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Ebook Information

The Old German Baptist Brethren

Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge

A traditional community's struggle to define itself in the face of agricultural change

Since arriving nearly 250 years ago in Franklin County, Virginia, German Baptists have maintained their faith and farms by relying on their tightly knit community for spiritual and economic support. Today, with their land and livelihoods threatened by the encroachment of neighboring communities, the construction of a new highway, and competition from corporate megafarms, the German Baptists find themselves forced to adjust.

Charles D. Thompson Jr.'s The Old German Baptist Brethren combines oral history with ethnography and archival research--as well as his own family ties to the Franklin County community--to tell the story of the Brethren's faith on the cusp of impending change. The book traces the transformation of their operations from frontier subsistence farms to cash-based enterprises, connecting this with the wider confluence of agriculture and faith in colonial America. Using extensive interviews, Thompson looks behind the scenes at how individuals interpret their own futures in farming, their hope for their faith, and how the failure of religiously motivated agriculture figures in the larger story of the American farmer.


"Thompson's book is a welcome addition to scholarship on a wide range of topics. . . . Libraries with collections focusing on Virginia, Appalachia, agricultural history, religious history, and oral history will want to purchase this book. Highly recommended."--Choice

"Thompson's book is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a religious community in America. His work will be of interest to oral historians, who will be pleased that his contextualization of each narrative includes narrative description of the activities, location, and even weather during his interview."--Journal of Folklore Research

"This fair and richly researched analysis provides insight into a unique religious minority and their alternative witness against the hidden costs of industrialized agriculture and suburban development in the United States."--Journal of Southern History

“Provides excellent and moving insight into the decline of farming in a rural community under development pressure.”--Appalachian Journal


Charles D. Thompson Jr. directs undergraduate studies at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. He is the author or editor of three books, an oral historian, a documentary photographer, and filmmaker.

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