Following the arrival of Daniel Boone a couple hundred years ago, a slow trickle of settlers started coming up the mountain and settling around Tanawha, what the Cherokee called Grandfather Mountain. Its reputation as a unique and special place began to spread far and wide.
It began attracting the attention of some of the most famous naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of them decided to make the long and difficult journey to see what the buzz was all about. They were NOT to be disappointed.
Two of the first to visit were Andre Michaux and John Fraser, and they were on very different missions and not exactly the best of friends.
While Fraser was a commercial collector, gathering and taking specimens back to grow in nurseries and greenhouses, Michaux, the King’s Botanist, had traveled the world collecting specimens for the royal gardens in Versailles before he came to the mountains of North Carolina.
When Michaux reached rocky Calloway Peak at Grandfather Mountain in 1794 he shouted, “Long live American and the Republic of France,” and burst into song…singing La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France at the top of his lungs because he thought he had reached the highest point in North America! And while that spot actually isn’t even in the top 200 peaks, at only 5,946 feet it IS the highest point along the Blue Ridge.
While history does not record Fraser breaking into a throaty version of “Scotland the Brave”, he did feel right at home among the moors and mountains of western North Carolina.
Biome sweet Biome…
Michaux and Fraser were like kids in a candy store because Grandfather Mountain has 16 distinct ecological communities on its slopes. And in the late 1700s trained botanists like those two were making discoveries nearly every day…constantly seeking to one up the other.
Fraser introduced 200 distinct plant species from the Americas to the world, while Michaux discovered over 280 in North and South Carolina. And while Michaux won the numbers game, Fraser, the namesake for the “Cadillac of Christmas Trees” has had the more enduring name recognition!
America’s most famous botanist, Asa Gray, from Harvard visited in 1841 in search of a plant he had seen Michaux’s collection
Finally, one of the first great American naturalists to visit Grandfather spent several weeks on and around the mountain, hiking and exploring, before going on to California and becoming famous for working to save what would later become known as Yosemite national park. That naturalist? John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go!” And so must we…see you next time on Appalachian Moments! Thanks again for liking, sharing and adding your comments! Click the link below to hear the audio version, and no, I don’t attempt to copy Andre’s version of La Marseillaise!