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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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Considering the population of Tazewell, its commerce is rather extensive.  To give a correct idea of its growth I shall be compelled to turn back from the present to an early period.  It has been elsewhere stated, that during the first years of settlement, all goods were brought from the east on pack-horses.  The goods then imported were pottery, and hardware, consisting of axes, knives and forks, pocket-knives, hammers, saws, chisels, etc.  Neither groceries nor dry goods, found a place on the list of importations.  After the peace of 1783, the list was enlarged.  Hitherto almost everything had been paid for in peltries, a currency much easier acquired by the frontiermen, and much less liable to depreciation, than the continental money then in circulation.

There being at this time, no roads over which wagons could pass, of course the task of importation was tedious, and sometimes uncertain.  From all appearances, none thought it scarcely creditable, that in the short space of half a century, so great a change would have been made.  An incident related to me by Mr. Samuel Witten, seems to the point:---

James Witten, one of the early settlers, whose keen judgment had led him to expect that this county was, at some future time, destined to be the seat of a free, happy, and independent people, one day at a house-raising jocosely inquired of his comrades, what they would think, if in twenty five years, wagons actually came into the county, and passed along the very valley in which they were at work.  The rest of the company laughed at the idea, nor could the old man persuade them, that such a thing would take place even in fifty years.  Yet, in a few years---much less than twenty-five, the road was made, and wagons passed over the very spot predicted by Mr. Witten, to the no small wonder of the older people, and terror of the children.

The road, however, was not what would now be expected by the name.  From this time, the roads continued to improve, and the importation of goods to increase.  They were then wagoned from Philadelphia, one wagon-load generally supplying the whole county.  About the year 1800, a sack of coffee, for the first, time was brought into the county.  It was kept by Mr. Graham, the merchant, a year and a half, and sent back as being altogether unsaleable.  Yet the sons and daughters of these very people, now consume not far from 50,000 pounds in a single twelve-month.

The opening of the Fincastle and Cumberland Gap turnpike in 183_, furnished another market to the merchant; goods were now purchased in the northern cities, and shipped to Lynchburg, and were thence brought to the county by wagons.  About fifteen days in the usual time which elapses from the day of loading in Lynchburg, to the time of arrival in Jeffersonville.  Freight is about two dollars and fifty cents per cwt.    There is now brought into the county annually, dry goods and groceries to the amount of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.  The percentage on goods sold here is considerable, owing partly to the freight, and to the credit system which prevails.

Feathers, beeswax, ginseng, hides, tallow, butter and wool, are usually bought by the merchants, or bartered for goods.  We have no market for wheat, corn, potatoes, oats, hay, buckwheat, or barley.

Cattle are driven to the north-eastern part of the state, and sold to speculators, who fatten and dispose of them in Baltimore, and the northern cities.  Hogs are usually driven to the east and south-east part of the state.  Horses are driven south and east---generally into North Carolina.  Much of the live stock is bought on credit, and paid for upon the return of the drovers.  This accounts for the credit system of the county.  The merchants have claims upon the people of the county, for upward of one hundred and forty thousand dollars, but this is a small sum, when we consider that the stock trade alone, brings to the county every year upward of one hundred and ten thousand dollars.

As soon as the Virginia and Tennessee railroad has been completed to Wythville (which will be during the year 1852), this over-balancing will be in favor of the farmer, in place of the merchant.  The percentage on importations will not be so great, and the expense of exporting will likewise be lessened.  The grains will find a market, and many farmers will buy most of their necessaries themselves.  Instead of driving cattle to the N. E. counties of Virginia, they will, most likely, be driven to Saltville, slaughtered, pickled up, and sent to a different market.  It is to be greatly lamented that efficient steps have not been taken to get a branch from the main road extending into Tazewell county.  Could the central road pass us and go to the mouth of Big Sandy river, as it should, we should also find a market for our coal, which is exhaustless, and of the finest quality.

There is at no time over twenty thousand dollars, in active circulation in the county.  Large amounts of small bills, issues of the Tennessee, Kentucky, Washington City, and North Carolina banks, are to be seen; and though it is a violation of the laws, to receive or pass them, no attention is paid to it, either by the people or the commonwealth.


Linsey, jeans, tow-linen, flax-thread, hose, and carpets, are the principal home manufactures of this county: the value of which, according to the census report, is twenty-five thousand four hundred dollars.  I have no data from which to estimate the amount of either, but am satisfied that jeans and linsey, stand first in valuation.  Tow-linen, which sells for about ten cents per yard, does not cost the Tazewell manufacturer far short of thirty cents.  A like statement might be made about the whole list.

These articles are manufactured at the houses of the farmers, their plantations supplying all the materials, except cotton, which is imported from North Carolina, spun and put up in bales.  Wool is carded by machines in the county, and spun by hand.  The weaving is done on the common hand-loom.  House furniture, of nearly all kinds is manufactured in the county.  Saddles, boots, shoes, iron-work, etc., is also done here.  Lumber of the finest quality, may here be had, for the trouble of cutting it.

When speaking of the loss attending home manufactures I have been more than once told, that "this kind of work is done by women when they could do nothing else."  To such, I again say, if I have made a correct statement, they had better cease labor.  Beside, I have yet to find a woman who can do nothing else but weave and spin.  Why send our children to school, if their mothers have time to educate them?  We should at least save tuition fee.  Let the education of our youths be intrusted to women, and I venture to affirm, that they will become as learned and pious, as under the instruction of men.  Woman is eminently qualified to instill christianity in the plastic minds of children; and her very nature fits her to enter into the sympathies of childhood, when men disregard them.  It is time that the yardstick, tapestring, and rule, be transferred into their hands, and the masculine part of the race betake themselves to pursuits more manly, and better calculated to develop the talents God has given them.

I would not be called an advocate for petticoat government, but I would make woman my equal and restore to her, her natural rights.  I would have her share, in common with man, the business transactions of life, and thus afford her fields of labor in which to develop her god-like faculties.  To see a feminine, soft-handed clerk measuring lace, while rosy-cheeked girl is chopping wood to make him a fire, induces me to think man has forgotten from whence he sprung.



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