May 13, 1830 Zebulon Baird Vance was born in the house built by his grandfather,
David Vance I, in 1795 on Reems Creek north of Asheville. He was
the third of eight children of David Vance II and Mira Baird Vance;
Laura Henrietta, Robert Brank, Zebulon Baird, James Noel, Ann Edgworth,
Sarah Priscilla, David Leonidas, and Hannah Moore.
The Vances were Scotch Irish, and David Vance I, son of Irish-born Samuel
Vance, was born in Frederick County, Virginia.
Both Zebulon's grandfathers, David Vance I and Zebulon
Baird, were prominent in the early history of Buncombe County.
David Vance I married Priscilla Brank, of German descent, in 1775.
They settled in Burke County. Soon thereafter he joined Washington's forces
fighting the British. He fought at Kings Mountain and was lieutenant
colonel by the war's end. In 1792, while a representative from Burke
County in the state legislature, he was appointed to a commission to survey
the boundary between North Carolina and the new state of Tennessee.
He served as Buncombe County clerk of court from that year until his death
in 1813. His 898 acres on Reems Creek were willed to his sons Robert
and David II.
Zebulon's maternal grandfather, Zebulon Baird, was a prosperous merchant,
and built the first log courthouse and jail in Asheville. In1797
he laid off in lots about 63 acres of land for the town of Asheville.
He was one of the town's first five commissioners, and for a number of
terms represented Buncombe County in the state legislature.
David Vance II, Zebulon's father, was a captain in the War of 1812.
In 1825 he married Mira Margaret Baird, daughter of Zebulon Baird, at their
Beaverdam home. David and Mira Vance lived at the Vance homeplace
on Reems Creek with his mother, Priscilla Brank Vance, until her death
in 1837, when they bought a stockstand and inn on the Buncombe Turnpike
near what is now Marshall.
Zebulon Baird Vance, a precocious, mischievous, charismatic child, was
educated first at an old field school, then studied a year at Washington
College in Tennessee until his father's death in 1844. The family
moved to Asheville, where Robert and Zebulon attended Newton Academy irregularly
and worked to support the family. John W. Woodfin let him read law in his
office until David Swain, then president of the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, secured him a loan to study law there. He developed
strong qualities of leadership and became a spellbinding orator, who spoke
with sincerity and conviction enlivened by his ready wit and jocularity.
People flocked to hear him whenever they heard he was to speak.
On August 3, 1853 he married Harriet Espy. They had four sons:
Charles Noel, David Mitchell, Zebulon Baird Jr., and Thomas M.
That same year, as a young lawyer in Asheville, he won his first public
office as solicitor of Buncombe County. In 1854 he was elected of
the Whig ticket to the House of Commons in Raleigh.
In 1857 he was one of the search party that found the body of his former
University of North Carolina professor, Dr. Elisha Mitchell, lost on the
He was elected to the United States Senate in 1858 and served three terms
as a staunch advocate of the Union until 1861. How- ever, when the
war began, he found he could not fight his own people. He organized
the Rough and Ready Guards and joined the Confederate Army.
In 1862, without any campaigning, he was elected governor of North Carolina
where he championed personal rights and upheld the writ of habeas corpus.
At war's end he was imprisioned seven weeks in Washington and returned
to find his family in Statesville living in very straitened circumstances
and his wife ill. But his fortunes improved. He was reelected
governor in 1876. Two years later both his mother and his wife died.
In 1880 he was again elected to the United States Senate, and he remarried
- Florence Steele Martin of Kentucky. He remained in the Senate until
his death April 14, 1894. He is buried in Asheville's Riverside Cemetery.
I, article #646, p. 355