Elk Garden
© All Rights Reserved
Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr.
Big Stone Gap, VA  24219
January 25, 2013


Earliest Settlement
The Mansions of Elk Garden
The Great Awakening
The Stuart Family
Lead, Salt, & Cattle
Wealth Leads to Politics


            Lead mining, smelting, and shot manufacturing were established at Austinville south of Fort Chiswell after the French and Indian War.  By 1774 so much of the timber around these operations had been consumed in the manufacture of charcoal used in the smelting of lead ore, that the county seat of Fincastle County was moved away.  Fort Chiswell, and later Wytheville, became the economic centers for these operations.  These lead mines were the major source of ammunition for the American military during the Revolutionary War, and later for the Confederacy. 

            In the 1850’s William Alexander Stuart went into the banking business in Wytheville, where he was Cashier.  The bank in Wytheville made its money primarily from the lead business at Austinville, and at the salt operations in Saltville.  

            At the time of DeSota, and for a long time before, the Yuchi Indians had made salt at Saltville, and had developed a widespread commerce in it through the entire South.  In 1714 the Cherokee took over the salt works.  In the 1750’s Charles Campbell started commercial salt production there, and was soon joined by William King.  Under these two men Saltville again became the largest supplier of salt to the Southeast. 

            In the 1850’s the Saltville works were leased by a company of Northerners, led by George W. Palmer, of Syracuse, New York.  However, with the Civil War obviously on the horizon, these men thought it well to return North, and to leave the operation of the Salt works to “men of Southern sympathies”.  Palmer selected William Alexander Stuart and Benjamin K. Buchanan, with Stuart soon becoming the dominant partner, and who wound up owning much of the stock of the Holston Salt and Plaster Company. 

In 1863 Stuart moved to Saltville from Wytheville.  He signed a contract with the Confederate Government to be its major supplier of salt, and in 1864 he produced 4,000,000 bushels of salt.  Over two thousand slaves were used in that operation. 

When Jeb Stuart was killed late in the war, his widow came to live with William Alexander in Saltville, where her brother-in-law sat her up in the old log house of William King, who had owned the salt works in an earlier era.  She taught school there for a number of years, before moving to Richmond. 

The contract with the Confederate government specified that Stuart would be paid in Confederate money for his salt.  However, he charged the local counties and individuals in gold or United States greenbacks.  In 1863 Russell County delegated a special agent to deal with the Salt Works management to procure salt for the county.  Other counties set up special commissions to deal with him.  He set up a “certificate” or rationing program.  An Abingdon newspaper of March 27, 1863 published an article entitled “The Salt Question”, in which “the present proprietors of the Works  ... Continued, Page 30 



(To return to Big Stone Gap Publishing.com close this page.)

© Elk Garden 2013 Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr., Big Stone Gap Publishing®
Text may not be copied or reproduced in any form without written permission of the author(s).