Now, in the course of researching this book, I believe I have something resembling an answer. Purely speculative, but it fits the historical happenstance.
The question I've been trying to nail down is, How did Appalachia come to be settled? How did it get so poor? Where'd we get rednecks?
David was almost certainly an indentured servant. We are taught in our high-school history lessons that the indentured-servant system, which brought over millions of laborers from Europe over the course of nearly two centuries, resembled the sort of apprenticeship deal that taught young men a craft or trade for centuries in Europe. As Jim Goad puts it in The Redneck Manifesto (with a great deal of smoldering rage in his voice), "After I left history class, I carried away the idea that a cabal of muckety-muck benefactors allowed white people to learn a trade in the New World and were so effusively benevolent that they even paid for their passage across the Atlantic. I pictured Ben Franklin teaching Oliver Twist how to run a printing press, or maybe Tom Jefferson instructing the Artful Dodger in Latin."
Do you know where we get the word "kidnap"? It was a common practice in horrible old London in the late 17th century: "Spirits" -- defined by Richard Hofstadter as people who "waylaid, kidnapped or induced adults to get aboard ships for America" -- rounded up orphaned, destitute, homeless children, knocked them on the head, and delivered them up to shipping companies, who bundled them into holds every bit as horrifying as those carrying enslaved Africans, and delivered them to America. Hofstadter says that in 1731, the year Mull was born, a ship called Love and Unity sailed from Rotterdam carrying 150 German Palatines. Thirty-four of them arrived in Philadelphia.
A German musician named Gottleib Mittelberger was a paying passenger on another such voyage, this one in 1750, ten years after David arrived in America. Thirty-two children died on that trip. Howard Zinn quotes him, in A People's History of the United States:
During the journey the ship was full of pitiful signs of distress -- smells, fumes, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever dysentery, headaches, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and similar afflictions, all of them caused by the age and the high salted state of the food, especially of the meat, as well as by the bad and filthy water.... Add to all that shortage of food, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, fear, misery, vexation, and lamentation as well as other troubles. On board our ship, on a day on which we had a great storm, a woman about to give birth and unable to deliver under the circumstances, was pushed through one of the portholes into the sea.If shanghai'ed to America like this, David would have been a Redemptioner; he'd have had to have established his indenture after arriving -- essentially selling himself to somebody while still aboard ship in the Philadelphia port before having a chance to recover from a harrowing voyage -- meaning there was no guarantee he wouldn't have been thrown into a debtor's prison (yes, we had 'em) for failing to pay the shipping company for the privilege of having enjoyed all that ship's biscuit and salted horse.
And he could have been bought and sold, too. Zinn: "An announcement in the Virginia Gazette, March 28, 1771, read: 'Just arrived at Leedstown, the Ship Justitia, with about one Hundred Healthy Servants, Men, Women and Boys.... The sale will commence on Tuesday the 2nd of April.'"
At the age of nine.
Wonder if he wasn't just a tad bitter.
But David was one of the lucky ones. He did survive, he did work out his indenture, he did establish himself as a prosperous farmer, marry, and raise a brood of children. Others weren't so fortunate. Zinn:
In general, the Indian was kept at a distance. And the colonial officialdom had found a way of alleviating the danger: by monopolizing the good land on the eastern seaboard, they forced landless whites to move westward to the frontier [which in those times was Appalachia] there to encounter the Indians and to be a buffer for the seaboard rich against Indian troubles, while becoming more dependent on the government for protection.And that, my friends, is where we get rednecks.