"In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky,
That's the place where I traced my bloodline,
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone....you'll never leave Harlan alive."
I am Matt Fletcher and this project was completed as part of a unit plan I did to finish my Masters Degree in teaching. The project requirements were to include a timeline, individual cultural influences on America and tell a personal story. I decided to write the project in a graphic novel form with lots of pictures. I also wrote my masters thesis about using graphic novels and comic books to teach reading in the classroom. I hope you find this somewhat interesting.
During the 20th century hundreds of thousands of Southern Appalachian Migrants (SAMs) left the mountains of Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia,Tennessee looking for factory jobs and a better life in the north. This was the second largest migration of people within the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Appalachian people migrated to the north bringing their culture with them. This was a largely unknown but significant event in American history and my family was part of this migration when they left the mountains of Kentucky for "Dee-troit" Michigan. Most Appalachians hated to leave the mountains but loved the money they could make in the factories of the north. This is a small part of their love and hate, north and south story.
You can read more on this subject in two very good books, "Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles" by Chad Berry and more recently, "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance which is apparently going to be made into a movie. JD vance, Chad Berry and I all have very similar backgrounds. In his book Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance talks a lot about the dysfunction in his family and culture. I don't deny what he says, a lot of it is true and I have seen it first hand.
Photo: Corn on the left, beans on the right, Manchester Kentucky. This is where my family is from. If you have ever seen the movie Coal Miner's Daughter, that is basically how my dad was raised. If you have read the book Hillbilly Elegy, that ain't far from my life story.
The information on this page is the product of a lot of time and effort so first, a special thanks to Fletcher researchers and others! Thanks to Marilyn Brown, John E. Fletcher PhD, Richard Fletcher, Tommy Jones, Nadine Christall, Frances Howard Hickey, Robert House and all the people I am sure I forgot.
||Wilma and Zelma Sanders, Bull Run Holler, Knox County Kentucky. My mom, Wilma Sanders Fletcher and her younger sister Zelma Sanders Scourtes were brought to Detroit from Knox County Kentucky in the early 1940s by their parents Charles Sanders and Lulabelle Henson Sanders. Charles and Louise both worked on the assembly line at Chrysler and Budd Wheel.|
|My father on the left, Matt Fletcher about 1937. Notice the safety pin holding up his bibbed overalls. Dad came from Manchester Kentucky and had 11 brothers and sisters for a total of 12. I've always had two names. I was named Matt after my dad but growing up everyone called me by my middle name.... Mark. That is common in Appalachia.|
My dad was ten years older than my mother and that is common to hillbillies. Mom was engaged to dad at 16 and married at 17. When you read about the dysfunction of hillbilly culture, alcoholism, rampant divorce and women marrying men old enough to be their daddy are all mentioned as issues in Appalachian culture. Unfortunately I know from experience that much of it is true and sometimes being educated doesn't seem to make a difference. Maybe it's in our DNA. I once heard a mountain man say, "hillbilly girls get married young because thar's sa many palces ta get pregnant. Behind the barn, in the pasture, down by the creek."
fletcher kyles ford fletcher manchester kentuckyAnother issue is the family being physically divided. Appalachian factor workers became "stranded" here in Michigan when they married and had children. Many came intending to go back south but never do because their children and grandchildren were born in Michigan and they do not want to leave the younger family members in favor of the old ones back in Appalachia. Another dilemma is where to bury the Appalachian transplants once they pass on. Should they be buried in Michigan where the kids and grand-kids can come to visit the grave? Or, bury them back in Appalachia where they often have a family plot? These are issues that I imagine are unique to Appalachian families who migrated to the north. My father made the choice to be buried in Kentucky in the family plot near his parents, grandparents and siblings. Every few years I still make the 500 mile trip to visit the graves.
||If you know what poke salad is, you are a hillbilly. We ate poke salad AKA poke sallet growing up. It grows wild but apparently they used to sell it in the grocery store. While researching this project discovered that when there was no fresh poke my mother used to actually buy canned poke salet in Detroit grocery stores up until about the early to mid 1970s. I found this picture of canned poke sallet online so apparently poke can be eaten safely.|
Growing up, my dad was pretty popular with my friends because he was a real character, always had a good story to tell in his strong Appalachian and often imitated
accent. His accent was so thick that I often had to translate what he said for my friends. I didn't realize until later in life that I was bilingual !
My dad was a contractor and I remember one time a buddy of mine that was working for us came to me on a job and said, "Your dad told me to watch out for the flairs in the front of the house." I said, "huh" and asked my dad what was going on. Dad said, "Tell him to go yander and paint 'em winders and mine the flairs." Translation: Paint those windows and watch out for the flowers.
When I was about 20 I had a girlfriend that used to impersonate my dad and his accent. In the summer she used to wear those cut-off jean pants and cowboy boots to show off her long legs....my dad used to call her "boots" all the time. Appalachians don't generally speak slowly as people say, but they do draw out their voooweeels. They also say "Thee" instead of "the" a lot. I think "Thee" is from old English and the Bible. So, "Boots" would impersonate my dad while standing there in our yard waving her arms and say: " Whaaat in theee haiiil. Taaar-nation, I ain't never seen the beat.....theeem sons-a-beeetches muuust be pluuumb nuuuts.....ain't like it waaas wheeen I fiiirst cooome ta Deee-trooit..... Looord haaave meeercy boooys ain't yens huuungreee?, I reckon yens is staaarved ta deaaath......geeet ya some theeem baiiins & taaaters ta eeeat young-ins....wheeen I waaas a boooy, I'd eaaat the aaass outta a haaalf deeaad pooossum and be glaaad ta git it." ....and we'd all laugh at her impersonation.
Mom came to Detroit from Kentucky as a child and her accent wasn't nearly as thick but she knew how to cook all the hillbilly foods. I had an accent but after my dad died and I moved out on my own, my twang gradually went away.
At one point we even kept live chickens in our east side Detroit garage and always had a vegetable garden. Dad also hired many of my buddies and Appalachian cousins to work for him in his contracting business. Myself as well as several of my buddies worked our way through college painting houses for my dad each summer. We had a diverse work crew with a mixture of "Dee-troit" college boys and hillbilly farm boys. I was a little of each.
Dad was smart but he only had a 6th grade education from a one room school-house in rural Kentucky and that held him back. People who migrated from Appalachia were not generally very well educated and my family was no exception. Most had not graduated high school and no one in my immediate family had ever gone to college or graduated high school until I happened to pull it off. But they all got their GED! I didn't start college until I was 21 and it was a long hard road for someone like me who was totally clueless and unprepaired... but I made it all the way through graduate school with a 3.7 GPA. But to be honest, having a teaching degree doesn't mean you're smart....it only means you paid your tuition and showed up for class.
Like a lot of people, I had to put myself through college. There was never a plan or the money for me to go to college and education was not really emphasized in our home. Graduating from high school was seen as more than enough education. At age 21 I found out the local community would "let anybody in!!!" I thought, that sounds like my kinda place, so one late hot humid summer day, and at the last minute, I went and stood in a huge line to sign up for my first college classes. It took me all day to get to the front of the line but I got myself registered and signed up for my first semester...which I later dropped because I just lost interest and quit going to class. I had no direction or idea what I was doing; I just knew I didn't want to be ignorant the rest of my life. It was quite an odyssey for me but three years later graduated cum laude from Macomb Community College where I was in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I actually took a ridiculous racquet ball class so I'd have the one gym credit needed to get an Associates Degree in general studies. I didn't want to leave there without a diploma because who knows, I may never graduate from a four year school so at least I'd have a two year degree. I set my goals nice and LOW, one step at a time. I did receive a BA degree in advertising, and with no help from no one I able to get hired into the marketing department of general motors. I eventually ended up with a Masters Degree.
At left is my ID picture from my first day at General Motors. I got to bring home "pool cars" from time to time because I worked in marketing and needed to know about each car we sold. When I pulled in my dad's driveway in a GM company car, wearing one of my JC Penny suits, my dad thought I ran General Motors. When my dad passed away he didn't own a suit to be buried in so, we buried him in that suit I am wearing in the picture. We took him back to Kentucky and he is in the family plot in Manchester Kentucky on Pennington Hill near his dad and grandfather. I guess I'll be creamated and have my ashes spread there. I do not want to be buried.
Being the neighborhood hillbillies wasn't always easy on my family and sometimes I saw our Appalachian background as something to hide, overcome and not to embrace. We all spoke with a bit of an Appalachian twang which we kids had gotten from our parents and grandparents and other extended family. We ate strange foods like soup beans, poke salad, turnip greens, mustard greens, biscuits and gravy, had guns hanging on the walls in our house and chickens in our fenced yard. As a contractor, dad wore bibbed overalls much of the time so we didn't exactly fit in. I was painfully shy and not much of a ladies man but bringing a rare girl home to meet the family was interesting to say the least so I didn't do much of that.
Prior to graduating college, I had always worked construction and when I first started at General Motors on the 7th floor of GM Headquarters, I was still pretty rough around the edges. One day I was using some pretty colorful language to express my dissatisfaction with a particular situation. Luckily, one of my mentors just happened to be from Kentucky! She took pity on me and pulled me aside and told me, " I know yer daddy ain't no country club member like a lot of 'em 'round here but you gotta straigten up here or you'll be out the door boy, I know yer from Kentucky but you caint act like at here." (Her southern accent got thicker when she spoke to me). I took her advice and ended up working there seven years. My background may have nearly gotten me fired but it ironically had also saved me. By the time I left there I was training other General Motors executives how to use our marketing data and always received very good performance appraisals and bonuses. I even learned to do some computer programming and that's how I built this web page. I really liked teaching at General Motors so seven years later I quit, got my Masters Degree and taught elementary as well as high school construction.
Having worked hard AND gone to school at the same time most of my life, I actually semi-retired last year. I work about 3-4 days a week. I bought some new fishing poles, a Go-Pro camera and head for the lakes.
When I was a teacher I started a home inspection business, branched out into doing commercial inspections, facade inspections for the city of Detroit. I started a DBA called Bell Isle Engineering and hired one of my college professors as my Civil Engineer. It worked out pretty well for me so when I got laid off from teaching during a "budget crisis" I just starting inspecting full-time.
Enjoying the outdoors with my 73 year old buddy Lester on a recent camping/kyaking trip up north. After a 30 year career as a construction engineer, Lester wanted to come out of retirement to be a home inspector, so I trained him and we became friends.
Smart as a whip and beautiful, this is my current wife....Yvonne. I always tease her by calling her my current wife because she said she never expected to actually stay married to me. She confessed to me that when we got married she gave us about 5-7 years and we'd be divorced and she was going to move back to Colorado. She had it all planned out. She said we are two very different people, have nothing in common, she is a girly girl who likes restaurants & shopping malls, getting her nails done. She will go fishing with me but will not touch the bait or take the fish off of the hook. I like secluded quiet nature areas, the smell of a camp fire and eating hot dogs cooked over an open fire and pork N beans right out of the can. She likes PF Chang's. I am a Scotch Irish hillbilly and she is an American Indian/Mexican mix. The only difference between the American Indians and Mexicans is....the Indians were conquered by the English and French while the Mexicans were conquered by the Spanish, there is no real genetic difference, they are the same people. She was a Systems Engineer at General Motors where I met her and later she became a Registered Nurse and assists doctors with organ transplants and joint replacent. She is actually from a small town in Colorado where people still own horses, wear cowboy boots and hats, carry knives on their belt so maybe that's why she liked me. I had a pick-up truck and was a little rough around the edges.
Real hillbillies love the outdoors. Dad fishing on the Detroit river in the late 1950s. Dad loved to fish and he took us kids with him. None of my siblings fish today......but I do.
Christmas about 1966. The girls got dolls and I got my fist of many fishin' poles AND a BB gun!
My "current wife" as I call her on a fishing charter that I convinced her to go on with me on the Great Lakes. It is sometimes hard to get her outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. She would rather be inside and me outside but we always have fun.
In his book, Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance says he and his sister married outside the hillbilly culture and that was the best thing they ever did and why they were able to stay married. Many of the hillbilly to hillbilly marriages they knew of ended fairly soon explaining that hillbillies can me mean and vicious to people that they care about. I don't know if there is any truth to that theory or not...it seems to be more of a mixed bag to me. I have always said, you can tell a lot about a person by who they are hooked up romantically...their partner is usually a reflection of them. I know, my wife and I are somewhat different in what we like but our basic values are the same. We are both on the conservative side (FOX News not CNN) we are both educated and neither one of us has any major malfunctions like substance abuse or being bad with money....like a lot of people we have known who can't seem to stay married. A lot our friends are on their second or third spouse and we are still hanging in there after 25 years together! Who knows, maybe it is just dumb luck.
A good hillbilly appreciates a good dog in their life.
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Shuttle Migration Between Detroit and Kentucky. Our Timeline
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Matt fletcher clay county kentucky
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Results And Discoveries Of My Research
henry fletcher, wilson fletcher kyles ford tennessee
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kyles ford fletchers
More about Thomas A. FletcherNote: I have documented as much as possible. Please click on the links to see the documents. Other Fletcher lines have attempted to find a link to Thomas A. Fletcher but were unable to. I have letters going back to the 1930s asking government offices for information about Thomas A. Fletcher. I think my line of Fletchers have the only known links to Thomas A. Fletcher who lived in the Kyles Ford TN area.
I believe that Aaron Fletcher of the Kyles Ford TN area was the brother or oldest son of Thomas A. but died before the writing of the will and therefore, is not mentioned in the will. I believe this because Aaron was found living close to the other sons of Thomas in the census data. The "A" in Thomas A. Fletcher may stand for Aaron. The name Aaron comes up often in the line of my DNA match Dick Fletcher back in Farquier County VA. in The will of Thomas A. connects him to John P. Fletcher since he is named as a son. A "John Fletcher" and my KNOWN gr gr grandfather Henry Fletcher owned several pieces of land together. Were they father and son, brothers, uncle and nephew? We don't know for sure. But there is a near 100% certainy that they were related in some way.
Thomas A. Fletcher was a Revolutionary war veteran. He had brothers named William and Benjamin according to his deposition given for the purpose of obtaining a Revolutionary War Pension. With the help of Betty Fletcher Starnes, we also discovered this monument in Nichlesville VA located in Scott County. Note, name of William and Thomas Fletcher and Daniel Boone in the next column. According to several documents, Thomas A. Fletcher was living in Scott county Virginia and Hawkins county Tennessee as well as North Carolina while drawing his pension. This is the area where my known great great grandfather, Henry Fletcher was from. I have believe Henry's father John P. Fletcher because land documents show that they owned several pieces of land together. This area is known as Kyles Ford Tennessee and is on the virginia boarder. Thomas A. Fletcher lived in both Virginia and Tennessee and perhaps North Carolina where his daughter Elizabeth reported being born in a census report. Documents show he went from Virginia to Tennesse to live with his daughter Elizabeth and and son-in-law Anthony Smith. As I stated, the state line between VA and TN goes direclty through Kyles Ford TN so Thomas A. Fletcher did not have to move far to be with his daughter.
Thomas A. Fletcher, AKA Thomas Fletcher was granted a Revolutionary War pension. See the document here. It is this will of Thomas Fletcher that links him to John Fletcher of the Kyles Ford region. Thomas A. mentions John P. as his son and I can document from Thomas A to me through historical document, location and time....it all lines up.
There were actually two Thomas Fletchers, from Virginia, who fought in the Revolutionary war. Researcher Nadine Christall and I have compared notes and we are convinced that one Thomas belongs to Nadine's line and the other to my line. The Thomas Fletcher from nadine's line was married to Kaziah Farris as documented in court records. That Thomas Fletcher was NOT known to have been in the Kyles Ford or south-western Virginia area. The children of Kaziah Farris do not match the names of Thomas A. Fletcher's will. However, is a strange coincidence that there were two men from Pittsylvania Co. VA named Thomas Fletcher who served as Privates in the Revolutionary war. I believe he began using the middle initial "A" when he applied for his Revolutionary War pension because there was another Thomas Fletcher, also from Virginia who fought and applied for the same pension.
Generation No. 2 Early 1800s
Okay, this isn't a picture of John Fletcher since cameras had not been invented yet but it is a cool picture of a tootless hillbilly holding a possum so I had to use it.
Notes about John and Catharine. One transcription of John Fletcher's will, his wife is called Christine. That is incorrect. We went to Rogersville TN and copied the hand written will on file in the courthouse. The will clearly says Catharine and not Christine. It is this will of John that links him to Henry Fletcher of the Kyles Ford region. JOHN P. FLETCHER known son of Thomas A. Fletcher was born Abt. 1795, and died 03 Oct 1844 in Hawkins County,Tennessee. He married He married CATHERINE CURRY Abt. 1815. She was born Abt. 1798 in Virginia.
Children of JOHN FLETCHER and CATHERINE CURRY are:
1. HENRY FLETCHER, b. Abt. 1812, Tazewell,Virginia.
2. MARY POLLY FLETCHER, b. 1814; m. JAMES DAVID SMITH; b. 1811.
3. WILLIAM FLETCHER, b. Abt. 1815.
4. SUSAN FLETCHER, b. 25 Jun 1816; d. Bef. 1900; m. WILLIAM MABE; b. 27 Jul 1813; d. 04 Apr 1896.
5. JOHN W. FLETCHER, b. 1819, North Carolina.
6.. ROBERT FLETCHER, b. 1820.
7. ORPHA FLETCHER, b. 1822; m. WILLIAM A. HICKS.
8. RUSSELL FLETCHER, b. 1823, Tennessee.
9. CLARA FLETCHER, b. 1825; m. STERLING MITCHELL; b. 1822.
10. FRANCIS FRANKY FLETCHER, b. 1829.
11. JAMES FLETCHER, b. 1831.
12. MAHALA FLETCHER, b. 1833, Hancock County,Tennessee; d. 10 Mar 1906, Knoxville,Tennessee (Knox
Henry is a witness on the will of John and I believe that Henry is the son of John. Russell Belcher is also a witness on the will. A descendent of Russell (wife to Dayton Moles was a Belcher) currently owns the land where I found the Fletcher Graveyard. And I believe witness Polly Smith is Polly Fletcher, daughter of Thomas A. Fletcher who married the brother of Anthony Smith. Elizabeth and Polly Fletcher Married into the Smith family. John and Henry owned this land and other plots of land in the Kyles Ford area. The Clinch River is mentioned as a landmark in the land deed. John and Henry Fletcher were given land grants from the state of Tennessee. I also found land documents showing that Anthony Smith owned land in the Kyles Ford area. In his will, Thomas A. Fletcher requested he be buried on the farm of Anthony Smith who was married to the daughter of Thomas A.Fletcher.
I found a land deal involving John and Henry AFTER the death of John in 1844 which bothered me but then I realized that Henry also had a brother and uncle named John. The John Fletcher mentioned in the land deeds with Henry MAY be his brother in some deals and father in others. .
Also, there may or MAY NOT have been two John Fletchers in the area both born around 1795. Two different John Fletchers show up in the census living a short distance apart. However, the men were the same age, had the same number of kids in at least one census. I think they were both the same family and owned two different farms and were counted twice in the census.
Generation No. 3 Mid 1800s
Children of HENRY FLETCHER and CELIA BUNCH:
1. CATHERINE FLETCHER, b. 1838.
2. WM WILLIAM FLETCHER, b. 1839.
3. WILSON FLETCHER, b. 1841.
4. MARY ANN (Polly Ann) FLETCHER, b. 1844.
5. BENJAMIN FLETCHER, b. 1847. Note that Thomas A. Fletcher had two brothers; one named Ben and one named William. Henry had two sons named Ben and William. Married Harriet Pridemore who is buried in Kyles Ford
7. JOHN FLETCHER, b. 1850. Is this John Jesse Fletcher buried in Kyles Ford? Dates are off.
8. AMANDA FLETCHER, b. 1854.
Notes about Henry: In a genealogy document given to me by researcher Ann Filcowitz it names Thomas as the father of Henry. I think that is incorrect. I did not find any documents linking the two but Henry's father COULD have been Thomas B Fletcher. I did find documents linking Henry and John Fletcher, Thomas A. had a son named John and one named Thomas. Either one could be the father. I found the graves of John Jesse Fletcher and Harriet Fletcher in Kyles Ford up on a hill behind the home of Dayton Moles on Fox Branch Road. A few documents refer to this area as Fox Branch. Harriet Pridemore Fletcher was married to Ben Fletcher, brother to Henry. See the grave video below.
Wilson Fletcher, wife and son W.M. left the Kyles Ford area for Manchester Kentucky located in Clay county. His death record shows that he died in Clay county. Robert House advised me that his ancestor Pete House was the undertaker for Wilson. In Manchester Kentucky, my Fletcher line is connected to the House line several different ways. My aunts and uncles remember a descendent of Pete House....also named Pete House.
Azariah D. Fletcher
During my research I discovered that Senator McCain had a great grandfather named Azariah D. Fletcher and he lived down the road from my relatives in Kyles Ford TN.
Azariah D. Fletcher born 1850, and reported to be the great grandfather to senator John McCain married Martha Kidwell in adjacent Laurel Co. Kentucky. I believe that the 1812 Azariah D. Fletcher may have left Kyles Ford Tennessee and went to Clay Co. Kentucky with Wilson and possibly others. Of course, I would love to claim kinship to senator John McCain but, I am looking for more definitive evidence linking 1812 Azariah to 1850 Azariah and links from 1812 Azariah to Thomas A. Fletcher. I have written to the Hawkins County Historical Society and asked if they could check local records which are not avaialble online.
Newspapers reported in October of 2008 that Senator John McCain is descended from Azariah D. Fletcher via his grandmother Myrtle. A check of the 1840 census reveals ONLY ONE Azariah D. Fletcher in the entire United States and he lives in Kyles Ford Tennessee and living right next to my relatives! Notice in the census that Azariah is 13th from the top. Azariah D. Fletcher lives very close to Anthony Smith (3rd name from top) who is the son-in-law to Thomas A. Fletcher. In his will dated November 30, 1841 Thomas A. Fletcher is living with his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, Anthony Smith. At the very least Azariah had to know Thomas and his daughter. Azariah was a less common name even back then. I think all of these Fletchers living close together were related.
bill nunu fletcherThe 1900 Johnson Co. Texas census shows the widow of 1850 Azariah D. Fletcher and his two daughters, Alice and Myrtle. The birth place of their father is reported as TENNESSEE.
I have been told from DNA testing, more than one Fletcher line passed through Hancock, Hawkins, Scott and Lee counties, my line of the Fletchers was in the Kyles Ford area from Thomas A. to John, to Henry, to Wilson to William. That is five generations and my line was one of the bigger families because Thomas A. had so many sons and daughters. My line remained in Kyles Ford the longest before many moved west and north into Clay Co. Kentucky adjacent to Laurel co. Since Azariah D. Fletcher was in Kyles Ford living down the road from Thomas A. and his daughter, I believe that Azariah D. was related to Thomas A.Fletcher. Some of my Fletcher line left Kyles Ford and went to Clay Co. Kentucky which is ajacent to Laurel co., And that is where Azariah married Martha Kidwell in her home. Furthermore, to my knowledge no other lines of Fletchers have claimed Azariah D. or Thomas A. Fletcher as their own.
Kyles Ford Video
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Thank you for visiting today. I can be reached at Matt@BelleIsleEngineering.com 313-510-0284.