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Claiborne County
Local History

Claiborne County was erected on October 29, 1801, and was named for Wm. C. C. Claiborne. It was formed from Grainger and Hawkins counties. The Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions was organized at the house of John Owens, on December 7, 1801, at which time the following named justices of the peace, appointed by Governor Roane, were qualified: Isaac Lane, Joseph Webster, William Trent, James Chisum, Abraham Lenham, John Wallen, Matthew Sims, John Vanbibber, William Rogers, George Read, C. Newport, Jno. Casey, Joseph Nations and James Renfro. The courts were held at the houses of magistrates until 1804 when a small courthouse was erected. Cumberland Gap, famous in history, is in this county. Through this gateway in the mountains, the pioneers of the early days passed from Virginia, North Carolina and East Tennessee into Kentucky. The first officers of this court were: Walter Evans, clerk of the court; John Hunt, sheriff; Ezekiel Craft, register; Luke or Lew Boyer, or Bowyer, solicitor; Nathaniel Austin, ranger; John Sumpter, constable.

On October 14, 1802, Bishop Asbury preached “at Hunt's at Claiborne Courthouse.” The Circuit Court was organized in April, 1810, by William Cocke. The first settlements in the county were made at Big Spring, near Sycamore Creek, in 1794-1795; in Powell's Valley and along Clinch River.

Tazewell, the county seat, was laid out probably in 1802 or 1803, when the first house in this place was erected. The first merchant was William Graham, who erected the first church.

Statistics of Claiborne County: Population, 1920, 23,286. Assessed valuation of taxable property, 1921, $8,549,141. Area, 472 sq. mi. Number of farms, 3,022. Railway mileage, 37. Drained by the Powell and Clinch rivers. Surface generally mountainous and covered with timber. Soil in valleys very fertile. Wheat, corn, oats and grass are staple products, and the live stock industry is flourishing. Iron, zinc and lead ores are found in the county, and coal is also mined. Tazewell, the county seat, has a population of 424. Other towns in the county are New Tazewell, Lone Mountain, Hoop, and Hartranft. Tazewell has a bank, schools, churches, and a weekly newspaper. Scholastic population, 8,994; high schools, 2; elementary schools, 100. He and William Blount were the first United States senators from Tennessee.
Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769-1923, Vol. 1 -- transcribed by, Amanda Jowers

Introduction to the Resources of Tennessee, Volume 1
Tennessee Bureau of Agriculturs, Joseph Buckner Killebrew 1874

County Seat—Tazewell

By far the larger portion of Claiborne county lies in the Valley of East Tennessee, only its northwestern corner resting upon the Cumberland Table Land. The law authorizing the organization of the county was passed at Knoxville, October 29, 1801. It was formed from parts of Grainger and Hawkins counties. The Justices of the Peace appointed by Governor Roane, were qualified on the 7th day of December, 1801, the first day of the first term of the court of quarter sessions for the county. For several years after its organization, there was no court-house, the courts being held at the houses of the different magistrates, in turn. Walter Evans was elected the first Clerk of this court David Rogers was the first Sheriff for the county; Ezekial Craft, Register; Luke Boyer, Solicitor; Nathaniel Austin, Ranger; and John Sumpter, Constable. The first settlements in the county were made at Big Spring, near Sycamore Creek, in 1794-5.

Boundary and Topography
This county is bounded on the north by the Kentucky line, on the east by Hancock, and the South by Granger and Union, the Clinch River forming the line, and on the west by Campbell. It comprises about 360 square miles. The physical features and surface conformation are a good deal diversified. Broad stretches of comparatively level land and abrupt bluffy highlands and swelling protuberances make up the general face of the country. Powell's River runs diagonally through its center, from north-east to south-west, and forms the great highway of commerce. During the season of freshets, the crops of various kinds are shipped in flat-boats to Chattanooga and other points. North of Powell's River, and running parallel with it, are three or four belts of land differing in quality, kind and condition. The most northward of these is triangular in shape and forms a part of the Cumberland Table Land. The soil of this is sandstone, porous and poor. The next strip southward is Poor Valley, which lies between the steep escarpments of the Table Land and Walden's Ridge. This valley is well named, for its surface is covered with blocks of sandstone, and it has low marshy spots, some of which are drained and cultivated, but the great proportion of this valley is totally unfit for cultivation. Then comes Poor Valley Ridge, a low ridge skirting the base of the mountain for many miles, forming with Poor Valley a moulding to the base of the Cumberland Table Land. Then we have Walden's Ridge, with its high, comb-like, serrated, wooded crests. It rises steeply and is only passed by transverse cuts, which occur at various intervals, from one to four miles. Between Walden's Ridge and Powell's River is Powell's Valley, one of the finest in East Tennessee. This remarkable valley docs not lie on Powell's River, but is separated from it by a high belt of table land, from two to four or more miles in width. The valley itself is 400 feet above the river, and extends continuously from Virginia to Wheeler's Gap, a distance of about sixty miles. It preserves its parallelism with the river, whose name it takes, and has a width varying from two to five miles. Through the center of this valley a high "hog-back" ridge, that is, a ridge in which the strata of the rocks are nearly perpendicular, runs for a distance of eight or ten miles. Running out at right angles to Walden's Ridge, are a series of swollen protuberances that project themselves into the valley, giving to the surface, near the ridge, a tumid and rolling appearance.

The next belt is the high wooded region that separates the river from, the valley. It falls off in a steep encarpment on the river banks, but descends gradually into the valley on the north-west side. It is heavily timbered.

Between Powell's River and Tazewell is a barren, chestnut-covered plain, comparatively level, which has an open, gravelly soil. South of Tazewell the country is very broken, rising into massive ridges and hills, among which, towering above all the rest, is Wallen's Ridge, with its wide rounded summit. This ridge is made up of Knox dolomite, limestone and cherty masses. Immediately south of Tazewell, its swelling form may be seen for miles, as it runs north-easterly into Hancock and south-westerly into Union. Its sides are marked by numerous coves, with the intervenient spurs, and often interlocking with these are the spurs shooting out from the chestnut plain on the north. Lone Mountain appears in the southern part of the county. Its northwestern face is covered with green fields and dense woods, in which the clambering vines, receiving sustenance from rich limestone soil, make the surface dark with their rank luxuriance. On the south-eastern side of the same mountain huge layers of sandstone sheet the surface in tilted mosses, and the vegetation is sparse and the trees small and scraggy. With the exception of Powell's and Sycamore bottoms, the whole, country is high, rough and broken, for the most part fertile, but almost everywhere the tilted limestone rocks rise to the surface, forming glades and rendering the soil difficult of cultivation.

In this county is Cumberland Gap, a spot made memorable by recent events, and is the great pass from the blue-grass region of Kentucky to the cotton States of Georgia and Alabama. The picturesqueness and grandeur of the scenery are imposing. On either side of the gap, high, rocky, weather stained ramparts, rising to a perpendicular height of 1,500 feet above the valley, fill the mind with awe and sublimity. Standing upon the pinnacle 2,680 feet above the sea, and looking southward, the view is one of magnificence and beauty. The long parallel ridges of East Tennessee, cut by innumerable gaps, are distinctly traceable, forming a billowy sea of mountains, while far beyond tower up grandly the majestic domes of the Unakas, wrapped in mist, the universal expression of the sublime, the type of the infinite and unchangeable, standing out as " landmarks on the vast and shoreless sea of the azure heavens."

The gap is 500 feet above Poor Valley, and 1,000 below the pinnacle. A road, by a series of gentle curves, passes from the valley below up through the gap. Beyond the gap the slope is less abrupt.

Besides the Clinch, which washes the southern limit of the county, and Powell's River, there arc numerous small streams tributary to these rivers. Russell's Creek, Indian Creek, Gap Creek and Town Creek empty into Powell's River. Sycamore Creek, Big Barren and Bald Creek empty into Clinch. All these tributary streams furnish good water-powers, many of which have been utilized. The streams are rapid in their descent, and the banks, being of limestone, are admirably suited for the erection of dams. Mills are usually driven by over-shot wheels, to which the water is conducted from a point above by flumes. Very little expense is incurred in the making of dams. Sometimes the natural dip of the rock can be made to answer the purpose. In many places the dip of the strata is in the direction from which the stream flows. In such situations many beautiful natural dams occur, over which the water falls with glassy smoothness. Lands, Soils and Timber. The soils of Claiborne county are almost as varied as the topographical features. On the Cumberland Table Land is a sandstone soil, thin, porous and unproductive. In Poor Valley the soil sometimes runs into quicksand. The finest and most productive soils are found in the Sycamore bottoms and in Powell's alley. In the latter it has a reddish cast with a deep red ferruginous 8ubsoil. There is no better soil in the State than that found in Powell's Valley, especially when we add to its fertility its durable properties.

It is the garden spot of the county. Lands are remarkably high in this valley, when their remoteness from market is considered. The entire products are shipped out by Powell's River, a stream that is navigable for flat and keel-boats, and only then for one or two months in the year. The best improved farms bring from forty to fifty dollars per acre. On Chestnut Ridge the soil is thin, and lands sells for about four dollars per acre. The lands immediately north of Wallen's Ridge, though rocky and rolling, have a rich limestone soil, and are highly productive. They are held at thirty and forty dollars per acre. South of this ridge, though nearly as fertile, the lands are not so valuable, except those in close proximity to Clinch River. The exceeding ruggedness of the surface of the county, and the difficulty of making good roads, make the nearness or remoteness from the river quite an important element in the estimates of the value of farms.

There are but few counties in East Tennessee better timbered than Claiborne. Walnut and sugar trees are abundant and grow to enormous sizes on the rich slopes of the ridges and in the elevated bottoms between. In places chestnut prevails, especially on the chestnut plateau north of Tazewell. In the north-eastern part of the county, on Powell's River, are some good groves of cedar. Birch is met with on the streams. The prevailing timber, however, is oak, poplar, hickory and pine. Of the latter, none is found east of Tazewell, but white oaks of fine size, black oaks, suitable for boards, and walnut trees are abundant. In this portion cedar bushes grow up in the old fields and relieve them of their barren aspect. At least three-fourths of the county is covered with valuable timber. The walnut is more abundant than is found in contiguous counties, and would yield a fine revenue if the means of transportation were better. Rafts are sometimes carried down Powell's River.

Crops and Farms
The average size of farms in Claiborne county does not exceed thirty-five acres of tillable land. By the census report of 1870 there were 1,100 farms in the county of all sizes, nearly half of which had more than twenty and less than fifty acres. There was not a farm reported in the county as having five hundred acres. Most of them arc worked by their owners, with a little help during the summer. Farm hands are not hired by the year, but from about the 1st of March to the 1st of August, and again from the 1st of October to December.

The usual crops arc corn, wheat, oats, rye, and hay, and some farmers raise flax for domestic use. By tar the largest proportion of corn is fed to hogs and sold in pork, but a considerable quantity is shipped out in flat-boats. The hay crop has been greatly increased during the past few years. The valleys that lie at the foot of the limestone ridges produce timothy well. Receiving fresh accessions to their fertilizing elements by every rain, the soils, in these low places, are among the most durable in the State. Outside of Powell's Valley these areas are small, though they produce from two to three tons of hay per acre. It is claimed, by leading farmers, that the north hillsides, especially of "Wallen's Ridge and Lone Mountain, are as well adapted to the growth of hay as the bottoms themselves. This statement is not incredible; for of all the corn crops which came under our observation during the past summer, we saw none surpassing in luxuriance of growth those seen on the northern slopes of the hills and ridges of Claiborne county. The only trouble about growing hay on the hillsides is the difficulties which have to be encountered in the use of suitable machinery for saving it. As pastures, these lands would be unexcelled, for the hot suns of summer are attempered by the uprising hills on the south, and the moisture, so necessary to the rapid and luxuriant growth of grass, is not so readily evaporated. Besides timothy, clover is also sown as a hay crop. The limestone soils grow it with surprising rankness. Three and four tons arc sometimes taken from a single acre. Here, as in other counties in East Tennessee, the practice does not prevail of giving the land the benefit of the clover crop. It is either pastured or cut for hay. Diligent inquiry failed to find more than two or three farmers who habitually sow clover for the purpose of benefitting the soil. Fields arc often cultivated until the fertility of the soil is destroyed and then turned out to grow up in pine forests, or alder and persimmon bushes. Upon Chestnut Ridge this practice is quite common, and instances were given where the same rails, made of chestnut timber, had outlasted the fertility of two or three fields. But as the turned-out fields in this chestnut region soon grow up into pines, the effect upon the appearance of the country is not so bad as in many other portions of the State.

The condition of the farms is not so good as it was before the war. The fences are badly neglected. Many of the fence rows arc tangled masses of briers and bushes. Crops arc not so well cultivated, nor do the out-buildings receive the care and attention they demand. Of course there are many noticeable exceptions to this condition of things. The farms on Sycamore Creek, and on the slopes of Wallen's Ridge, by their strong enclosures and neat farmhouses, show, unmistakably, the industry and thrift of their owners.

Stock and Implements
Stockraising is considered by far the most profitable branch of husbandry for this county. Many farmers are introducing improved breeds of cows from Kentucky. Sheep would find here a congenial home among the sheltering rocks, and in the coves of the hills and mountains; but the great number of dogs, which is said to equal at least one for each person in the county, would make sheep-raising an unprofitable and unsatisfactory business. However much a farmer might wish to improve his breed of sheep, he is deterred from importing high-bred bucks, because of the imminent risk he would run on account of these pets of society. Numerous cases are mentioned where fine sheep have been killed by dogs, while the scrub stock remained unharmed. There is about one sheep for every person in the county.

Mules and horses are raised in sufficient quantities to supply the home demand, and some for export. Both are used in the cultivation of crops, though the number of horses is much greater than of mules. Oxen are employed in hauling over the rugged hills, and to some extent, in spring, for breaking up land. Hill-side plows are coming into use, much to the advantage of the land. The cultivation of the crops is done with shovel-plows or bull-tongues, which are favorite plows with the hill-side farmers of East Tennessee. With this simple implement many of them assert that a crop is more easily worked upon a steep hillside than upon level land, and this same opinion prevails in Claiborne county. Some of the fields in this county have an ascent of nearly forty degrees, and upon such places the corn always looks well, if well tilled. Usually the corn rows are run with a long bull-tongue plow on nearly a water-level, and in some instances we have remarked one long spiral row from the base of a conical hill to its apex.

On the more level farms reapers, mowers and horse-rakes are extensively used by the farmers. In Powell's Valley the farmers keep abreast of all the recent improvements iu agricultural implements. All the fertile parts of the county are tolerably thickly settled. In Powell's Valley, the population will average fifty to the square mile, while the average for the whole county will not exceed twenty-six. Rents. Renters are numerous, notwithstanding the great surplusage of laud and the desire of many farmers to sell. This class furnishes everything, and gives the proprietor one-third. If the land is very fertile the owner claims and receives one-half. Minerals. It would be difficult to estimate the mineral wealth of Claiborne county. The iron ore is very abundant. The dyestone, or red hematite, is found sheeting both sides of Poor Valley Ridge, and also in considerable quantities in Walden's Ridge. Poor Valley Ridge is within a few hundred yards of the Cumberland Gap Iron Works, which are situated within a quarter of a mile of the gap, just under the frowning brow of the Cumberland Table Land. The vein, in Poor Valley Ridge, has been traced ten miles east and ten miles west. It is from eighteen inches to three feet in thickness, and runs with the inclination of the ridge. It is thought to average, in width, fully a half mile. This ore, it is said, yields in working from the furnace from filly to seventy-five per cent, of good pig iron, tough and of great tensile strength. It is much sought after for car wheels and boiler plate. On the spurs of the main range of the Cumberland Table Land are brown hematites. In other places are found the black oxide. The red hematite is so abundant that it is mined and delivered in the furnace loft at one dollar per ton. Limestone, fire-clay,and sandrock, suitable for making furnace hearths, are found in the same vicinity. The sand-rock has, in practice, proved better in the furnace, and more able to resist heat than the fire-brick.

Between Poor Valley Ridge and the Cumberland Table Land runs a vein of the black oxide of manganese, which would supply this ore in considerable quantities. This mineral, in the market, is worth from thirty to forty-five dollars per ton. It is extensively used in the mechanical arts, especially in the manufacture of glass. Lead, in pockets and in veins, has been discovered in some places, but never in workable quantities. It occurs in the great anticlinal (or upheavel of the strata in which the rocks dip in opposite directions) that posses through the county and occupies one-half of it. In this anticlinal is also found zinc-blende.

In relation to the quantity of coal in the county, enough has been ascertained to know that it exists in abundance, but there have been no efforts made for its development. The coal-measures attain, in this county and Campbell, a much greater thickness than in any other portion of the Tennessee coal-fields. The aggregate mass of coal must be very great in that part of the county included within the limits of the Cumberland Table Land. A few places have been opened near Cumberland Gap, and coal of good quality has been mined, but only for domestic purposes.

Millstone grit is found in many places; and at Big Spring, where the first settlements in the county were made, an extensive manufactory of them was carried on before the war.

Numerous mineral springs are in the vicinity of Cumberland Gap, consisting of both sulphur and chalybeate. There are also caves in the same neighborhood, in which occur beautiful incrustations. One known as the Newland cave, from which the dashing stream of water issues that drives the blast and mill at the furnace, has been explored for many miles. The stream, from the point of issuance to the valley below, has a fall of 150 feet, though the distance is scarcely more than one hundred yards.

Roads and Transportation.
The roads of Claiborne county are exceedingly rough. No pains have been taken and no expense incurred by the citizens to make good roads, though they arc greatly needed. The nearest point to the railroad is Morristown, in Hamblen county, a distance of twenty-eight miles from Tazewell, the county seat. It would be worth a load of corn or hay, oats or wheat, to haul it over the road between these points. Between these points there is what is called a State road, yet the roughest in the State, one on which toll is still demanded, and yet it would be difficult to say for what purpose, unless for the privilege of riding over the worst possible road. The material for the construction of roads is abundant. Good McAdamized roads could be built as cheaply in Claiborne county as in any county in the State.

The Clinch and Powell's rivers are the only available outlets for the various commodities of the county. Four railroads have been surveyed and located through Cumberland Gap—the Cincinnati, Covington and Cumberland Gap Railroad, the Lebanon Branch of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, the Bristol and Cumberland Gap Railroad, and the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap and Charleston Railroad. The latter will doubtless be extended from Morristown to this point when the demands of trade shall justify it. It now runs from Morristown to Wolf Creek, in the opposite direction, a distance of thirty-nine miles.

Very few, if any immigrants come to the county, doubtless owing to the want of railroads and good schools. The county has suffered quite as much for want of the latter as the former, and the indisposition of the people to levy a tax for that purpose is a harbinger that broods no good for the future industrial and moral development of the county. There is an excellent school at the county seat, but aside from this, we could learn of no other, though doubtless a few peripatetic teachers will now and then come to the county and stay long enough to gather the small sum semi-annually disbursed by the State. The county has levied no tax for school purposes, and has by vote of the people refused to do so.

There is at present only one in operation. This is at Cumberland Gap, and its daily product is about three and one-fourth tons. This furnace is cold blast. It uses charcoal as fuel, the cost of which is six cents per bushel. Cost of raising ore, fifty cents; cost of delivering fifty cents. Two hundred bushels of charcoal and two tons of ore are required to make a ton of iron. Labor at the furnace for each ton of iron, costs $3.35. Flux costs one dollar per ton delivered. Forty cents per cord is paid for cutting wood. The estimated cost of making a ton of cold-blast charcoal pig-iron at this point is as follows:

The largest demand for chickens comes from Atlanta, Georgia. Farmers. The farmers of Claiborne county are said to be the best contented people in the State. They are not ambitious of wealth or distinction, but make what they live upon and live upon what they make. They work for a competency and are satisfied with it. No visions of princely wealth in the future beguile them into a neglect of the enjoyment of the present Life to them is a thing to be enjoyed, not merely to be endured. If in discharge of the duties of the farm any social pleasures can be interwoven, it is always done. Neighbors help each other in harvest, in the clearing of land, and oftentimes in the planting of the crops, and what would be a dry, bard, irksome labor for one is made a pleasant pastime for the many. Even the burning of the briers from a field is made a season of sportive enjoyment by the young of both sexes. The habits, manners and customs of other days prevail to a great extent among the farmers of Claiborne. The lofty virtues of simplicity, frugality and honesty are cultivated and appreciated, but there is a woeful lack of enterprise.

Cost of Living
In no part of the State can the necessaries of life be obtained so cheaply. An income of five hundred dollars in Claiborne would supply almost as many comforts as three thousand dollars in Nashville. The following prices for the chief articles of domestic use were gathered in the county:

rented in this county, and in the adjoining county of Hancock, for $25 per year.

Exports and Statistics
The exports from the county for the year ending July 1, 1873, as gathered by a gentleman engaged in the river trade, consist of the following articles: wheat, 30,000 bushels ; butter, 45,000 pounds; dried fruit, 20,000 pounds; corn, 50,000 bushels; eggs, 60,000 dozen; wool, 5,000 pounds ; maple sugar, 2,000 pounds; bacon, 18,000 pounds; feathers, 3,000 pounds; besides various articles not estimated, such as ginseng, honey, socks, home-made cloth, etc. From Lee county, Virginia, Hancock and Claiborne counties, the exports annually are: wheat, 100,000 bushels; bacon, 600,000 pounds; corn, 120,000 bushels—all shipped by Powell's River.

The amount of land assessed for taxation in 1873 was 195,867 acres, valued at $818,919. The number of polls, 1,057.

The population of the county in 1870 was 9,321, of which 758 were colored, showing only about eight per cent, colored.

Claiborne and Hancock counties differ but little in the configuration of the surface, in the quality and quantity of products, the price of labor and of living, and iu the manners and customs of the people. Claiborne raises more stock, Hancock more orchard products; Claiborne more wheat, Hancock more tobacco. In all other products except domestic manufactures, of which Claiborne has forty per cent, more, the two counties are about equal, though Claiborne reported a fourth more tillable land, farms and population than Hancock. The size of the farms is about the same. The description of the farming operations in one will apply to the other.