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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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Did my limits admit it, I should enter into the lengthy detail of this institution as it exists in this county.  This institution has long been denounced by the northern presses and generally, greatly misrepresented.  It has been contended that the slaves of the south are barbarously treated, ill-fed, poorly clothed, worked hard, and kept in ignorance.  These assertions are not true, and the every-day experience of any southern man, will bear me out in the declaration.  True it is, that a few masters are tyrannical, but these are altogether exceptions, and should not be looked on as a necessary feature of the institution.  These calumnies have been heaped upon us by men, many of whom, have seen but few or no slaves, and are consequently ignorant of the real state of slavery in the south.

They have been borne with a patience, which at once portrays the magnanimity, and patriotic devotedness of southern men to the Union.  A few irascible politicians have cried out dissolution and secession, but the feeling has never been general in the south, nor is it likely to be, if the general government continues to carry out the designs of the constitution.  There are, it is known, many highly intellectual and virtuous citizens of the northern states, as well as many respectable presses, who discountenance this abuse.  It is generally the rabble, and foreigners, who keep up the excitement.

The insulting and degrading course of northern and western fanatics, has been the cause of introducing stricter discipline among the slaves.  The ardent desires of abolitionists are thus rendered still more hopeless.  Anti-slavery societies have, in a few instances, sent missionaries, under the guise of Christianity, to decoy off our slaves; and have sometimes been the means of causing the slaves to shed the blood of their masters, for which they will have to account in the day of general reckoning up.  Were the people of the free states to come among us, and examine slavery as it really exists, they would no longer countenance the depredations of their fellow citizens; which if not stopped, must ultimately result in a dissolution of the bonds of union, sealed by the blood of our fathers.  Then civil war, and a total and merciless extermination of the African race, with all its dire consequences, would inevitably follow.  Southern character has been mistaken by northern men; let them inform themselves and assist us in our labors to make this nation, as it should be, the seat of freedom, industry, and religion.  The slavery of the south, is infinitely preferable to the degrading, anti-republican slavery and bondage, and poverty, and misery of the north.  Show me so great a slave as the northern factory girl!  Show me in the kitchen, or negro hut of the southern planter, the misery, and poverty, and hunger, which is to be met with among the poor widows, and orphans, and free negroes of the north!  Show me that southern master, who has ever refused his servant bread: for every one shown, I will show ten beggars in the streets of any northern city.  But it is not my purpose to write a defense of this institution; I am, however, to record facts, and such are these.

The first slaves brought to this county, were purchased by the early settlers, with ginseng.  They have increased, and others have been brought from the eastern part of the state.  This species of property has not, however, been found so valuable here, as in cotton lands of the south.  Hence it has been less sought after.

There were on the first of June, 1850, eleven hundred and sixteen colored persons in the county, of whom fifty-six were free negroes, leaving ten hundred and sixty slaves, worth about five hundred and thirty thousand dollars.

They are well clothed, have often as good houses as their masters, work no harder, and have the same fare.  They are generally trusty, and jealous of their honor.  They are acquainted with the leading movements in the political world, are moral, and many read; few write, and their reading is mostly confined to the Bible.  They converse well; have much tact and judgment, and often conduct the farming operations.  They are generous, kind, and seem much devoted to their masters.  Such are the slaves of Tazewell county.  And yet abolition societies send out men to persuade them to leave their homes of peace and plenty, where want and care are unknown, and make their way to free states, where they are really less respected, and where hunger, cold, and nakedness ever await them.  To the northern fanatics I would say, as the great Master said:  "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye!"



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