Hawkins County lies in upper East Tennessee, and extends somewhat in the shape of a parallelogram from VA line to the northern boundries of Grainger and Hamblen Counties. It is divided into two almost equal parts by the Holston River, which traverses its entire length. It is one of the largest counties in the State, having an area of 570 square miles. The surface is much of it broken, but the uplands are more fertile than in many counties.
As of July 2008 the U.S. Census Bureau placed the population of Hawkins County at 57,477. Its county seat is Rogersville, Tennessee's second-oldest town.
The first permanent settlements within the limits of Hawkins county were made in 1772, very soon after the settlements on the Watauga were begun. They were made in Carter's Valley, a short distance west of New Canton.
Among these pioneers were Mr. Kincaid, Mr. Love, Mr. Long, and Rev. Mr. Mulkey. At about the same time Messrs. Carter and Parker established a store in the neighborhood. Soon after this store was robbed by a party of Cherokee, and when Henderson & Co.'s treaty was held with the Indians the proprietors of the store demanded as compensation all the lands in Carter's Valley, extending from Cloud Creek to Chimney Top Mountain of Beech Creek. This was granted upon payment of a small amount advanced by Robert Lucas, who then became a parter of Messrs. Parker and Carter. The firm leased their lands to the settlers much after the manner of the Patrons, in the early history of New York. this continued for a time, but when it became known that the lands lay in North Carolina instead of VA, the settlers refused to recognize the ownership of the firm, and the right and title to the territory acquired was denied by the former State. They were afterward included with the members of the Henderson Company, to whom a grant of 200,000 acres was given by the government of NC as a compensation for the trouble they had been to in obtaining these lands.
The deeds obtained by Henderson & Co. from the Cherokees is recorded in the register's office of Hawkins County. It was given by "Oconistoto, the chief warrior and representative of the Cherokee Nation, and Attakullakulla and Savanooka, otherwise Coronoh, appointed by the warriors and other head men to convey for the whole nation," to Richard Henderson, Thomas and Nathaniel Hart, John Williams, John Luttrell, William Johnston, James Hogg, David Hart and Thomas H. Bullock. The compensation for the immense tracts conveyed by these deeds as expressed at £10,000.
The settlement in Hawkins County was confined chiefly to Carter's Valley until about 1780. Several stations or forts were built, and it is said that a Presbyterian Church was organized there as early as that date. At about the same time a fort was built at Big Creek. Not far from this fort, about three and one-half miles above Rogersville, Thomas Amis in 1780 or 1781 created a stone house, around which he built a palisade for protection against the Indians. The next year he opened a store, and erected a blacksmith shop and a distillery. Very soon after he also put into operation a saw and grist-mill, and from the first he kept a house of entertainment. A Baptist Church was organized, and a school established very soon after the settlement was made. The church was probably organized by Thomas Murrell. Among the school masters, who taught in the school at this place, were John Long in 1783, William Evans, 1784; James King, 1786; Robert Johnston, and Samuel B. Hawkins, 1796.
Some time about 1795 one of the most extensive iron works of those days was erected near the present area of Rotherwood, by Daniel Ross & Co., and considerable business was done there for a number of years.
Hawkins County suffered much less from Indian depredations than some other sections of the State. A few instances of massacres and robberies are mentioned by Haywood, but the most of these occurred in what is now Hancock County. The comparitive immunity of this section from Indian attacks was due partly to the position of the county and partly to the vigilance of the settlers, who had taken every precaution for the protection of themselves and families. The Indians made several incursions into Carter's Valley, but finding the people in the forts and prepared for them they retreated without doing serious damage. On one occasion the families that had gathered into the fort at Big Creek, became greatly in need of salt, and a young man, Joab Mitchell, volunteered to go out and procure a supply. While upon his return he was attacked by a party of Cherokees and mortally wounded. He succeeded, however, in reaching the fort, and his remains were interred in that depression which has since borne the name of Mitchell's Hollow. In December 1787, William English was killed by the Indians and two of his children carried into captivitiy. The county court records of 1790 contained the following entry: "Whereas it has been represented to the court by Thomas King, that Matthew English and Elizabeth English, orphan children of William English, who was taken and killed by the Indians in December, 1787, at which time the aforesaid children were carried into captivity by the Indians, supposed to be of the Wyandotte Nation, and are yet in captivity. Thomas King therefore represents that the said orphans might be recovered if there was property sufficient for that purpose. Ordered by the court that James Blair and William Patterson do receive from the said Thomas King or from any other person the property belonging to the estate of the said William English, and the same apply as they shall think best for the redemption of the said orphans, and Thomas King was discharged thereupon of said property."
In 1785 the State of Franklin organized Spencer County, including, besides other territory, the present Hawkins County. Thomas Henderson was chosen county court clerk and colonel of militia, and William Cocke and Thomas King representative to the Assembly. the remaining officers are unknown. In November, 1786, the Legislature of NC passed an act creating Hawkins County. It included within its limits all the territory between Bays Mountain and the Holston and Tennessee Rivers on the east to the Cumberland Mountains on the west. The county court was organized at the house of Thomas Gibbons, but as the early records were destroyed during the civil war nothing is known of its transactions.
During the summer of 1787 the courthouse, jail, and stocks were erected, and the little community took the name Hawkins Court House. The first elected county officials were John Hunt, sheriff; William Marshall, register.
The circuit court for Hawkins County was organized on the first Monday in October, 1810, by William Cocke, judge of the First Judicial Circuit, who appointed thomas Cocke, Clerk. The first Grand Jury empaneled was as follows: Joseph McMinn, foreman; John Johnson, Hezekiah Hamblen, George Hale, John Critz, John Hamben, Robert McMinn, John remes, Jacob Miller, James Haygood, Joel Gillenwater, Gabriel McGraw, Samuel Smith, Rodham Kenner and David Bagler. Michael Rork, constable, was appointed to wait upon them.
The first chancery courts were held in 1825. the division consisted of Sullivan, Hawkins, Grainger and Claiborne Counties. The judges of the supreme court alternated in presiding over the chancery court from that time until several years later.
The first lawyer of prominence in Hawkins county was William Cocke. He had two or three sons who also became lawyers.
In 1789, Amis presented a petition from the community to the North Carolina General Assembly to establish a town at the Hawkins Court House site and to name the town Rogersville, for his son-in-law, Joseph Rogers. Approval of the petition, which was granted on November 7, 1789, empowered county commissioners to lay out a town in half-acre lots, with convenient streets and lots reserved for public buildings. More on Joseph Rogers and the new town.......
Rogersville's Main Street was defined by the route of the Great Wilderness Road, which attracted a steady stream of settlers through the town on their way to Bean Station, the Cumberland Gap, and Kentucky
The Hawkins County Courthouse was built in 1836, it is one of six antebellum courthouses still in use in Tennessee, and it is the oldest courthouse still in use in the state. More about the Courthouse......
To Rogersville belongs the honor of being the place at which was issued the first newspaper published in TN. It was known as the Knoxville Gazette and first appeared on November 5, 1791. The first school in Rogersville was said to be taught in a small house, which stood near Union Spring.
One of the first Masonic lodges in TN was organized in Rogersville on December 14, 1805. It was known as the Overton Lodge.
Surgoinsville was established by an Act of the Legislature passed in October, 1815. It was laid out upon land owned by James Surgoin.
Mooresburg was founded by Hugh G. Moore who opened a store at that point.
Bulls Gap postoffice took its name from the Gap in the ridge one mile to the east. This in turn was named for John Bull, the first settler in the vicinity.
Center for the Marble Industry
From the 1840s through the 1870s, the marble industry developed in Hawkins County surpasses any other county in the South, and the area became famous for its pink and red variegated marble.
Local furniture manufacturers used much of the marble, which was cut from various quarries and hauled to Rogersville on wagons pulled by sixteen- or twenty-mule teams. From there, the marble was floated down the Holston River on rafts or later shipped by railroad.
Marble from Hawkins County was used in the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., as well as the balustrades and stairways of the United States Capitol. Huge columns of Hawkins County marble were also used in the South Carolina State Capitol and in the municipal buildings of Baltimore.
For fifty-six years, from 1911 through 1967, the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union maintained the Pressmen's Home on 2,700 acres (11 km2) of Hawkins County land. The Pressmen's Home included a farm, a sanitarium, a retirement home, and a technical school where more than three thousand union members received training before modern medicine and advancing technology rendered the operation obsolete.
- Goodspeed, History of East Tennessee. (Knoxville: 1887).
- Price, Henry, Old Rogersville: An Illustrated History of Rogersville, Tennessee. Vol. I. (Rogersville: 2001).
- Price, Henry, Hawkins County: A Pictorial History. (Rogersville: 1996).
- Hawkins County Archives