Hancock County lies immediately east of Claiborne County, and is bounded on the north by Virginia. Clinch River traverses the county from northeast to southwest, and Powell River crosses the northeastern corner of the county. The surface is very rough and mountanous, but some excellent land is found along the streams. The valleys, however, are generally narrow. The extent of its mineral resources is not well known, but both coal and iron exist in considerable quantities.
The settlement of this county began about 1795, but for many years it remained very sparsely populated. As in other counties, the river valleys were the earliest occupied. No record has been left of the pioneers of the county, and but little can now be obtained from personal remembrance of them. Jonas Loughmiller located just southeast of Sneedville, and William McGee beyond him on the north side of the Clinch. Below the latter, and to the southwest of the town, was the settlement of John Ray, while on the opposite side of the river, at the mouth of Duck Creek, lived Enos Matthias. William McCully and Daniel Slavens located still further down the river. John Givens, an early Baptist preacher, lived on Beaver Creek. In the neighborhood three of four miles south of Sneedville was Alexander Treat, Solomon Mitchell, John and Lincoln Amis, the Bouldens, Andersons, Bryants and Collinses. A settlement was also made at an early date at Mulberry Gap, where a little village sprang up. Newmans' Ridge, which runs through the county to the north of Sneedville, and parallel with Clinch river, is said to have taken its name from one of the first settlers upon it. It has since been occupied mainly by a people presenting a peculiar admixture of white and Indian blood.
The first act for the creation of Hancock County from portions of Hawkins and Claiborne Counties was passed in 1844, but, finding that it violated some provisions of the Constitution, a second act was passed two years later. Commissioners were appointed to organize the county and to fix the boundary lines to conform with the constitutional requirements. This was done, and the county was organized. At about the same time certain inhabitants of the Hawkins fraction filed a bill enjoining the commissioners from further action. The cause came up for hearing before Chancellor Williams in May, 1848. He rendered judgement in favor of the complainants, and an appeal was taken to the supreme court, where the chancellor's decree was reversed. During the two years, therefore, from 1846 to 1848, the county business was suspended. The first court was held at the house of Alexander Campbell. Afterward the old Union Church was used until 1850, when a small but substantial brick courthouse was erected. At about the same time a log jail was completed. It was only a temporary structure, and in 1860 was replaced by the present brick jail. Recently the courthouse with all its contents, was destroyed by fire, and as yer no steps have been taken toward replacing it. Two places, known respectively as Mulberry Gap and Greasy Rock, were placed in nomination for the seat of justice. The latter was chosen, and a town laid off on land owned by Robert and Alexander Campbell, the latter owning the part of Greasy Rock Creek, and the former the portion east of it. The father of these gentlemen, Robert Campbell, Sr. who was one of the first settlers in Hawkins County, obtained possession of a large body of land, including the site of Sneedville, and about 1815 divided it among his three sons who located upon seperate tracts. The third son, Joseph Y. Campbell, obtained the farm where Joseph Campbell now lives. The neighborhood had long been known as Greasy Rock. This name is said to have originated in this way: A spring just below the present town was once a famous rendezvous for hunters and trappers, who were accustomed to dress their skins and pile up venison and bear meat on a large rock there. This rock was, therefore, usually greasy, hence the name. When the town was laid out, it was named Sneedville in honor of W. H. Sneed, of Knoxville, who had acted as counsel for the new county
The first building erected in the town is still standing opposite Mr. Tyler's office. It was built by Maj. John M. Sawyers. Soon after a double log house was built on the lot just in front of the dwelling of Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell, facing Main Street. A store was opened in it by Robert and Alexander Campbell and William and John McNeil, with William McNeil as manager. The same building was afterward occupied by George Fain, and Robert and Joseph Campbell successively. In 1848 Tyler, Jesse & Co. began business near the old church, but soon moved to Main Street and there continued as the firm of Lea Jesse & Co. until 1862.
Soon after the town was established an academy was incorporated under the name of Greasy Rock Academy. A two-story frame building was erected, and the school was placed in operation with the following board of trustees: Lea Jesse, Joseph Campbell, G. W. Baker, Isham Brewer, David Trent, Samuel Jarvis, Holden McGee, A. Campbell, William B. Davis, Canada Hodge and William S. Rose. Among the first teachers were M. H. B. Burkett, D. T. J. Burkett and James G. Rose. Within the past few years the institution has been reincorporated as the McKinney High School.
In 1829 or 1830 a union church was built at Greasy Rock,
where Baptist and Methodist congregations were organized. After the
twon was established each denomination built a house of worship. The
number of Presbyterians in the county has always been very small, and
no congregation has ever been formed in Sneedville.