Appalachia

White Clay

field of broomsedge

“You boys, take this bucket and go up to the clay pit and bring back as much as you can tote.” That was my Grandmother Edmondson giving my brother, Bobby , and me a work order in the mid-1940’s. We knew the clay pit was in the left bank of the Big Creek Road, in Gilmer County, Georgia, about one hundred and fifty yards from her house. We also knew there was a broken-handled hoe in the pit to use to dig the clay. Our objective was to dig out as much of the white kaolin clay as we could carry between us in the five-gallon bucket back to the unpainted farmhouse.

Grandmother would take the clay and sprinkle it over the bare wood floors of the four-room house. She then took her broomsedge broom, bound with a strip of rubber from an inner tube, and swept the clay across the floor. The clay would collect the dirt and control the dust as it filled the little crevices in the wood grain and cracks between the boards.

That was a country version of a sweeping compound that left the floors with a dust free, fresh aroma and a certain brightness that would last for days.

—Earl Cagle

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The piece by Earl is an excerpt from the book “Reflections on Mountain Heritage” published by the Gilmer County Genealogical Society, Inc.

Earl sent me the book about a month or so ago and let me tell you it’s a treasure trove of information about Mountain Life.

I’ll be sharing more from the book in the future, but if you’d like to pick up your own copy you can find it here for a very reasonable price.

Tipper

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    tmc
    July 31, 2019 at 5:37 am

    All we had was red clay would stain anything it touched, not a kid in the neighborhood that didn’t have red stains on their clothes, better not get caught playing in your Sunday best.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 30, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    C J Harris hospital over in Sylva was named for Charles Joseph Harris who engaged in kaolin mining in nearby Dillsboro. The clay was shipped all over the world and used in making porcelain. His company mined kaolin in Jackson, Swain, Haywood, Mitchell, Yancey, and Avery counties.
    My mica mine also produced kaolin but it played out long before I came along. We found a little but not enough do anything with. It also produced rubies and garnets. We found some of those too but once again not big enough to have any value. That’s the story of my life. Too little, too late!

  • Reply
    L C BARN
    July 30, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    In a recent article on Public TV (PBS) about the Georgia white clay and the folks that EAT the clay for cures for various elements. The folks interviewed by PBS, have been eating White Georgia clay for years and swear by its health benefits.
    A must see program.

  • Reply
    Betty Hopkins
    July 30, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    My older brother had a lifelong career in pottery and he attributes it all to the white Georgia clay. When we were growing up in the North Georgia mountains, there was a white clay hole near our house. In the Spring, we would go along with Mama to the “white mud hole” as she called it, with our little syrup buckets and help her carry back as much as we could. She would mix it with water to scrub the floors and white wash the chimney. As a little boy my brother loved playing with it, so he’d try to craft little pots from it, not thinking for a moment it would develop into a lifelong career. When he grew up, he moved to NM and met and married a Navajo Indian girl who shared his love of pottery. She taught him the Indian designs, and they had a profitable business many years making and marketing authentic Indian pottery. After they divorced, he could no longer market his as authentic Indian pottery, so he honed his skills on the “black-on-black” pottery and earned many awards and recognition for it. All this from playing in that white Georgia clay!

  • Reply
    Earl Cagle
    July 30, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Georgia is well known for the kaolin clay that is mined south of Augusta. One use, is in the coating of paper that is used in magazine covers. I am sure most everyone has experienced the “ink” getting on their hands after reading some magazines.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    July 30, 2019 at 11:47 am

    I have read in history books that the white clay found in our area is of the finest quality and in the early days of settlement, some was mined and sent to England to make the beautiful Wedgewood pottery.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    July 30, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Tipper,
    I marveled over Earl’s White Clay experiences as a youngster. We had mostly Black dirt where we lived at Topton, but it was Great for Farming. Mama never had any white Clay to clean floors with, she swept often. We had plenty of Rocks and they showed every time Daddy plowed. My older brothers would pile those in Rocks in several Rows, making Perfect places for them ole Copperheads.

    Almost every night we’d go Posseum hunting up in the fields and in the wintertime we caught many a varmint trying to steal our chickens. One time a Wiesel got into our chickens, Boy that thing was hard to hit. It was Fast as Greased Lightning. But finally I held the Flashlite on him long enough for my brother to get a clean shot and it was over. The fiests were waiting on the Ground and they did their job.

    Daddy had nailed Dynamite boxes, filled with Broomsage, under each window. In the Wintertime it came in handy to not get into The deep Snow. You only had to raise the windows to gather enough eggs for Breakfast. …Ken

  • Reply
    Dee
    July 30, 2019 at 10:35 am

    When I saw the words “White Clay,” it took me back to MS. My great-grandfather was a Pottery Maker, making churns, etc., used for daily tasks. He taught my father how to turn when daddy was about 15. Daddy said they would go to a certain place to dig their clay. It was white and my father could take a tiny piece of clay put it in his mouth and determine if it was good clay for pottery making. When I was about 12 they took a picture of me standing with my grandmother at her Bentonite Clay pit. She and her brother had sold the Bentonite Clay to a company that used it in the making of soap. I read somewhere that Kaolin was thought to have been used as one of the first clays to make pottery by our ancestors and that it is still used in pottery, health and beauty products. I have seen some of the whitest clay in the hills of north east MS. My great-grandmothers used it for cleaning floors too.

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    July 30, 2019 at 9:00 am

    You can clean carpets in a similar way… Gather snow and sprinkle it on the carpets. Sweep the snow across the rugs and it will become dirty snow, carrying all the dirt and dust that is on them. Gather the dirty snow and toss out. Clean carpets.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 30, 2019 at 7:50 am

    This is a new one for me. I never heard of using clay powder on wood floors. One of the great characteristics of our people was to figure out a way to get the job done with nothing!
    This is one of the reasons why this blog is so important. It shines a light on a people who were not educated but could accomplish anything they needed to get done!

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    July 30, 2019 at 7:28 am

    I have read that an anti diarrhea medicine used kaolin to manufactory kaopectate… I’m not sure, but it was mined in Georgia.

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