JAMES YANCEY (abt 1786-1829)

The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina - 1985
[Entry number] 839

The December 5, 1829 edition of the Raleigh Register reported: "Died suddenly on the 27th November, James Yancey, Esquire, Chairman of the County Court of Caswell. Mr. Yancey was for several years a respectable member of the Legislature and the only surviving brother of the late Bartlett Yancey. In his death the county of Caswell has sustained considerable loss. He has left a disconsolate widow and 5 small children to lament his loss". James Yancey, planter, merchant, legislator, educator, and public official gave 30 years of public service to Caswell County in its early years to firmly establish a county government.

Born about five miles south of Yanceyville, then Caswell Court House, he was a son of Bartlett Yancey, Sr. and Ann Graves Yancey. He was left fatherless before the age of 21, and there were 9 brothers and sisters, 7 of them younger than James. He first married Lucy Kerr in 1794. His plantation mansion house was 5 miles south of Yanceyville. He had a store there and was licensed to operate an ordinary at the store. His 5 children were of his second marriage in 1811 to Zilpah Johnston, a daughter of Dr. Lancelot Johnston.

Early in life, James Yancey was a constable in Gloucester District and later served as tax assessor and collector. His two older brothers, Thomas and John Yancey were already justices of the peace. A representative of Caswell County in the North Carolina General Assemblies of 1798, 1801-03, 1807-08, 1811, and 1822, James Yancey introduced the bill in 1802 to establish the Caswell Academy which was built 1/4 mile from the Court House, and he was one of the first trustees. In 1808 he took oath as a Justice of the County Court and for 21 years he was present at each quarterly meeting. He served on special courts, orphan courts, and often was drawn for jury service at Superior Court in Hillsborough.

In 1822 James Yancey was elected Chairman of the County Court to replace his uncle, Solomon Graves, who moved to Georgia. Major developments occurred during his tenure as Chairman of the government of Caswell County. In 1825 Yancey appointed a commission, namely Bedford Brown, John E. Brown, and George Williamson, to procure land to enlarge the public square in preparation for building the second court house. The need for a larger building was evident as the county was to hold Superior Court at Caswell, heretofore held In Hillsborough. The commission took four years and in 1829 had reached no decision when three proposals were presented to the court. The land around the public lot was owned on all sides by the Graves brothers. Finally a compromise was reached to expand to the west and south of the square. James Yancey has been given credit by historians for solving the problems with the Graves brothers and securing sufficient land for the court house. The legislation introduced to empower the buying of land mentioned the square should be enlarged or land bought elsewhere. If the Graves' had not consented to a land deal, the seat of government could have been moved.

The second court house, designed by John Berry, was completed in 1833 and stood to the front of the present court house and apparently blocked the street. James Yancey did not live to see the new court house. The U.S. Postal Department reported that the name of Caswell Court House was changed to "Yancey" in April 1833. The Greensboro Patriot noted in July that the name was now "Yancey. " Both dates denote the finish of the court house - April Court mentioned Its completion, and July Court ordered the county treasurer. Azariah Graves, to receive the keys. An act of the 1833 Legislature ordered the town incorporated as "Yanceyville."

In 1825 James Yancey purchased for Caswell County the first land the county bought other than the one acre square. Eighty acres for $4.00 per acre bought from Starling and Griffin Gunn about 2 miles north of the Court House was for the location of the first poor house. This institution was a model for its time, built by William Chiles, and was completed in 1826 at a cost of $863. Facilities were available to contain mental patients also. In July 1827, $130 was paid to build smoke house, corn crib, and kitchen at the poor house. The buildings lasted for 100 years. It was in the 1920's that a new county home was built across the highway and even then the old house was used for those with contagious diseases.

Caswell County had been formed for 51 years when in July 1828 James Yancey ordered a committee to wit: James Miles, Bedford-Brown, and John Wilson, to "inquire into the expediency of lessening county taxes for the next year". It was so done. the tax rate was reduced from 60 to 50 on $100 worth of property and poll tax reduced from 250 to 200. In addition the jailor's fee for dally maintenance of a prisoner was reduced from 400 to 300.

James Yancey led the way for firmly establishing a conservative and progressive county government for which he has never received any commendation. He made the first gesture for education in 1802 in helping establish Caswell Academy. He had foresight to purchase land on which county buildings stand today. He made the first effort to reduce county taxes ever proposed in Caswell County and at the same time was able to expand public property. Lastly he served as compromiser in securing land from the Graves brothers on which two court houses were eventually built. The town of Yanceyvllle compliments his name for his service to his native county.

After the death of his widow, the James Yancey home was sold to Durrett Oliver and later to James Rudd. His grave is in a periwinkled plot nearby. The house stands in ruins on county road 1748 east of Route 62 south of Yanceyville just south of Pinson Creek.

The children of James and Zilpah Yancey were: James Monroe Yancey who moved to Arkansas where he taught school; William Yancey married Demarius Oliver (see article on Reuben Oliver); Dr. Albert Gallatin Yancey (see article); Mary Elizabeth Yancey who married James Gunn and had one child who married Joseph Pennix; and Mildred Yancey who married James Malone of Leasburg. The two Malone sons, James and John died before adulthood.


James Yancey House. c.a 1800. One of the three tripartite plan houses standing in the county, yet in ruins. The once sophisticated frame structure has a heavy dentil and corbel cornice, beaded siding, Flemish bond brick chimneys. The center room contained a corner enclosed stair, and the walls are plastered throughout. The interior trim has been removed. Built by James Yancey, legislator and brother of famous lawyer Bartlett Yancey.