It must be emphasized that the region of Henderson County was not an unexplored wilderness in 1783 when the state officially opened the county for settlement.
It is unrealistic to imagine no one lived here before they could “legally” live on the land.
This was not an unexplored wilderness for the following reasons:
1. Human nature – psychology. People were living along the Green River, where Lake Lure is located today, on Tryon Mountain and Warrior Mountain, along the North Pacolet River, etc. Does one really believe that these people never waded across the river or entered today’s Henderson County on hunting trips or simply to explore?
2. Documented exploration and military expeditions
3. Documented Trade
4. American Indian History, Treaties, Forced Land Cessions
5. The “American Frontiersman” – history and psychology. Did the American frontiersman ever wait until an Indian treaty was signed before moving onto Indian land?
6. Treaties and Maps
7. Wording in Early Grants (Deeds)
To study the early history of Henderson County involves some study of surrounding counties and states. For early Henderson County one must study Rutherford County, today’s Polk County, Greenville County, S.C., Buncombe County and, for some sections, even McDowell County. And almost all of Transylvania County was a part of Buncombe County and later Henderson County.
When the state changed the boundary line with the Cherokee, many people who were then living in today’s Rutherford County and Polk County simply loaded up their wagons and moved onto land with which they were already extremely familiar.
Many of the early settlers also moved into the county from the upstate of South Carolina and areas of northwest North Carolina – Burke County, Rowan County and others.
There were also land speculators who began buying large amounts of land in the county. Today we would call them land developers. Some of the largest land speculators were James Miller, David Miller, Andrew Miller, Waightsville Avery, and William Mills. There were also several early settlers who bought land in today’s Henderson County, who lived in the area for a short while, and moved further west.
Who were the first settlers and how does one find out who they were? To answer this question, one must study early census records and land grants (deeds). Even when combining these studies, some folks are going to be missed.
1. Census Records– The first federal census was in 1790. Henderson County did not exist. Persons living here were counted primarily in Rutherford County, some in Burke County and some in South Carolina (Greenville County was formed in 1786 from Cherokee land, prior to 1786 one must look in the old Ninety-Six District. Spartanburg County was formed from the old Ninety-Six District in 1785.).
In 1791, Old Buncombe County was formed from Rutherford and Burke counties. Therefore, by the 1800 census and definitely through the 1830 census one must search Buncombe, Rutherford, and Greenville County, S.C. Henderson County was formed in 1837. But, in 1840 many people were still listed in Buncombe County, Rutherford County and Greenville County, S.C. Not until 1850 can one stop looking in those censuses (There some families living on or near the South Carolina state line that were counted in South Carolina censuses through 1870, sometimes in both states in the same year’s census). Some people were not counted in early censuses. Some people are always missed in censuses, especially the early censuses in frontier and mountain regions.
2. Land Grants (deeds) – To use deeds in research, one must know the geography, most importantly the streams, rivers and mountains. Almost all describe the land by rivers, streams, mountains and other natural features.
For the early settlers prior to 1790 one must study land deeds in Rutherford County, South Carolina and even Old Tryon County. Some land grants (deeds) were filed in Burke County, but any deeds for land in today’s Henderson County that were originally filed in Burke County (except possibly for land in the area of Gerton, Hooper’s Creek, Bat Cave and Fletcher) were declared null and void. Land deeds in Burke County were not legal deeds. One must look primarily in Rutherford County, after 1791 in Buncombe County, and also in Greenville County, S.C.
In 1787 part of Burke County was annexed to Rutherford County, including the area of the “Little Broad River” (Rocky Broad) in Bat Cave and Gerton. In 1788, a line was drawn between Burke and Rutherford counties placing almost all of today’s Henderson County in Rutherford County.
Old Buncombe County was formed from Burke and Rutherford counties in 1791. Land deeds from 1791 until 1837 will most likely be found in Buncombe County. But, some sections east of the Continental Divide were still in Rutherford County until 1794 when more land in Rutherford County was annexed to Old Buncombe County, placing more of today’s Henderson County in Old Buncombe County.
And, if the land was near the South Carolina line, one must keep looking in South Carolina.
To confuse matters even further, there is the issue of the old Walton County, Ga.
Between 1802-03 conflicts over the Georgia-North Carolina line leads to the Walton County War. Settlers in today’s Henderson and Transylvania counties were caught up in the conflict.
The Walton County War was a boundary dispute between North Carolina and Georgia over a strip of land called the “orphan strip.” Problems arose when Georgia established Walton County. The state boundaries had never been clarified and it was unclear as to whether the land was in North Carolina or in Georgia. It is actually a mystery how South Carolina was bypassed in the dispute.
In 1804 the Walton County, Ga., government tried to collect taxes on this land. Settlers who claimed to be part of North Carolina’s Buncombe County refused to pay these taxes, which resulted in confrontations (battles of the war) at McGaha Branch and Selica Hill. On Dec. 14, 1804, John Havner was killed after being hit in the head with a musket. The Buncombe County government sent in the militia. Maj. James Brittain of the Buncombe County (Henderson) militia led a detachment of 72 militiamen into the area. Many of these men in the militia resided in today’s Henderson County. The militia arrested 10 officials from Walton County and took them to Morganton to be tried for the murder of Havner. All ten escaped and fled.
The Walton County government collapsed, mainly because the county was too isolated from Georgia’s main cities for a strong defense by Georgia.
In 1807, a joint commission confirmed that the land resided in North Carolina. North Carolina extended full amnesty to previous supporters of Walton County.The Walton War officially ended in 1811 when Georgia’s own survey confirmed the 1807 commission’s findings.
North Carolina officially took over the area in 1811. At that time it was part of Buncombe County. When Henderson County was formed, much of it became part of Henderson County. In 1841, part of it became part of Jackson County. In 1861, when Transylvania County was formed, most of it was then in Transylvania County.
A map recently discovered in Georgia shows the old Walton County consisting of land in most of Transylvania County, and also in the Crab Creek, Zirconia, Flat Rock and Etowah communities of today’s Henderson County.
Therefore, early land grants (deeds) of some of our early settlers are probably in Georgia.
Many, if not most, of the early settlers did not file legal deeds until they were already living on the land. They first came into an area, located land they might want to claim, built cabins, etc., then months or even years later filed the “legal” deeds.
Using deeds is also tricky because some of the people were not “settlers,” they were land speculators. Some of these land speculators never actually lived in the county, yet early deeds show them claiming large acreages of land. In some cases, they would let settlers live on the land in return for a money payment or payment with crops, work, goods, etc. The actual settlers living on the land may or may not eventually have purchased the land in later years.
The Justice family who lived in Rutherford County and later Henderson County were early surveyors and kept many records. Occasionally, these survey records may show the name of a settler living on land as described above. These are housed at UNCA, Appalachian State and some at the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Therefore, the dates of land purchases do not necessarily reflect the actual year these early settlers moved into the county.
One must use land grants (deeds) along with census reports. And even then, combining both, people that we know were early settlers are missing.
Some examples of early deeds are on this web site. Click on the following link.
Where did the people come from? They mostly came from Rutherford County, South Carolina, northwest North Carolina (Burke, Rowan, etc.), and Virginia.
The majority can be traced back for several generations to Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, eastern North Carolina, and Georgia. Several can be traced to Jamestown, to the early Puritans in Connecticut and Long Island in New York, to the early Germans and Scots in Pennsylvania, to the first Dutch into New Amsterdam, and many to early English colonists in Virginia and South Carolina.
The overwhelming vast majority were not recent immigrants to the American colonies.
Most had some role in the Revolutionary War. They were a mix of Patriots and Tories. Some were leaders in colonial governments. Some were leaders in the formation of the early Patriot governments (not just those who fought).
Early settlers moved into the county in family groups and sometimes with neighbors or as community groups. Some times only one adult male in a large extended family signed the land deeds, but an extended family comprised of several families lived on the same property.
There are two large errors printed in several books and on other sites that must be addressed.
1. William Mills was not the first settler into Henderson County, nor was he the first settler to file a land deed (grant). Deeds confirm this. (See early land deeds on this site)
2. William Mills never lived in Mills River (and the river was not named for him, refer to lessons on geography and early exploration, also refer to the spelling of the word in early deeds). He, as a land speculator, owned land in Mills River. Some of this land he gave to a daughter and her husband. William Mills lived in Edneyville, off South Mills Gap Road, not far from the corner with today’s U.S. 64 East.
Also, it is necessary to address questions that have arisen in class and other places regarding the King family.
Two early settlers into today’s Henderson County were Samuel King and Hiram King. Samuel King, a Revolutionary War veteran, was an important early historical figure in Henderson County’s history. Hiram King and his wife were also influential in the early history of Henderson County. Both were large landowners. These people were and are in no way related to Judge Mitchell King from Charleston, S.C., who much later bought land in today’s Flat Rock.
Samuel King and Hiram King and all their hundreds, if not thousands, of descendants were Appalachian Mountain pioneer families in Henderson County. Their descendants are not related to the Mitchell King family of Charleston, S.C., and later Flat Rock.
There are also two events that occurred prior to 1860 that do not fit into traditional themes or categories in this class.
1. The War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States had little effect on settlers in today’s Henderson County. Phillip Brittain organized the settlers into a militia unit in case it was needed. But, this unit never fought in the war. There are a few gravestones in old cemeteries reflecting service in the War of 1812. I have only researched one, John Davis (1780-1859).
John Davis was living in Alabama when the War of 1812 began. He served in the war, attaining rank of sergeant major, with Col. Coffey and Gen. Andrew Jackson. He fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, the battle at Pensacola, Fla., and the Battle of New Orleans. In 1823, he bought what is today known as the Argyle property in Flat Rock. He was the first postmaster of Flat Rock. He also owned property near the state line in the Green River community. In 1830, he sold the property in Flat Rock and moved to his property in the Green River community. This property was along the Old Buncombe Turnpike, the “winding stairs” from South Carolina. He built a hotel and a stagecoach stop and called it Oakland.
2. In 1827 the Carson-Vance Duel occurred near the John Davis inn and estate, Oakland, on the Old Buncombe Turnpike near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line (old U.S. 25) in the Green River community. Davy Crockett was one of many who watched the duel. There is a state historical marker at the site. The duel was fought between Robert B. Vance and Samuel P. Carson.
Robert B. Vance was a U.S. Congressman from Buncombe County. Samuel P. Carson was in the N.C. state senate from McDowell County. Carson was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1825 defeating Robert B. Vance who was up for re-election.
In 1827 there was another election. It was a bitter campaign between Vance and Carson. Vance made a disparaging remark about Carson’s father (“turning Tory during the Revolutionary War”) and called Carson a coward. Carson held his temper until after the election, which he won. Carson then challenged Vance to a duel. Carson fatally wounded Vance, who had not fired his weapon. Vance died the following day. Carson moved to Texas within a few years and in 1836 was appointed Secretary of State for the Republic of Texas. He died two years later in Hot Springs, Ark.