History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line

tCampbell County Authorized in 1806
County Seat Chosen the Following Year

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.



Part I

Campbell County was authorized by an Act of the General Assembly on September 11, 1806, with Jesse Roysden and Walter Evans being appointed to survey the County line. Major James Grant, Richard Linville, Sampson David, Robert Glenn, William Hancock, Captain Capt. Jason Cloud and John English were appointed commissioners and authorized to locate a County seat, "for the purpose of erecting a court house, prison and stocks, with the necessary streets and alleys, reserving one acre as near the center as may be."

The Commissioners failed to select the county seat. In 1807 the Act was amended by appointing Sampson David, John English, John Newman and John Yount as commissioners to select the site for the County seat. The land was purchased from Col. Hugh Montgomery who was one of the first settlers in the County. Montgomery owned the land at the site of Jacksborough and was a man of considerable wealth during this time.

The Circuit Court for Campbell County was organized in 1810 by Judge Cocke. It remained in the First Circuit until 1817, when it was attached to the Second. In 1837 it became a part of the Twelfth Circuit, which was the formed in that year. It thus remained until the reorganization of the courts after the war, when it again became a part of the Second Circuit.

The Seventeenth Circuit was established in 1873, and Campbell remained one of the counties forming it until 1886.

The Chancery Court was organized on June 27, 1842, by Judge Thomas L. Williams; John Barton was appointed the first clerk and master.

The first lawyer resident in the County was David Richardson, who was admitted to practice about 1825. John E. Wheeler entered the profession about two years later. Among the attorneys previous to 1860 were John Barton and William H. Malone.

H.R. Gibson, in about 1867, chancellor of the Second Division, located at Jacksboro where he was engaged in the practice of his profession for several years; J.H. Agee and James N. Ray were also members of the bar.

The resident practitioners were J.E. Johnson, J.H. Reed, E.H. Powers, A.J. and J.W. Agee and John Jennings.

The first merchant of the County seat was Sampson David, who was also engaged in the practice of medicine. He passed away in 1824 and was succeeded by W.H. Smith. Other early merchants were Thomas Weir, Robert Morrow, James Williams, William Carey, and William Richardson.

Early tavern keepers were William Carey, John Izley and John Phillips. The first regular medical practitioner was Dr. Thatcher. Most of the County's business for several years was performed by Joseph Hart, Clerk or the Circuit Court, Deputy Registrar and County Court Clerk.

Campbell County is one of the eastern counties. The northern boundary line on the north is the Kentucky-Tennessee state line which was organized by Charles II of England in 1663. He granted to the "lord proprietors" who settled in North Carolina, all the lands between the 29th parallel and 36 degrees and 20 minutes from sea to sea. When the dispute between the State of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Kentucky over the boundary line was at last settled, the line remained practically the same as set out in the grant of Charles II.

Most of the County was in the boundary of the land known as the Henderson survey. On March 17, 1775, Judge Richardson of North Carolina and a group of associates purchased from the Cherokee nation at Sycamore Shoals (an ancient treaty ground of the Cherokee on the southern bank of the Watauga River, a short distance from Elizabethton, Tennessee) twenty million acres in Kentucky and a large tract in Tennessee known as the "path deed."

This purchase was made for six wagon loads of merchandise valued at ten thousand pounds of sterling. The State of Virginia and the State of North Carolina renounced this purchase on the grounds that it was illegal to make individual purchases from the Indian Nations.

As compensation for his work and expense along with the risks he had taken, the State of Virginia granted Judge Henderson about 210,000 acres lying in Kentucky. The State of North Carolina also granted him 200,000 acres in Powell's Valley. One historian wrote that this tract proved to be mountainous, barren land, altogether unfit for cultivation, and Henderson never surveyed it. The truth be known, this grant was the best of land and was later surveyed by James Maybury and Stockley Donelson.

This purchase, of which Campbell County was a part, cost Judge Henderson an additional "two thousand weight of leather in goods." The Henderson purchase included all the lands lying down the Holston River and between the Watauga lease, and Col. Donelson's line and Powell's Mountain.

Part II

At this time, settlements of Indians were to be found at the present sites of Caryville, LaFollette, Well Springs, and other small neighborhoods. Quite naturally, there were many bloody scuffles between the Indians and frontiersmen. The last Indians in the area were run off by men from Yoakam Station. They were chased across the Cumberlands, the chief being killed near the Campbell County line in Kentucky.

Campbell County was named for Colonel Arthur Campbell, a member of the Virginia Assembly and a soldier in the Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

Campbell County history is most interesting. It goes back quite-a-way, as was previously stated, being authorized by an Act of the Legislature, September 11, 1806. The Act provided that the first court should be held at the house of Richard Linville in the Valley near Big Creek Gap. Tradition records that the first court was held in a wagon bed in the Linville barnyard, which was located between the present LaFollette Post Office and Big Creek in LaFollette.

Sixty acres of land were donated by Colonel Hugh Montgomery for a new town to be designated as the county seat. The new town was to be named Jacksborough in honor of Judge John F. Jack of Rutledge, Tennessee.

Two LaFollette brothers, Harvey M. and Grant A., removed to Big Creek Gap from Thornton, In., in 1892. These brothers organized the LaFollette Coal and Iron Company, and constructed the largest iron furnaces in the South at that time.

They subsequently, around 1895, built a mansion of 27 rooms which is still standing on Indiana Avenue in LaFollette. This grand building has had many owners in years past.

In 1897, Big Creek Gap was incorporated and renamed LaFollette. This is certainly a monument to the LaFollette brothers.

In 1904, LaFollette was completely destroyed by fire, many say this was a blessing. Through this incident, many merchants and businessmen saw the possibility of the small town being the hub of business in Campbell County. Plans were consequently made for a "new town," with the downtown establishments being constructed with stone and brick.

A post office was established, in 1878, near the Kentucky-Tennessee line under the name of Smithburgh. Branches of the Southern Railroad and the Louisville and Nashville Railroad reached Smithburgh in 1882 and 1883. This small town incorporated in 1885 and renamed Jellico.

Campbell County is one of the northern most counties of East Tennessee, and was formed from the counties of Claiborne and Anderson. It is bounded on the east by Claiborne and Union counties, on the south by Anderson County, on the west by Scott County, and on the north by Whitley County, Kentucky. The lowest elevation in the County is 820 feet above sea level, found at the base of Norris Dam, which is located on the boundary line of Campbell and Anderson counties. Its highest elevation is 3,350 feet at the crest of Cross Mountain near Caryville. The County contains 447 square miles of land.

One of the three distinct geographic regions in Campbell County is the northern portion that contains the Cumberland plateau; secondly, the central part which comprises Powell Valley; thirdly, the southern part of the County is a series of ridges and rolling uplands. The economy of each region varies greatly.

The Cumberland Mountains extend across Campbell County from Caryville to Cumberland Gap, being paralleled on the southwest by Powell Valley. Of course the chief industry of the Plateau was coal mining, certainly not to much extent now.

The first railroad was built from Coal Creek (Lake City) to Caryville in the 1870's. Coal mined in this area was sent to outside markets. Sometime in the early 1880's the railroad was completed through Cove Creek valley to Jellico. This railroad operation opened other coal mining in this area.

In the 1890's the Louisville and Nashville Railroad constructed a line from Coal Creek through Big Creek Gap (LaFollette) to Jellico. The route thus motivated other coal mines to start operations.

.Many primary mines in the County have decreased in the last several years because of depletion of the mineral or low quality and could not compete with other mines.


The second largest enterprise in Campbell County is agriculture. Most farms are of rather small sizes because of the uneven terrain. Some of these farms are rather inaccessible because of the mountainous regions.

The most productive and highest valued land in Campbell County is located in Powell Valley. This valley runs parallel to the Cumberland Mountains. The average width of the valley is two miles and extends approximately 40 miles to the Virginia line.

Farming is the leading economy source of Powell Valley. The majority of the land is in pasture and hay, with its chief source of income coming largely from beef cattle.

Not far away, and southeast of and parallel to Powell Valley, is a chain of ridges that contain the second most important agricultural area of Campbell County. This area was certainly affected by the building of the Norris Dam Reservoir. Many people were forced to move when this project was constructed. The water from the reservoir completely flooded the many farm lands that were present.

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