Yancey County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



Bartlett Yancey


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1760s / Settlers of Buncombe and Burke Counties

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started


Coming Later

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Airports in Yancey County

Maps of Yancey County

Books About Yancey County

Genealogy Sources

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A 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 North Carolina Legislature, Speaker of the State Senate and member of the U.S. 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 2010 population was 17,818. The Act establishing the county named and authorized commissioners to purchase land, lay out a town, and erect a court house. 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 of 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 County's boundries looms Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern U.S. at 6,684 feet above sea level.

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." 

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