Bartlett Yancey of Caswell County served as a Congressman and legislator before dying at the early age of forty-two. Yancey’s goal was to be a United States Senator but was never realized. However, his skill as a lawyer and as a Congressman ensured his position in both the state and national political arena. Despite his death at a young age, Yancey contributed significantly to both his own Caswell County and to other parts of North Carolina, leading to the renaming of Yanceyville and the naming of Yancey County, both in 1833.
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Yancey was born in 1785, the tenth child of Bartlett Yancey and Nancy Graves in Caswell Courthouse, present-day Yanceyville. He attended local schools until the age of fifteen, at which time he began teaching, first at a local school then at the Caswell Academy, which opened in 1803. Yancey taught until 1805, at which time he began attending the University of North Carolina. In 1807 Yancey left the University to study law under Archibald D. Murphey in Hillsborough. Upon earning his license, Yancey returned to his native county and to practice law in 1809.
In 1813 Yancey was elected to the United States House of Representatives from North Carolina, defeating his mentor Murphey in the election. He served as a Republican Congressman between 1813 and 1817, aligning himself closely with prominent political figures such as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. While serving, Yancey also acted as chairman for the Committee on Claims, and often acted for Henry Clay as Speaker of the House when Clay was absent from session. In 1817, Yancey refused re-nomination and returned to his Caswell County law practice.
From 1817 to 1827 Yancey represented Caswell County in the North Carolina Senate. He was unanimously elected Speaker of the Senate during his first term, and retained the position throughout his time in office. Yancey took an active role in the Senate, contributing to improvements in state government, including development of the North Carolina Supreme Court, advocacy of extensive internal improvements, and the 1825 creation of the Literary Fund, designed to fund the creation of public schools. Yancey also fought for the extension of population-based representation to the western parts of North Carolina, which was finally achieved in 1835. Yancey also acted as a trustee for the University of North Carolina between 1817 and 1828. He died in August 1828 at his home in Caswell County.
Yancey was buried in present-day Yanceyville, upon his death, and his grave and family plot still remain. His home was built around 1810 for himself and his wife, Nancy Graves, a first cousin, and their children. The house was left to their daughter Ann and her husband Thomas Womack, who added significantly to its original structure. The house remains in its original location in Caswell County along with Yancey’s law offices and log barn.
Ruth Little-Stokes, An Inventory of Historical Architecture: Caswell County, North Carolina (1979)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 285-286 --sketch by W. Conard Gass
Catherine W. Bishir, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)
Daniel L. Grant, comp., Alumni History of the University of North Carolina (1924)
William S. Powell, When the Past Refused to Die: A History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977 (1977)
Hugh T. Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina (1954)