What were the odds of seeing Twelve Mile Circle visitors from George, South Africa and George, Washington, USA on the same day? I found the coincidence fascinating. The city of George in Washington was, of course, named for George Washington. That other George in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, I suspected, must have been named for one of the several King Georges who ruled Great Britain. Which one though? There were six such kings over a span of more than two centuries. That led me to wonder if I could find a geographic place named for each one of them. I uncovered more than I expected so I had to split the topic into two articles. This post will cover George I, II and III. The next one will discuss George IV, V and VI.
George didn’t become King until he was well into his 50’s upon the death of Queen Anne. He’d been born in Hanover and spent his time as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg growing up. There were numerous members of the extended royal family more closely related to Anne that George, however they were all Catholic so they didn’t qualify to succeed her. Being of Protestant faith, the throne came to George, the first king of the House of Hanover. His age pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t reign long and it limited the opportunity for places to be named in his honor.
A section of Richmond County in Virginia (referenced in Not the City) became King George County (map) in 1720. The county website confirmed that it was named for George I. That would make sense because its founding happened right in the middle of his reign.
Not much happened in King George County although a future President of the United States, James Madison was born there in 1751. That was impressive although I discovered another person born in the county that interested me even more, a man with the unusual nickname William "Extra Billy" Smith. He had quite a distinguished career, serving in the United States Congress, the Confederate State Congress, the Governor of Virginia both for the United States and for the Confederacy, and as a Major General in the Confederate Army. He tried his luck in California during the Gold Rush and he operated a postal service that ran from Virginia to Georgia. The postal operation earned him his unusual nickname. It seemed that he created a bunch of unnecessary side routes to collect additional fees. Friends and foes alike began to call him "Extra Billy" after authorities discovered his scheme, a name that followed him for life.
Next came George II, son of George I, who ruled for a much longer period. A longer reign equaled more opportunities for places named for him, and that’s exactly what I found. The state of Georgia (map) in the United States may have been the most significant. James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia colony in 1733 under a royal charter issued by George II, and it was always a good idea to flatter one’s patron. A beautiful lake in the Adirondacks of New York, sometimes called the Queen of American Lakes, also took his name: Lake George (map). The lake got its name during the era of the French and Indian War when Sir William Johnson occupied the territory and won the Battle of Lake George. The Georgetown neighborhood (map) of Washington, DC, however, may or may may not have been named for George II. It’s founding certainly dated to his reign. Nonetheless the founders and primary land owners were George Beall and George Gordon so those could have inspired the named too.
George II also had a war named for him: King George’s War, (1744–48), the North American campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession.
George II’s son Frederick died before him so the succession went to his grandson, George III who was only 22 years old. George III also lived a very long time. He reigned for nearly sixty years so his name got affixed to lots of places although few of them existed in the United States. He was viewed as an oppressor when the nation fought for its independence so his name may have been expunged. I couldn’t find a single instance although I’m sure some must have survived somewhere.
Elsewhere, however, his named flourished in places across the British Empire. George, the South African city referenced previously was a shining example. George became quite a lovely tourist destination in the Garden Route, wedged between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean. More unlikely was George Town (map), the capital city of the state of Penang in Malaysia. The naming traced to Captain Francis Light who founded a settlement there in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company.
Other places named for George III included: George Town, Tasmania, Australia; South Georgia Island; Prince George, British Columbia, Canada; Georgetown, Guyana, and undoubtedly many other places too numerous to mention.
Appalachia described more than a physical geography, it described a proudly self-reliant people who’d lived within these hills and hollows on their own wits for more than two centuries. I mentioned some of my perceptions after I visited Kentucky in 2013. It would be all to easy to reduce Appalachia to unfair hillbilly stereotypes, however the reality was considerably more complex as I searched for dominant themes. Multiple books have been written on each of these subjects. I wished I’d had time or space for something more than a few short paragraphs.
Coal was everywhere. We passed uncountable collections of rusting mining equipment, faded United Mine Workers of America union halls and mountains completely shorn of their tops. Coal underpinned much of the regional economy. The fortunes of Appalachia bobbed with the price of coal and it was down a deep hole as we drove through. Blame the Chinese economy. China’s slowdown dampened an insatiable hunger for coal. Think of places left behind, robbed of their middle class prosperity, and we witnessing them as we followed our twisted track. Many settlements nestled along the valleys felt downtrodden, and poverty never seemed distant even in the nicer parts of town. A slight drizzle and overcast clouds followed us for much of our drive, only heightening the effect.
We passed a building made of coal in the heart of Williamson, West Virginia (map). It housed the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce. It was closed.
Coal had to find a way out of Kentucky or Virginia or West Virginia, and that happened over rails. Every river gorge had a companion railroad line, pulling parts of Appalachia away a rail car at a time. Train whistles carried a wistful tune, a constant companion especially at night when sounds echoed down valleys on the wind. I finally made it to the Princeton Railroad Museum outside of Bluefield, West Virginia (map). I had better luck this time than my last visit about a year and a half ago when it was closed. The museum filled two floors a former depot of the Virginia Railway, a line that stretched four hundred miles during its heyday, from the Appalachian coalfields to the port of Hampton Roads near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Bluegrass music got its start in the heart of Appalachia, rooted in Scottish, English and Irish folk traditions carried by immigrants who arrived in the 18th Century. The region only recently began to capitalize on this storied heritage. Virginia established The Crooked Road, as an example, a trail through the rural southwestern corner marked with waysides and venues important to this indigenous musical tradition. I’d hoped to stop at some of those places. Unfortunately we drove through on a Sunday in mid-March and they were universally unavailable either because it was too early in the season or because it was a day of rest.
We did stumble upon a political rally on the West Virginia side of the border with Kentucky completely by chance when I veered away from the highway to capture a new county. It was a pity the band played mainstream Country rather than Bluegrass. I might have stayed a little longer than a few minutes if it were Bluegrass and if we didn’t already have a long list of places we needed to see that day.
The Appalachian states roiled in conflict during the American Civil War, 1861-1865. Virginia clearly sided with the Confederacy. Part of Virginia split to form a new state, West Virginia, aligned with the Union. Kentucky became a border state and fell within Union control early in the war. Nothing was ever that simple in Appalachia, however. People picked sides regardless of residence, sometimes splitting loyalties even within families. We passed a marker in Kentucky near the Virginia border that mourned an unknown Confederate soldier (map). He passed through as the war concluded, probably on his way home, only to be ambushed on the side of the road by anonymous assassins. Local townsmen buried him at the spot and later planted a rosebush to mark his grave, although he could not be identified and his family never learned his fate.
Violence returned in the early 20th Century as exploited coal miners began to unionize, a movement called the Coal Wars or the Mine Wars. One of the more significant clashes took place in a town we visited, Matewan, West Virginia. It was best known as the site of the Matewan Massacre. Earlier it also stood at ground zero for the Hatfield and McCoy feud. An undercurrent of violence ran deep.
I considered that moonshine verged on stereotype, however the area seemed to embrace its rebellious image at nearly every museum or exhibit we encountered. Appalachia had a long history of illegal alcohol hidden in remote backwoods, of corn liquor distilled one step ahead of law enforcement, of fast cars flying down country lanes, of secret stashes and tax evasion. Often this served as a romantic metaphor for the independent nature of people who lived in isolated communities beyond the normal reach of authorities. Moonshine probably continued to trickle from the mountaintop stills for all I knew, although a bigger drug problem seemed to have pushed it aside recently.
Breaks Interstate Park had a particularly nice example of a moonshine still on exhibit. (map)
Breaks Interstate Park also featured another historical artifact of more recent vintage although it wasn’t marked and few people knew about it, probably because it didn’t really have that much significance outside of Virginia’s local politics. I remembered the details. It happened in 2006 as Senator George Allen ran for reelection. His campaign stopped at Breaks where he delivered a speech to loyal supporters. A tracker for his opponent had followed the campaign for several days, recording every move. Allen must have finally reached a breaking point because he referred to the tracker, a man of South Asian ancestry as "macaca," a derogatory slur based on a Portuguese word for monkey. The tracker captured Allen’s quote on video, and from there it hit the mainstream press, going viral. Allen lost the election to his opponent, Jim Webb, and with it his presidential ambitions. In Virginia politics this came to be known as the "Macaca Moment."
I knew the incident took place at one of the picnic pavilions at Breaks Interstate Park, although I didn’t know which one. I took a photograph of the most accessible pavilion as a proxy to memorialize this event (map).
The true salvation of modern Appalachia may be tourism. Its rich heritage and natural beauty would seem to be considerably more stable than the price of coal. It also seemed so completely untapped in many places we saw while we wandered. People would flock to these spots if they were more well known and more accessible. Efforts have been made, of course, and sometimes they showed up in unexpected places. We stopped for lunch at a scenic covered bridge in Virginia (map) and I looked up to see the letters L-O-V-E formed strategically in front of the bridge, only visible from a certain angle. It was part of a the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s highly successful Virginia is for Lovers campaign. I thought it was rather clever how a tree represented the letter V.
Twelve Mile Circle received a handful of mysterious search queries focusing on the word "sawtooth" recently, and then specifically referencing a location named Sawtooth Point, Rhode Island. I assumed they all derived from a common origin because they landed on the same day from the same metropolitan area.
One shouldn’t get too alarmed. Usage statistics can’t identify individual readers by name although a lot does get recorded whenever someone lands on a website. I do enjoy reviewing aggregated data especially searches dropped directly onto 12MC. Sometimes they pique my curiosity, as with the aforementioned Sawtooth Point, and I learn a thing or two in the process. Hopefully my curiosity will also satisfy the needs of our anonymous reader who placed the notion in my head if he or she ever returns.
Spoiler alert, I quickly discovered that Sawtooth Point was a fictional location. It simply didn’t exist. Rather it was the setting for a novel written by John Casey in 2010 titled "Compass Rose." I haven’t read it although it sounded interesting, more character focused than action driven, and of course I liked the title. The New York Times Sunday Review gave it favorable marks.
… the story of a handful of people who live in a small coastal community in Rhode Island’s South County. Yet this bit of a world is complete unto itself, with its own force fields, its own variations of true north, its own ways of tilting into alignment.
John Casey finished writing Spartina in 1986, but his characters weren’t done with him. The novel went on to win the National Book Award, Casey went on to other books — but he never stopped writing about his fictional South County world. Twenty years later, the highly anticipated sequel, Compass Rose, brings it all back. "I was thinking the next time I’m in Rhode Island, I’ll go look at that big old white house on Sawtooth Point," Casey says. "Then I remember that I made it up."
That certainly addressed the question with certainty. The author himself stated unambiguously that Sawtooth Point didn’t exist except in his fertile imagination. Or was it? Did the "made it up" refer to the old white house or to Sawtooth Point itself? Could there still be an actual Sawtooth Point? The designation didn’t appear in the Geographic Names Information System. In fact no place anywhere in Rhode Island had any variant of sawtooth in its name. That only meant that no formally designated Sawtooth Point existed in Rhode Island. It could still exist off-the-books, I figured. Maybe.
Wait a minute, though. I celebrated capturing the final two counties on my trip through the area last May to complete my Rhode Island county counting map. I didn’t remember any South County. Rhode Island had only five counties: Bristol; Kent; Newport; Providence and Washington. There wasn’t a Sawtooth Point and there wasn’t a South County.
By an odd twist of fate, I’d received an email message from reader "Dave" just a few days before I noticed the Sawtooth Point queries. He recounted a dinnertime conversation where his family discussed county names. That made me jealous because I couldn’t imagine a geography-based conversation happening anywhere around my dinner table, although that was really besides the point. Their discussion turned to the counties of Rhode Island, and the notion that Washington County (map) was rarely referenced in that manner. Locals called it South County. I supposed it related to its geographic placement within the State although I couldn’t find any concrete reason why Washington County wasn’t a good enough name. Maybe it was because Rhode Island disestablished its county structure except for various statistical and judicial purposes in 1846 and it simply didn’t matter anymore. Washington County, South County, whatever.
Dave had wondered whether this was a unique situation, a county with a largely ignored official name and a frequently referenced nickname. I didn’t know of any other situation like that, however, before declaring it unique I thought it might be best to consult the all-knowing 12MC audience.
I supposed I also needed to add two more titles, Spartina and Compass Rose, to the long list of books I should probably read someday. And I still didn’t know if there was an actual Sawtooth Point.