White Trash

Last year, the New York Times reviewed Nancy Isenberg’s history of class distinctions in white America:

“During the 1600s,” she writes, “far from being ranked as valued British subjects, the great majority of early colonists were classified as surplus population and expendable ‘rubbish.’”

Many were indentured servants. Others were “roguish highwaymen, mean vagrants, Irish rebels, known whores and an assortment of convicts shipped to the colonies for grand larceny or other property crimes.” Others were simply lazy — “idlers,” in the lingo of the time. They would rather drink rum than clear an acre of pine trees.

She singles out North Carolina as “what we might call the first white trash colony.” It was swampy and, thanks to its shoal-filled shoreline, lacked a major port. It had no real planter class. Its citizens were viewed as sluggards, “cowardly Blockheads” in the words of one early writer. Another referred to the state as the lawless “sinke of America.”

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America is now on my reading list.

I couldn’t help but think of the North Carolina Monument at Gettysburg. The inscription notes at the end: “One Confederate soldier in every four who fell here was a North Carolinian.”

So: the “cowardly” “white trash” state supplied the bulk of the the cannon fodder. Food for thought.