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By Barnette D. W.

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Chestnuts were big trees everywhere, but this land gave rise to giants—trees a dozen feet wide and ten times as tall. One Goliath in 18 / Part One Francis Cove, North Carolina, measured seventeen feet across. In spring, the trees bloomed long bushy catkins of cream-colored Xowers that Wlled the woods with a pungent perfume and made the forests look, from a distance, “like a sea with white combers plowing across its surface,” as the naturalist Donald Culross Peattie wrote. Until the early eighteenth century, few whites had ever laid eyes on the Appalachian region’s oceanic forests.

A pig could grow stout as a barrel on chestnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. That ample carpet of nuts, sometimes inches thick, allowed drovers to move huge herds of hogs, cattle, and even turkeys across the slopes of the southern mountains to supply food for laborers on the plantations to the Southeast. The wildlife that also feasted on the nuts ensured a steady supply of game for the dinner table. “There wasn’t no kind of game that roamed these mountains that didn’t eat the chestnuts,” Georgia native Jake Waldroop recalled.

Typically, farm families either bartered the nuts for merchandise or were paid in “due bills”—scrip issued 22 / Part One by the little stores that dotted the mountainside and served as each community’s economic center. Stores like Akins’, DeHart’s, Hopkins’, Pike’s each issued their own due bills—small circles of cardboard, tin, or brass that were marked in varying denominations, stamped with the store’s name, and redeemable only at that store. Early’s family would haul their sacks of nuts to Pike’s store in Meadows of Dan.

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