38 pages 1 hour read

Dennis Covington

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1995

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Religious Persecution During and After Colonization

Many British Protestant immigrants who arrived in America in the mid-1700s were fleeing religious persecution at the hands of Ireland’s Catholic majority. Their plight did not end at the shores of America, but rather continued on through economic deficits and intolerance of cultural differences at the hands of East Coast Quakers, who drove the immigrants into the hills and mountains of the Appalachian ranges. Established religion, as a whole, was generally feared and rejected by these Scotch-Irish highlanders, who preferred to create their own brand of Anglicanism or Presbyterianism, using the term “People of the New Light” to distance themselves from the rigidity of Calvinism and highlighting the celebration of “free grace” (93) and the outdoors as a means of salvation.

Dennis Covington’s great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Lea, served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier and became a Methodist (founded by John Wesley) circuit-riding preacher after the war. The center of his first circuit was just four miles west of Scottsboro, Alabama—directly where snake handling would spring up just a few years after his death. This version of Methodism was big on holiness, so much so that after “salvation,” also known as “new birth,” came a second act of grace, the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” (126), intended for moral purification.