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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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As I am writing for the information of the people of the county, most of whom are farmers, I trust I shall be forgiven if I am apparently verbose on this most interesting of subjects.  The historian, I believe, is an annalist, with the privilege of giving his own opinion upon matters of which he writes.  Of this latter license I shall avail myself, and hope I shall not entirely fail to interest.

Since by the labors of the husbandman we all live, either directly , and upon the productive energy of the soil does not only our own existence but that of every animated creature upon the face of the earth depend, I shall not be accused of a stretch of the imagination, if I say, that mankind could better afford to give up every art and science than that of tilling the soil.  Nor is it in the power of any man to picture the distresses which would follow a single failure of the earth to "bring forth."  Scarcely a man will be found who would deny the above inferences; yet it will be equally as hard to find one who seems to appreciate the great necessity of renovating the soil, and bestowing agricultural educations upon her people.

I care not how viewed, whether in a political, religious, civil, useful, or physical light, all other arts are subservient to this; and none so worthy of our attention.  I verily believe that the very existence and perpetuation of our Republic depends upon the successful cultivation of the soil.  There is a moralizing influence attending the labors of the farmer, to be found nowhere else.  No occupation that has yet appeared or been followed among men, seems so well calculated to develop the mind, or foster the principles of virtue as this.  In order to the successful cultivation of the ground, a general knowledge of many of the arts and sciences is necessary.  To develop the physical powers, and insure a healthy body, and a consequent healthy mind, agriculture seems peculiarly adapted.

Under a false idea that honor was alone attached to the so-called "learned professions,"  the occupation of "farmer" has been too much neglected; but agriculture stretches out her collatteral arms, and embraces the labors of even these, which she appropriates to her legal domain.  Astronomy and chemistry are her tools, while botany, or vegetable physiology is her offspring, to whose growth she yearly adds her treasures.  Meteorology is her handmaid.  Political economy is proud to obey her, while commerce and navigation, without her fostering hand, would sicken and pine in their infancy.

This false idea should be exploded.  We need educated farmers who would seek to place the soil in such a state as to make it produce to its utmost extent.  There are, perhaps fewer scientific men engaged in this occupation than in any other; yet no occupation requires so many.  European countries have lately turned their attention to this subject through sheer necessity.  The attention which our government is now paying to the subject, leads me to look for an entire revolution in agricultural matters in less than fifty years.

The agencies and improvements now acting, will tend to bring about this state of things.  The proximity to each other, induced by the rail-car, will cement more closely the interest of the farming community of this extended land, and open up inducements hitherto unknown, especially in the isolated region of Tazewell.  The press, sending forth its sheets from Maine to California, before they are fairly dry, and the astonishing workings of the telegraph are now exhibiting their influence upon the machinery of civil society, and in no country more perceptibly than in the United State.

Give us railroads, and let the press make known the claims of south-western Virginia, and the "gee up" of the New England plowboy will soon be heard upon our mountain sides.  Our mountaineers will soon be seen trading in Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.  Our neglected fields will bloom under the hands of scientific agriculturists, till wagons will no more be seen passing westward with men to build up new states on the ruins of those they have left.

I now proceed to point out briefly the history and peculiarities of agriculture in Tazewell.  Among the early settlers, and even in the present day, a sufficiency of provisions alone seems to be sought after.  Large quantities of land---too large for the force employed---are cultivated, and this very system of having too much land in a farm, has retarded the agricultural advancement of the county of Tazewell more than any other one cause.  By endeavoring to cultivate so much land, it has been imperfectly worked, and hence the soil does not yield to the husbandman her proper stores.

The manner, too, of cultivation, is similar to that practiced by the early settlers.  And I hope I shall be pardoned for saying that the people of Tazewell who cultivate the soil, work less than most any other similar community to be found in the United States.  This may be owing to the want of proper markets, which will not be much improved till our farmers turn their attention to internal improvements, and no longer vote against the construction of railroads and turnpikes.

Most of the cereals do well in Tazewell.  I have in my possession a stalk of corn, grown on common upland, sixteen feet nine inches high; four stalks grew in a hill; it was planted in May, and cut up in September.  Irrigating the lands is much neglected.  Wheat does exceedingly well in this county, especially those kinds known as Mediterranean, walker, and white chaff: but as no market is afforded for its sale, more is not grown than is consumed, there being only 28,220 bushels reported on the census books for 1850.  (See table.)

The county is more remarkable for its production of grasses than anything else.  Though tobacco does very well, fortunately, its culture has been discarded, the county not producing 1,000 pounds per annum.

The exceedingly fine grasses of the county have made it decidedly a grazing county, and much celebrated for fine stock.  Blue-grass (Poa pretensis) is the principal native (?) grass: though timothy, herd, and most others do well.  In no country does clover succeed better.  The grasses have increasing interest shown in improving the live-stock, it would seem that the county is destined to take a prominent stand among the stock-raising counties in the state.  There are some farms in the county well improved, but they are too few.



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