Early Settlers of Southwest Virginia: Introduction

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Southwest Virginia Project
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This is one of a series of articles dealing with early settlers in Southwest Virginia. An index to these articles is to be found at Southwest Virginia Project-Early Settlers. An explanation of information sources, and methodology, is to be found at Early Settlers of Southwest Virginia: Introduction


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Articles in this series deal with identifying and broadly characterizing the earliest settlers in Southwest Virginia. The focus of these articles is on the settlers who secured rights to their property by virtue of settlement in the area. Settlement on an undeveloped parcel earned the individual a "Commissioner's Certificate" which could then be used to obtain a survey for the property, and eventually to securing title to the property.

Use of a Commissioner's Certificate is presumptive of the fact that the person originally awarded the certificate was the initial settler of the property. This is not necessarily the case, as in some instances, it is likely that the person shown used a surrogate to settle the property, and later sold the land to someone else. For example, it is extremely unlikely that Col. Arthur Campbell and his wife Ann personally established a homesite in the wilderness of Powell River Valley. Rather, it is probable that someone acting in their name erected a cabin, or planted a corncrop, thereby establishing that "improvements" had been made and thereby securing the right to a Commissioner's Certificate for the parcel.

As a first approximation, the individuals included in these articles represent the earliest known settlers in the area. (Future insight from additional study of this problem may lead to modification of some of these articles.) It is highly likely that a) some of these individuals are "settlers in name only", and b) other settlers in the area obtained the right to their property through other means than Commissioners Certificates (and hence are missing from these articles. However, as a first approximation, the individuals included in these articles represent the earliest known settlers in the area. In some cases it is quite certain that some early settlers either died before the property rights were conveyed, or simply moved on out of the area without bothering to take control of their property. Doubtless we will never know the identities of some of these early settlers.

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