The Galax Gatherers

The Gospel among the Highlanders

  • Author(s): Guerrant, Edward O.
  • Series: Appalachian Echoes Non-Fiction
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 0000-00-00
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $21.95 | Buy Now

Perhaps no group has had such a controversial place in the literature of Appalachian studies as the home missionaries. Accused of cultural and religious imperialism,many scholars fault home missionaries for casting mountain peoples in the role of “other,” as well as for partnering with economic interests to exploit the region’s resources. Edward O. Guerrant, a Kentucky-born physician and Presbyterian minister, has been singled out as one of the worst offenders.For most of his adult life, Guerrant traveled the hills and hamlets of southern Appalachia, spreading gospel, building churches, and recording his keen observations of the landscape and the people. In 1910, Guerrant published The Galax Gatherers: The Gospel among the Highlanders, an account of these travels. Reissued here for the first time, The Galax Gatherers is a fascinating look at Guerrant’s beliefs, prejudices, and vision for a people “left behind” by the modern world.

Guerrant’s interest in Appalachia began when he served as a soldier in the Confederate army, during which time he traveled the mountains of southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky. When the war ended in 1865, he began training to become a medical doctor, eventually setting up practice near Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, where population was sparse. But Guerrant was just as interested in saving the souls of his mountain neighbors as their bodies; in 1873 he went to seminary, and by 1877 he was named to the Presbyterian Church’s Home Missions Committee. So began Guerrant’s famously contentious career as a mountain missionary.

Using his medical expertise to entice followers, Guerrant recruited nearly three thousand new Church members in his first four-year term as “Synodical Evangelist,” organized twenty-five congregations, and built fifteen houses of worship. In 1897, Guerrant founded the Society of Soul Winners, a non-denominational organization that trained ministers and teachers for mountain work and constructed churches, mission schools, colleges, an orphanage, and a hospital.

In a new introduction to the text, Mark Huddle notes that the lingering picture of Guerrant is more complex than scholars have heretofore acknowledged. The Galax Gatherers is the story of the mountain missionaries in the words of one of their own and an absorbing record of early twentieth-century Appalachian life.