Hancock County, Tennessee
The area we now call Hancock County, Tennessee is easy to find on a current map, but when researching the early history of this area it becomes more difficult to define. Through the years, the territory has been known by many names and claimed by several different groups of people.
Before white men ever came to this country, the entire eastern section of what is now Tennessee was home of the Natchez Indians and was known by their name. The Natchez were later expelled by the "red Indians of the North," but little is known about either of these tribes because, by the time the English began colonizing the area, the Cherokees had taken possession of the eastern portion of the state. The area where Hancock County is located today was within the territory mainly used as hunting grounds. Other parts of Tennessee were inhabited by different tribes of Indians. The Iroquois claimed the central portion and the western section was occupied by the Chickasaws.
The first white men to lay claim on the territory were the Spaniards, who included it as part of Florida, although they made no attempt to settle the area. Later, France claimed the territory, first as part of New France, then as part of Louisiana. The French built Ft. Prud'homme in 1682 and later Ft. Assumption, both near the present site of Memphis, but made no effort toward colonization.
In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh received a grant for territory in the new country, including this area, making it recognized by the English as the colony of Virginia. It was not until many years later, however, that the Englishmen ventured this far west.
Virginia was divided in 1663 and the portion lying south of the present boundary of Virginia, which includes the state of Tennessee, became the colony of Carolina. During those days, boundary lines were not easily definable and, because of this, the history of East Tennessee is very unstable for the next several years.
In 1712, Carolina was divided into two parts, North and South, with this section lying in North Carolina. James Adair of South Carolina was supposedly the first Englishman to travel from the colonies into the territory now called Tennessee. As early as 1748, Dr. Thomas Walker of Virginia, in company with Colonels Wood, Patton, and Buchanan, and Capt. Charles Campbell, along with a number of hunters, made an exploring tour, passing through Powell's Valley to Cumberland Gap. In 1760, a Virginia company of hunters, composed of "Wallace, Scags, Blevins, Cox and fifteen others" spent eighteen months on a hunting excursion along Clinch and Powell Rivers.
During the late 1760s and early 1770s, several cabins were built in the area of East Tennessee, which was at the time still North Carolina, but the people settling there thought they were in Virginia. In fact, the colony of Virginia recognized these settlers as within its bounds and many early records from this area were recorded with those of Fincastle County, Virginia. This county is no longer in existence.
A survey of the western boundary between Virginia and North Carolina in 1772 showed some of the settlements that were thought to be in Virginia were indeed in North Carolina, but the boundary line was considered to be the Holston River, so the area north of the Holston was still included in Fincastle County, Virginia. Because the colony of North Carolina made no effort to assert jurisdiction over nor to protect the settlers south of the Holston from the Indians, the residents of the Watauga settlement established a government of their own. Later, the residents of the Nollichucky settlement joined with them. This was called the Watauga Association.
The Wataugan's dream of becoming a separate colony was abandoned in 1776 and, on petition of the inhabitants, the territory was annexed to North Carolina as the Washingtonn District. In 1777, Washington County was created which included most of what is now the entire state of Tennessee. In 1779, with the creation of Sullivan County from part of Washington County and the remaining lands previously thought to be in Virginia, the entire territory of the state we now call Tennessee belonged to North Carolina.
In 1784, North Carolina offered to cede the territory to the federal government. The Watauga settlers met at Jonesborough on August 23, 1784 and chose delegates to a later convention to form a new state. Meanwhile, North Carolina withdrew its offer of cession and created the territory into a new judicial district. Early in 1785, the elected legislature of the Watauga settlers organized the new state of Franklin (at first called "Frankland") and elected John Sevier as Governor. It was during his organization of the State of Franklin that John Sevier discovered the group of people called Melungeons living on Newman's Ridge. Later in the year, another convention adopted the constitution of North Carolina, with a few changes, and a memorial was presented to Congress requesting recognition as a state. The request was ignored and the North Carolina legislature passed an act of oblivion. John Sevier was arrested on the charge of treason, but was allowed to escape.
On November 18, 1786, while still a part of North Carolina, Hawkins County was created from part of Sullivan County. Rogersville was chosen as the county seat.
On February 25, 1790, North Carolina presented a deed to Congress for the territory now known as Tennessee. On May 26, 1790, Congress passed an act establishing the government of the "Territory South of the River Ohio," which included all of the present state of Tennessee and most of Alabama and Mississippi. William Blount was appointed governor and, in 1792, Knoxville became the seat of government.
A convention was held in Knoxville on January 11, 1796 to draft a state constitution. John Sevier was elected governor.
On April 22, 1796, Grainger County was formed from part of Hawkins County and Rutledge was chosen as the county seat.
Tennessee was admitted to the union on June 1, 1796, becoming the 16th state.
On October 29, 1801, Claiborne County was created from parts of Hawkins and Grainger Counties. Tazewell was chosen as the county seat.
The first act for the creation of Hancock County from portions of Hawkins and Claiborne Counties was passed in 1844, but was found to violate a provision of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee which prohibited the "establishment of a new county whose line encroached within twelve miles of the county seat from which any of the territory of the new county was taken." The line was re-surveyed in 1846 so as not to interfere with the rights of other counties and the county was organized. At about the same time, some inhabitants of Hawkins County filed a bill enjoining the commissioners from further action. The cause came up for hearing in May 1848 and judgment was rendered in favor of the complainants. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court where the decree was reversed. During the two years from 1846 to 1848, the county business was suspended.
Two places, known as Mulberry Gap and Greasy Rock, were placed in nomination for the seat of justice. The latter was chosen, a town was laid out, and the location was renamed "Sneedville" in honor of John L.T. Sneed, the attorney who successfully defended the suit brought against Hancock County concerning the boundary line.