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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter V.  1795 - 1836  (Part 3)


The first court held for the county of Tazewell was at the house of Colonel John B. George, in the month of May, 1800.  John Ward was elected clerk, and ------- Maxwell made sheriff.  The second court was held in June of the same year at the house of Harvey G. Peery, in which month Judge Brockenborough held the first Superior Court of Law.  He was succeeded by Judge Peter Johnston.

James Thompson was the first Commonwealth's Attorney for the county.

Bickley in  his history of  Tazewell, gives the following as the names of the citizens of the county, who were in the battle of the Alamance and in the American Revolution, viz:

At the Alamance

James Cartmell
Samuel Ferguson
James Moore
William Peery
Thomas Peery
John Peery
In the Revolution

Reece Bowen
Low Bowen
Thomas Harrison *
John Lasley
Archer Maloney
Neal McGuire
James Moore
Solomon Stratton
Isham Thomlinson

* (Note: Thomas Harrison came from Birmingham, England, and was the son of a cutler.)

And the following as soldiers in the war of 1812 viz:

William Asbury
William Barnes
George Barnheart
Isaac Bostic
James Belcher
Peter Gose
Colonel Henry Bowen
James Brooks
John Davidson
Jeremiah Early
Pleasant Franklin
William Greene
James Higginbotham
William Higginbotham
Isaac King
David Lusk
Captain Thomas Peery
Jonathan Peery
David Robertson
Matthew Stevenson
William Smith
Daniel Tabor
Reece B. Thompson
Henry B. Thompson
Charles Vandyke
John Vandyke
Joseph Walls
Alexander Ward
Hugh Wilson
William Witten
Peter E. Wynne
Samuel Wynne
Israel Young
Nathaniel Young

From 1800, the date of the formation of the county, to the beginning of the year of 1861, this county had within its borders as pure a type of Americanism as any county within the Commonwealth.  There were few, if any, of what might be deemed foreigners, that is, those who came direct from foreign countries.

In politics this people was so thoroughly democratic that in the two presidential contests, 1828-1832, between Jackson and Clay, the latter in the first contest received in the county but one vote, and the second two votes.  This solid democratic wall was shaken but once from 1800 to 1861, and that was in the contest for the State Senate in 1857, between Nathaniel Harrison, Democrat, and Napoleon B. French, Whig, the latter succeeding in reducing the democratic majority largely in this county, which resulted in the defeat of Mr. Harrison in the district.

The bitter fight and exciting contest for Congress in 1848,  between Colonel John B. George and Fayette McMullen, both Democrats, in which the latter won by over 2,000 majority, is still remembered among the older people of the county.

The contests for the Circuit Judgeship between George W. Hopkins and Joseph Stras, and again between Samuel V. Fulkerson and Mr. Stras were notable.

The people of this county held but few slaves, the first of these were brought into the county by James Witten, about 1771, and the next by a man by the name of Hicks and Thomas Ingles in about the year of 1780

When the civil war period approached it found the people of this county as thoroughly united for the south, and the upholding and vindication of its constitutional rights as the people of any county within the Commonwealth.  In the election for delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1861, two of its most distinguished citizens--William P. Cecil and Samuel L. Graham--were elected.  Both these men were above the average, and imbued with strong convictions in favor of resistance to further Federal aggression, and in favor of Secession if that step was felt to be absolutely necessary for the protection of the rights of the people of Virginia.  These gentlemen voted for the Ordinance of Secession, came home, buckled on their armor, and went forth to do battle for their cause and country.  The people of this county entered upon the war with zeal and earnestness, organizing and sending to the war above twenty companies.  There was as little disloyalty to the south and her cause among the people of Tazewell as in any county in the State, and when the war had ended her people were less annoyed with scalawags and carpetbaggers than the people of any county west of the Alleghanies.  After the close of the war and up to the agitation of the State debt question, the people still adhered to Democracy.  This debt question divided them, and a large number of the most prominent, respectable and influential people of the county fell in with the Readjuster Movement, which finally landed them in the Republican party; since which time the county has been overwhelmingly Republican.

This county is a little Commonwealth within itself, having within its borders, the most valuable agricultural, grazing and mineral lands to be found in this region of Virginia.  Its people are among the most cultivated, law-abiding, and best in the world.  Its lawyers among the most distinguished in the State; among the number may be mentioned Honorable Samuel C. Graham, Major R. R. Henry, J. W. Chapman, A. P. Gillespie, Samuel D. May, J. H. Stuart, S. M. B. Couling,  H. C. Alderson, J. N. Harman, Barnes Gillespie, E. L. Greever, Thompson Crockett Bowen.

There has been less change in the character of the rural population of this county, than that of most any adjoining county.  The building of railroads and the development of mines have had but little apparent effect upon the character of the population.  These people are largely the descendants of the Wittens, Moores, Maxwells, Bowens, Barnes, Gillespies, Grahams, Crocketts, Peerys, Georges, Wards, Shannons, Harrisons, Greever, Meeks, Higginbothams, Deskins, Thompsons, Davidsons, Wynns, Cecils, Spotts, Taylors, and Harmans, the most of whom were among the first settlers of the country.  Matters connected with the Courts of this county, the names of the judges and members of the House of Delegates, together with a list of the military organizations, or at least the names thereof, that entered the Confederate service will be found in the appendix to this volume; but before closing it will probably not be out of place to relate an anecdote given to the author by the late Major Rufus Brittain.    Honorable Benjamin Estill, long the respected, honored judge of the Circuit Court of Tazewell, was a very grave and dignified gentleman, and was held in high respect by the bar and people.  In the early years of his administration, in the trial of a case before him, there came a witness from lower Sandy country, who for the first time in his life was at his county town and his county Court House, and who had never testified as a witness in a court of his evidence and when he was about to leave the stand, the judge, apparently not impressed with the truthfulness of his story, leaned forward, and in a very quiet but earnest manner, said, "Mr. Witness have you told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"  The witness looking straight into the face of the Judge replied, "Well, Mr. Jedge, I think I have and a little the rise."

Prior to the formation of Giles County, in 1806, the people inhabiting the new River settlements and westward beyond in Montgomery County, when compelled to attend the court, had to travel many miles through the wilderness to reach their county Court House at Christiansburg.  By the creation of Giles County, out of the territory of the counties of Montgomery, Monroe and Tazewell, the people along the lower New River settlements, and on the waters of the Bluestone, Guyandotte, and the head waters of the Coal Rivers were brought nearer to their County Court House.  In January, 1806, the County of Giles (Note: Named for Hon. Wm. B. Giles.) was created with the following boundary lines described in the Act, viz:  "Beginning at the end of Gauley Mountain on New River where the counties of Greenbrier and Kanawha intersect; thence, up the river with the Greenbrier and Montgomery County Line to the upper end of Pine's Plantation; thence, a straight line to the mouth of Rich Creek, thence with the Montgomery and Monroe line to the intersection of Botetourt County line, and with the line of Montgomery and Botetourt to the top of Gap Mountain, thence along the top of said mountain to New River, crossing the same to the end of Walker's Creek Mountain, thence along the top of said mountain to the intersection of Wythe County line, thence northwestward with said line to the intersection of Tazewell County line, and with Tazewell and Montgomery County line to the top of Wolf Creek Mountain to a path leading from Round Bottom to Harman's Mill about three miles below the mouth of the Clear fork of Wolf Creek, thence a straight line to the mouth of Militon's Fork, thence a direct line to the head of Crane Creek to the top of Flat Top Mountain, thence a direct line to the three forks of the Guyandotte, thence down said river until it intersects the Kanawha County line, thence with said line to the beginning."

There have been since the creation of the county of Giles four changes in the boundary lines thereof.  The line between Giles and Monroe was altered in 1830, by running from a point on Peter's Mountain, opposite the Grey Sulpher Springs, down Rich Creek near Peterstown and to Wiley's Falls, taking from Monroe and adding to Giles this strip of territory.  In 1841, by adding a small strip from the county of Mercer by running from Toney's  Mill dam to Wiley's Falls.  Again in 1851, on the formation of the county of Craig, by cutting off to that county a strip of the territory of Giles and, later in 1858, another strip to Craig; and likewise in 1861, by the formation of Bland County, Giles lost a very considerable strip of her territory.

The territory embraced in the now county of Giles is very mountainous, and of the most rugged character, covering at the period of its formation the New River Valley for a distance of over one hundred miles in length with a mean width of about thirty miles, embracing not only waters which flow into the New River proper, but also the head waters of the Guyandotte, which flows into the Ohio, and the headwaters of the Coal River, which flows into the Kanawha.  The names of the streams in the then territory of the county and flowing into New River are as follows: Spruce Run, Sinking Creek, Doe Creek, Big Stony Creek, Little Stony Creek, and Rich Creek on the northeast side of the river, and Walker's Creek, Wolf Creek, East River, Brush Creek, Bluestone, Piney, Big and Little Coal Rivers, and some of the branches of the Guyandotte on the west and northwest side of the river.  The mountain ranges--Walker's Mountain, Angel's Rest, Great Flat Top, Guyandotte, Peter's Mountain, East River Mountain, Wolf Creek Mountain, Butt Mountain, Brush Mountain, and Salt Pond Mountain.

Pursuant to the act creating the County of Giles, the first court was held on the 13th day of May, 1806, in a house adjacent to the dwelling house of Captain George Pearis  (Note: The first settler where Pearisburg station is now situated and the first merchant in what is now Giles County.)  on New River, near where Pearisburg station is now situated.  The building in which the first court was held remained standing until two or three years ago, when it was destroyed by fire.

The Governor of the Commonwealth, William H. Cabell, had issued commissions to the following named gentleman as Justices of the Peace of the new County, viz:  George Pearis, Thomas Shannon, Christian Snidow, David French, David Johnston, (Note: David and Andrew Johnston were the first merchants and opened the first tannery; Dr. John H. Rutter, the first resident physician; W. C. Charlton, first tailor.) Edward McDonald, Isaac Chapman, John Kirk, John Peck, Christopher Champ, John Burke, and James Bane.  Thomas Shannon and Christian Snidow, the second and third named persons in the commission, administered the oath to George Pearis the first named, and he then administered it to the others.  David Johnston produced a commission from the Governor of the Commonwealth as Sheriff of the new county, and qualified as such with Christian Snidow and Isaac Chapman as his sureties, giving bond in the penalty of $7,000, and James Hoge qualified as his Deputy.  David French was elected clerk, and at his request the court appointed John McTaylor as his deputy.  Captain George Pearis was elected presiding Justice, and also commissioner of the revenue.  Philip Lybrook was appointed county surveyor, and afterwards gave bond in the penalty of $3,000 with John Lybrook and David French as his sureties.

Henley Chapman produced a license authorizing him to practice law in the courts of the Commonwealth, and on his motion was admitted to practice in the courts of the County.  The second term of the court convened on the 10th day of June, 1806, at which term the first Grand Jury for the county was impaneled and was composed of the following named gentlemen:  William Smith, foreman, Matthew French, John Peters, Charles Walker, Joseph Hare, Thomas Clyburn, Adam Johnston, William Wilburn, William Brown, John Chapman, William Tracy, David Summers, William Law, John Sartin, Edward Hale and Robert Clendenin.

Two indictments were found by the jury at this term, to wit: one against Peter Dingess for retailing spiritual liquors, and one against William Stowers, for entering the whiskey house of John Toney without leave and making use of his liquors.    George Pearis and John Toney were each granted a license to keep an Ordinary at their respective houses, they having given the required bonds.  Thomas Lewis, an attorney-at-law, and who was afterwards, in 1816, near Christianburg, Virginia, killed in a duel with McHenry, was admitted to practice in the courts of the County.  The following named persons were appointed constables for said County, viz:  John Hale, Charles Stuart, Henry Clay, Jacob McPherson, Edward Lewis, Reuben Johnston, Noah Mullet and Delaney Sweeney, and Christian Snidow and Isaac Chapman were recommended to the governor as being qualified to discharge the duties of the office of Coroner.

It was ordered that the next term of the court be held in the house to be erected by James Aldridge on one of the public lots.

Captain George Pearis donated fifty three acres of land to the County on which to erect its public buildings, and a town was established on this land, called Pearisburg in honor of Captain Pearis.  Andrew Johnston agreeing to survey and lay off the town lots and public square for the consideration of $31.00, was appointed to do so.  The first petit jury impaneled in the County consisted of Patrick Napier, John Peters, Joseph Jackson, Isaac Jackson, William Clay, Colby Stowers, William Pepper, Nimrod Smith, Henry Dillion, Charles Clay, Philip Peters, and Larkin Stowers.  The second Grand Jury consisted of the following named persons, viz:  Thomas burke, foreman, John Peters, Theodore Hilvey, Charles Walker, James French, John  Martin, William Caldwell, William Wilburn, Thomas Clyburn, John French, John Sartin, John Lybrook, Thomas Farley, Reuben Johnston, James Johnston, Adam Taylor, and Michael Williams.

On these early records of Giles County appear the names of Chapman, Johnston, Oney, Givens, Price, Farley, Straley, (Note: David Straley and John Fillinger first blacksmiths.) Hare, Lybrook, Burke, Copley, McKensey, Garrison, Gore, Solesbury, Roberts, Harman, Mustard, McDonald, Fry, French, Miller, Clay, Cooke, Eaton, Munsey, Canterbury, Mullens, Burgess, Maupin, Jones, Hall, Emmons, Little, Spangler, Clyburn, Blankenship, Snodgrass, Atkins, Bogle, Conley, Rowe, Epling, Cecil, Tracy, Sarver, Marrs, King, Smith, Bowling, Hager, Lester, Meadows, Albert, Scott, Ford, White, Bane, Shannon, McClaugherty, Watts, Pearis, Sweeny, Snidow, Toney, Napier, McComas, Burton, and Rowland, the latter named family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Before giving further history of the County, notice will be taken of some interesting matters appearing on the old court record of Fincastle and Montgomery Counties.  Among the numerous orders of the County Court ordering parties suspected of being Tories to appear in court, and either take the oath or give bond for their good behavior, is an order made upon the petition of numerous citizens praying that the place for the holding of court be removed to Craig's, as it is a "better place for hitching horses."

It must be remembered that the County Courts, for there were no others in this section at that date, constituted practically, the legislative, executive and judicial authority and power of the County, before the itinerant District Judge came along.

On March 3rd, 1778, Benjamin Rogers was appointed a constable in Captain Pearis' company.  In June, 1785, David Johnston was appointed a constable.  On the 26th of April, 1785, an order was made by the County Court allowing a sum of money to George Pearis for provisions, bacon and Indian meal furnished to two spies, and to the militia in June, 1782.   Thomas Shannon and George Pearis were appointed in 1785 to review a road down New River on both sides to the Greenbrier County line, and the same year George Pearis and Snidow and Chapman had ferries established across New River.    In 1787, September 8th, Mitchell Clay conveyed one half of the Clover Bottom tract of land to Hugh Innis, of Franklin County.  On the 7th of April, 1788, George Pearis conveyed a tract of land on Sugar Run to Joseph Cloyd, and in June of the same year, conveyed a tract on New River to David McComas. June 1st, 1890, Mitchell Clay conveyed to George Pearis the remaining half of the Clover Bottom tract.   In 1793 Colonel Christian Snidow erected his dwelling house on the east side of New River, at the Snidow-Chapman Ferry, and Isaac Chapman settled on the opposite side of the river from Colonel Snidow, and in 1794, George Chapman erected his dwelling house on the east side of New River, about one mile below Colonel Snidow's, on land now belonging to H. B. Shelton and H. L. Phlegar.

The following extracts are taken from the record of  Fincastle County Court.  On January 6th, 1773, the Court recommended to His Excellency, the Governor, that he will be pleased to establish a Court House for the County, at a piece of land commonly called McCaul's Place, near the property of Ross and Co., and the lands of Samuel Crockett, in lieu of the Lead Mines for the several reasons following: "that the said McCaul's Place and Crockett's lies on the Great road that passes through the county and that it is well watered, timbered, and level; that it is much more central than the Mines, and that it is in the neighborhood of a great deal of good land and meadows; that the Lead Mines are near the south line of the County, and there is no spring convenient, very scarce  of timber, and in a neighborhood where there is very little pasture, and entirely off the leading road.  To which order Arthur Campbell dissented."    At March Court, 1773, John Aylett and John Todd qualified to practice law.    John Aylett produced a commission appointing him His Majesty's attorney.   On the second day of April, 1775, appeared James Clevars agent for General Washington, and being first sworn as the law directs, produced to the court a valuation of the improvements on the lands situated on the lower or south side of the Great Kanawha, containing 10,990 acres, property belonging to General Washington, with a certificate granted by William Russell, Justice of the Peace for this County, and that Stevens, George Aubry, and John Clemonts, being first duly sworn to value the tax improvements, which said valuation of the improvements amounting to 1,100 lbs., 15 sh. 7 1/2 pence, together with the above mentioned certificate is ordered to be recorded according to law.



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