The Tennessee General Assembly formed Claiborne County in 1801 from parts of Grainger and Hawkins Counties and it was named for William C.C. Claiborne, who was Tennessee’s first congressional representative. The most important historic feature of Claiborne County is the Cumberland Gap, located south of where the states of Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky meet. Native Americans called this natural gateway to the north and west the “Warrior’s Path.” In 1750 Dr. Thomas Walker claimed discovery of the gap and named it Cumberland Gap in honor of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II and Queen Caroline. Daniel Boone led thirty men through the gap and opened a road west to settlement in 1775.
The first settlement was in the Powell Valley along the Clinch River. Shortly afterward, settlements were established at Sycamore Creek and Fort Butler. In 1801 the town of Tazewell was laid out as the county seat. The town received a post office in 1804, and James Graham served as the first postmaster. The county court met three times in the homes of John Hunt and Elisha Walling before a small frame courthouse was erected in 1804 on land belonging to John Hunt Sr., probably the first settler in the area and the first sheriff of the County. A jail was constructed at the same time as the courthouse, and a second jail was built in 1819. Luke Bower, one of the first Watauga settlers, was the first attorney and the first merchant was William Graham, a native of Ireland. Graham had extensive real estate holdings, and around 1800 he completed a stone residence known as the Graham-Kivett house. (photo) Other historic buildings include the Parkey house, also thought to have been built by Graham, which was used as a hospital during the Civil War and survived the great fire of 1862. A frontier church at Springdale on Little Sycamore Creek was erected by Drew Harrell and the Reverend Tidence Lane sometime around 1796.
Tazewell did not have a church building until 1815, but settlers probably worshipped in open-air assemblies and in homes prior to that time. William Graham, a Presbyterian, erected the first church building, which was used by all denominations. In 1844 the Baptists and Methodists both erected buildings on Russell and Church streets, respectively.
Tazewell, Claiborne County, and the Cumberland Gap figured prominently in the Civil War strategy of both the North and the South. The town changed hands four times. Although no major battles were fought in the county, there were several bloody skirmishes. On November 11, 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell as part of the greater struggle for the strategic Cumberland Gap. When the Confederates evacuated the town in November of that year, a fire followed, destroying much of Tazewell including some twenty buildings including the courthouse, a large hotel, and several brick storehouses.
My paternal Great Grandfather, Hamilton Hayes was born in Tazewell, Tennessee, on December 15, 1856, almost 6 years before the town was burned. He was the 4th child born to George W. Hayes (1817-1898) and Elizabeth Coffey (1821-1883). Within a year of the fire, his family moved to Grainger County Tennessee. Then in 1860, after the death of his slightly older sister Mary, the family moved to Rockcastle, Kentucky. Ten years later his family once again moved, this time to Mount Pleasant, Cass County, Missouri. Here he met and married Elvira Register (1861-1936) on March 16, 1979. They had 9 children, 4 sons, and 5 daughters. Hamilton was a farmer. In 1906 he passed away at the age of 52, in Dover, Lafayette County, Missouri.
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