My husband, Peter, took this photo of llamas when he approached the top of Mount LeConte after hiking up the Trillium Gap trail. (On the Great Smoky Mountains National Park map, Mount LeConte can be found pretty much due north of the word “National.”) Check out that llama in the middle! Ears laid back. Squinty eyes. He doesn’t like the look of this creature coming up the trail with his tall backpack and baseball cap. In fact, all but one of the llamas look wary, which is a surprise in a way, for they regularly bring supplies up to the LeConte lodge on the Trillium Gap trail during the months when the lodge is open, and they pass hikers often. (For some gorgeous views of Mount LeConte click this link, where several photos show the loaded llamas being led along the trail.)
Those of you who have read my author’s bio know that while I read and write about England’s Regency era, my husband is off hiking the 900 in the Smokies. The “900” refers to the roughly 900 miles of trails in the park. In fact, he is close to finishing his 4th map, which means that he’s hiked nearly 4,500 miles in the last five years. An impressive feat in anybody’s book.
What Do Llamas Have to Do with the Regency Era?
It would be reasonable to ask what llamas have to do with Jane Austen and the Regency period. There is a link, albeit a rather tangential one. I have been researching my third Regency novel, which has required me to read all sorts of interesting books published in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries: memoirs written by physicians and surgeons, typographical reports on Nottinghamshire, guides on treating fevers and malignant cancers, and commercial directories for London. I’ve been taking notes on the 1823 edition of The Lancet, which was founded that year by Thomas Wakley, a British surgeon. The Lancet remains one of the premier medical journals published today. Talk about product longevity.
About the same time as I was reading about dissections and quack medicines, my husband came home after hiking the Lakeshore trail in the Smokies. Among the 45 photos he took that day, this one caught my eye.
The headstone indicates that Moses Proctor was born in 1794; his wife, Patience Rustin Proctor, was born in 1801. According to the hiker’s “bible” — the official book describing all of the hikes in the Smokies1 — Moses and Patience built a cabin on this site in 1830. Moses had met Patience in Monroe County, Tennessee, and then moved to Cades Cove. When the cove got a little too crowded, he moved to a site near Hazel Creek and built his cabin on a ridge top. Before his death in 1864, he told Patience he wanted to be buried in the front yard and he didn’t want the womenfolk to fuss with hewing new boards for a coffin. Patience made sure he was buried wrapped in a simple blanket, as he had requested.
The Proctor Family, Cades Cove and the Regency Era
The thing that made me think of Jane Austen and the Regency period is that Moses Proctor had settled in Cades Cove. The first permanent European settlers in the Cove were the Olivers. John Oliver and his wife settled in Cades Cove in 1818 — the year after Jane Austen’s death and also the year during which two of her novels were published: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I haven’t seen a date for the arrival of Moses Proctor in Cades Cove, but he probably lived there in the 1820’s, a date that is sometimes considered a part of the “long Regency” era. (The formal Regency era lasted from 1811 to 1820.)
Sometime in the late 1820’s the Proctors moved to a ridge near Hazel Creek in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Moses and Patience had few neighbors, other than some friendly Cherokees, but they managed to farm and prosper.
Looking at these photos makes me think about life in the Appalachian mountains (my home stomping ground) in the years after Jane Austen died. While the pioneering Proctors were cutting down trees, planting crops, watching out for black bears, minding the timber rattlesnakes, and struggling to carve a life out of this old deciduous forest, the formal Regency era had ended: King George III died in 1820. In 1821 his son George became King George IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Despite the contrasts between pioneering America and the far-flung activities of the wealthy and worldly United Kingdom, both countries were building empires.
Great Smoky Mountains Association. Hiking Trails of the Smokies. Gatlinburg, TN: 2009, p. 333.