The Avery's

A man does not have to be cruel, tough or mean to be respected.

                                                                                                    - Frank Vance -

Avery County was named after Colonel Waightstill Avery.  Waightstill Avery, one of eleven children, was born to Humphrey and Jerusha Morgan Avery. May 10, 174 in Groton, Connecticut.  His great, great grandfather, Christopher Avery had reached Massachusetts in the Puritan migration of the 1630's.  He was from the Parish of Ipplepen in Devonshire, England.

Waightstill had nine brothers and one sister, all born in Groton, Conn. as follows:  Humphrey (1725);  William (1726);  Soloman (1729);  Samuel (1731); James (1733);  Jerusha ( 1735);  Palmes (1737);  Christopher (1739);  Isaac (1743);  and Nathan (1746).

In 1766 at the age of 25 he graduated from Princeton with honors and delivered a Latin salutatory.  After this he studied law in Maryland and for a short time practiced in that state.  About 1770 he came to North Carolina, lived in Salisbury about a year, then settled in Charlotte where he practiced law in the courtrooms of Mecklenburg, Rowan, Tryon and Anson Counties, North Carolina.

Before and during the Revolution, he was connected with most of the conventions held in North Carolina.  He was one of the group which wrote the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence; of the Hillsboro Congress which formed a plan of government for the state; a member of the Halifax Convention of 1776 when it instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence; also a delegate from Mecklenburg County to the convention which drafted the State Constitution of 1776.  He was appointed the first attorney general of North Carolina under the new constitution.

In 1778 when Andrew Jackson was young, Col. Avery an avowed Presbyterian and a Puritan, accepted a challenge to fight a duel.  This was in accordance with the ethics of the times.  In a criminal case before the court of Jonesboro, Avery had been severe in his comments upon some of the legal positions taken by Andrew Jackson.  Jackson wrote a challenge and gave it to his critic.  The combatants met and a shot fired from each pistol well above the heads of the respective adversaries settled the matter and put everyone in a jocular mood.  The two men left the ground very good friends.

Dueling Traditions  


Hand Pointing - Right

Dueling in America                     

Hand Pointing - Right

Dueling - History of Western North Carolina

Hand Pointing - Right

The Rules of Dueling


The duties of Avery's office took him much to New Bern, N. C. where he met the young widow Leah Probart Franks.  They were married and he moved to his wife's plantation in Jones County near New Bern.  In a short time after this, to escape the wretchedness of malaria, he acquired a large tract of land in the valley of the Catawba River from "Hunting John" McDowell in Burke County.  Here he established his home which he called Swan Ponds.  His three children, one boy and three girls, were born here.

Polly Mira (Aug 24, 1779) married Caleb Poor in 1796 and second time in 1823 Jacob Summey of Asheville, N.C.

Elizabeth (Aug 1782) married William Ballard Lenoir of Tennessee in  1802.

Isaac Thomas (Sept 22, 1785) married June 27, 1815 at Belvidere, Burke County, N. C. Harriett Eloise Erwin, daughter of Col. William Willoughby and Matilda (Sharpe) Erwin.  She was born at Belvidere.

Selina Louise (Oct 27, 1788) married 1807 Thomas Lenoir of Fort Defiance, N. C.  He was a brother of sister Elizabeth's husband.

He resumed the private practice of law and began to travel the western circuit.   He represented Burke County in the lower house of the Legislature five times and was in the Senate during the term of 1796.  Col. Avery became an early member of Quaker Meadows Presbyterian Church. In 1783 he was instrumental in obtaining a charter for Morgan Academy, the first institution for formal education in Burke County.  In 1784 he was appointed to a commission to select a site and acquire land for the purpose of constructing a courthouse in Burke County.  He continued the practice of law until 1801 when he was thrown from his horse, injuring his right leg so severely that he was never again able to walk, though he often served as a judge of the county court.  He was a gentleman of the old school and until his death wore knee breeches, powdered wigs and the clothes of the time of George Washington. The later years of his life were spent at Swan Ponds with his wife, Leah, who survived him eleven years.  He died in the judges chambers at the courthouse in Morganton Sept 30, 1819 and was buried in the family graveyard at Swan Ponds.  

Isaac Thomas, the only son of Col. Waightstill, inherited Sean Ponds and he and his wife, Harriett, reared 16 children.  His eldest son, William Waightstill Avery was born May 25, 1816.  William Married Corrina M. Morehead, the daughter of John Motley Morehead, the Governor of North Carolina.  Avery became a lawyer and a senator.  At Marion, N.C. in the fall of 1851, Avery was beaten with a cowhide whip by Samuel Fleming, a merchant from Burnsville, who was a participant in a lawsuit in which Avery Appeared as legal counsel for Ephraim Greenlee.  Avery was unarmed and a smaller man than Fleming.  He could not defend himself.  Several weeks later Fleming came to Morganton bragging of his courage and making unpleasant comments about Avery.  When Fleming appeared in the courtroom and stood five feet from Avery and near the presiding judge, Avery shot Fleming dead where he stood.  Avery was brought to trial for murder but was acquitted on the grounds of extreme provocation leading to temporary insanity.  Avery remained popular in the world of politics and law.  

William Waightstill Avery died July 3,1864 from wounds he received on the Winding Stairs about 20 miles from Morganton when the 1st Regiment N.C. Troops were overtaken by Kirk's raiders.  He is buried in Morganton.  His brother Col. Isaac Erwin was killed exactly one year before, July 3, 1863 at Gettysburg.  Avery lead the attack of Cemetery Hill on a white horse, the only mounted man of the command.  He was struck by a ball at the base of the neck and fell from the saddle.  As he lay among the wounded and dying, he brought out paper and pencil and wrote in uncertain letters to his aide, Captain McPherson.  "Major tell my father I died with my face to the enemy, I. E. Avery."  The original note is now in the North Carolina State Archives.  His body was brought by his faithful servant, Elijah, in a cart to Williamsport where it was buried.  After the war, overzealous Confederates moved the body to a Confederate Cemetery, but the location has never been found.  A third brother, Clark Moulton Avery was several times wounded.  After being wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, and lying on a litter, he was again hit in the body, neck and arm which was shattered by a minie ball.  His arm was amputated and he was moved to the Orange County Courthouse where he was nursed until his death from infection six weeks later on June 18, 1864.  His body was eventually brought back to Morganton for burial.  A fourth brother, Willoughby Francis, was wounded at Sharpsburg, Gettysburg and seriously  at Spotsylvania.  Only a skillful operation saved him there.  When the war ended he was 22 years old and plagued by his crippling wounds.  He survived the war only eleven years.  The four boys father, Isaac Thomas, seemed to give up his will to live at the news of the death of his third son.  Isaac Avery died the last day of December1864.

Before William Waightstill's death at Winding Stair, he had a son born on his plantation in Mitchell County.  His name was also William Waightstill and he was born September 3, 1863.  He became an inventor, manufacturer, miner and farmer.  Before his death, he had a son also named William Waightstill, born in Plumtree in 1914.  He also became a miner and farmer.  His son William Waightstill, Jr.  became the Avery County Extension Agent and a vital part of the Avery County Community.

Avery Family Papers 


Hand Pointing - Right


Grave of William Waightstill Avery (1914-1980)

Yellow Mountain Church Cemetery

Avery County North Carolina