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History of Yancey County

Statue of Captain Otway Burns

Yancey County was formed in 1833 from Burke and Buncombe counties. It is named in honor of Bartlett Yancey, an eloquent orator, many times a member of the Legislature, speaker of the State Senate and member of Congress. He was also one of the earliest advocates of the public school system in North Carolina. It is in the western section of the state and is bounded by the state of Tennessee and Mitchell, McDowell, Buncombe, and Madison counties. The present land area is 312.45 square miles and the 2000 population was 17,774. The act establishing the county named and authorized commissioners to purchase land, lay out a town, and erect a courthouse. Burnsville, named for Captain Otway Burns of Beaufort, North Carolina, who won fame in the War of 1812, is the county seat.

Independent and sturdy Scottish, English, and Irish setlers of the Carolina frontier had crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and settled the Toe River Valley by the mid-1700s. In the year 1796, one of the early land speculators, John Gray Blount, paid for 326,640 acres of land, according to Lloyd R. Bailey, Sr., Ph.D., president of the Yancey History Association. Blount was not granted a blanket charter of 360,000 acres, as has been erroneously reported. This and other erroneous reports are corrected in this revision.

In December, 1833, the NC General Assembly established a new western county to be named in honor of one of North Carolina's most distinguished statesmen, Bartlett Yancey, of north-central Caswell County. As U.S. Congressman (1813-1817) and as speaker of the NC Senate (1817-1827) he was instrumental in many accomplishments that benefited the state, including the creation of an education fund that was the beginning of the NC Public School System. He was an advocate of correcting the inequality in representation in the General Assembly by the creation of new western counties; but he passed away on August 30, 1828, over five years before the General Assembly created a new county, named Yancey, from sections of Burke and Buncombe Counties. In Yancey's boundries looms Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in eastern US. at 6,684 feet above sealevel.

On March 6, 1834, John Bailey, nicknamed "Yellow Jacket," conveyed one hundred acres of land for the county seat, named Burnsville. Its namesake, Captain Otway Burns, who was serving in the General Assembly in 1833, voted for the creation of the new western county. The grateful people named their county seat for Captain Burns, a naval hero of the War of 1812. His tomb in Beaufort's Old Burying Ground is surmounted by a canon taken from his ship, the Snap Dragon.

A statue of Captain Burns stands on a forty-ton, Mount Airy granite pedestal in the center of the town's public square, which was given the official name of "Bailey Square" by the Yancey County Board of Commissioners on September 1, 1930. The statue of Captain Burns was given to the county on July 5, 1909, by Walter Francis Burns, a grandson of the sea captain. The inscription reads: Otway Burns - Born in Onslow County, North Carolina, 1777 - Died at Portsmouth, North Carolina, 1850. Sailor - Soldier - Statesman. North Carolina's Foremost Son in the War of 1812-1815 - For Him, This Town Is Named - He Guarded Well Our Seas, Let Our Mountains Honor Him." 

- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little River, SC


More Information

As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 17,774 people, 7,472 households, and 5,372 families residing in the county. The population density was 57 people per square mile (22/km²). There were 9,729 housing units at an average density of 31 per square mile (12/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.99% White, 0.57% Black or African American, 0.34% Native American, 0.13% Asian, 0.41% from other races, and 0.56% from two or more races. 2.69% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 7,472 households out of which 27.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.20% were married couples living together, 7.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.10% were non-families. 25.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.50% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.81.

In the county the population was spread out with 21.20% under the age of 18, 7.00% from 18 to 24, 26.40% from 25 to 44, 27.10% from 45 to 64, and 18.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 95.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.30 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $29,674, and the median income for a family was $35,879. Males had a median income of $26,800 versus $20,885 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,335. About 10.90% of families and 15.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.10% of those under age 18 and 16.30% of those age 65 or over.

- Source: Wikipedia