The County of Caswell in 1810
By Bartlett Yancy Jr. *
First published in
The Raleigh Star - 1811
later published in
"Our Living and Our Dead" - Southern Historical Society Vol I, 1874-75
* The name is printed as Yancy - although the name here is corrrectly spelled as Yancey.
[Ancestry: Bartlett Yancey, son of Bartlett, son of James, son of Charles, son of Charles Yancey]
In Caswell, the face of the country is generally hilly, there is, however some valuable low land upon the water courses that lies well. Some valuable land, likewise, 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 the Dan River, near where the counties of Caswell and Person join the Virginia line, is generally esteemed of the first quality in the county. Its greatest objection is, that the land, adjacent to the creek, is so hilly, that without great care in the cultivator, most of it is worn out and washed away in the course of ten or twelve years cultivation. The Dan river low-grounds are very fertile, and amply repay the farmer annually for his toil; but the adjacent ridges are hilly, are still more apt to wear than the land on Country-line. Next in point of value and fertility is considered the land on Hico. A water course called Moore's creek, has some valuable low land on it, but is objectionable on account of being marshey.
The growth on the country-line land is pine, all kinds of oaks, hickory, dog wood, sour-wood, black-gum, black walnut, white walnut, ash, beech, birch, sassafras, and a variety of other vegetable productions. Nearly the same growth on other water courses, except not so much pine. The water in Caswell is as 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 handsome situations on the main road, sell for as much as a tract on the Dan river. The value of land therefore depends much on the neighborhood [in] which it is situated; the general price of good land is from five to ten dollars, per acre. Agreeable situations and tolerably good land may be had, from three to five dollars and acre.
This country was first settled about the year 1750; from that time, until 1754-5, there were eight or ten families in that part of the country now known by the name of Caswell. A family by the name of Reynolds, and two others by the name of Dolittle and Barkston, were among the first settlers; not one of the family is now in the county, and it is believed not one of their descendants. The Lea's, Graves, Petersons,' and Kimbro's came to this country about 1753-4-5. They came from Orange and Culpeper in Virginia; several hundred of their descendants are now living in the county.
The object of the first settlers, was to possess themselves of fertile land and good pastures. I am told by the first settlers, that cane was so plenty, at the time, that their cattle were fat all the winter without feeding.
No extraordinary occurrences took place in this county during the Revolution. No regular fought battle; their were some skirmishes with the Tories, a number of whom were killed. Cornwallis passed through this country, in his pursuit of Gen'l Green, some little time before the Guilford battle, but little injury was done to the inhabitants, when compared with the general destruction they suffered in other parts of the United States.
Dan river runs through a small part of Caswell, and about twelve or fifteen families live on the north side of the river in the county. We have no lakes, bays, harbors, canals, mountains, cataracts, islands, nor swamps. The roads in Caswell are very good, for the back country, they have been much improved lately. Scarcely a county in the State, perhaps, has better bridges, or more of them, than the little county of Caswell. On every water course, of any size, there is a bridge and over some two or three.
As to mines, there is not much noise about the "silver mine" as was about two years ago. At that time a rascal by the name of Charles Stewart, induced a citizen of the county to believe that he possessed an immensely valuable silver mine. Experiments were made by Stewart, in the presence of men of respectability and intelligence, and they were induced to believe there was 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. Thomas Graves, about five miles from the Court House. I have tried 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 Petersburg and Richmond.
The inhabitants of the county are, generally, in easy circumstances. There is a greater equality of property than in most counties; about ten or twelve gentlemen, however, have a very considerable property, and of that number, there are only two, whose immense wealth and possessions work an injury to their neighbors.
The county has two towns, Leasburg, formerly the court house, when Caswell and Person formed one county. It has one store, a saddlers shop, and a cabinet maker shop, with ten or twelve house. Milton is situated in the fork of the Country-Line on Dan River, it has two stores, a saddler's shop, a hatter's shop, a tavern, with about fifteen or twenty houses.
Caswell court house is not an incorporated town, the whole of the possessions there belong to Capt. John Graves and his sons. It has two taverns, a store, a hatter's shop, with about fifteen 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 be observed, that a few counties have more useful, elegant horses; they are from the stock of Diomede, True Blue, Dion, Magic and Bryan-Olyn; there are valuable horses from Old Celer, and Nonpareil. Almost every farmer 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 great part of which have been erected within a few years. Some of them are useful to the owner and to the country, but most of them are nuisances to society, being the resort of idle, dissipated men, who by their visits to such places bring ruin to themselves and to their families. I know of nothing which has so great a tendency to demoralize society, except it be the late practice of electioneering by drenching the people with grog and falsehood.
Our fisheries are mostly on Dan River; the fish are generally shad and round fish, but they are not more than half as valuable as they were fifteen years ago. Of game we have but little; the greater part of the deer having been killed in an immensely large snow that fell about eight or nine 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 the 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 common English education, viz: "to read, write and cipher as far as the rule three" was given to a little more than half the inhabitants, but from 1800 up to the present time the progress of civilization and literature has been greater than for perhaps fifty years antecedent to that time. The great revival of religion about that period seems to have contributed much to the dissemination of morality, sound principles and good order in society; but as naturalists have observed every calm is succeeded by a storm, and accordingly many of the inferior class of society appear now more depraved than ever.
For the progress of literature in the inferior branches of an education, such as reading, writing and arithmetic 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 of the county who write well, were taught, either directly or indirectly, by this excellent pensmen.
Situated within a quarter mile of the Court House is Caswell Academy. The plan of Caswell Academy was first conceived and brought to public view in the winter of 1801. Early in the succeeding year between five and six hundred dollars were subscribed, and during the year 1803 it was completed for the reception of students. The Rev. Hugh Shaw and Bartlett Yancey were the teachers for the first two years; the number of students was from fifty five to sixty five each year. From that period the institution was not in a very flourishing state 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. Dr David Caldwell, well known in the state for his services in disseminating literature, morality and religion among his fellow citizens. The funds of the Acadamy at present are low; it is now, and always has been, dependant upon the liberality 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, however, has been suggested and is 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 thirty eight.
Hico Academy, situated near the Red House in Caswell, was erected, it is believed, in 1804, by a number of public spirited gentlemen, un that part of the county. Mr. Shaw, after he left Caswell Academy, became the teacher of this Academy for two or three years, during which time, it is believed, it had been thirty or forty students. It has since that time been on 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 been used in it for several months previous to it being burnt; it is generally believed that some vile incendiary put fire to it, for the purpose of consuming it. The trustees have, however, 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 hopes of the friends of literature. The education that has been acquired there by our youth seems to have benefitted, not only its votaries, but to have imparted its blessings to all around them. 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 point of information to a school boy of fifteen years. The venerable fathers, are however, almost to a man (those that are able) the supporters of seminaries 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 sheep's 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, wish 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: Saunders Donoho, Barlett Yancy, Edward D. Jones, James W. Brown, Romulus M. Saunders, David Hart, and John W. Graves; besides them, the following students received the rudiments of their education at Caswell Academy: Dr. Horace B. Satterwhite, now of Salisbury, William W. Williams, of Halifax, Virginia, Archibald Haralson, of Person, Elijah Graves of Granville, and James Miller or Person.
Caswell is not distinguished for men of talents. We have no men of first rate talents, but a great number entitled to the rank of mediocrity and some above it. These are all natives, for we have no spreeing Irishmen, revolutionizing Frenchmen, or speculating Scotchmen among us.
In this county there are five practicing physicians: Dr. John McAden, 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 Yancy, Edward D. Jones and Solomon Graves Jr. 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 are mostly polemical. We have no public library in the county.
About two years ago several gentlemen of Caswell and Person had formed themselves into a society for the encouragement of the arts and agriculture; but that spirit of emulation 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 as yet.
The religion of the inhabitants may be estimated by the number of churches and communicants; there are four Baptist churches and about 300 communicants. four Presbyterian churches and about 200 or 250 communicants; three or four Methodist societies, and about 250 or 300 communicants.
Caswell is a very healthy part of the country. The common diseases of the inhabitants are nervous and bilious fevers. The remedy for the most part is stimulants and purgatives, the composition of which is best known to the physicians.
The amusement of the polite part of society consists in balls, tea parties and visiting parties. Those of an inferior class consist of Saturday night frolics, become almost obsolete; shooting matches and horse racing afford amusement to the better sort of men, and now and then may be seen a party with an old rusty pack of cards amusing themselves for whiskey. The only sporting Club in the county is the "Jocky Club" of the Caswell Turf.
August 11th, 1810