hatfields and mccoys

“A man has a right to defend his family.”William Anderson ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield [Albion’s Seed]

that’s ‘devil anse’ there in the second row — sitting down, second from the left, long beard and shotgun in his hand.

i haven’t seen the show (yet) about america’s most famous family feud in which something like eleven people were killed — i count 9 to 2 with the hatfields in the lead (i.e. nine mccoys dead and only two hatfields) — but judging from the traffic over the last two days, a lot of people have!

the mccoys are/were scotch-irish and hatfield is an anglo-saxon name, probably from up yorkshire way. in Albion’s Seed, david hackett fischer describes how the settlers of appalachia were scotch-irish, or came from the border areas between england and scotland, and all had a unique culture with a long history based on extended families and clans and traditions of cattle raiding and battles between clans, traditions that they brought to the united states with them. from Albion’s Seed [links added by me]:

“Backcountry Family Ways: Border Ideas of Clan and Kin

“From the perspective of an individual within this culture, the structure of the family tended to be a set of concentric rings, in which the outermost circles were thicker and stronger than among other English-speaking people. Beyond the nuclear core, beyond even the extended circle, there were two rings which were unique to this culture. One was called the derbfine. It encompassed all kin within the span of four generations. For many centuries, the laws of North Britain and Ireland had recognized the derbfine as a unit which defined the descent of property and power. It not only connected one nuclear family to another, but also joined one generation to the next.

“Beyond the derbfine lay a larger ring of kinship which was called the clan in North Britain. We think of clans today mainly in connection with the Scottish Highlands. But they also existed in the lowlands, northern Ireland and England’s border counties where they were a highly effective adaptation to a world of violence and chronic insecurity.

“The clans of the border were not precisely the same as those of the Scottish Highlands, and very different from the Victorian contrivances of our own time. They had no formal councils, tartans, sporrans, bonnets or septs. But they were clannish in the most fundamental sense: a group of related families who lived near to one another, were conscious of a common identity, carried the same surname, claimed descent from common ancestors and banded together when danger threatened.

“Some of these border clans were very formidable. The Armstrongs, one of the largest clans on the Cumbrian border in the sixteenth century, were reputed to be able to field 3,000 mounted men, and were much feared by their neighbors. The Grahams held thirteen towers on the western border in 1552, and bid defiance to their foes. The Rutherfords and Halls were so violent that royal officials in 1598 ordered no quarter to be given to anyone of those names. The Johnston-Johnson clan adorned their houses with the flayed skins of their enemies the Maxwells in a blood feud that continued for many generations.

“These North British border clans tended to settle together in the American backcountry….”
_____

i posted previously on how the border clans probably praciticed some form of inbreeding or endogamous mating (like the irish perhaps) and that that’s why they were clannish in nature. hackett fischer backs me up on that with an example from northern england — and inbreeding/endogamous mating certainly happened in appalachia:

In many cases the husband and wife both came from the same clan. In the Cumbrian parish of Hawkshead, for example, both the bride and groom bore the same last names in 25 percent of all marriages from 1568 to 1704. Marriages in the backcountry, like those on the borders, also occurred very frequently between kin….

“These clans fostered an exceptionally strong sense of loyalty, which a modern sociologist has called ‘amoral familism,’ from the ethical perspective of his own historical moment. In its own time and place, it was not amoral at all, but a moral order of another kind, which recognized a special sense of obligation to kin. That imperative was a way of dealing with a world where violence and disorder were endemic. Long after it had lost its reason for being, family loyalty retained its power in the American backcountry.

“An example was the persistence of the family feud, which continued for many centuries in the southern highlands. These feuds flowed from the fact that families in the borderlands and back-country were given moral properties which belonged mainly to individuals in other English-speaking cultures. Chief among them were the attributes of honor and shame. When one man forfeited honor in the backcountry, the entire clan was diminished by his loss. When one woman was seduced and abandoned, all her ‘menfolk’ shared the humiliation. The feuds of the border and the backcountry rose mainly from this fact. When ‘Devil Anse’ Hatfield was asked to explain why he had murdered so many McCoys, he answered simply, ‘A man has a right to defend his family.’ And when he spoke of his family, he meant all Hatfields and their kin. This backcountry folkway was strikingly similar to the customs of the borderers.

“Historians of a materialist persuasion have suggested that the feud was a modern invention in the southern highlands. One has called it a ‘response to industrialism.’ Another has interpreted it as the product of changes in the means of production. These modern processes would indeed provide many occasions for feuds. But they were not the cause of the feuding itself, which had deeper cultural roots. Other historians have argued that southern feuds were mainly a legacy of the Civil War. But feuds occurred in the backcountry before 1861. They were part of the brutal violence of the American Revolution in the backcountry. Strong continuities in family feuding may be traced from the borders of North Britain to the American backcountry — a pattern that persisted throughout the southern highlands even into the twentieth century.
_____

people become clannish or tribal when they marry/mate closely repeatedly over generations. if you want to understand, and perhaps get rid of, clans and family feuds and killings in the name of family honor, then you have to understand/get rid of the close marriages.

an interesting note about the mccoy clan (via wikipedia):

“Hatfield-McCoy feud blamed on ‘rage’ disease

“Rare, genetic condition may have fueled violent tempers across generations

“The most infamous feud in American folklore, the long-running battle between the Hatfields and McCoys, may be partly explained by a rare, inherited disease that can lead to hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts.

“Dozens of McCoy descendants apparently have the disease, which causes high blood pressure, racing hearts, severe headaches and too much adrenaline and other ‘fight or flight’ stress hormones.

“No one blames the whole feud on this, but doctors say it could help explain some of the clan’s notorious behavior….

“Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which afflicts many family members, can cause tumors in the eyes, ears, pancreas, kidney, brain and spine. Roughly three-fourths of the affected McCoys have pheochromocytomas — tumors of the adrenal gland.

“The small, bubbly-looking orange adrenal gland sits atop each kidney and makes adrenaline and substances called catecholamines. Too much can cause high blood pressure, pounding headaches, heart palpitations, facial flushing, nausea and vomiting. There is no cure for the disease, but removing the tumors before they turn cancerous can improve survival.

“Affected family members have long been known to be combative, even with their kin. Reynolds recalled her grandfather, ‘Smallwood’ McCoy.

“‘When he would come to visit, everyone would run and hide. They acted like they were scared to death of him. He had a really bad temper,’ she said….”

previously: “culture” of honor and traditional family systems in medieval britain and ireland and start here

(note: comments do not require an email. the mccoys.)

18 Comments

  1. Wonder if the reason the more that McCoys died was because the disease in some manner effected judgment and resulted in making poor decisions?

    Also wonder if my boss has this VHL disease?

    Reply

  2. @rjp – “Wonder if the reason the more that McCoys died was because the disease in some manner effected judgment and resulted in making poor decisions?”

    just had that conversation here at home. (^_^)

    @rjp – “Also wonder if my boss has this VHL disease?”

    ugh. =/

    Reply

  3. Steven Pinker has written about “honour cultures” and where they arise. One similarity between Highland Scots, Masai warriors, (Afghans?), and others, is their reliance on livestock which are easily stolen wealth.

    Without reliable policing, if you suffer the dishonour of one stolen sheep then maybe you’ll suffer another. It’s best to make clear that you will mortally endanger anyone who tries. The best way to make this threat known is to believe it yourself and to have a track record of following through. This presumably made sheep rustling all the more exhilarating.

    I wonder whether the McCoy’s mutation could be said to be adaptive at that time or now.

    Reply

  4. @genemachine – “Steven Pinker has written about ‘honour cultures’ and where they arise. One similarity between Highland Scots, Masai warriors, (Afghans?), and others, is their reliance on livestock which are easily stolen wealth.”

    yeah, absolutely. the connection between pastoralism and clannish/tribal behaviors has come up a few times on the blog here … mostly in the comments, i think … lord knows where. (^_^)

    the other thing that’s usually connected to pastorialism is very close marriage — within the clan definitely — amongst the arabs (and those whom they’ve influenced, like the afghans), within the patrilineage. this happens so that the herds can be kept within the family and don’t get scattered away in dowries or whatever.

    what i’m curious about is: what are the effects of all this inbreeding?

    @genemachine – “I wonder whether the McCoy’s mutation could be said to be adaptive at that time or now.”

    definitely (edit: maybe (~_^) ) adaptive back in the border areas of england/scotland ’cause life was all about cattle raiding. whether ’tis now or not, who knows?

    Reply

  5. The borders, and everywhere north of the borders. Scotland still has over 3 times the murder rate of England.

    Reply

  6. @genemachine – “The borders, and everywhere north of the borders. Scotland still has over 3 times the murder rate of England.”

    oops! =/

    i’ve gotten this impression that maybe eastern scots (like around edinburgh) are a bit different having had a good deal of anglo-saxons settling there, but maybe i’m wrong about that?

    Reply

  7. Edinburgh have always had more exposure to the English, culturally and genetically.

    Also, the Scottish highlands and islands also spoke Gaelic as opposed to the Scots spoken in the lowlands and south east. During the highland clearances the Gaelic speaking refugees also settled more in the west (Glasgow) than in Edinburgh.

    Reply

  8. genemachine
    “I wonder whether the McCoy’s mutation could be said to be adaptive at that time or now.”

    A more violent environment should select for traits that are useful in violence – even things like good eyesight – and people will put up with more potential ingroup violence the more threatened they feel by an outgroup. Once a rule of law is established those violent traits could be selected out quite fast.

    I think a lot of history has been driven by this: settled farmers being over-run by both more clannish and much more violent pastoralists.

    Reply

  9. Links of course. Of interest, maybe. Useful hopefully, illuminating given the geography. Incidentally, my own family has long roots in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas having immigrated from Appalachia pre-Louisiana Purchase. I’m the same age as Malcolm (Waka) and I’m guessing his mother probably used or at least was familiar with a word my maternal grandfather often used. That word being “ken” – hopefully you’re following the creek.

    I know something of “honor feuds.”

    http://news.yahoo.com/dna-study-seeks-origin-appalachias-melungeons-201144041.html

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/blue-skinned-people-kentucky-reveal-todays-genetic-lesson/story?id=15759819

    Reply

  10. These were the greatest men in our country’s history. I envy their simple virtues like honor and loyalty. They had a dignity some deracine cosmopolitan could never understand. Devil Anse would not have been deceived by sophistries like Humanism and the Proposition Nation. He already knew how far “humanity” could be trusted, far better than we fools.

    Reply

  11. @bleach – “Devil Anse would not have been deceived by sophistries like Humanism and the Proposition Nation.”

    heh! absolutely not. (^_^)

    Reply

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