The Bakers, Appalachia, and (More of What) Gladwell Missed

This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please visit my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).

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I spent the past weekend buried in a draft of Chapter 1, an early outline of how the story of So Far Appalachia will be framed. While it’s a memoir, the story isn’t about me. As one of my student’s told me: “The most interesting parts of the chapter aren’t about you at all.”

Chapter 1 ends with my trip to our family’s grave site in Clay County, and with me standing over George “Baldie” Baker. From here, the story begins to move backwards in time, telling the story of the Bakers throughout the yeasr.

The reason: I want to begin with the Appalachian stereotype (which I wrote about here), and walk that backwards while using those images to illustrate how the past resonates through modern America.

As you’ll read, my family — which Malcolm Gladwell used as representative of people who pass down a culture of violence — wasn’t as described in his book Outliers. In fact, the Baker family came to the New World as British loyalists (for a little while).

As I prepare the outline for the next few chapters, I wanted to share a bit of the family history + mythology, which is where the book is headed. This is from a series of emails posted on a website that traces the Baker family lineage back to England.

“The first known ancestor of the Bakers of Hancock County, Tennessee was Robert I of England, who was the King’s personal Knight. The King gave him his daughter as his wife and a castle and many riches and bestowed him with a Coat of Arms (that) consisted of the castle with three roses in the yard.

The earliest known American ancestor was Andrew Baker, b. 1604 at Buckinghamshire, England who came to Boston, Massachusetts in 1624. His son John Baker was b. 1624 in Massachusetts and immigrated (sic) to Pennsylvania. His son Robert 2nd b. 1655 in Virginia d. 1728 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. he was granted land and a gun boring mill for the manufacturing of firearms, the Pennsylvania rifle, by the King of England.

Robert Baker being the first man in recorded history to design and manufacture the Pennsylvania Rifle. At his death, his son Caleb kept up the tradition and later used to great effect in the American Revolution. The rifle was later known as the Hog Rifle and the Kentucky Rifle in Daniel Boone’s Day.”

One thing to note: Caleb Baker is the grand-father of Abner Baker, Sr., the first clerk of Clay County, Kentucky (and the father of Abner, Jr., who many attribute to starting the Clay County War):