The History of Burnsville
Independent and sturdy Scottish, English, and Irish settlers of the Carolina frontier had crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and settled the Toe River Valley by the mid-1700’s. In December, 1833, the N.C. General Assembly established a new western county to be named in honor of one of North Carolina’s most distinguished statesmen, Bartlett Yancey, of north-central Caswell County. As U.S. Congressman (1813-1817) and as speaker of the N.C. Senate (1817-1827) he was instrumental in many accomplishments that benefited the state, including the creation of an education fund that was the beginning of the N.C. Public School System. He was an advocate of correcting the inequality in representation in the General Assembly by the creation of new western counties; but he passed away on August 30, 1828, over five years before the General Assembly created a new county, named Yancey, from sections of Burke and Buncombe Counties.
On March 6, 1834, John “Yellow Jacket John” Bailey, conveyed 100 acres of land for the county seat, named Burnsville. Its namesake, Captain Otway Burns, who was serving in the General Assembly in 1833, voted for the creation of the new western county. The grateful people named their county seat for Captain Burns, a naval hero of the War of 1812. A statue of Captain Burns stands on a forty-ton, Mount Airy granite pedestal in the center of the town’s public square, which was given the official name of “Bailey Square” by the Yancey County Board of Commissioners on September 1, 1930.
The statue of Captain Burns was given to the county on July 5, 1909, by Walter Francis Burns, a grandson of the sea captain. The inscription reads: Otway Burns – Born in Onslow County, North Carolina, 1777 – Died at Portsmouth, North Carolina, 1850. Sailor – Soldier – Statesman. North Carolina’s Foremost Son in the War of 1812-1815 – For Him, This Town Is Named – He Guarded Well Our Seas, Let Our Mountains Honor Him.
For more information, call the Yancey History Association at (828) 678-9587.