Friday, September 2, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #6: Redneck Edition

Last week, yet another argument broke out in one of the Facebook groups I'm in, specifically, “You Know You're From Buckhannon WV If...”

Because you know you're from Buckhannon, WV if a fight breaks out every time you open your mouth. Ha ha ha.

What happened was, someone made a remark about racist rednecks, and everyone else leaped up to say things like, 

“Not all rednecks are racist!” 

“Being a redneck has nothing to do with being a racist!” 

“No, it's YOU that's racist!” 

“No, I'M not a racist, you are!”

“No, YOU are!” 

“No, YOU are!” 

...and so on and so forth.

I guess that's what you get when you use the R-word out in public.

Anyway, during the course of the argument it was pointed out (by one of my aunts, no less), that the term “redneck” comes from the red bandannas worn by the newly-unionized miners in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. I must have been asleep that day in history class, because I don't remember hearing about this.

I was either asleep, or drawing mustaches on the Presidents in my textbook.

I thought I'd go ahead and blog about it, for the following reasons:

  • People, particularly people of a non-American persuasion, keep asking me what the term “redneck” means, and I don't know what to tell them. So far I've been spitting out whatever dumb sh*t pops into my head. “Oh yeah, all our babies are born like that, it's a special type of birthmark that fades over time,” gets some weird looks.
  • I'm sick of people having no f*cking clue about the place where I come from, including its actual geographic location, and I thought this post might remedy that somewhat.

It's here. Right here. Right f*cking here, you dumba**.
  • It's late, and I'm running short of ideas.

So I did a bit of research, and I found out that – Gasp!my aunt was wrong.

Now I've got to publish this, and then she's gonna kill me.

1) The term “redneck” actually originated in Scotland in the 17th century, among Scotts who preferred the Presbyterian Church over the Church of England. These people were called Coventers and they loved Presbyterianism so much that they signed their manifestos in their own freaking blood, man. Eww.

And ouch. ~ Debs

To identify themselves as f*ckin' heathens, they wore red scarves around their necks.

Naturally, there was a war over it – The Bishop's War (which was actually two wars, since it looks like they needed a break in the middle). On account of all this warring, some of those Scotts said “To hell with this,” and went as far away from England as they could, to America! They settled down in the mountains of the western frontier, in what is now known as...West Virginia.


At this point I should probably say that, according to my Mamma, who is not at all reliable, our family is somehow descended from those original Scottish rednecks. So that makes me a redneck twice, I guess, whether I like it or not.

I'll have you know that I do not like it. I prefer the term “hillbilly.” It sounds gentler, and more barefoot. It sounds like I might chew on hay from time to time, and wear a floppy hat.

Like this one.

2) The term “hillbilly” also comes from the Scots, specifically, the Scots-Irish, who, I have learned, should be correctly termed the Ulster-Scottish.

Well lah-dee-dah.

These were the supporters of Protestant King William of Orange in the Williamite War (1689-1691) against Catholic King James II, because there isn't a war in history that doesn't involve religion somehow.

They started off calling themselves “Billy's Boys” and then “Billies” and then “hillbillies” after they said “To hell with this,” and scarpered off to West Virginia, where they had heard there were these other guys being Protestant like you wouldn't believe, like, all over the place, man, and not getting killed at all.

3) Now, let's fast-forward a couple of centuries. Many of these “rednecks” and “hillbillies,” along with plenty of other immigrants, found themselves working in the West Virginia coal mines.

No, we don't grow tobacco. Does that look like tobacco to you?  Idiot.

West Virginia miners lived in company-built houses, in company-owned towns. They paid rent to the company, and weren't offered luxuries like heat, electricity or running water. Families of more than a dozen lived in tiny homes where they were forced to share beds, if they had beds. Otherwise they shared the floor.

Miners weren't paid in currency. They were paid in company script, which was supposed to be equal to currency in value, but could only be used in the company shop. The companies kept rent and retail prices so high that miners couldn't break even, but found themselves deeper and deeper in debt. Generation after generation were forced into the mines to pay the debts of their fathers. If a worker died in the mines, his family were on the street that very day.

Many of them did die, cause who needs safety regulations?

Not us!

4) Which brings us back to the Battle of Blair Mountain, in 1921. It lasted from 25 August to 2 September (hey, that's today!) 1921, and was the second-largest civil uprising in American history. (The largest was the American Civil War).

15,000 unionized coal miners (West Virginia miners were among the last to unionize) rose up against strikebreakers, police and the coal companies themselves to demand safe and comfortable living and working conditions for themselves and their families. They fired off more than one million rounds, and didn't back down until the motherf*cking Army showed up.

Cause that's how we do things where I come from.


  1. As always...very informative. Keep up the good blogs!!!

  2. Thanks Jenn! Glad you enjoyed it! :)

  3. Hahaha, LOVED it!

  4. Informative AND entertaining! I'm from VA, and had a roommate in college once from WV and remember her telling people that who would then ask, "And what part of Virginia is that in exactly?" I only remember it cuz I couldn't believe people that stupid got through admissions. Says a lot about my college, I guess. Anyway, great history lesson!

  5. Sadly, we have to deal with that kind of crap all the time. Nobody anywhere seems to realize that West Virginia is, in fact, its own state. >:-/

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  6. The was really interesting. I have often wondered about terms such as hillbilly and Redneck. Never knew they came from my neck of the woods.
    Thanks for sharing. I am always interested in the origins of words.

  7. That's hilarious. I was always told redneck came from having a farmer's tan gone wrong. I guess my aunt was as wrong in her wrongness as yours!

  8. Galdarnit, now I have no reason to keep asking you any those questions that I know annoy you :)

    Thanks though, good reading and fun.

  9. Scotts. pffft! Always labeling people. :D

    Okay, so unions were a great idea back then. Why have they all turned into ballsuckers these days?

  10. @Alex Yes, I always assumed the terms were American in origin. I guess it makes sense that they should have come from Europe with the immigrants. Many Americans still identify themselves by the nationalities of their ancestors.

    @India The "sunburn on the back of the neck" explain makes sense, but if you think about it, that burn would turn into a tan pretty quick. And I guess you'd get back-of-the-neck skin cancer as well :P

    @Nigel LOL I read that in your voice. It's amusing when you Brits attempt to mimic my accent.

    @D For the same reason parents are now refusing to vaccinate their children for their own safety, no doubt. *rolls eyes*

  11. I seriously thought we made up the term "rednecks" up here in Central Minnesota...which is the same state as Minnesota incidentally. There are also people that aren't aware that New Mexico is a state and not actually Mexico AND I have been in arguments with people that tried to tell me South America is actually the southern part of the U.S.

    So anyway, don't try to tell me based on what I've just rambled out that rednecks came from somewhere other than here. Won't believe that.

    (Impressed btw that your blog actually has real information. Ima try that someday.)

  12. Seamus Wynde said:

    'Redneck as a designation of 17th cent. Covenanters is quite the stretch and seems to be at most a recent internet myth copied over and over by those who would wish every Southern Appalachian connotation to have some Celtic origin, regardless of how obscure.

    Southern Appalachian culture has little, if any, connection to the Scottish Covenanters who were all but obliterated and/or assimilated by 1707 – at least 40-50 years before there was even the most remote instance of Celtic influence in what would become West Virginia. Indeed, there was little Celtic influence in the mountains of West Virginia at all.

    A few problems with the ‘Celtic Redneck Theory’:
    1. The Covenanters were ‘Blue’ – The banner and historical flag of Scotland is blue with a white St. Andrew’s cross superimposed. The flag of the Church of Scotland is blue. If this group was identified at all with a color, it was blue:
    Samuel Butler referred to this denomination in the satirical poem Hudibras, 1663:
    "For his Religion it was Fit
    To match his learning and wit;
    'Twas Presbyterian true blue"
    2. They ‘badge’ worn in bonnets during battle by Covenanters was blue.
    3. Red was the color of the Royalists – English Flag: St. George – red cross on a white background.
    4. Think Puritan – the Covenanters adhered to a strict code of attire which did not include red bandanas – white, black and grey ruled the day. Also, during the time of the Covenanters (mid 1600’s) convention was to wear white collars. There is no artistic (portrait) or written account of any other color.
    5. Covenanters were either in armed conflict or persecuted. They either fought or hid. Per above, when they fought, their color was blue; when they hid, they would not be conspicuous with a red bandanna.
    6. Who were the adversaries of this supposed long lost remnant of Covenanters in the West Virginia mountains that would deride them with a designation of ‘Redneck’ harking back to the mid-1600’s?

    Redneck = designation of union coal miners of the ‘Coal Wars’ of southern West Virginia in the early 1900’s. The red bandana or scarf.

    Other regional meanings helped lead to a universal usage, prompted by none other than the popular media – newspapers and other sensational print media of the time period.

    Hillbilly? Again a false claim to pseudo-Celtic origin.

    The root of this is very hard to pinpoint. However, to link the designation to supporters of William of Orange in the late 1600’s to the culture of the Southern Appalachians is extremely weak!

    Again, who was the group who imposed this derogatory moniker upon these obscure inhabitants of the West Virginia hills? Was it the predominant catholic culture of West Virginia that was still loyal to James II a hundred years later?

    A lot of understanding the origin of derogatory cultural or ethnic terms comes from a good understanding of who is administering the label.

    Hillbilly is most likely only a silly name created because of its rhyming qualities, much like a school-yard taunt that someone used in print media that caught on as the term was republished over and over again.

    So, what about Hilljack? Is this a derogatory term landlubbers used for 18th cent. sailors (Jack Tar) that migrated to the mountains?

    Etymology of folk terms can be fun and interesting, but also can be chocked full of myth and misdirection.

    But that’s really no reason not to pass on a good story, for sure!

    Internet lore is just as fun as ‘up-in-the-hollar-gossip’!


    Seamus Wynde

  13. @Christina Yeah, people are idiots. So many of the people are sooooo f*cking stupid. :/

    @Seamus What a detailed and informative comment! Thanks for stopping by! :)

  14. Hey that's my Dad ^ ^ ^ ^ How do you know him?

  15. Jealous also that your readers actually research stuff and write entire papers based on your blog post. I am definitely gonna try harder from now on...

  16. LOL yeah, pretty cool, eh? If this keeps up I'll be able to start doing "actually I was wrong" columns.

  17. This is 1000% awesome! I can't believe I am just now reading it. I've had it up to here {insert hand one foot about head} with people not knowing WV is a state. I thought the term "redneck" came from the Battle of Blair Mt as well, so I've learned something important. LOVE your writing! I'm getting all caught up tonight. :)

  18. Great! Glad to see you here again Katie! Don't let the bald cats give you nightmares! ;)

  19. West Virginia? That's near Richmond or ?

    If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked that I'd have, like, thirty five bucks.

  20. Stay tuned for my upcoming post: 'West Virginia: We Really Are a State.'