The History of Our Heritage
In my opinion, heritage is one of the most meaningful words in the English language. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as “traditions, etc. handed down from one’s ancestors or the past.” However, it is much more than that. The word brings with it a sense of pride: pride in a past way of life, our current lifestyle, and how the present is influenced by and helps maintain the past. Our heritage is what our ancestors fought and sometimes died for. It was the only way of life they knew, and today it is kept alive by our stories, traditions, and the way we live our everyday lives. Heritage is something that cannot be taken away or forgotten; it completely saturates an area and the people who live there.
In the Appalachia Virginia region where we live, the word heritage brings with it memories of events almost as old as our country itself. Settlers came to this area as early as the 1700s, and many more passed through this area on their way through the Cumberland Gap to the more western parts of the nation. Those who first came here showed a special kind of courage. The Appalachian region was one of the first areas to be settled away from coastal colonies such as Williamsburg and Jamestown. The people were isolated and basically had to supply what they needed themselves. They did not have immediate access to the ships that would come and bring supplies from Europe. In addition they also faced the risk of disease, harsh weather, and unfriendly Indians. Yet they never gave up, and you can still see some of the effects of their hard work and determination today. Throughout the area you can visit replicas of what these communities looked like and in some places see the remains of old houses from this time period. The remarkable people who became the first citizens of the Appalachian region laid the foundation for what this area would become.
Not all of what we know as our heritage came from the very distant past, however. In the late 1800s through the 1900s coal towns sprang up all across our region. These communities built around mines made a huge contribution to how we now live. The coal towns consisted of people whose lives centered around their jobs. They worked hard and taught their children to do the same, but they also knew the importance of having fun with family and friends. Days off were spent playing sports, going to the movies, or just telling stories. Even though all of the coal towns are now closed, our way of life is still very similar. People still realize the importance of a hard day’s work, being considerate of others, and spending time with loved ones. The values that were taught as absolutely necessary by the miners and their families provided a large positive influence on our way of life.
Our heritage can never be completely and accurately described with words. It is so much more than just history; it is all about the people of our region. A people whose lifestyle reflects a love for and a desire to preserve the past that has helped make us who we are as a whole. Some may not fully understand why our heritage is so important to us, but they do not see the many years of hard work and dedication that have characterized the people of this region ever since it was first settled. Those who lived here did not always have an easy life, but it was a rewarding one. They did something much more than just make a living; they made an impact on this area that will never diminish. That is why our heritage is so important. It is a lifestyle that reminds people where we have come from, reflects what we stand for, and, most importantly, defines the basis of who we are.