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Caswell Co. in 1810

Contributed by Cynthia Ann Wells


The following is a first person account of Caswell Co., NC as described in an 11 Aug 1810 letter to Thomas Henderson, Editor of Star, Raleigh, NC from Bartlett Yancey, Jr. Mr. Henderson had solicited reports on various NC counties, locally written, for a series of articles. Mr. Yancey, lifetime citizen of Caswell Co., was a prominent lawyer and politician. The original letters are included in the Thomas Henderson Papers (p 19-23) located in the Private Collection (PC 19.1) at the NC Archives, Raleigh, NC.
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Caswell: 11th Augt: 1810

Dear Sir:

I have herewith sent you a concise description of the particulars respecting which information was required by your letter of March 30th 1810, which I had not the pleasure of receiving before the last of July:

An earlier reception of it would have given me a better opportunity of making myself well acquainted with the particulars of which you sought information. But having received it at a time when my fall circuit was just about to commence, I had but this alternative, of giving you the information I then possessed in an abstract manner, or delay my answer to your request until the winter: these fancies I thought but adapted to your purposes and therefore framed the fragment which I now transmit to you.

I have thought for a [illegible] past that some stricture upon the late and fashionable mode of chicanery, might be of service to the good people of this State, and have hoped and expected to have seen published in your paper something on the subject; but not a word has been [illegible] it is probable that during the winter when the mind of the public is cool and calm something of this sort may appear: I should indeed wish to see some writer undertake the subject, who is able to do it justice:

Accept of my wishes for your promotion and prosperity, and anything I can do for you in this part of the State, shall be cheerfully [page edge worn]

Yours Mo. Respectfully

B. Yancey

It is hoped and expected that you will exercise your discretion, to [page edge worn] my errors, and making abridgements: the description was thrown together hasten, and has not been attempted to be corrected
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In Caswell the farm of the County is generally hilly: there is however some valuable low land upon the water courses, that lies well: some valuable level land, between is to be found, not immediately on any water course. The Country line land, so called from a creek, of that name which empties into Dan River, near where the Counties of Caswell and Person join the Virginia line, is generally extreme, land of the first quality in the County: Its greatest objection is, that the land adjacent to [worn page edge] Creek, is so hilly, that without great care in the cultivator, much of it is worn out and washed away in the course of 10 or 12 years cultivation:

The Dan River low-grounds are very fertile and amply repays the farmer anxious for his trial: but the adjacent ridges, are hilly, and still more apt, to wash than the land on Country-line: next in part of value and fertility is considering the land on Hico: A water course called Moon's Creek, has some valuable low land on it, but is objectionable on account of being marshy:

The growth on Country-line land is pine, all kinds of oaks, hickory, dogwood, sourwood, Black gum, Black-walnut, white walnut, ash, beech, birch, sassafras and a variety of other vegetable production: Nearly the same growth on the other water courses, except not so much pine: The water in Caswell is good perhaps as any other County in the State.


As to the value of land, as much depends on the situation of it, as the fertility: land in the neighborhood of the Court House, and indeed most of the lands ome situating on the main road, sells for as much, as a tract on Dan River: The value of land therefore depends much on the neighborhood it is situated in: the general price of good land, is from $5, to $10 p acre: agreeable situations and tobacco good land may be had from $3 to $5 an acre:

This county was first settled about the year 1750; from that time until 1754 or 5, there were about 8 or 10 families in that part of the county, now known by the name of Caswell: A family by the name of Reynolds, and two others by the name of D[page edge worn] and Bankston were among the first settlers; not one of the family are now in county, and it is believed not one of their descendants: The Lea's, Graves', Patersons, & Kimbros came to this County about 1753, 54 & 55: they came from Orange and Culpepper in Virginia: Several hundred of there families and their descendants are now living in the County: The object of the first settlers, was to possess themselves of fertile land, and good pasture: I am told by the first settlers, that cane was so plenty, at that time, that their cattle [smudged] fat all thru winter without feeding:

No extraordinary occasions took place in this county during the Revolution: no regular fought battle: there were some skirmishes with the "Tories", a number of whom were killed: Cornwallis passed through this county in his pursuit of Genl Green, some little time before the Guilford battle: but little injury was had to the inhabitants, when compared with the general destruction they received in other parts of the United States:

Dan River runs through a small part of Caswell, and about 12 or 15 families, live on the north side of the River in the county: We have no lakes, bays, harbours, canals, mountains, cataracs, islands, nor swamps: The Roads in Caswell, are very good, for the back-county: they have been much improved lately: Scarcely a county in the State perhaps has better bridges, and more of them, then the little county of Caswell: Over every water course of any size, there is a bridge, and over some 2 or 3:

As to mines, there is not at present as much mined about "the Silver Mine", as was about 2 years ago: at that time a Rascal by the name of Charles Stewart, induced a citizen of the county to believe, he possessed an immensely valuable silver mine: experiments were made by Stewart in the presence of men of respectability and intelligence, [name illegible] induced to believe there was mental [metal] in the Ore: fifty dollars was then advanced to Stewart for the purpose of procuring materials to extract the metal; he pretended to go in search of the materials, but instead of procuring them, he was shortly after confined in jail for his crimes: Experiments have since been made of this ore, at Richmond, Washington City, and Philadelphia, and I am informed it is said, to contain a little Iron, but not worth the attention of the owner:

There is but one mineral spring that I know of in the county: This is on a farm belonging to Capt: Tho: Graves, about five miles from the Co. House: I have drank of this water, and think with care it would be as good as any I ever saw:

Indian corn, wheat, Rye, Oats, Cotton, tobacco and flax are raised in great abundance: Our Staple Commodities are, tobacco, cotton, and of late flour: We generally send our produce to Petersburgh or Richmond:


The Inhabitants of the county are generally in easy circumstances: there is a greater equality of property than in most counties: about 10 or 12 gentlemen, however, have a very considerable property; & of that number, there are only two, whose imminent wealth and possession work an injury to their neighbors:

The county has 2 towns: Leasburgh, formerly the Court House, when Caswell and Person formed one county: it has one store, a grocery shop, a sadler's shop, and a cabinet maker's shop, with about 10 or 12 houses: Milton is situated in the fork of Country-line and Dan River: it has 2 stores, a Sadlers Shop , a Hatter's shop, a tavern with about 15 or 20 houses: Caswell Co. House is not an incorporated town, the whole of the possession there belong to Capt. John Graves and his sons: it has 2 taverns, a Store, a Hatter's Shop with about 15 houses

It is supposed that at least nine-tenths of the inhabitants are agriculturists: great improvements have been made in agriculture within ten years past of useful domestic animals, it may observed that few Counties have more useful, elegant horses: they are from the stock of Diamond, Ture-Blue, Dion, Magic, & Bryan Oly?d; there are valuable horses from Old Celes and Nonperille: Almost every farm has a yoke of oxen:


The Inhabitants of Caswell, are following the example of the western counties in erecting distilleries: there are I suppose upwards of fifty. the greater part of which have been erected within a few years: Some of them are useful to the owner and the Country, but most of them are nuisances to society, being the resort of idle dispirited men, who by their visits to such places, bring on ruin to themselves and their families: I know of nothing which has no great a tendency to demoralize Society, except it be the late practices of chicanery by drunkery the people with grog, and with falsehoods:

Our fisheries are mostly on Dan River: the fish are general Shad, and round fish: but they are not more than half as valuable as they were 15 years ago. Of game we have but little; the greater part of the deer having been killed in an immense large snow that fell about 8 or 9 years ago: We have however a few deer and some turkies:

The progress of society and civilization depends upon the education and virtue of the people: great improvements therefore have been made since the first settlement of this county: from 1750 to twenty five years after, it is computed, that not more than one third of the inhabitants could read, and scarcely half that number could write a legible hand: from 1775 to 1800 what was then called a C[illeigble] English education, viz, "to read, write, and cypher as far as the rule of thre[page edge worn] was given to a little more than half the inhabitants: but from 1800, [illegble] to the present time, the progress of civilization and situation has been greater, then perhaps fifty years antecedent to that time: the great revival of religion about that period seems to have contributed much to the [illegible] of morality, sound principles and good [illegible] in Society: but as naturalists have observed every calm is succeeded by a Storm, and accordingly many of inferior class of society, appear now more depraved than ever:

For the progress of Situation in the [illegible] branches of an education, such as reading, writing and arithmatic, since 1800, the people of this County are much indebted to Mr. Robert H. Childers: greater improvement in writing could not have been expected from any man: at least one half of the youth in the County, who write well, were taught either directly or indirectly by this excellent pensman:

Situated within a quarter of a mile of the Co: Ho: is Caswell Academy: The plan of Caswell Academy was first conceived and brought to public view in the [page edge worn] of 1801: early in the succeeding years between five and ten hundred dollars was subscribed and during the year 1803 it was completed for the reception of students: The Rev.d Hugh Shaw and Bartlett Yancy were the teachers for the 2 first years: the [page edge worn] of students were from 55 to 65 each year; from that point the institution was not in a very flourishing [illegible] Until 1808; since which time it has prospered much under the direction of Mr. John W. Caldwell: a gentleman educated in Guilford by his father, the Rev.d D. David Caldwell, well known in the State for his services in disseminating libration, morality and Religion among his fellow citizens: The funds of the academy at present are low; it is now and always have been dependant on [illegible] of the Trustees of the Institution, and a few other public spirited gentlemen of the county for a support: No library of consequence is yet established, a plan has however been suggested and in now going into operation, by which it is hoped a good library will be procured in a few years: the number of students at present is 38:

Hico Academy situated near the Red-House in Caswell, was erected, it is believed in 1804 by a number of public spirited gentlemen in that part of the county: Mr. Shaw, after he left Caswell Academy became the teacher of this academy for 2 or 3 years, during which time, it is believed, it had between 30 & 40 students: it has since that time been on a decline, and about the middle of last month it was consumed by fire: there had been a school taught in it this year, but no fire had [illegible] been used in it for several months previous to its being burnt: it is generally believed that some vile incendiary put fire to it; for the purpose of consuming it: The Trustees have previous determined to rebuild it of Brick, upon a more extended plan:


Since the establishment of these Institutions the progress of Virtue and of Science in the county, has exceeded the most flattering [illegible] of the friends of libration: The education that has been acquired there by our youth, seems to have benefited, not only its [illegible]; but to have imparted its blessings to all them around: the inhabitants generally are more enlightened: men who thirty and forty years ago, were considered the best informed and most learned among us, are now scarcely equal in print of information to a school boy of 15 years: The venerable fathers are known, almost to a man (them that are able), the Supporters of Sanctuaries of learning; they seem to look forward with pleasing anticipation to the utility their country will derive, from the cultivation of the minds of our youth: there are however some designing demagogues; "wolves in Sheeps clothing", who because they can read a chapter in the Bible, (when it is in large print) and drag over a congressional circular (after a manner) think they have learning enough, [illegible] to excite prejudices against the Institutions and their students: but "black sheep" are to be found in almost every flock":

Since the commencement of the year 1804, this county has sent the following students to the University of this State; the foundation of whose Education (except, one), was laid at these Institutions. Viz. Sanders Donoho, Bartlett Yancey, Edward D. Jones, James W. Brown, R? M. Sanders, David Hart, and John W. Graves: besides them, the following students, received the Rudiments of their education at Caswell Academy; Dr. Horace B R[name illegible] now of Salisbury: William W. Williams of Halifax Va.. Archd. Haralson of Person: Elijah Graves of Granville: James Miller of Person

Caswell is not distinguished for men of talents: We have no men of the first rate talents; but a great number [illegible] to the rank of mediocrity, and some above it, [illegible] are all nations, for we have no Sp[illegible] Irishmen, revolutionizing Frenchmen, nor Speculating Scotchmen among us.

In this county there are fine practicing Physicians: Dr. John McAdoo, Dr. William S. Webb, Dr. Samuel Dabney, Dr. James Smith and Dr. Edward Foulks: of the profession of the law, now residing in the county are the following gentlemen; Bartlett Yancey, Edward D. Jones and Solomon Graves, Junr., the order in which each professional character is named denotes the priority of time, in which they commenced the practice of their profession:

There are two Societies in the County constituted for intellectual improvement: One at Caswell Academy and Another at the tavern of Jethro Brown esq.: their exercises mostly political. We have no public library in the county.

About 2 years ago Several gentlemen of Caswell and Person had found themselves into Society for the encouragement of the arts and agriculture; but that Spirit of [page edge worn] and national pride. Which then characterized all, seems now to be possessed by a few only; little has been done for the progress and promotion of this Society or [page edge worn]

The Religion of the inhabitants may be best estimated by the number of churches and communicants: there are 4 Baptist Churches & about 300 Communicants: 4 Presbyterian Congregations and about 200 or 250 Communicants: 3 or 4 Methodist Societies and about 250 or 300 Communicants:

Caswell is a very health part of the County: the common diseases of the inhabitants are Nervous and Billious fevers: the remedy for the most part is Stimulant, purgatives, the Composition of which is best know to the Physicians:

The amusements of the public part of Society consists in Balls, tea parties, and [page edge worn] parties: them of an inferior class consists of Saturday night frolicks, now [illegible] almost obsolete,: shooting matches and horse racing afford amusement to [page edge worn] better part of man, and now and then may be seen a party with an old rusty pack of cards, [smudged] for whiskey: The only Sporting club in the county is the "Jockey club" of the Caswell :
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