Brief County History

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Tazewell was first farmed about 1770 by pioneers from Maryland and became a Virginia county on December 19, 1799. To the legislators in the more populated eastern part of the state the mountains of southwest Virginia were a mystery, a rugged and dangerous territory that extended into much of what is now West Virginia. When residents petitioned to form a county, one influential legislator, Delegate Littleton Waller Tazewell of Williamsburg objected. When sponsors of the county decided overnight to name it after his popular father, U.S. Sen. Henry Tazewell, who had died a few months earlier, he withdrew his objection.

The beauty of the mountains and valleys, and the richness of game and fish in the forests and streams must have been appreciated by the Native Americans who passed this way. Only in the last quarter-century, has evidence proved the existence of permanent Native American villages in the area. Their interesting story is told at the Historic Crab Orchard Museum, located at Pisgah, close to a Native American village site and on lands once owned by the first pioneer farmer, Thomas Witten.

Hunters and explorers and adventurers had been in the area prior to 1770, but few details about them have been recorded. The Abbs Valley section is named after one, Absalom Looney, who came here every year to hunt. The latter part of the 18th century the new territory in southwest Virginia was a Mecca for farmers, hunters, surveyors and eastern Virginia families who wanted a part of the scenic land. Today many ancestors of these first settlers still live on the land (often the original land grants) and appreciate their hills of home.

The development of the great coal deposits, following the first recording of coal at Pocahontas by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750, changed Tazewell County and its people. Nearly 150 years passed before the great wealth of coal at Pocahontas was evaluated and the era of prosperity and new towns and the railroad and immigrant workers began. The miners, many from eastern Europe, often stayed in the area and their descendants have remained to take an active part in community life. Because of the arrival of these families, Tazewell County was for years the most ethnically diverse in Virginia.