Caswell County (1777)

Written By Sai Srikanth

Founded in 1777, after fragmenting the northern region of Orange County, Caswell County is named after Richard Caswell, a Continental Congress member and the first governor of North Carolina after the Declaration of Independence. The Occaneechi and Siouan Indians were the original inhabitants of the area, but after western settlement, English and Germans began populating the region. Leasburg was established as the county seat in 1791, but in 1833, the seat was shifted to Yanceyville (formerly Caswell Courthouse), named in honor Bartlett Yancey. Milton is the county’s only other incorporated community, but several unincorporated communities exist, including Casville, Leasburg, Pelham, Prospect Hill, Purley, Semora, Cherry Grove, and Blanch.

Caswell County was once a production pipeline for North Carolina politicians. The above-mentioned Bartlett Yancey was a prominent U.S. Congressman and state senator. Numerous politicians were either born in or represented Caswell County during the early-to-mid nineteenth century.

Notable names include Archibald Debow Murphey, considered by many to be North Carolina’s Father of Education. Others are Romulus Mitchell Sanders, Bedford Brown, Calvin Graves, Jacob Thompson, and John Kerr. In fact, the influence of these men, combined with their extensive tenures as state representatives and state senators, have led historians to assert that passage of legislation during the early nineteenth century was dependent in many ways on a Caswell County bloc.

Caswell County is also a major agricultural hub for the state. Soybeans, corn, wheat, oats, barley, hay, and alfalfa are staple products grown in the county. Beef cattle, sheep, swine, and chickens are the most common stock animals. However, Caswell County’s economy has thrived for the last 150 years primarily because of tobacco. In 1840, a slave named Stephen, owned by Abisha and Elisha Slade, accidentally discovered the process of flue-curing for tobacco. Flue-curing enabled tobacco to have high levels of sugar and simultaneously medium-to-high levels of nicotine, thereby making the tobacco not only sweeter, but more addictive. Caswell County accumulated a great amount of wealth due to flue-curing, and today tobacco still remains the main crop of the region.

Although the number of natural attractions is fewer than in many other counties, it certainly possesses an abundance of historical and cultural sites. The White House, not to be confused with the president’s residence in Washington D.C., is an example of a nineteenth century home, as is the Pascal House. Brown’s Store is a mid-nineteenth century convenient store. Houses of the many politicians, such as the Bartlett Yancey House, also attract tourists. The Union Tavern, where free black and successful furniture maker Thomas Day worked, is preserved to this day. The Caswell Council for Arts and History, Caswell County Historical Museum, and the Caswell County Historical Association represent the county’s cultural institutions.