Sarah Catherine Margaret Nipper, Cherokee Daughter of Appalachia

Margaret Nipper Hylton and Charlie Hylton in Sophia, West Virginia.

On International Women’s Day, I celebrate Sarah Catherine “Margaret” Nipper, my great-great-grandmother. She was half Cherokee, but written down in the census and marriage register as “white” because her marriage would have been invalid at that time in Virginia (1899) otherwise.

Her husband Charlie’s family was against the marriage because of her mixed race and, after years of friction, he moved his family across the border to West Virginia – this after his ancestors had lived in Virginia since the 1680s. Margaret raised a large family and never hid her Cherokee origins from her children. Her daughter, my great-grandmother Narcie, was proud to have Cherokee blood and often spoke about her Native American roots to us children.

What we never learned was whether it was Margaret’s mother or father who had been a full Cherokee and the obfuscation of race in census reports, birth certificates, and marriage certificates means that we may never be able to look further back into our Cherokee ancestry than the faces and quiet pride of Narcie and Margaret. After Charlie died, Margaret moved back to Virginia to live near her son and daughter’s families in a little wilderness area called Clell at Garden Creek.

Last summer, for the first time, I dipped my hand in the spring which she crossed to get to her little house and in which she kept her milk and butter cool. She was Margaret Nipper, Cherokee American, and a daughter of the Appalachian mountains. 1879-1954.

The spring at Clell, Garden Creek, Virginia, summer 2022.

The music you hear on my audio version of this post is “Miner’s Reward” from my 2008 recording with Jeni & Billy Jewell Ridge Coal. The fiddling is by Shad Cobb, a fiddler from the midwest and one of Nashville’s great fiddlers of today!

Thank you for reading my stories about home. 



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