Political History to 1860

Creation of Henderson County

 In 1833, John Clayton, Montreville Patton and Phillip Brittain introduced legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly to create a new county. A deal was made with members of the legislature. A new county would be created from Buncombe County if it was named after a recently deceased and popular North Carolina Supreme Court Judge, Leonard Henderson from Granville County. This judge had never visited this region of the state.
The new county was created in 1837 and named Henderson County.
At the time the new county was created it included most of today’s Transylvania County and a section of today’s Polk County.
The General Assembly then appointed 11 men to organize this new county.
They were: Richard Allen, John Clayton, Sam Chunn, Reuben Deaver, Asa Edney, Ephroditus Hightower, John Jarret Sr., Robert Jones, John Miller, Benjamin Wilson and John Yount.
At this time in state history, all counties were governed by their respective Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. The officials appointed to these “boards” were justices of the peace in each county.
The first Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in Henderson County was composed of the following men: Richard Allen, Reuben Ballard, William Brittain, John Clayton Sr., John Clayton Jr., Marvel Mills Edney (son of Asa Edney), Meredith Freeman, Lincoln Fullam, Charles Greer, Samuel Hamblin, John Hamilton, John Justice, Samuel King, James S. Thomas and John Woodfin.
In February 1839 the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions appointed the county’s first officials. These officials were the following:
Entry keeper – James Blythe
Sheriff – Robert Thomas
Register – William Bryson
Surveyor – George Orr
Solicitor – Michael Francis
Trustee – Hugh Johnson
Ranger – Jeremiah Osborne
Standard keeper – John Woodfin

 A Town and County Seat

There was no town in the county at this time. A controversy soon erupts over where to put the county seat and build a town. The controversy lasted from 1838 to 1841.
The two sides formed into the River Party and the Road Party.
The River Party wanted to build a town and county seat near the French Broad River at today’s community of Horse Shoe.
The Road Party wanted to build a town and county seat along the Old Buncombe Turnpike, the stagecoach route and the main road in the county at this time.
In 1841 a referendum election was held to determine the placement of the new town and the county seat.
The Road Party won by 463 to 354 votes. Appeals were filed by leaders of the River Party. The court case went all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court. The court upheld the election results.
Judge Mitchell King of Flat Rock conveyed 50 acres, and John Johnson of the Horse Shoe and Mills River communities and James Brittain of Mills River conveyed 29 acres for the new town.
The new town of Hendersonville was located on a large hill surrounded by “swamps” or bogs. The land was not suitable for farming due to its location and it was located on the Old Buncombe Turnpike.
James Dyer Justice surveyed the land and Charles de Choiseul designed the new town.
The first building was built in 1841. The two-story wooden building was located at today’s corner of Main Street and First Avenue East. This building served throughout the years as a store, the first post office in 1841, the first saloon, the first drugstore, the first photography studio, a makeshift hospital in the late 1880s and 1890s, and behind the store were the jockey lot and a shipping center for crops. It was known in later years as Shepherd’s Store, then Drake’s Store. It was torn down for a parking lot in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Later, the town of Hendersonville sold the land and a new building was built on the location.
By 1842, the first courthouse was constructed.
The town of Hendersonville was incorporated in 1847.
For information on historic buildings along Main Street in downtown Hendersonville, visit

 Changes in the county’s borders

Most of today’s Transylvania County was within Henderson County at the time of the creation of Henderson County.
In 1844 approximately half of today’s Polk County was annexed to Henderson County from Rutherford County.
Therefore, the census of 1850 includes about half the population of today’s Polk County and about three-fourths of the population of today’s Transylvania County. Also, some people living in what we think of today as Henderson County were living in Buncombe County in 1850.
It was not until 1851 that the area of most of today’s Fletcher and some of Hooper’s Creek were ceded to Henderson County from Buncombe County.
In 1855 Polk County was created and “that part of Henderson County ceded by Rutherford County to Henderson County in 1844” was ceded to the new county of Polk.
But, one must keep in mind, that sections of what today people consider to be within Polk County were still located in Henderson County until the early 1900s (Saluda, upper sections of the Melrose community, upper sections of Green River Cove, etc.)
When studying census reports and land deeds, the dates and formations of the counties must be remembered.
Of course, there were probably many folks who did not know in which county they lived.
It is also important to keep in mind, especially in census reports and the election of 1860, that the majority of today’s Transylvania County was in Henderson County.

 State Senators

State senators were elected to represent more than one county. After the formation of the county until 1860, only one person from Henderson County served in the state senate.
Baylis (Balis) McKendrick Edney was elected state senator in 1858. He was the son of the Rev. Samuel Edney. He was a lawyer who traveled throughout Western North Carolina and had offices in several counties. He was described as an exceptional orator. He was good friend with many state leaders, including Zeb Vance of Buncombe County. He was also appointed as a U.S. consul to Palermo, Italy. His grave site is at the Edney-Coston Cemetery. (see more related to the Civil War)

 State Legislators

One state legislator from Henderson County was elected every two years.
1. John Clayton Sr. – 1844 He had earlier served in the state senate from Buncombe County when Henderson was part of Buncombe (1826-1836). He was the leader of the River Party during the controversy over where to place the county seat. He was the first postmaster of Claytonville (Etowah). His grave site is at the Davidson River Cemetery in Transylvania County. His brother Ephraim Clayton built St. John in Wilderness and Calvary Episcopal Churches; courthouses in Polk, Buncombe, Caldwell, and Yancey counties; a building at Mars Hill College; and several schools and churches near Asheville.
2. John Baxter – 1846, 1852, 1854, 1856 He was a lawyer in Rutherford County and moved to Henderson County in the early 1840s. He had a law practice in Hendersonville from 1849 to 1857. He also set up the town’s first dry goods store on Main Street. He fought a famous duel, the Baxter-Erwin Duel, at the same site as the Vance-Carson Duel near the Davis’ Oakland estate near the state line. Marcus Erwin was a well-known newspaper editor in Asheville. The duel was over politics and secession. Baxter was wounded and lost the duel. Baxter was strongly against secession. Prior to the Civil War, he moved to Knoxville, Tenn., and later served as a U.S. Federal Judge.
3. Henry T. Farmer – 1848 and 1850 He was a delegate from N.C. to the Democratic Convention in 1860 and was chairman of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in 1846. He was the owner of the Farmer’s Inn (Woodfield Inn) in Flat Rock. He was a staunch secessionist and Confederate.
4. Valentine Ripley – 1858 He moved here about 1840 from Virginia. He bought the stagecoach line that ran from Greenville, S.C., to Greeneville, Tenn., in 1842. He built and owned a stagecoach stop, later hotel, called the Ripley House, erected at the corner of Main and Second Ave West. He also built at least two other buildings on today’s Main Street, and owned one of the largest granite quarries in the county. He was a staunch secessionist and Confederate.
5. Joseph P. Jordan – 1860 He lived in what is today Transylvania County. He obtained his law degree from Wake Forest University and had a law office in Hendersonville. He was also a leader of the River Party. When elected to the legislature he introduced the bill to create Transylvania County (with the help of Marcus Erwin) in 1861. He was captain of Co. G, 35th N.C. Confederate Regiment and died in the Civil War as a Confederate.


1.  Robert Thomas – 1839-1844 He was the first appointed sheriff and supervised the controversial special election between the River Party and the Road Party to determine a county seat for Henderson County. In 1847, he was deeded lots in the original plat for Hendersonville. His home was in the Pleasant Grove section of Etowah near the French Broad River. He grew up in the Crab Creek and Etowah communities. In 1845 he was a member and chairman of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Select Court) that governed Henderson County. On April 22, 1865, deserters from either the Confederate or Union armies set fire to his barn. When he came outside to defend his property, he was shot and killed. His grave site is at the Fletcher-Thomas Cemetery in Etowah.
2. Joseph Livingston – 1844-1848 He grew up in the Hoopers Creek community. In 1845, he was listed as one of the owners of the lot in Hendersonville where the Hendersonville First United Methodist Church is now located. During the Civil War he served with Co. H “Cane Creek Rifles,” 25th N.C. Infantry Regiment. He was wounded during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign. His grave site is at Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville.
3. Terrell W. Taylor – 1848-1852 He grew up in the Dana community. In 1865, he bought the stagecoach line from John T. Poole. Valentine Ripley had earlier sold the stagecoach line to Poole. Taylor owned the stagecoach line until the railroad was completed in 1879. For more information on Taylor, see his term of service as sheriff from 1870 to 1874 and in other lessons after 1860. His grave site is at Refuge Baptist Church Cemetery in Dana.
4. Isaac Arledge – 1852-1862 He was born and grew up in the Green River Cove section of today’s Polk County. Polk County was formed in 1855 from Rutherford and Henderson counties. In the 1840s, he moved to the newly formed town of Hendersonville. He ran for the office of sheriff again in the 1870s and some persons suggest he may have served again as sheriff from 1876 to 1878, but official documentation is lacking. His grave site is at Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville.

 Political Parties in State and County

1780s – Political parties were Conservatives (mainly in the eastern part of the state, lawyers, merchants, planters, land speculators, money lenders) and Radicals (small farmers and artisans)
1789-1815 – Federalists and Republicans (Jeffersonian) – The state was predominately Republican. The General Assembly was predominately Republican. Many people were against a strong federal government and thought the Federalists had contempt for the common people.
1815-1824 – There were divisions within the Republican Party, mainly west vs. east (west included Charlotte, etc.). These differences centered around a lack of internal improvements within the state.
1824-1832 – The “People’s Ticket” with John C. Calhoun and Jacksonian Democracy create new alignments. John C. Calhoun was extremely popular in western counties. He favored internal improvements. The state went for Jackson.
1832 – Democrats vs. Whigs. The Republican Party begins to disappear in the state. Many people were disappointed with Andrew Jackson “King Andrew.” Many disliked the lack of internal improvements by Democrats in the state. The western counties went Whig in the election. David Swain and Zeb Vance were leaders of the Whig Party. The Democrat stronghold was in the mid-eastern part of the state and two small areas of the Piedmont.
1835-1850 – Whigs prevail in North Carolina. This is called the Age of Progress with some internal improvements and the first introduction of public education. Beginning in the late 1840s the Whig Party began to lose popularity because legislators did not follow through with funding for internal improvements, including education, and many people disliked the policies of the national Whig party.
Prior to 1848, a person (white males) must own more than 50 acres to vote. Democrats wanted free suffrage and won an overwhelming majority throughout the state in 1850.
1850-1860 – Democrats were the majority throughout the state, including Henderson County. The legislature increased school funding, built roads, and passed tax reforms and free suffrage (white males).

 Election Ballot of 1860

In North Carolina there was no Republican Party and had not been for many years. Abraham Lincoln was not on the ballot in the state. He chose not to be placed on the ballot. The Republican Party was not on the ballot in any Southern state. The strategy of the Republican Party early in the campaign was to focus north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Therefore, no one in Henderson County voted for Abraham Lincoln.
There was controversy within the Democratic Party.
The Whig Party was in disarray and for all intents and purposes had disappeared.
Stephen A. Douglas was on the ballot as a Northern Democratic candidate.
At the Democratic convention in Charleston’s Institute Hall in April 1860, 51 Southern Democrats walked out over a platform dispute. Extremists pro-slavery delegate William Lowndes Yancey and the Alabama delegation first left the hall, followed by the delegates of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, three of the four delegates from Arkansas, and one of the three delegates from Delaware. Please note that none of the North Carolina delegates, including Henry T. Farmer of Henderson County, walked out.
The Southern delegates, almost all from the “Lower” South, gathered later in a separate convention. They nominated John C. Breckinridge as a Southern Democratic candidate. He was the U.S. Vice President from Kentucky.
Southerners who felt that they could not support either of the Democratic candidates and certainly not the Republican candidate formed a party called the Constitutional Union Party. They nominated John Bell, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and former U.S. Secretary of War. He was the moderate candidate. Bell won this nomination over Gov. Sam Houston of Texas on the second ballot. The party platform advocated compromise to save the Union, with the slogan “the Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is.”

 Election of 1860

The election was held Tuesday, Nov. 6, 1860. None of the candidates won a majority of the popular vote in the national election. The election was decided by the Electoral College. Lincoln and the Republican Party won by carrying the majority of states above the Mason-Dixon Line. These states had more delegates to the Electoral College.
Of 82 counties in the state of North Carolina at that time, Breckinridge carried 40 and Bell carried 36. Two counties results were thrown out and two counties results were never received. Douglas carried none. Lincoln was not on the ballot. There were no regional differences in the state. Bell carried counties in the east, piedmont and west. Breckinridge carried counties in the east, piedmont and west.
John Bell with the Constitutional Union Party won in Henderson County (this included most of today’s Transylvania County). The vote was 496 for Bell, 425 for Breckinridge, and four for Douglas. In surrounding counties, Breckinridge won Haywood, Jackson, Polk and Rutherford. Bell won Buncombe and McDowell. Madison County’s votes were thrown out.