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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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No portion of my labors, if properly investigated, would be more interesting than this: yet the paucity of material afforded me, makes it quite difficult to give anything like a correct and full church history of this section.  The principal denominations in the county are Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics; each of whom will be noticed.

The first sermon preached in the county was in 1794, by Rev. Mr. Cobbler, appointed to the New River circuit, by the Baltimore conference.  This sermon may be regarded as the budding of Methodism in Tazewell county.  The seeds sown by this good man fell upon a genial soil, and he had the satisfaction of seeing Jeremiah Witten and Mrs. Sarah Witten, William Witten and his lady, John and Sarah Peery, Elizabeth Greenup, Samuel Forguson, Isabella Forguson, and two colored persons, flock around the Christian standard, determined that Christ should not be forgotten, even in the mountain-gorges of the wild "backwoods."

Thomas Peery gave them a piece of land, and in 1797 they built a meetinghouse about one mile west of Jeffersonville.

Between 1794-7, meetings were generally held at the house of Samuel Forguson, near the present seat of justice.  Before 1794, prayer-meeting was the only form of worship practiced: this seems to have been coexistent with the earliest settlement.  The march of Methodism has been steadily onward; they have, at present, seven churches in regular fellowship.

The first Baptists in the county, were the Scaggs and Hankins.  The first sermon preached to them, was by Rev. Simon Cotterel from Russel county, in 1796.  Their first meetings were held in private houses, in the Hankins' settlement.  The Baptists seem not to have made as rapid progress as the Methodists; as they have now only two regular churches in the county.  I have been unable to learn the number of communicants, but understand that it is greater than would be supposed from the number of churches.

The first Presbyterians in the county were William Peery, Samuel Walker, and his wife.  Prof. Doak preached the first sermon to them, somewhere about 1798.  He was soon followed by Rev. Mr. Crawford, from Washington county.  The first church organized was in the Cove, in 1833, which was placed in charge of Rev. Dugald McIntyre, assisted by Rev. Mr. Mc Ewin.  This church, from some cause, was suffered to go down, and the Presbyterians were without a regular church till the summer of 1851, when a church was organized at Jeffersonville, and placed in charge of Rev. Mr. Naff.  They have one church, and about twenty communicants.

At what time the first Roman Catholics appeared in the country, is not known.  Edward Fox, a priest who resided at Wytheville, preached the first sermon to them in a union church at Jeffersonville, in 1842.  He continued to preach, at intervals, till the close of the controversy between him, and President Collins of Emory and Henry College.  Having been beaten from every position, he quit Wytheville, and consequently the Tazewell Catholics were left without a priest.  Bishop Whelan coming to this section of the state, took occasion to visit his flock in Tazewell; the Methodists opened their pulpit for him, and in acknowledgment of their kindness, one of his first sentences was not only to insult them, but the house of God.  He remarked, he "felt embarrassed because he was preaching in an unconsecrated house."  President Collins, who had firmly opposed the spread of this doctrine in south-western Virginia, being in the neighborhood, heard of the occurrence and replied to him in a few days.  Notwithstanding this, Catholicism began to spread, and preparations were made for building a cathedral, which is now in course of construction.


The formation of the county, necessarily caused some derangement in the courts.  The magistrates who had been acting under the authority of Wythe county, however, met in May, 1800, and held the first court at the present residence of Col. John B. George.  John Ward was elected clerk, and Major Maxwell made sheriff.  In the following month the election for county officers came off, and the court was opened at Harvey G. Peery's house.  In June the county seat was fixed upon, and Judge Brockenborough held the first circuit court in a court-house built of buckeye logs, for which the county paid ten dollars.  Peter Johnson was now appointed to fill the station of resident judge: James Thompson was the first commonwealth's attorney.  The Buckeye C. H. was soon converted into a workshop, and a plain frame-house substituted.  The court-house is now a substantial brick building.  Court days, Wednesday after the fourth Monday of each month.

In connection with this subject, it may be remarked, that a trial for murder has never taken place in this county, and fewer lawsuits, according to the population, occur in our courts than any county in the state.



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