Goodspeed's History of Claiborne County

Claiborne County lies in the northern portion of East Tennessee, and borders both the States of Kentucky and Virginia; the famous Cumberland Gap being situated near the middle of its northern line. The principal stream in the county is Powell River. The Clinch River forms a portion of its southern boundary. These streams receive a large number of tributaries, which furnish the best of water power. The surface presents a great variety of hills, mountains, and valleys. For the most part the soil is good, but some of the ridges are poor and sandy. Its mineral resources consist of coal, iron, and manganese, all of which it possesses in abundance, and when sufficient transportation facilities have been procured, the county will become one of the wealthiest in East Tennessee.

The first settlements in Claiborne County were made in Powell's Valley and along Clinch River. In 1783 Henderson & Co. mentioned in the sketch of Hawkins County and in other chapters of this work, received a grant from North Carolina of 200,000 acres of land to be laid off in one survey, and in accordance with the following restrictions: Beginning at the Old Indian Town, in Powell's Valley, running down Powell River not less than four miles on one or both sides thereof, to the junction of Powell and Clinch Rivers; then down Clinch River on one or both sides, not less than twelve miles in width, for the complement of 200,000 acres. The survey, as made, was approximately as follows: Beginning at what is now known as Old Town, running along the base of the mountain to a point near Caryville, Campbell County; thence in a southerly course to a point on the opposite side of the Clinch River; thence in a line parallel with the first to a point south of Powell River opposite the beginning; thence in a direct course to the beginning. This grant was subsequently divided among Mr. Henderson and his associates or their heirs, and it was doubtless due to their influence that many of the first settlers located in this valley of Powell River. During the Indian troubles these pioneers suffered much from savage depredations, and several forts were built at various points along the valley. One of the best known of the stations was built by George Yoakum, upon land still owned by his descendants. Another was situated just across the line into Virginia. Among the firs settlers in the valley may be mentioned Elijah Chisum, who had formerly lived in Hawkins County, James Gibson, John Vanbibber, Spencer Graham, James Carson, Elisha Walling (Also spelled Wallen and Walden), Thomas McBride and Archibald McKinney. Roddy & Lee kept a store at the ferry on Powell River, where the Cumberland Gap road crosses it. The gap was settled by William Doherty and Peter Huffaker, located near by.

Settlements were also made at an early date on Sycamore Creek, and a station known as Fort Butler was built about three miles west of Tazewell. By whom it was built is not known, but James Chisum and Isaac Lane were among the first to locate in that vacinity. Among those who located near the road leading from Fort Butler to Mulberry Gap were the Estes, Gibbons, Sims, Condrey, Henry Griffin, George and Henry Sumter,John Baker and Daniel Fleming.

The act to erect a new county from portions of Hawkins and Grainger was passed October 29, 1801. It was name Claiborne in honor of William Charles Cole Claiborne, one of the first judges of the superior court, and the first representative in Congress from Tennessee. The court of pleas and quarter sessions was organized at the house of John Owens December 7, 1801, at which time the following magistrates were present: Isaac Lane, Joseph Webster, William Trent, James Chisum, Abraham Lenham, John Wallen, Matthew Sims, John Vanbibber, William Rogers, George Read, C. Newport, John Casey, Joseph Nations, and James Renfro. The oath of office was administered by Andrew Evans and Joseph Cobb, magistrate of Grainger County. Isaac Lane was chosen chairman; Walter Evans, clerk; Nathaniel Austin, ranger; Joseph Nations, corner; Ezekiel Croft, register; Luke Bowyer, attorney-general, and David Rogers, sheriff. The last named was unable to give bond, and John Hunt, Sr., was elected to fill the vacancy. The next term of the court was held at the house of John Hunt, who lived on the site of Tazewell. The grand jury empanelled was composed of the following men; John Hunt, William Grisum, Nathaniel Austin, Samuel Tate, Jacob Dobins, William Bowman, William Stroud, John Webster, Nimrod Dodson, Peter Neal, Thomas Gibbons, Peter Huffacker, William Rush, Thomas Jeffers, Hezekiah Jordan, Elisha Walling, Archibald McKinney and George Snuffer. The third term of the court was held at the house of Elisha Walling, and it was not until 1804 that a small frame courthouse was erected. It stood near the site of the present one. The jail was completed at about the same time as the courthouse. It was used until 819, when Josiah C. Ramsey, John Evans, William Graham, William Renfro, Robert Crockett, David Rogers and Reuben Rogers were appointed commissioners to erect a new jail. It was built with a double wall, the outside being rock and the inside frame.

The circuit court for Claiborne County was organized on the third Monday in April, 1810, by William Cocke, at which time David Yearsley appeared as solicitor-general, and Edward Howell was appointed clerk. The attorneys admitted to practice were Samuel Powell, William R. Cole and C. C. Clay. The early transactions of the court present little of interest. One or two cases only will be mentioned. At the April term, 1823, James C. Martin was convicted of grand larceny, and being brought to the bar to receive sentence he stated that he wished to make application for a new trial. Judge Scott was upon the bench, and in order to allow the prisoner's counsel to prepare a statement of the ground upon which the application was based "withdrew for a few minutes". The Judge's fondness for the "flowing bowl" is well known, and such opportunities of fortifying himself against the tedium of the court were not to be neglected. It is not surprising, therefore, if his absence extended to several minutes. Upon his return to the bench he proceeded to pass judgement upon the prisoner's application when to his astonishment now one was to be seen. The sheriff then took occasion to inform him that during his honor's absence the prisoner had escaped and distanced all pursuit.

In October, 1822, Thomas Jones, who had been twice convicted of manslaughter, was sentenced to be branded upon the brawn of the left thumb with the letter "M". He secured a stay of execution, and at the October term of the next year presented a pardon from Gov. Carroll.

The first resident attorney in the county was doubtless Luke Bowyer. At what time he came to the county is not known, but he served as a magistrate for a year or two about 1815. He was then an old man, one of the first settlers on the Watauga, and from that time until shortly before his death was one of the most active practitioners in the State. It is to be regretted that so little is known of his life. In 1833 the lawyers of Tazewell mentioned in the Tennessee Gazatteer were John M. Brobson, James B. Robinson and Gray Garrett. Of these men Garrett was the most prominent. He had formerly been located at Newport, and subsequently served a term as attorney-general. The attorneys of a little later date were Walter R. Evans, Lewis A. Garrett, Theodore Regan and Thomas L.W. Sawyers. The present bar is composed of the following member: P.G. Fulkerson, E.A. Hurst, G.W. Montgomery, C.H. Rogers, J.P.Davis, T.W. Stone and W.S. Carr.

The commissioners appointed to locate the seat of justice and lay off a town to be known by the name of Tazewell were George Reed, John Vanbibber, Matthew Sims, Abe Lenham, Joseph Webster, John Bullard and Silas Williams. The site chosen was upon land occupied by John Hunt, Sr., and doubtless owned by him. The first house is said to have been erected in 1803. The first merchant was William Graham, a native of Ireland, and a gentleman of high reputation, both as a business man and a citizen. He owned a large body of land below town, and about 1814 completed the fine stone residence now occupied by Mr. Fulkerson. After conducting his mercantile business for a few years he was joined by William Houston and Hugh Graham. This partnership, under the name of Hugh Graham & Co., lasted for several years, and after its dissolution Hugh Graham and William Houston conducted separate establishments. The building occupied by William Graham stood upon the corner where William Eppes & Son's store now is. Among the later merchants were James Dickinson, Cloud & Shackleford, Benjamin Seawell & Son, William Seawell, Chrisman & Hunt and G. W. Rose. The first physician of the town now remembered was Dr. Thomas Walker, who was succeeded by Alfred Noel, Gabriel Shackleford and James Evans. Dr's M. and J. Carriger and Samuel Brown were also located in the town prior to the civil war. Of the other early residents of the town may be mentioned John Bristoe, who was licensed to keep an ordinary in 1806; Reuben Rose, who opened the first tavern or hotel of importance; Elijah Evans a hatter, whose shop now forms a part of Cottrell's hotel, and G. W. Posey, a farmer, who lived in the upper end of town. Among the oldest residents of the town now living are William Eppes, formerly a tailor, but now one of the leading merchants, and G. W. Rose, who resides upon a farm east of town. The first church building in the town was erected by William Graham, and stood a short distance below his residence. It is said to have been built about 1815, and was doubtless used by all sects, although Mr. Graham was a Presbyterian. At what date a congregation of Presbyterians was organized is not definitely known, but a history of Union Presbytery places it at 1829 or 1830, and states that it was made by Rev. Stephen Foster. It would see, however, that some kind of organization must have been effected before that time. Among the first members were William Graham and wife, Francis Patterson and wife, Willis Harper, Hugh Graham, James Patterson and Wife, William Houston and wife and James Weir and wife. The old church served as a place of worship until about 1845, when a new one was erected.

The Methodists early made Tazewell a preaching place. Bishop Asbury in his journal speaks of preaching "at Hunt's at Claiborne Courthouse" on October 14, 1802. At what time the congregation was organized is uncertain, but no house of worship was erected until about 1844. The Baptists organized a church, and also completed a building at about the same time.

During the early years of the town it was supplied with the schools common to such communities at that day. About 1835 a frame academy was built near the town spring. This then became the educational institution for the town.

In 1854 Tazewell Female Academy was incorporated under the auspices of the Sons of Temperance and the Masonic Fraternity. Two years later Tazewell Academy was raised to the rank of a college, and given all the privileges of such an institution. It has since undergone no change, and has long enjoyed an enviable reputation.

On November 11, 1862, upon the evacuation of Tazewell by some Confederate troops who had been stationed there, a fire broke out which destroyed the greater portion of the town. About twenty buildings were burned, including the courthouse, a large brick hotel and several brick storehouses. From this sever loss the town has never fully recovered, but it is still one of the most flourishing and enterprising inland towns to be found in Tennessee. The business interests of the present time are represented by the following firms: R. J. & J. C. Carr, William Eppes & Sons, J. K. Robinson, T. Evans and B. F. Schultz, general merchandise; White & Stone, groceries, boots and shoes and hardware, and T. E. White, manufacturer and dealer in saddlery and harness. The last named is probably the largest retail establishment of the kind in East Tennessee.