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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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In order to appreciate the true situation of the frontiermen during the long wars which so devastated the settlements, it is essentially necessary that the reader should know the exact position which they occupied, and how much depended upon their own exertions.  For this purpose has this chapter been set apart.

Previous to 1776, the settlers were engaged in erecting suitable houses to protect their families from the inclemencies of the weather, as well as to render them more secure from the attacks of the Indians.  Their lands had to be opened, and, consequently, they were much in the forest.  As there was an abundance of game, and few domestic animals, their meat was taken mostly from the forest; this likewise took them from home.  They were few, and to raise a house, or roll the logs from a field, required the major part of a settlement.  This likewise left their families exposed; yet such work was usually executed during the winter months, when the Indians did not visit the settlements.  To give further protection to the families of the settlers, in every neighborhood block-houses were, as soon as convenient, erected, to which the families could repair in times of necessity.

After 1776, forts and stations were built, as it became necessary for many of the settlers to join the army.  In these forts, and particularly at the stations, a few men were left to defend them.  But the extent of country to be defended was so great, and the stations so few, that there was, in reality, but little safety afforded to the families of the settlers.

De Hass has given correct descriptions of block-houses, forts, and stations, to which I beg to refer the reader.  There was a fort erected by William Wynn, a strict old Quaker, and one of the best men, on Wynn's branch; another at Crab orchard, by Thomas Witten, and one at Maiden Spring, by Rees Bowen --- two men whose names will be cherished in the memories of the people of Tazewell for ages to come.

There was a station on Linking Shear branch, containing a few men under the command of Capt. John Preston, of Montgomery; another on Bluestone creek, in command of Capt. Robert Crockett of Wythe county, and another at the present site of the White Sulphur springs, in command of Capt. James Taylor of Montgomery.  It is also said, that there was a station in Burk's Garden; I imagine, however, that it was not constructed by order of the Government.

The following persons, citizens of the county, were posted in these forts and stations, viz:

Bailey, John Burgess, Edward
Bailey, James Belcher, Robert
Belcher, Joseph Brewster, Thomas
Chaffin, Christopher Maxwell, John
Connelly, James Maxwell, Thomas
Crockett, John Marrs --------  (?)
Cotterel,    " Peery, James
Evans, John, Sr. Pruett, John
Evans, John, Jr. Thompson, Archibald
Gilbert, Joseph Witten, James
Godfrey, Absalom Wynn, Oliver
Hall, William Wright, Michael
Lusk, David Ward, John
Lusk, Samuel Ward, William
Lusley, Robert Wright, Hezekiah
Martin, James  

These men were to hold themselves in readiness to act as circumstances might demand.  To make them more efficient, spies were employed to hang upon the great trails leading into the settlements from the Ohio.  Upon discovering the least sign of Indians, they hurried into the settlements and warned the people to hasten to the forts or stations, as the case might be.  They received extra wages for their services, for they were both laborious and important, and also fraught with danger.  For such an office the very best men were chosen; for it will be readily seen, that a single faithless spy, might have permitted the Indians to pass unobserved, and committed much havoc among the people, before they could have prepared for defense.  But it does not appear that any "spy" failed to give the alarm when possible so to do.  They always went two together, and frequently remained out several weeks upon a scout.  Great caution was necessary to prevent the Indians from discovering them, hence their beds were usually of leaves, in some thicket commanding a view of the war-path.  Wet or dry, day or night, these men were ever on the lookout.  The following persons were chosen from the preceding list, to act as spies, viz:

Burgess, Edward Martin, James
Bailey, James Maxwell, John
Bailey, John Wynn, Oliver
Crockett, John Witten, James

The last of whom, was one of the most sagacious and successful spies to be found anywhere on the frontier.  His name is yet familiar with the people, as if he had lived and occupied a place among them but a day ago. (NOTE: James Witten was born January 7th, 1759, in the colony of Maryland, and emigrated to Tazewell with his father, Thomas Witten, in 1773.  At this time, though only about fifteen years of age, he was much distinguished as a hunter and woodsman.  He was brave and generous to a fault; and was remarkable for decided action even at this early age.  He married in 1783, and became at once a conspicuous character in the border war, which had not yet ceased.  From 1794, to '96, he was employed as a regular spy.  When any duty requiring bravery, firmness, and prudence, had to be performed, James Witten was the man invariably chosen, as he possessed these qualities in an eminent degree.  Many incidents of interest are related of him, which should be preserved.)

Such as were too old to bear arms in the government service, usually guarded the women, children, and slaves, while cultivating the farms.  Tazewell had but a small population at this time, yet from the number engaged in the regular service, we should be led to think otherwise.  The following table will convey a good idea of their dispersion over the country, their families, in the meantime, exposed to the horrors of the tomahawk and scalping-knife.

Name Where Engaged Where Killed Wounded
Bowen, Rees King's Mountain King's Mt. --  
Bowling, Jarret -- -- --
Brown, Low Clark's Ex. to Illinois -- --
Cartmill, James Alamance -- --
Dolsberry, Lyles Pt. Pleasant, etc. -- --
Furguson, Saml. Alamance -- --
Harrison, Thos. Brandywine, Germantown and Yorktown -- --
Harper, Jesse -- -- --
Lasly, John Clark's Ex. to Illinois -- --
Maloney, Archer Brandywine and Stony Point -- --
Mc Guire, Nealy Clark's Ex. to Illinois -- --
Moore, Capt. James   Alamance -- --
Capt. James Moore was afterward killed by the Indians, in Abb's valley.  See History of Moore Family.
Peery, William Alamance and Illinois Ex. -- --
Peery, Thomas Alamance Alamance --
Peery, John Alamance -- Alamance
This man actually received fifty-four saber cuts in this engagement.  He was disabled and thrown upon the ground, and as Tarlton's troops passed, each man gave him a cut.  His head and arms were literally cut to pieces, yet he recovered, and lived many years to enjoy the freedom which cost him so dearly.
Stratton, Solom. Clark's Ex. to Illinois -- --
Tomlinson, Isam Brandywine, Germantown, etc. -- --

It is a little strange that the frontiers should have furnished so many men for the army, when their absence so greatly exposed their families.  But when we reflect that no people felt the horrors of war more sensibly than they did, and that no people are readier to serve the country in the day when aid is needed, than those of mountainous regions, we shall at once have an explanation to their desire, and consequent assistance, in bringing the war to a close.  Beside, the people of Tazewell have ever been foremost in defending the country; showing at once that determination to be free, which so eminently characterizes the people of mountainous districts. (NOTE: The following list of persons who served in the war of 1812-14, will corroborate the above state, viz:)

Asbury, William Higginbotham, James Tabor, Daniel
Bowen, Col. Henry Higginbotham, Wm. Thompson, Henry B.
Barnes, William King, Isaac Vandyke, Charles
Belcher, James Lusk, David Vandyke, John
Bostic, Isaac Peery, Capt. Thomas Witten, William
Brooks, James Peery, Jonathan Wynn, Peter E.
Bainheart, George Peery, Solomon Ward, Alexander
Davidson, John Robertson, David Wilson, Hugh
Earley, Jeremiah Stevenson, Matthew Wynn, Samuel
Franklin, Pleasant Smith, William Walls, Joseph
Green, William Shannon, John Young, Nathaniel
Gose, Peter Thompson, Rees B. Young, Israel

Two companies offered their services to the government to engage in the Mexican war; they were not accepted, however, as a sufficiency of men had already been received.  James Wynn and Wesley Hubbard, however, joined the Washington troops; with these exceptions, Tazewell may be said not to have participated in the war with Mexico.

The reader, by consulting the Map, and learning that during the Indian wars the population did not much exceed five hundred, will see at once that Tazewell county afforded an open field for the depredations of the Indians.


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