Vance, Zebulon Baird

submitted by Ruth O. Szittya
On 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.

vanceZebulon 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.

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.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 Black Dome.

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.

–Heritage I, article #646, p. 355

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