Sunday, December 27, 2009

History of Buncombe County, North Carolina

The following is from Asheville and Buncombe County, F. A. Sondley; Genesis of Buncombe County, Theodore F. Davidson (1922):

Shortly after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, in 1784, or 1785, settlers from the headwaters of the Catawba and the adjacent country, whose frontier establishment was the blockhouse at Old Fort, began to cross the mountains into the Swannanoa valley. Among the first of these was Samuel Davidson, who came in with his wife and infant child and one female negro slave and settled upon Christian Creek of the Swannanoa, a short distance east of Gudger's Ford near the present railroad station called Azalea. He had been here but a short while when one morning he went out to find his horse. Soon his wife heard the report of guns, and, knowing too well what had happened, she took her child and the servant and made her way along the mountains to the Old Fort. An expedition from there at once set out to avenge the death of Davidson. They found him on the mountain near his cabin, killed and scalped, and buried his body on the spot where it was found and where his grave may still be seen. It is further said that they met and conquered the Indians in a battle fought near the Swannanoa River in that neighborhood or about Biltmore.
Probably it is to this pursuing party that the tradition handed down by John S. Rice as received by him from John Rice, David Nelson and William Rhodes, three hunters and Revolutionary soldiers, relates. It is that, at a time prior to white settlement of the lower Swannanoa Valley, some Cherokees were returning from depredations on the whites and being pursued by the latter, were overtaken at about the Cheesborough Place, a mile above Biltmore, where a fight occurred between the two parties which continued at the canebrakes there at intervals for eleven days, in which many Indians were killed, principally near the ford of Swannanoa River in the neighborhood of the old John Patton House, later known as the Haunted House, where the old Buncombe Turnpike crossed that stream, until the Indians retreated across the French Broad and the fight ended. They crossed the last-named river at a shoal just below the mouth of Swannanoa. During most of this fight the whites encamped at a noted spring just north of Swannanoa River about one hundred yards above the Biltmore Concrete Bridge where there is now a garage. It was an old Indian camping place. The early white hunters in this region went chiefly to the North Fork of Swannanoa.

Soon several white settlements were made on the Swannanoa, the earliest of them being the "Swannanoa Settlement," made in 1784- 1785 by the Alexanders, Davidson and others about the mouth of Bee Tree Creek. A little above that place is the old Edmuns or Jordall Field, the first land cleared by a white man in Buncombe County. Soon another company passed over the Bull Mountain and settled upper Reems Creek, while yet another came in by way of what is now Yancey County, and settled on the lower Reems Creek and Flat Creek. At about the same time, or not long afterward, some of the Watauga people who had been with Sevier on some one of his expeditions against the Indians, settled on the French Broad above and below the mouth of the Swannanoa, and on Hominy Creek; while still other settlements appear to have been effected from upper South Carolina, yet higher up on the French Broad.

At the treaty of Long Island of Holston, the North Carolina commissioners entered into certain agreements with the Overhill Cherokees, but in their report recommended to the State a treaty with the Cherokees of the Middle Towns and Valley Towns by which might be secured the intervening territory now constituting the Asheville Plateau. For such a treaty the State began to make arrangements and, in anticipation of it, provided in 1783 for the granting of land as far west as Pigeon River. It was under this statute of 1783 that the settlements just mentioned were formed.

At this time the Swannanoa River was recognized as the dividing line between Burke County on the north and Rutherford County on the south. In 1785 Joseph McDowell, Jr., ran this dividing line, "Beginning at the west point of the line that formerly divided the above said counties, thence west to the Indian boundary as in the Act of Assembly of the seventeenth of May one thousand seven hundred and eighty three," that is, to Pigeon River. It crossed Swannanoa River about half a mile above Biltmore. In 1788 this survey was adopted by the Legislature.

In 1792, while David Vance from the upper Reems Creek settlement was a member of the Legislature from Burke County, and Col. William Davidson, who lived on the south side of the Swannanoa, about two miles from Asheville, represented Rutherford County in the same body, the County of Buncombe was formed of the western portions of Burke and Rutherford counties, with its western borders fixed by the line of the territory which two or three years before North Carolina bad ceded to the United States, and which was afterward created into the State of Tennessee.

In April, 1792, there was organized at the residence of Col. William Davidson, which stood on the south bank of the Swannanoa, about one-half mile above its mouth, at a place subsequently called the Gum Spring, the County of Buncombe, in accordance with the provisions of the act creating that county. At this place was transacted for one year the business of the County of Buncombe, until in April, 1793, the county seat was fixed where it has ever since remained.

The county court, which, at its first session in April, 1792, and at all its subsequent sessions up to and including that of April, 1793, had met at the house of Colonel William Davidson on the southern side of Swannanoa River at the Gum Spring above mentioned, but which, according to tradition, was so numerously attended at its first session as to render it necessary, after organization, to adjourn to Davidson's barn and complete that meeting there, began its meeting on the third Monday of July, 1793, to sit "at the court house in Morristown." At their last preceding meeting on Tuesday of that session, which began "on third Monday in April, A Domini, 1793," the following entry appears upon their minutes:

Ordered by the court that William Davidson be allowed 25 pounds for the use of house to hold court in cite for Court house settled and fixed upon.

State of North Carolina, Buncombe County, s s.

We the commissioners appointed by Act of 1792 to settle and place the court house, prison and stocks, do certify that WE have agreed and hereby do agree that the court house shall stand as near to the big branch between the Indian graves, and Swannanoa, not exceeding .or extending more North than the Indian graves and nearest and best
situation to the ford of said Branch, where the present wagon road crosses the same-the stocks and prison to be convenient to the court house.

John Dillard
George Baker
Austin Crote
William Morrison


Philip Hoodenpile.
Named, Morristown.

Ordered by the court that the place fixed upon by the commissioners, for erecting the court house prison and Stocks be named Morristown.

Court adjourned till the third Monday in July, to meet at Morristown.

The second county officer elected on the first day of the first session of Buncombe County Court was "John Davidson (son of James)," register of deeds, or, as it was called in the minutes, "register." On the same day Thomas Davidson was elected entrytaker,
or, as it was called in the minutes, "entry officer of claims for lands." Next day John Dillard was elected "Stray master or Ranger." It was on this last-mentioned day that Reuben Wood was elected county solicitor, or, as the minutes called it, "attorney for the State in Buncombe County."

At this time the Superior courts did not meet in Buncombe County, but were held for what was then called the District of Morgan at Morganton in Burke County, and were known as• Morgan Superior Court. To constitute part of the jury at that court five Buncombe men were required by law to be chosen regularly by the County Court of
Buncombe County. The first of these jurors from Buncombe so chosen were selected at the July term 1792, of the last mentioned court and ordered to "serve at Morgan Supr. Court, Septr. Term as the Venire from Buncombe." They consisted of Matthew Patton, William Davidson, David Vance, Lambert Clayton and James Brittain.

A list of thse sales made by John Burton, interesting as showing the order in which the town grew and who were its first inhabitants, is here given:

. . . .

Col. William Davidson, lot 21, for - pounds, April 24, 1795, record book 2, page 169.

Colonel William Davidson was the man at whose house the county was organized as above stated. He was a relative of Gen. William Davidson, who succeeded Griffith Rutherford in the generalship when the latter was captured at Camden and who was killed on February 1, 1781, at Cowan's Ford of the Catawba River in attempting to prevent Lord Cornwallis from crossing with his army. Colonel William Davidson was also a relative of the Samuel Davidson who was killed by the Indians as above stated, and of Major William Davidson, a brother of Samuel and who with his brother-in-law, John Alexander, and his nephew, James Alexander, son of his sister Rachel, and with Daniel Smith, a son-in-law, became among the first settlers in Buncombe County. The portion of it where Major Davidson settled was then in Burke County at the mouth of Bee Tree.

Major William Davidson is sometimes confounded with Colonel William Davidson, who was the first representative of Buncombe. County in the State Senate to which he was sent in 1792, and removed to Tennessee where he was prominent in public affairs and where he died. It was at the house of Colonel William Davidson that Buncombe County was organized. Colonel William Davidson was born in Virginia and served in the American cause through the Revolutionary War.

Major William Davidson took a prominent part in the preparations made by the North Carolinians for the battle of Kings Mountain. These thwarted Ferguson in his raid which ended in that battle. During the Revolutionary War Major William Davidson lived in what became Burke County on Catawba River near the town now called Greenlee. His place was named The Glades. Colonel Ferguson visited his home there on the raid into North Carolina by Ferguson, which resulted in the Battle of Kings Mountain and in the defeat and death of that distinguished British officer. After that war, Major William Davidson removed with some relatives and friends to the mouth of Bee Tree Creek of Swannanoa River, then in Burke County, but now in Buncombe County, where, in 1784-1785, they formed the famous "Swannanoa Settlement" and where he resided for the remainder of his life and died and is buried.

Johhn Patton, lots 16, 2, and 10, for 20 pounds, October 15, 1795, record book 2, page 84.

Colonel John Patton was born April 4, 1765, and was one of Buncombe's first settlers. He removed to that county while it was yet Burke and Rutherford and settled first where Fernihurst now stands. From here he removed to the Whitson place, on Swannanoa above the old water works. After residing here for some while he returned to the vicinity of his former home, and bought and fixed his residence upon the Colonel William Davidson place, where the first County Court was held. At this place he continued to reside until his death on March 17. 183l. He it was who formally opened on April 16, 1792, the first
County Court. On the minutes of that court, immediately after the justices were sworn and took their seats, appears this entry:

"Silence being commanded and proclamation being made the court was opened in due and solemn form of law by John Patton specialy appointed for that purpose."

At that term, on the same day, he was duly elected to the then very important office of county surveyor. Near his new residence he built, many years ago, a bridge across the Swannanoa River, which remained until about the beginning of the war against the Southern States. His house was for many years famous as a stopping place, being upon the Buncombe Turnpike road, and he raised here a large family of children, many of whose descendants are yet living in Asheville. One of his sons, the late Montraville Patton, represented Buncombe County in the House of Commons in 1836, 1838 and 1840, and subsequently in 1874-1875, and after being for many years a citizen and prominent merchant of Asheville, and in later life the clerk of the Inferior Court of Buncombe County, died in 1896, highly respected by every one who knew him as a kind hearted but determined man of unswerving integrity and unpretentious usefulness. The late residence of Colonel John Patton stood on the southern side of the Swannanoa, at the ford about half a mile above its mouth. until within the last thirty years, when, after bearing for some time the name of the Haunted House, it was removed as being no longer tenantable. His wife, who was, before her marriage. Miss Ann Mallory, a Virginian, was born February 12, 1768, and died on August 31, 1855. She, with her husband, are buried at Newton Academy graveyard.

James Davidson, lot 26, for 6 pounds, April 21, 1796, record book 2, page 381.

Colonel David Vance was born at or near Winchester, Virginia, about 1745. He was the oldest son of Samuel Vance and was descended on the paternal side from the DeVaux family of Normandy, the name DeVaux being corrupted into Vance. About 1774 David
Vance came to North Carolina and settled in what was then Rowan County, on Catawba River, later Burke County, where he married Priscilla Brank.. In the progress of the Revolutionary War, David Vance served in the American army in the north and rose to the rank of ensign and was at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and
at Valley Forge. Later, in the South, he saw service in the same cause at the battles of Musgrove Mill and Kings Mountain and became a captain. After t'hat war ended he removed to what is now Buncombe County, but was then Burke County, and settled at what was later Vanceville on upper Reems Creek. In 1786 and 1791 he was a member of the North Carolina House of Commons from Burke County and in 1791 introduced in that body a bill to create the County of Buncombe. In 1792 he became and for years continued to be the clerk of the County Court of that new county, on whose records his most beautiful penmanship appears.

He and General Joseph McDowell and Mussendine Matthews as commissioners for North Carolina, superintended in 1799 the running of the line between North Carolina and Tennessee from the southern border of Virginia southward across Pigeon River. It was in consequence of some conversations while engaged in that work that he wrote recollections of the Battle of Kings Mountain, published many years after his death. He became a colonel of militia. He died in 1813 and was buried on his farm in Reems Creek. Doctor Robert B. Vance, once a representative in Congress from Western North Carolina, who was killed in a duel with Hon. Samuel P. Carson, was a son of Colonel David Vance, and the late Zebulon B. Vance, governor of North Carolina and United States senator, the late General Robert B. Vance, Congressman from Western North Carolina, and the late Colonel Allen T. Davidson, member from Western North Carolina in the Congress of the Confederate States, were grandsons of Colonel David Vance.

When John Jarrett bought the Sams ferry he kept it for many years as a toll ferry, and it became known as Jarrett's Ferry. Subsequently he sold it with the adjoining land to the late James M. Smith, who built a bridge at the place, which was known for many years, and up till a very late period, as Smith's Bridge. This he continued to keep up as a toll bridge until the latter part of his life, when he sold the bridge to the county, by which it was made a public or county bridge. The eastern end of the bridge was somewhat higher up the river than the eastern end of the iron bridge which succeeded it, but the western ends of the two were at the same place. In 1881 this bridge was removed to make room for an iron structure, which was destroyed by a flood in 1916, but its old foundations were yet plainly to be seen for many years.

On the second day of its first session the County Court ordered a jury to layoff a road from Colonel William Davidson's on Swannanoa to Benjamin Davidson's Creek (Davidson's River), which crossed French Broad a little below the mouth of Avery's Creek, passed Mills River, and went up Boydsteens (now incorrectly called Boilston) Creek;

When Thomas Foster built his bridge across the Swannanoa early in the last century, he constructed a road from a point on the hill about opposite to the Newton Academy near the entrance to the Perry place to his bridge, and thence by his house and up to the southwest so as to join the old road that ran from the Gum Spring at or near the Steam Saw Mill place above mentioned. By this time large numbers of hogs, cattle and horses had begun to be driven from Kentucky and Tennessee by way of Asheville into South Carolina and Georgia, and there was great profit in buying up the large quantities of com, then raised in this county, and feeding it to this stock. Col. John Patton soon after opened a road from the southern limits of Asheville through the grounds of the Normal and Collegiate Institute, to the west of that building, and immediately in front of the Oakland Heights building, and on by way of the entrance of Fernihurst to his place beyond the Swannanoa, and thence to the old road which ran by the Gum Spring, at a point about a mile further on. The rivalry between him and Thomas Foster in the business of feeding stock upon their two several roads now became fierce, though not unfriendly. When the Buncombe Turnpike road was built, the route adopted was the road by Col. John Patton's, but when afterward the Plank Road took its place it was constructed so as to pass Swannanoa between these two roads at the site of the present Biltmore concrete bridge two miles beyond Asheville. At this point a wooden bridge was built which was removed, in 1883, to give way to an iron structure, and later a concrete bridge was built there.

From the time of the building of the Buncombe Turnpike road, Asheville began to be a health resort and summering place for the South Carolinians, who have ever since patronized it as such.

Joshua Roberts was of Welsh extraction and was the son of John and Sarah Roberts. He was born February 5, 1795, near Shelby in Cleveland County. North Carolina. He was for a time a clerk in a store and while so acting studied law. On November 18. 1822. having commenced to practise law at" Asheville, North Carolina, he married Lucinda Patton, daughter of Colonel John Patton, and, soon after, settled at Franklin in Macon County of that State where for some years he practised law. In 1830 he returned to Asheville and built a home near the Indian graves on Buchanan Hill. Later he took up his residence on a farm where is now the passenger station of the Southern Railway Company. His house there is still standing. There he died on November 21, 1865. He was for three terms clerk of the Superior Court of Buncombe County and for one term that county's register of deeds. In company with John Christy he established the Highland Messenger, the first newspaper in Western North Carolina and the ancestor of The Asheville Citizen. For some of these facts of his life I am indebted to his grandson, Mr. William R Whitson of Asheville. Joshua Roberts caused to be built as his residence the first house erected in the town of Franklin Macon County North Carolina.

Allen Turner Davidson, another grandson of Colonel David Vance, and a grandson of Major William Davidson, who was one of the first settlers in Buncombe County and lived at the mouth of Bee Tree Creek, was the son of William Mitchell Dlividson and was born on Jonathan's Creek in Haywood County, North Carolina, May 9, 1819. Clerking for a time at the store of his father in Waynesville, in 1843 he became Clerk and Master in Equity of Haywood County and began the practice of law on January 1, 1845. He removed to Murphy in Cherokee County of the same State where for about twelve years he engaged in an extensive practice as a lawyer and was particularly distinguished as an advocate in criminal law. He was solicitor of that county and in April, 1860, was made president of the Miners and Planters Bank of Murphy.' In 1861 he was a member of the North Carolina Secession Convention and a delegate therefrom to the Confederate Provisional Government. And in 1862 he became a member of the House of Representatives of the Confederate States. He removed to Franklin, Macon County, in 1865, and to Asheville in 1869, where he died. Before he was twenty-one years old he was a colonel in the militia of Haywood County. His death was on January 24, 1905.

We have noted above that one of the last of his town lots sold by J oIm Burton was to Patton and Erwin, after the town had become Asheville. Patton and Erwin was a firm of merchants composed of James Patton and his brother-in-law Andrew Erwin. James Patton was born in Ireland on February 13, 1756, and emigrated to America in 1783. He was a weaver by trade, but soon became a prosperous merchant. After his arrival in America he labored for several years at mining, well-digging, working on 'the canals, grubbing, etc. After this he set out from Philadelphia where he had landed, and with a small pack of goods went south as a peddler. He made his way into North Carolina and for several years traded in Wilkes, Burke and Buncombe counties, getting his supplies from the north. In 1791 he met Andrew Erwin, who afterwards married his sister, and went into business with him. This partnership continued for twenty years, and was settled up in one day, James Patton taking the North Carolina lands belonging to the firm and Andrew Erwin taking those in Tennessee. In 1807 these gentlemen moved to Swannanoa, and settled on the farm where Mr. Frank Reed now lives. There they lived until 1814, when they removed to Asheville. Mr. Patton opened a store and hotel and engaged at the same time in tanning leather and farming. His hotel was the Eagle Hotel on South Main Street, about midway between Sycamore and Eagle streets. In 1831 he bought out and improved the Warm Springs. After a long and prosperous life he died at Asheville on September 9, 1846. His tanyard stood on the west side of where Valley Street now runs at a big poplar near where that street enters South Main Street. An autobiography of him is yet in existence. The partnership between him and Andrew Erwin was dissolved on March 11,1814.


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