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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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Perhaps, no books need prefatory remarks so much as those of history.  History, as such, is evidence for generations who have yet to rise and figure on the stage of human affairs.  This, then, being the proper definition of history, it becomes at once evident, that the reader should make himself thoroughly acquainted with all the circumstances under which the author wrote.  Writing history from tradition is a very different thing from reducing to order a heterogeneous mass of recorded facts.  While the one is a sure guide to the historian, and from which he cannot depart; the other is full of uncertainty and apt to betray a writer into error and misrepresentations.

Authors have another object in prefacing their books, viz: they can refer directly to themselves; and as it is natural for men to say more good things of themselves, than they are willing to say of any one else, they naturally expect every body to put great stress upon the preface.

Be this as it may, I promise to leave myself out of the question, as soon as I have stated why I have been induced to take upon me the labors of the historian---labors more important, and requiring greater skill in their execution, than most persons imagine.  An error introduced is not to be recalled, for the pages of history are as undying as the existence of nations.  So long as Tazewell county shall have a separate identity, will this book be a source of authority, unless it be found erroneous; and even then, it will be used and defended by such as can make its statements subserve their ends.  I hope, in the honesty of my heart, that if errors are found, that they will be immediately exposed; for it would be far from my purpose to fasten one false statement jupon the noble people whose history I have written.  That there will be objections to my book is to be expected; men do not like to have their errors exposed, or yield old and cherished opinions; objections from such persons I shall not weigh.  But, kind reader, you must know why I have written this history.

When I returned to my native county (Russell) after an absence of more than twenty years, I rationally enough began to inquire something about the times of my birth, and of the men who were then figuring in the south-west.  Few were to be found, whose knowledge seemed definite on any subject which extended beyond their own day and time.  Occasionally I met with an old man whose mind seemed but little impaired, and whose eye would glisten with a tear as he rehearsed the deeds of those who were his companions in boyhood, but most of whom, were now in the charnel house of the peaceful dead.  Vivid scenes of border life were painted in still more vivid colors, till I felt myself in the presence of one of those spirits who, like Daniel Boone, had relinquished every claim to ease and safety, to enjoy the wild adventures of a backwoodsman, happy only in the prospective virtue and independence of his offspring.  Many, indeed, have been the happy hours spent in listening to these rehearsals from men who are now sleeping quietly in the bosom of the earth.

My residence was eventually changed from Russell to Tazewell county, where, at the suggestion and assistance of my friend H. F. Perry, M. D., we succeeded in establishing a historical society, the avowed object of which, was to collect and preserve the history of the Settlement, and Indian Wars of South-western Virginia.  The citizens of Tazewell joined us, and exhibited the same zeal which had actuated both myself and the worthy gentleman above referred to.

But we soon felt the need of an outline by which to be guided in our labors: gentlemen of the society requested me to undertake to furnish the needed guide, which has swelled, contrary to expectation, into a large volume.  My greatest difficulty has been to distinguish the real from the ideal, and with this exception, I may say that I have been pleasantly engaged in endeavoring to furnish to the society the needed work.  It is to be much regretted that this work had not been undertaken several years ago, when the chief actors who have been introduced were still alive.

I have assumed a style peculiarly my own, and which is, at once, plain and pointed: aiming at simplicity of style rather than beauty of diction has placed the work within the comprehension of every child.  I have spoken plainly and fearlessly of any errors, virtues, disadvantages, or advantages which I have found to exist in Tazewell.  Each subject has been taken up and treated at length before leaving it; so that the reader who would make any inquiry about Tazewell county, has only to turn to the table of contents, and refer to the chapter in which the subject is mentioned.  I have been careful to give my authority on all questionable points, wishing my book to be found worthy of public confidence.

My object in first writing a history of Tazewell county, was to excite the members of the Jeffersonville Historical Society to action.  The work will be continued in separate and distinct books, till the history of the whole south-west shall have been written, provided I meet with the same encouragement elsewhere, which has attended my labors in Tazewell.  The local character of my work should convince the public, that mercenary motives have not actuated me in preparing this volume.  Had the Jeffersonville Historical society not been established, I am quite confident that I should not have become historiographer.  I feel deeply interested in the fate of this institution, inasmuch as I might reasonably look upon its existence, as the fruit of my own labors conjoined to those of Dr. H. F. Peery.

I have long since declared, and still reiterate the opinion, that it is positively a serious injury to look alone to the north for that literary culture which must, in no small degree, tend to make certain impressions upon the minds of our children---the future men of the great south---which are not altogether congenial to our peculiar institutions.  And feeling that Virginia has not been least in her quota of great minds, I believe that much talent may be called into action (which would otherwise remain in obscurity), by the general organization of such institutions.  A single instance will serve to illustrate my views.

There is in all south-western Virginia, scarcely a school boy who is not better acquainted with the history and geography of New York or Massachusetts, than of his own beautiful state, of mountains and hills, and valleys and streams.

The simple statement of having collected the facts, and written the following pages in the short space of seven weeks, will, I hope, be a sufficient apology for its many imperfections.  That some repetition would occur, is to be expected from the local character, and detail in which the work is written.  That a complete history of south-western Virginia is greatly needed, none will deny; and that to develop its resources is alone necessary to insure a dense population, all agree.  Persons speak of settling western lands, because the eastern states, or those bordering on the Atlantic, are too densely populated.  But how ridiculous is this idea, when we reflect that the day is not very distant, when every acre of land---east and west---will be occupied!  The population of Europe exceeds 800,000,000; while the square miles are only 3,500,000, so that only eight acres of land are to be had for each person.  One-third of this is inaccessible, which gives only a little over six acres to each soul.  The population of Great Britain is upward of 20,000,000, while there is only about 83,000 square miles, one-third of which, is occupied for building purposes, and one-third devoted to other uses, than growing grain for the sustenance of her masses; so we see less than eight-tenths of an acre supporting one man.  Now let us apply this calculation to Tazewell county.  This contains 8000 square miles, or 1,920,000 square acres, and admitting that the soil is only half so productive as that of England, and only one half of this accessible, we shall then see that Tazewell county is capable of supporting 300,000 persons.

Every requisite for supporting a dense population is here found; and while queen Health continues to stretch out her inviting arms to the sick man, the county must continue to grow and enrich, till in process of time, 300,000 persons will be scattered over this beautiful county, to cultivate and make it bloom like a garden in the tropics.  But the lands must pass into other hands; the large tracts of one, two, and three hundred thousand acres, must have been cut up into small bodies; a circumstance which will take place as soon as the titles are positive.  A city will then have grown out of Jeffersonville.  The heavy sound of the dray wheel, and the rattle of the stage and omnibus over our fine roads, will be echoed back from our mountains, while the heavy stamp and scream of the machine-horse, will startle the wild eagle from his nest and awaken life and energy among the honest yeomanry settled along the verdant valleys.  The coal-smoke from the iron-furnace and the mines, will be seen curling upward over the mountain-peaks, and losing itself in the clouds.  Telegraphic wires will connect us with the capital of our state while the printing-press and loom, will no longer be objects of wonder.  Should no political evil intervene, and the pillars of our nation stand secure, it will be seen that the above will be but a faint picture of what is now Tazewell, in 1952.

Before closing this already lengthened article, I beg to return to my worthy friend H. F. Peery, M.D., my thanks for much valuable information respecting the early history of this country.  While the editor of the Jeffersonville Democrat, he had acquired much valuable information of the early settlers, which he has kindly imparted to me.  To him, I am also indebted for the list of plants and forest trees contained in this book.

To Col. Rees T. Bowen, John Wynn, Esq., Thos. Witten, Samuel Witten, Maj. Henry S. Bowen, William Barnes, Esq., and to William Thompson, I am under obligations for valuable information.

I owe an apology to the public, for not having furnished the fifteen engravings originally promised in the prospectus.  If I had done so, the work could not have been sold at subscription price.  If I shall have succeeded in properly setting forth the claims of Tazewell county, I shall be proud of my work, and still continue to labor for those whom I love and respect---the people of the south-west.

G. W. L. B.

Jeffersonville, Virginia, May, 1852


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