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Copyright 1999-2013,
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History of the
Settlement and Indian Wars
of Tazewell County, Virginia.

By Geo. W. L. Bickley, M. D. (1852)


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Book II
Discovery And Settlement.

1766.]  It has been with much difficulty that I have been able to collect anything of importance, relating to this section, at the date indicated in the margin.  Perhaps there is really little to record.  What little I have gleaned from the obscured pages of the book of the past, has now become little more than mere tradition.  For, situated as I am, in an isolated region, the advantages of a public library are denied me, and from a large private library little is to be found, throwing any light on this uncertain part of my work, The information here embodied, was received from the grandsons, sons, and even from the men themselves who were the principal actors in the drama to be recorded.  Memory cannot survive the decay of the physical system, unimpaired; and hence, caution is necessary, in recording an event told us, even by the chief actors therein.  With this fact before me, I have placed more reliance on an incident related to me by a son of a pioneer, than if related by the pioneer himself.

Whether the discoverers were allured to this section, by the exaggerated tale of some friendly Indians; the hope of finding some valuable mineral, with which to enrich themselves; or to find a region more abundantly stocked with game, from the peltry of which they would derive a profit, cannot now be easily determined.  It is most likely that the latter supposition is the true cause; for, it is certain, that at the date indicated, hunting was considered a manly exercise, and one of which Virginians have ever been fond.  They would brave every danger to enjoy the sport.  Amusement was here combined with labor and profit; and hence, the hardy backwoodsman of Augusta frequently left home and all its endearments, and took upon himself to toil and fatigue, as well as the pleasures, of a trapper's life.  The "trapper life" here led, differed, in many respects, from that followed by the north-western trapper or courceurs de bois, who married among the Indians, assumed their dress, and remained out on an expedition, one, two, and even three or four years; while the backwoodsman returned regularly to his family, at the end of a few months, perhaps poorer, but equally as happy as the courceurs de bois or rangers of the wood.

The hunters usually went to the mountains in companies of eight or ten, having pack-horses, with which they brought home their peltry.  The equipment, for a trip of this kind, consisted of a rifle, powder, ball, a hatchet or tomahawk, knife, and blanket.  They also carried salt and provisions enough to last them two days or beyond the settlement, from which time the forest yielded a plentiful supply.  Tobacco, and a clean shirt a-piece, generally made up the remainder of their stores, which was to serve them for months in the western wilds.  Their dress was usually of heavy woolen, and the manufacture of their wives and daughters.  The suit worn off had to last till their return; for, except the spare shirt, they carried but one suit.  Heavy buckskin moccasins and leggins were usually worn, with a hunting shirt, and a cap made of beaver or otter-skin.  The hatchet was worn in a belt around the body, while the hunting-knife was lodged in a sheath fastened to the strap of the shot-pouch.  I know of no more formidable personage than a backwoodsman in full dress; especially if you reflect upon the precision with which he deals the missiles of death, from his long black rifle, and his great power to endure the fatigue and hardships incident to a hunter's life.

Once upon the route, thus equipped and prepared, none were so happy or so free from the cares and vexations of civic life, as the Augusta backwoodsman, to whose homes even Washington, in after years, expected to be compelled to fly, to nourish and defend the last faint spark of republican liberty.

Pasturage for their horses was to be found everywhere; and, game in such abundance, that plenty and good cheer were their companions from the time they left their homes, till their return.  After having reached the game region, and were seated around the camp-fire, at night, their thoughts might revert from the incidents of the day and the anticipation of the morrow's scenes, and kindly hover over those left behind; but, if so, such thoughts invariably brought forth the soliloquizing ejaculation, "Well now, if I had the old woman and babies here I should be fixed!"

It will be recollected that, previous to this time, the French had mingled with the Indians, and given countenance to their acts, till the close of the war between France and England, in February, 1763.  This peace did not, however, terminate the Indian war against the colonies.  They were displeased with the provisions of the treaty, and commenced a war of merciless extermination against the western frontier settlements, which was waged till December, 1764, when it was brought to a close by what is usually known as Johnston's treaty.

The Shawanoes, who lived on the Wabash, Scioto, and Ohio rivers, soon after the completion of Johnston's treaty, became engaged in a war with the Cherokees, who lived in the upper parts of Alabama, Georgia, and the western part of North Carolina, and continued it till 1768, when the southern Indians, who were being pressed by the Shawanoes and Delawares, sued for, and obtained a peace, which restored quiet to the frontiers, till April, 1774.

The reader will bear in mind that this war, between the Shawanoes and Cherokees, was waging at the time of which we are writing (1766), and that the country, of which Tazewell now forms a part, lay between the contending nations, so that the hunter was in danger of falling into the hands of the predatory bands of either tribe.  There was, however, little danger, for each nation was anxious to secure the sympathy of the whites.  A few loads of powder were sufficient to have ransomed a man.  But it appears that no company was molested, who were hunting within the present limits of Tazewell.

The first of these hunting companies visited this part of the Clinch valley in 1766: of their acts nothing is known.  In the following year another company came out, in which were two men, named Butler and Carr.  They were, also, in the first company.

1767.]  When this second company was ready to start back, Butler and Carr concluded to stay and wait the arrival of a company expected out that fall.  They built a small cabin, at a place now known as the Crab orchard, about three miles west of the present seat of justice.  During the spring they opened a small field, and planted some corn, which they received from a band of Cherokees.  In the fall, the expected company of hunters arrived, and were joined by Butler and Carr, who had by this time, acquired a correct knowledge of the geographical features of the country.  They hunted till spring, leaving Butler and Carr to spend another summer in the mountains.  Having received, from the last company, a supply of ammunition, etc., they became settled in their resolution to make the wild backwoods their home, and, accordingly , began to improve around their camp, and open lands, on which to raise bread.

1768.]  Early in the summer, about two hundred Cherokee warriors camped near them, to spend the summer and kill elk, which frequented a lick near, and on the present plantation of, Mr. Thomas Witten.  These were, however, soon disturbed by the appearance of several hundred Shawanoes: men and women.  The Shawanoes and Cherokees had long been deadly enemies, and it was not to be supposed that they would camp near each other, and hunt at the same lick, without a battle.

The Shawanoes, as a people, are overbearing: and they were not long in exhibiting this feature of their character. The Shawanoe chief sent a peremptory order to the Cherokees, to evacuate their position and seek a new hunting-ground.  This was early in the day.  The messenger was sent back to defy the Shawanoes, who soon began to prepare for battle.

The Cherokees retired to the top of Rich mountain and threw up a breastwork, which was finished before night.  It consisted of a simple embankment, about three or four feet high, running east and west along the top of the mountain about eighty yards, and then turning off at right angles to the north or down the mountain side.  The Shawanoes commenced the accent of the mountain before night of the first day, but finding their enemies so strongly fortified, withdrew and posted themselves in a position to commence the attack early the following morning.

Long before day the fiendish yells of the warriors might be heard echoing over the rugged cliffs and deep valleys of the surrounding country.  Day came, and for the space of half an hour, a deathlike stillness reigned on the mountain top and side.  With the first rays of the rising sun, a shout ascended the skies as if all the wild animals in the woods had broke forth in their most terrifying notes.  The sharp crack of rifles and the ringing of tomahawks against each other; the screams of women and children and the groans of the dying now filled the air for miles around.

Both parties were well armed and the contest nearly equal.  The Shawanoes having most men, while the Cherokees had the advantage of their breastwork.  Through the long day the battle raged with unabated vigor, and when night closed in, both parties built fires and camped on the ground.  During the night the Cherokees sent to Butler and Carr for powder and lead, which they furnished.  When the sun rose the following morning the battle was renewed with the same spirit in which it had been fought the previous day.  In a few hours, however, the Shawanoes were compelled to retire.  The loss on both sides was great, considering the numbers engaged.  A large pit was opened and a common grave received those who had fallen in this last battle fought between red men in this section.  Both parties left Virginia for their homes in the south and west, leaving Butler and Carr in possession of the Elk lick, which was the cause of dispute.  My informant had this account from Carr, an eye-witness.  The battle-ground, breastwork, and great grave are yet to be seen.

1769.]  Carr separated from Butler and settled on a beautiful spot on one of the head branches of the Clinch river, two miles east of the present town of Jeffersonville.  Peace being restored among the Indians, more hunters came out, who returned laden with peltries and giving such glowing descriptions of the country (which still perhaps failed to come up to its true description) that the desire to emigrate began to exhibit itself among the substantial men of worth.

1771.]  In the spring of this year Thomas Witten and John Greenup moved out and settled at the Crab orchard, which Witten purchased of Butler.  Absalom Looney settled in a beautiful valley now known as Abb's valley.  Matthias Harman, and his brothers Jacob and Henry settled at Carr's place.  John Craven settled in the Cove (see Map), Joseph Martin, John Henry, and James King settled in the Thompson valley, and John Bradshaw in the valley two miles west of Jeffersonville.  The settlers, this year, found but little annoyance from the Indians, who were living peaceably at their homes in the west and south.  The consequence was the settlers erected substantial houses and opened lands to put in corn, from which they reaped a plentiful supply, in the fall.

1772.]  The following persons moved out, this year, and settled at the several places named.  Capt. James Moore and John Pogue, in Abb's valley; William Wynn, at the Locust hill (the place that Carr settled), which he purchased from Harman.  John Taylor, on the north fork of Clinch, and Jesse Evans, near him.  Thomas Maxwell, Benjamin Joslin, James Ogleton, Peter and Jacob Harman, and Samuel Furguson, on Bluestone creek.  William Butler, (NOTE: Perhaps the same from whom Thomas Witten purchased the Crab orchard, and the first settler.) on the south branch of the north fork of Clinch, a short distance above Wynn's plantation; William Webb, about three miles east of Jeffersonville; Elisha Clary, near Butler; John Ridgel, on the clear fork of Wolf creek; Rees Bowen, at Maiden spring; David Ward, in the Cove, and William Garrison, at the foot of Morris's knob.

1773.]  Thomas, John, and William Peery, settled where the town of Jeffersonville now stands; John Perry, jr., at the fork of Clinch, one mile and a half east of the county seat; Capt. Maffit, and Benjamin Thomas, settled about a mile above, and Chrisly Hensly, near them.  Samuel Marrs settled in Thompson's valley; Thomas English, in Burk's garden (see description and remarks); James and Charles Scaggs, Richard Pemberton, and Johnson, settled in Baptist valley, five miles from where Jeffersonville now stands.  Thomas Maston, William Patterson, and John Deskins, settled in the same valley, but farther west---Hines, Richard Oney, and Obadiah Paine, settled in Deskins valley, in the western part of the county.

1774-76.]  The settlers who came in during the years of '74-5 and '6, generally pitched their tents near the one or other of the localities already mentioned.  Even yet there is a preference manifested for the older settlements.  This may be accounted for, from the fact that the first settlers generally chose the most desirable localities; the lands being now better improved, and society more advanced, still render these places more attractive than other parts of the county settled at a later period.

Cresop's war, as it is sometimes, though perhaps erroneously, called, broke out in 1774, which drove the settlers into neighborhoods where they might have the advantages of blockhouses, forts, and stations.  The Revolution was soon resolved upon, and the frontiermen, having to combat the Indians, who had become allies to the British, were much from home.  This tended, also, to draw still closer the families then settled in the county.  Whatever contributed to the safety of one, conferred a like boon upon the rest.  In speaking of the Indian wars, we shall see the utility of general rendezvous for families.

Our market at this time was in eastern Virginia, or the old settlements, and by the continued passage of the traders, a line of communication was kept open, over which was transmitted, with some dispatch, news of what was transpiring in the east.  Even before the battle of Lexington, the subject of revolution had been talked over by the frontiermen, and we shall see, hereafter, how they conducted themselves during the war.  After the declaration of war, emigration slackened, though a few, who either sympathized with the mother country, or felt no interest in the contest, moved out.  Having now given such an outline of the settlement as will enable the reader to know the position in which the people were placed, during the first few years of the settlement, I shall proceed to a period somewhat later, that he may have an idea of the formation and outline geography of the county.


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