In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker of Virginia publicized the location of Cumberland Gap, which brought a stream of long hunters down the Clinch and Powell valleys into what is now Claiborne County. The land at the time was part of Cherokee and Shawano hunting grounds, and hostile attacks by members of these two tribes were not uncommon. To protect themselves, hunters, fur traders and early settlers erected a series of small forts and stations along the Powell and Clinch valleys. One such station, known as Fort Butler, was located just west of modern Tazewell.
Among the earliest settlers in the Tazewell area was John Hunt (1750-1822), a militia captain who would later be instrumental in the founding of Huntsville, Alabama. In 1804, three years after the creation of Claiborne County, Tazewell was chosen as the county seat due in part to Hunt's influence (although a local legend states that the residents of Tazewell’s rival for the seat, Springdale, were too intoxicated to vote on the day of selection). Hunt was named the county's first sheriff, and the government met at his house until a courthouse was constructed.
In 1862, at the height of the U.S. 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.
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