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The Hammons family of Pocahontas County is a family of traditionalists whose knowledge of music, storytelling, and woods lore have made them cultural guides and mentors since the late 19th century. A century-old account describes patriarch Jesse Hammons and his sons as expert woodsmen, and his son, Edden, as a talented fiddler. A short story in G. D. McNeill’s 1940 book, The Last Forest, features a character inspired by Edden, and his fiddling was recorded by West Virginia University folklorist Louis Chappell in 1947.

A broader study of the family in the early 1970s focused on Jesse Hammons’s grandchildren, Maggie Hammons Parker, Sherman Hammons, and Burl Hammons. The study led in 1973 to a Library of Congress double recording and a Rounder Records release. Both contain instrumental tunes, ballads, songs, stories, and lore; both accompanying booklets include early and modern photographs, and the Library of Congress booklet includes a family history constructed from documentary sources and the Hammonses’ own narration.

The family’s instrumental music includes a distinctive regional repertory of fiddle tunes forged on the early Appalachian frontier, as well as a banjo repertory (both picked and downstroked) of later vintage. Their singing tradition ranges from ancient British ballads through hundreds of American ballads and songs. All their music reflects a striking cultural synthesis, combining the artful irregularity and treble tension of the ancient British solo style with other Appalachian elements of Northern European, African-American, and possibly American Indian origin. Their storytelling is equally striking, featuring a distinctive rhetorical style and reflecting a fascination with the mysterious combined with skepticism about supernatural causes. Since the family subsisted on hunting, logging, trapping, and ginseng gathering for nearly two centuries, their woods lore was encyclopedic.

The fact that the Hammonses evoke the wilderness of the early Appalachian frontier fueled a growing interest in the family during the late 20th century. Thanks to documentary dissemination and a stream of visitors, they became symbols and resources for the next generation to tap. Their traditions have attracted many people from beyond their community and state, while influencing West Virginians such as Pocahontas County native Dwight Diller, who contributed to the Library of Congress publication, produced additional recordings, and learned and taught many Hammons family traditions. Many West Virginians feel an admiration for and connectedness to the Hammonses, perhaps because the family maintained in such full measure and with such grace cultural traditions that others have preserved but sketchily.

 

e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on the Hammons Family

 

This Article was written by Alan Jabbour

Last Revised on September 07, 2016


Sources

Milnes, Gerald. Play of a Fiddle. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Cuthbert, John & Alan Jabbour, eds. Edden Hammons Collection vols. 1 & 2, compact disc. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1999-2000.

Fleischhauer, Carl & Alan Jabbour, ed. The Hammons Family: The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and their Friends. Rounder CD 1504/05, 1998. .

Cite This Article

Jabbour, Alan "Hammons Family." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 September 2016. Web. 20 September 2017.

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