History Mystery: More Specifics about What Happened to Powell County

The Powell County “history mystery” that I wrote about a few weeks ago has been partially resolved, thanks to the excellent publication, History of Washington County (compiled by the Watauga Association of Genealogists, Upper East Tennessee, 1988). 

According to the book, the northwest corner of Washington County, centered around the Fall Branch community, became the focal point of an attempt to form a new county. In 1821, citizens of the northwestern portion of Washington County, the northeastern portion of Greene County, the southeastern portion of Hawkins County and the southwestern portion of Sullivan County petitioned the Tennessee legislature to combine selected portions of the four counties into a new one. It was to acquire the name Powell County in honor of Judge Samuel Powell of Northeast Tennessee. 

The request resulted because of the remoteness of the surrounding area, poor roads and lack of adequate vehicular transportation, making it exceedingly difficult for residents to attend courts, musters, elections and conduct other business. The distance was often 15 miles or more to each of the county seats of Rogersville (Hawkins County) Blountville (Sullivan County), Greeneville (Greene County) and Jonesborough (Washington County).

After the local residents conjured up the idea of forming the new district, for whatever reason, little progress was made to carry out the work between 1821 and 1836.

In 1836, new life was breathed into the effort when the legislature appointed six commissioners for the proposed new county: Elijah W. Headrick, J.J. James, William Hall, Terry White, Alexander English and Robert Hays with specific instructions to “have the bounds of said county marked and also to hold elections to determine whether the qualified voters in the affected counties were willing to surrender land for Powell County.” 

Elections were conducted as specified. When the voting results were made known, 498 residents were in favor of the new county with only 24 opposing it, demonstrating the serious concerns the citizens had about travel. The minor opposition came mainly from residents of Greene and Hawkins counties. The county boundaries were then laid out on maps as noted in my first column.

Some of the Washington County inhabitants residing inside the proposed limits of Powell County are listed below. Pay particular attention to those with Bible names, including those of Meshack, Shadrach and Abednego:  James Whillock, Thomas Whillock, Levi Archer, Enoch Whillock, Sr., George Whillock, Enoch Whillock, George Irvin, William Irvin, Thomas Whitaker, John Whillock, John English, Nathan P. English, Jesse Hedrick, Thomas Fulkerson, John Fulkerson, Josiah Wood, George Hale, Jonah Keen, William Leadmon, John Crawford, Cage Grimsley, John L. Crumley, J.J. James, William Stephenson, Hiter Crouch, John Graham, Stephen White,…

Meshack Hale, Sr. Meshack Hale, Jr., Shadrach Hale, Abednego Hale, Amon Hale, Isaac Horton, Solomon Hale, Jesse Mullins, Thomas Charleton, Billingsly Gibson, John Bowser, Terry White, David White, Daniel Denton, David Gibson, Thomas Gibson, George Jackson, Joseph Grimsley, John Whillock, Sr., John Whillock, Jr., John Haws, Joseph Howard, Charles Hale, Enich Hale, Sevier Tadlock, Carter Tadlock, Bird Hale, William A. Crawford, John Pursell, Benjamin Archer, Michael Martin, Patrick Anderson, Stephen Keen, Jr., Jacob Robertson, John Robertson, James Robertson, William Robertson, Alexander Ford, William Haws and Mark Bean.

In spite of the vote and elaborate preparations  to launch Powell County, it never materialized. Perhaps the further delay was due to the enormous amount of work and cost to bring it to fruition. The project seemed to cool off again like it did from 1821 to 1836. Today, the areas that would have formed the new county are still firmly attached to the original counties of Washington, Greene, Hawkins and Sullivan. The ill-fated Powell County faded into yesteryear.