactors, authors, and artists Gerry and Maria Barker from Frontier Resources, Edmonton, Kentucky.   Although Gerry and Maria have spent years living the early lifestyles they interpret, they hold multiple academic degrees as well as having years of museum management experience. As part of the interpretive effort for REACH, video interviews with Gerry and Maria are used on the website and for site tours.  They can relate from first-hand experience the hardships of a group migration and the effort required to transform a wilderness into productive farms.

RESEARCH FOCUS – Davidson Township 1800 – 1860

The inter-connectedness of the pioneering families coming into the Eleven Point River Valley two hundred years ago made it impossible, and ill-advised, to extricate the Rice and Looney families alone for study.  Although boundaries have changed somewhat over the years, the Rice-Upshaw House and the William Looney Tavern are still located in the same township created in 1818 and named Davidson.  The arrival of the families pre-dates the creation of the township…and that is all part of the story.

 

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