Catherine Venable Moore — Writer & Producer

Archive for the ‘Past Projects’ Category

“River Road of Sand” Radio Documentary

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on October 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Here are links to a 3-part series I just wrapped up for West Virginia Public Radio about the history of batteaux in the New River Gorge area, about 20 minutes of listening in all. Transcripts are available at So far I’ve received some really generous, positive feedback on the pieces, but would love to hear some critiques as well!

Part 1: A Survey of the New

Today we hear a story about the man who put the Marshall in Marshall University. Chief Justice John Marshall, that is. Two hundred years ago this September, he, along with a group of elite commissioners and a crew of hard-working boatmen, set off on a river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny Mountains. Their month-long journey took them from Lynchburg, VA, all the way to Kanawha Falls in present day Fayette County, WV. This year, a crew from Virginia retraced that route on a boat they built themselves, called a batteau. Their long, flat-bottomed wooden boat, The Mary Marshall, is similar to those poled by boatmen up and down the waterways of western Virginia during Marshall’s era, and all the way into the 1920s. Before the interstate,  before the railroad, there was the batteau. Producer Catherine Moore has this first installment in a three-part series, called “The River Road of Sand,” about the history of batteaux in West Virginia.

Part 2: Hard Work

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Chief Justice John Marshall’s river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny mountains. The boat that took he and his crew through the wilds of western Virginia was called a batteau—a flat-bottomed wooden boat like a long, skinny barge that could carry lots of cargo. We know that the men who labored to pole Marshall’s batteau up river were black, as were most batteaumen. Yesterday, we heard about a group of Virginians who built a batteau of their own to retrace Marshall’s 1812 journey. In this installment of a 3-part series, “The River Road of Sand,” producer Catherine Moore talks to one Hinton native with a deep and personal interest in the history of batteaux, and in the process learns more about the labor realities that made these boats run.

Part 3: Yee Haw

Sometimes all it takes is an anniversary to remind us of a long-forgotten piece of our history. Sometimes it takes an anniversary, and a crazy idea. In September of 1812, a 57-year-old Chief Justice John Marshall headed into the wilderness of western Virginia to survey a canal over the mountains to the Ohio River. This year, a group of young Virginians under Captain Andrew Shaw retraced Marshall’s journey in a long flatbottomed wooden boat, called a batteau, that they built themselves. In part 3 of our series on the history of batteaux in West Virginia, The River Road of Sand, producer Catherine Moore learns more about what happened after Marshall’s survey but before the New River Gorge became a center for whitewater recreation. Special thanks to Squirrel, a raft guide among raft guides, who saved this piece by having double-AA batteries lowered into the New River in a bucket.

Many thanks to Beth Vorhees, Robin Crawford, Jon Averill, Andrew Shaw, Jay Young, Dave Arnold, Norman Jordan, and the National Parks Service.

Batteaumen on The New

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm

A batteau on the New

Thanks to some historians and hobbyists over in the Regular Virginia, we now have a pretty good picture of how the batteau system worked on rivers in and around the Richmond-Lynchburg area. But over here in the BEST VIRGINIA, we’re still learning more about the economies and cultures surrounding this tradition. (The National Parks Service has a nice summary here.)

I’m currently mad at work on a series of short pieces for WV Public Radio detailing some of this history, with the news peg being a recent project retracing the route of John Marshall’s survey expedition to find a viable waterway over the Alleghenies in 1812, as well as the 200th anniversary of that event this fall. It’s set to air in September.

Recently, I caught up with Robin Crawford, a Hinton native who traces his family genealogy to black batteaumen–both enslaved people and free–who plied the waters of the New in the mid- and late-19th century. In fact, he’s the first known descendent of batteaumen in the U.S.

Here’s a snippet from our interview, in which he talks about discovering his ancestors in census records:

R.C.: The first person I notice on there is James Jonston. James Johnston married my great grandfather’s sister, who was Amanda. Then it listed three other people, John Henry Pack, Amanda’s son. Allen Pack, my great grandfather’s brother. And Homer Smithers married Laura Pack.

Well I didn’t know what a batteuman, or a batteau was at the time. One came for the WV Water Festival and that particular year the water was too high for the boat to be on the river so it was in the park downtown all day. I knew it was going to be there and I went and hung out with the guy all day. I wanted to learn everything I could about it. At the end of the day he said, ‘What is your interest?’ I told him I had discovered that I had relatives that did that work on this river. He was amazed that he had actually met someone who knew these people.

I knew Amanda’s daughter, she was one of my teachers. She told me, ‘Son, your people worked The Rivahhhhh.’ That’s how she put it. I had no clue. She was an elderly woman when I started the segregated schools she was still one of the teachers there.

The batteaumen, I believe, were actually the boat captains. There were many other men who worked the boat with them.

Allen Pack actually settled near where I was born and my mother knew lots of stories about him. He was the only Pack slave that was ever whipped. And it was because he was sort of drafted by the Confederacy during the Civil War. He refused to maneuver one of the bateaux the way the Confederates wanted him to, so…

He also read a poem written by a white woman about the way the river looked before the Bluestone Dam, which mentions some of his ancestors. Here’s part of it:

Ah yes it’s covered over now with water cold and deep
But our memories are strong and warm
As o’er the years they keep

The old log house with the fireplace
And the river road of sand
Where we walked along 50 years ago just above Blue Stone Dam

The old log church called Blue Stone View
At the top of John Pence Hill
Folks for miles around in wagons came
Seems I can see them still

There was Blind Joe and Old Tom Pack
Aunt Sussy and Ground Hog Sam
They worshipped every Sunday there
Just above Blue Stone Dam

C.M.: What’s that like?

R.C.: Well, it just gave me chills. This is a white lady writing about her childhood and old Tom still came here and came to church.

C.M.: Can you see them still?

R.C.: No, no. But I can just imagine. I can just imagine the scene.

Farm to Youtube

In Appalachia, Current Projects, Multimedia, Past Projects on May 1, 2012 at 1:59 am

This spring, I’ve had the good fortune to work with two organizations that aim to strengthen West Virginia’s local food economy and support the farmers who make it all happen.

I helped the fine folks over at the WV Food and Farm Coalition put together “Fresh Ideas in Action,” a series of audio slide shows highlighting what’s already working in our food system. From schools to veteran’s hospitals, more and more West Virginians are seeing the benefits of growing and eating fresh local produce, and these videos prove it! The organization’s director, Savanna Lyons, says she’s heard a lot of positive feedback from the project. Sometimes people need to be reminded of their successes! See the complete series.

I’ve also been helping the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia transcribe, edit, and catalog their video collection. The Collaborative runs–a website that connects farmers to consumers–as well as several other initiatives, like the yearly Cast Iron Cook-off at the Greenbrier. They are working to expand their catalog of video training modules so that a new generation of young farmers can understand the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

I’m proud to be working with both of these organizations on projects I believe in.