Intermittent but fierce conflict with Native Americans made settlement in the trans-Allegheny region extremely risky until the latter part of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, in 1748 Colonel James Patton of Augusta County led an expedition into this area of spectacular mountain scenery and surveyed a portion of it as part of the one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-acre grant issued to the Loyal Land Company. In spite of the dangers, the fertile and cheap land sold by the company and others drew enough settlers to support the formation of Russell County in 1786. It was named in honor of William Russell, who was married to Elizabeth Henry Russell, sister of then governor Patrick Henry. Russell also was a Clinch Valley pioneer and the member of the House of Delegates who introduced legislation carving Russell County out of Washington County. After territory was broken off to create new counties, the county seat in Dickensonville was considered too far southwest and the courthouse was moved in 1818 to Lebanon, a more central location.
Drained by the Clinch River, the county is bounded on the south by Clinch Mountain and on the north by Sandy Ridge with Copper Ridge and Moccasin Ridge between them. North of the Clinch River, about 17 percent of the county is underlaid with coal. Many of the county's traditional occupations are no longer viable. The coal mines of the twentieth century are largely closed and depletion of the forests devitalized the once-important logging industry. Nevertheless, Lebanon is the headquarters of Pittston Coal Group, Inc., a leader in the exportation of coal abroad. Today cattle raising, dairying, cultivating burley tobacco, quarrying, and manufacturing are the mainstays of the county's economy. Its tree-denuded mountain slopes are now mostly covered with the rich grass of limestone soil. Limestone, formed in such neat layers that road cuts often look like dry-laid walls, has lost its place as a building material except when crushed for roads and as a component of aggregates.
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