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The history of Madison County can be explored at the Rural Life Museum on the campus of Mars Hill College. For information about current exhibits, call Cassie Robinson, Director of the Southern Appalachian Center, at 828-689-1424.

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In 1783 the newly formed Government of the United States of America opened the land west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most of the land was granted to veterans of the Revolutionary War. One of the first known settlers was Samuel Davidson in 1784. He was soon killed by the Cherokee Indians. Many of the early settlers from Scotland and Ireland chose this place because it was more like their homeland. Many of their ways and customs still thrive in these beautiful mountains.

At that time the large area of land that is now Madison County was a part of Rutherford and Burke counties. Buncombe was carved off partly from Rutherford and partly from Burke. It became Buncombe in 1792 and it then covered what is now 11 counties. These counties were sliced off Buncombe a few at a time. Between 1792 and 1851 Madison was a part of Buncombe county.

Madison County, North Carolina was formed in 1851 from Buncombe and Yancey Counties. It was named for President James Madison. The county seat of Marshall (originally called Lapland) was named for U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall. The western county is bounded by the state of Tennessee to the west, Yancey County on the North, Buncombe County on the east and Haywood County on the south.

In 1870 the aggregate value of real estate in Madison County was $284,272 with 207,616 acres of land listed. Total land valuation was $279,711 and town property, $4,700.

The Name of Madison County
In 1770 the frontier had contacted the Appalachian mountain chain but showed little penetration.  During the period from 1790 - 1800 western North Carolina was made up of three large counties; Macon, Rutherford and Burke.  What is now Madison County was nearly bisected on a north-westerly course, with Big Laurel in Burke County.

By 1800 the frontier had moved westward to include the wouthern and eastern quarter of Ohio, the bulk of Kentucky, the north-eastern half of Tennessee, and North Carolina except for the south western portion beyond the Pigeon and Broad Rivers watershed.  During the period 1800 to 1830 Madison County lay entirely within the confines of buncombe County which in 1810 had a population of 9,277.

About 1810, Haywood County was formed from the western portion of buncombe County and from the north eastern portion of Macon County.  This was the start of a division trend which reached a peak after 1860 when Jackson County was formed from Macon and Henderson lands.  Polk from Rutherford lands.  Transylvania from Henderson and Jackson lands, and Mitchell from McDowell, Burke and Caldwell as well as Watauga lands.

During the 1830 - 1850 period, Yancey County encompassed the eastern part of Madison County and Henderson County was formed from the southern portion of Buncombe County.  During the 1850 - 1860 period, Yancey County lost much of its eastern land to the formation of Watauga and McDowell Counties.

In 1851 Madison County was formed from Buncombe County and the western part of Yancey County.  In 1870, Unicoi County, Tennessee, was formed from a part of Washington County, Tennessee.  It is interesting to note that the record would show that a family living in these "changing areas" would have apparently moved from Burke County to Buncombe County to Yancey County and finally to Madison County without ever having left their original homestead.


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