Caswell County

About

Located along the Virginia border, Caswell County was formed out of Orange County in 1777. The county is named after Richard Caswell, who was the state’s first governor following the Declaration of Independence. Leasburg was named the county seat in 1791. However, when Person County was carved out of Caswell, Leasburg was no longer located in the center of the county. In 1792, the land was purchased in the geographic center for a county seat and was called Caswell Court House until it was incorporated in 1833 as Yanceyville. When the boundaries of the town were established, Yanceyville was originally drawn in the shape of a circle. For unknown reasons, the town was incorporated by the legislature three times (1833, 1877, and 1885), before its incorporation was repealed in 1899. Yanceyville would go through another incorporation and repeal before finally being incorporated for the last time in 1986. The town gets its name from Bartlett Yancey, who served in the US House from 1813-1817, and the NC Senate, where he served as Speaker of the NC Senate, from 1817-1827.

For a little more than 30 years during the 19th century, Caswell experienced what has been referred to as the “Boom Era.” From roughly 1830 to 1860, the county saw flour and lumber mills spring up, the Yarbrough Foundry and Yanceyville Silk Company came into existence and the county experienced significant agricultural success, specifically in tobacco. In 1839, a slave named Stephen discovered the process of flue-curing tobacco, which became known as “bright leaf tobacco.” Stephen’s discovery led North Carolina to be a leader in the tobacco industry and catapulted Caswell to an economic leader in the state.

While the 1860s brought an end to that economic boom, it also ushered in a period of political conflict and rebellion. In 1868, tobacco trader and agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Republican John Stephens, unseated the long-time Democratic incumbent in Caswell County, Bedford Brown. Stephens’ work to politically organize the county’s Black population made him a target among white conservative Democrats who resisted the political shifts ushered in during Reconstruction. As a result, the Klan’s presence amplified in Caswell and sentenced Stephens to death in May of 1870, which was carried out by the Klan in the Caswell County Courthouse. In July 1870, Gov. William Holden declared Caswell in a state of insurrection, which resulted in Holden imposing martial law and sending troops to Yanceyville to quash the rebellion instigated by the Klan. This period became known as the Kirk-Holden War.

While a number of North Carolina’s early politicians hailed or had ties to Caswell, the county has also been home to some of North Carolina’s most celebrated makers and artists. Originally born in Virginia, master craftsman Thomas Day called Milton beginning in 1817, when he moved with his brother at the age of 16. Day, a free Black man, was a famous 19th-century furniture and cabinet maker who opened his workshop in the Union Tavern in 1827. By 1850 he was the largest furniture maker in the state and his business was four times larger than his nearest competitor. Day’s work can be viewed in the Thomas Day House/Union Tavern in Milton, which has recently made its way onto the state’s historic register.

Born in Yanceyville in 1934, Maud Gatewood was the first female member of the Caswell County Board of Commissioners. However, Gatewood’s legacy is more likely attributed to her status as one of the state’s most important artists. Over her 55-year career, Gatewood taught at a number of institutions, including UNC-Charlotte, where she served as the founding head of the art department. She represented the state in national competitions and had her work displayed by many prominent commercial galleries and museums. Gatewood passed away in 2004. To view her work in her home county, visit the Richmond-Miles Museum and the Yanceyville Art Museum, which features the largest collect of Gatewood’s work in the world. A retrospective of Gatewood’s work is set to open at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum on June 28 and run through January 5, 2025.

Caswell County supported Democrats until 1968 when the county went for George Wallace. In 1972 the county supported Richard Nixon, then Democrats largely won the county from 1976 through 1996. Republicans, though, have won the county since 2000 by wider and wider margins. Mitt Romney narrowly won the county in 2012 by 2%. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 11% and carried the county by 18% four years later against Joe Biden. Ted Budd carried the county in 2022 by 22%.

Geography

County Seat: Yanceyville
Biggest Cities:
  • Yanceyville
  • Milton
Media Market: Greensboro

Elected Officials

County Data