Building Tennessee: The McAdams Family Trade and Identity in the Southwest Backcountry

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Clawson, Amber Marie
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Middle Tennessee State University
Cultural historians investigate issues of identity and regionalism through objects, places, and traditions. How do pieces of history both reflect and create culture? This study focuses on the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century decorative arts in the Nolichucky River Valley of East Tennessee to better understand how craftsmen expressed and created regional identity through neoclassical and agrarian symbolism. In Tennessee, the McAdams family of cabinetmakers produced a world of goods for consumption, the most conspicuous of which was the "rope and tassel" inlaid furniture group. The work of the McAdams family creates a valuable perspective on what frontier life was like in material terms. This dissertation describes the objects that these artisans made for over a generation and contextualizes them with a range of interdisciplinary primary source evidence. The multi-directional influences of democratic experiments, extensive trade networks, and familial connections along the Great Wagon Road gave rise to the "cultural palette" of the Nolichucky River Valley. The cultural palette reveals the imagery and symbolism of the backcountry that regional stereotypes have long overshadowed. Ultimately, the rope and tassel maker's world offers museums fertile ground for renewed interpretation of the early Republic in Appalachia.
Backcountry, History, Material culture, Tennessee