Marion County, located in the southern part of the Cumberland Plateau and the Sequatchie Valley, encompasses five hundred square miles. Established in 1817 out of Cherokee lands, the county was named for General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War leader in South Carolina. When Tennessee became a state, the Sequatchie Valley was a part of Roane County. The upper end of the valley was established as Bledsoe County in 1807. This county included all of the valley, but treaties with the Cherokees kept white settlers out of the lower end. The first white settlers are thought to have been Amos Griffith and William and James Standifer in 1805, while the area was still part of Roane County.
Native Americans have played an important part in the history of present-day Marion County. They built their towns on the rivers and were living here when the white men came. These newcomers kept the Indian names Tennessee and Sequatchie for this area. Recent research indicates that in 1560 Spanish soldiers from Tristan de Luna’s expedition entered the Tennessee River valley in the vicinity of Marion County, visiting the main town of the chiefdom of Napochies. More than a century later, the next Europeans to make contact with the Native Americans found a number of tribes in what later became Tennessee. The Cherokee dominated this area later in the 1700s and early 1800s.
In 1789 Chiefs Catetoy and Vann, accompanied by forty warriors in canoes, intercepted the boat of Colonel James Brown, who was en route with his family and party to Middle Tennessee to take up land awarded him for Revolutionary War services. The Indians killed the men and captured the women and children, including Joseph Brown, a youth who later escaped and guided the Cumberland settlers’ expedition to Nickajack in 1794 to destroy the native towns of Nickajack, Running Water, and Long Island. After the Cumberland expedition, the Indians made a treaty allowing whites in the lower part of the valley.
The first court in 1817 was held in the house of John Shropshire in what is now Whitwell. Then court was held for one year in the old Cheek house, a two-story double log house located south of Whitwell in a place called Cheekville, later named Liberty, where court had been held while this county was still in North Carolina. In 1819 the county seat was moved to Jasper, named in honor of Sergeant Jasper of Revolutionary War fame. The commissioners to select and establish the county seat were William Stone, David Oats, Burgess Matthews, Alexander Kelly, William King, William Stevens, and Davis Miller. Betsy Pack, a Cherokee Indian woman, sold these commissioners forty acres, and the courthouse built in 1820 was near the center of the tract where the present one now stands. John Kelly was the first clerk of the court and Alan Griffith the first registrar.
During the Civil War sentiment in the county was so divided that frequently members of the same family could be found in both the Confederate and Federal armies. The presence of the railroad and major turnpikes meant that troops from both sides often passed through the county.
Industry and mining marked the county’s postwar history. In 1877 James Bowron and associates from England brought sufficient capital into the valley to develop the iron and coal industries. Coal mines opened in Whitwell; coke ovens operated in Victoria; iron ore came from Inman; and smelters dominated South Pittsburg. In the early 1890s J. C. Beene installed a small steam plant at South Pittsburg to serve the city. It became an industrial town for several important iron-making firms and manufacturing companies. The still-operating Lodge Cast Iron is one of the state’s oldest manufacturing firms. Industrialist Richard Hardy established Richard City as a company town for the Dixie Portland Cement Company in the early 1900s. Today the county is famous for its manufacture of fireworks.
The development of hydroelectric power came with the completion of Hales Bar Dam in 1912. In 1933 Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority for the purpose of flood control, navigation, and the sale of cheap hydroelectric power in the Tennessee Valley. The lake created by its Nickajack Dam covered the earlier Hales Bar Dam. The dams that the TVA built on the Tennessee River and its tributaries changed the look of the area without damaging its beauty; while covering sites used by first settlers, they improved navigation on the river.
In this lovely Sequatchie Valley county today lie the graves of countless military heroes and politicians: Brigadier General William Stone, War of 1812; General Adrian Northcut, Mexican War; U.S. Senator Hopkins Turney; Governor and U.S. Senator James B. Frazier; U.S. Senators Foster V. Brown, James Whiteside, and Tom Stewart; Congressmen Joe Brown, Sam D. McReynolds; and Judges Leslie R. Darr, Alan Kelly, Sam Polk Raulston, and John T. Raulston. The county’s population was 27,776 in 2000.