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James Taylor Adams

The mission of this page is introduce viewers to the life, travels, and work of James Taylor Adams. The Special Collections of the library at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise is the home of the culmination of his life’s work. As we are fortunate enough to be able to experience his collection first-hand, sharing what we can about Mr. Adams and his collection is not only a service to the library, but, it is also a service to anyone that has an interest in the folk-lore and folk songs of the Appalachian region. So, who was James Taylor Adams and why is his work and collection important? James Taylor Adams was an important part of the Wise County and Norton, Virginia communities. While he might have “worn many hats”, his most important role was that of folklore and history collector. Through his work, he helped preserved the culture, history and tradition of the people in this region of the Appalachian Mountains. The folklore he collected provides us with a brief insight into the lives of our ancestors, and also a look into Appalachia.
Folklore during this time was a means of communication, teaching, and entertainment; so, it served as an integral part of the every day lives of the people that lived in the region.

So, what is folklore and why is it important to us? By definition, folklore is the culmination of traditional customs, tales, sayings, dances, or art forms preserved among a people, according to Merriam Webster. However, as a home-grown woman in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia, I know that folklore is more than that. Folklore is the very thread that connects us to our roots. Although it is preserved, much like Granny’s strawberry jam, among a people, I would argue that it is the way in which the folklore is preserved that is the more important point to consider. The way folklore is preserved now is affected by the more recent invention of things like tape recorders, CD’s, and even scribes. However, this is not how folklore was always preserved. Folklore preservation was once maintained by word of mouth and by word of mouth only. This instilled an incredibly personal connection between the folklore itself and the narrator/singer/performer, and that connection was spread to everyone listening/watching. It gave the stories heart. One of my favorite past times includes sitting on Granny’s back porch drinking a coke from a mason jar after I had climbed every tree in the yard while she told me stories and taught me how to play rummy. However, preservation by word of mouth can have its downsides when the folklore of an area is so rich and deep that it becomes an issue to remember it all. This is where the wonderful life works of James Taylor Adams comes in. Without his rich collection of folklore from this area, we would all have a missing piece to the history of our home, a missing piece to the history of ourselves.

This page was made possible by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges¬† and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.