Monday, November 07, 2005

The Highlands Clearances

Beginning around 1760 and continuing for nearly a century, a civilization - a way of life that dated to pre-recorded times - was targeted for extermination and was systematically and ruthlessly destroyed. The effort became known as the Highlands Clearances. The civilization targeted and subsequently destroyed was made up of people known as Highlanders. Until the mid-1700's the Highlanders had led a rather feudal existence in what became known as Scotland. Theirs was a way of life that was made famous by Mel Gibson and the the movie, "Braveheart."

It was around 1760 that feudal landowners - mostly English aristocracy - started to realize that the rolling hills and valleys of Scotland were of great economic value and were perfectly suited for raising sheep. In large numbers. In the feudal system of the time, the Highlanders did not own the land they lived on and depended upon for subsistence. They paid tribute - a tax - to the laird and were, in turn, allowed to occupy the land their ancestors had maintained for hundreds of years.

As the value of wool continued to increase, so did the need for huge herds of sheep, and the feudal system of Scotland was ill-equipped to deal with them. The Highlanders' villages were in the way. So the lairds began to move the Highlanders off their lands and into villages and towns, particularly to the coast of Scotland. In some cases, the removal was brutal, the methods used were harsh.
The most notorious examples of this type of clearance took place on the Sutherland estates of the Stafford family. Nobody pursued the clearance policy with more vigour and cruel thoroughness than Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, and her name is still reviled in many homes with Highland connections across the world to this day. The Stafford family's ethos was that the people of the straths of Sutherland would be moved to the coast where they could engage in more profitable occupations. The land thus cleared would be turned over to sheep.

In 14 days in May 1814, 430 people were evicted and forced to move to Brora on the coast where they were to become fishermen. To force the people to move, the roofs of their houses were often pulled down and the roof trees set alight to stop rebuilding. 
By the 1850's the clearances had run their course. A civilization had been uprooted and forever erased from history. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Scots Highlanders were forceably removed from their lands and were relocated to cities like Edinburgh, or were put on ships bound for the new land - America.

Fast-forward to 2005. West Virginia's Highlands are being depopulated. Systematically. By outsiders. By America's aristocracy.

West Virginia is the only state in the Union to have lost population in the last census. There are fewer people living there now than lived there in 1950. And the state's prospects for the future are bleak.
... the number of younger West Virginians has declined significantly, while the number of older residents has increased. The largest decline has occurred among [the state's] youngest residents; the number of children aged four and under has decreased by approximately 57%. Conversely, the population of West Virginians aged 75 and older has ballooned, with the number of men increasing by 115% and the number of women by 284%.
So where have West Virginia's young people gone?

They've been forced to leave the land and head north, to seek work. Where once the Highlanders of West Virginia could count on a respectable lifelong income working in the mines, those mines have, to a large degree, been shut down. In the last quarter century alone, the number of coal mines has decreased from 5,985 (in 1978) to 1,586 (in 2004). With the reduction in the number of mines, came a reduction in workforce. In 1940, West Virginia mines employed 130,457 Highlanders. The most recent statistic puts current employment at 14,810 (underground and surface mining combined). 

Why the decline? Because outsiders have better use for the land. Environmentalists want to be able to hike it. Take pictures of it. Write New York Times editorials about it:
And Now to 'Streamline' King Coal's Beheading of Appalachia 

Six years ago, Jim Weekley, a watchful retiree in Appalachia, became angry enough to defend his seven-tenths-of-an-acre homestead in West Virginia's Pigeon Roost Hollow from a gargantuan mining process with a formidable name - mountaintop removal - that tells only half the truth.

The other half is the obliteration of countless streams, forests and hamlets lying below as mountaintops are systematically decapitated with dynamite to leave mesa-like tabletops.  
Francis X. Clines, so you know, is from Brooklyn and has worked for the Times - in New York -since 1958. His affinity with the people of West Virginia extends to picking up a phone and talking to a disaffected citizen of Pigeon Roost Hollow 587 miles away and decrying his plight. Clines is a man who wouldn't be caught dead in Pigeon Roost Hollow, West Virginia but somehow feels the need to bond with Jim Weekley, a man about whom he knows nothing and of whom he couldn't care less. Clines wants to immerse himself in empathy and self-absorption; the Pigeon Roost Hollow villager puts him there.

His is the way of all liberals in America.

West Virginia is being systematically depopulated. The Highlanders there today - just as those in Scotland were in 1760 - are being removed from their ancestral lands. Families are being split apart and are being forced to move north.

But it doesn't matter. New York liberals don't care about the destruction of Highlands families and their way of life. It's just too bad if the people of Logan or Welch or Kimball - or Pigeon Roost Hollow - have to pack their bags and head north in order to find gainful employment. Francis X. Clines has better use for their land. He demands that West Virginia's streams and forests remain pristine. He might want to fly over the area one day on his way to Mardi Gras and will want to see the waters flowing and the trees growing. Then again, he might not.

Francis X. Clines and his cohorts in the environmental movement don't give a damn about the people of West Virginia. If he and they did, they'd be down here doing everything they could to preserve the Highlanders' way of life. Instead, they work to depopulate the state of West Virginia, with the twisted notion that somehow boulders positioned such as they are represent nature as it is intended to be.

So the people of West Virginia - our Highlanders - are being ever so slowly forced from their land. Outsiders - America's aristocracy - our Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland - have decided the land is of greater value as wilderness. A playland. One big park.

The message to you Highlanders is clear: Leave now. Or learn to serve Big Macs to your lairds, er ... the tourists. Like Francis X. Clines.