“The most barbarous place in the continent”

By Clint Parker

Woodfin – According to a short state history entry found on a webpage of UNC.edu, Lew Powell stated:

“The London-based Society [for the Propagation of the Gospel] sent the first missionary to North Carolina in 1704, John Blair, a graduate of Glasgow College. On his arrival in the province he observed that the population was ‘exceedingly scattered’ and the people backward in religious matters and little disposed to assist in the support of a minister of the Church of England.’ After a brief period he returned to England enfeebled with poverty and sickness,’ having found North Carolina ‘the most barbarous place in the Continent.’”

These missionaries sometimes gave places they consider “barbarous” biblical names they associated with evil like Sodom and Gomorrah. Just consult a gazetteer and you will find Western North Carolina must have been on the wrong side of these missionaries.

A gazetteer is a repository of geographic information. Wikipedia calls it, “…a geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent.”

The North Carolina Gazetteer (second edition) lists five places in the state with the name Sodom as the name or as part of the geographical area’s name, all in Western North Carolina. Three of those are in Madison County and they are Sodom (also known as Sodom Laurel), Sodom Branch and Sodom Mountain. One, Sodom Branch is in Yancey County. The last, Sodom Hollow, is in Buncombe County and more specifically in the Town of Woodfin.

This last Sodom, Sodom Hollow, is the area surrounding the French Broad River near the Old Leicester Highway Bridge. A Google map places the area around the river at Craggy Motors and the new French Broad River Academy Girls’ campus.

The gazetteer describes the geographic area as “central Buncombe County, the valley through which [the] French Broad River follows northwest of Asheville toward Dryman Mountain.”

How did Sodom Hollow get its name? According to the gazetteer, the area was “named by an early circuit rider [preacher], who compared the rough pioneers living there with the inhabitants of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.” Might this circuit-riding preacher have been John Blair?

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Clint Parker

Publisher & Editor Weaverville Tribune

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