Early European settlement in the southern end of Jackson County charted a different course than that of its northern region.

To quote from “The History of Jackson County,” that section, had “a life apart during the settlement period – it was a higher valley, remote from the commerce and population flow of the northern end.”

According to Tyler Blethen and Curtis Wood, authors of the history book chapter titled “The Pioneer Experience to 1851,” settlement of this region, which includes present-day Cashiers, differed from the area around Sylva and Webster in that pioneers came by way of South Carolina rather than via the Scotts Creek and Tuckaseigee River valleys. The Cashiers area, which was in Haywood County when the first settlers arrived before 1820, became part of Macon when it was created in 1828 and of Jackson after it was established in 1851.

Today’s vibrant Cashiers community can trace its successful existence back to two men, Barak Norton, the first white settler in Whiteside Cove; and Col. John Zachary, who with his talented sons was responsible for the area’s economic and civic development.

John Preston Arthur, describes Norton and Zachary in his book, “Western North Carolina: A History, 1730-1913.”

According to Arthur, Norton came to the Cashiers area from South Carolina around 1820, and he and family members secured state land grants in December 1838 for the parcels they settled. Born in 1777, Barak Norton lived to be 92 and died near Highlands in 1869. His wife, Mary “Polly” Nicholson Norton, was born in 1788 and lived to be 95.

Local historian Carol Bryson, author of the two-volume “Glenville and Cashiers ... From the Records,” writes that Norton and his family were well established by the time Haywood County surveyors visited his home in 1827. The men were doing field work for the Robert Love Survey, commissioned by Haywood County to mark the boundaries of settlers already in place and to describe uninhabited tracts that could then be sold at auction.

When the survey crew arrived at the Norton homestead, Barak Norton was “on top of the Blue Ridge” working at his mine, Bryson writes. Polly Norton and the couple’s 10 children were home, and Polly sent one of the boys to fetch his father. Barak arrived home in time to sit down to dinner with the visitors, who ended up staying with the Norton family for five days.

During that time, Barak Norton showed them the extent of the land he was claiming and to which he was hoping to secure title. The surveyors marked a 120-acre tract around the house (Section 76), which the crew described as “Well Watered. Improved and settled by Barak Norton.” They then described three adjoining tracts, calling them sections 77, 78 and 79, totaling 358 acres. 

Bryson reports that Norton then asked them to survey his mining claim, and the crew described a 50-acre square parcel surrounding his gold mine, calling it Section 82, and two adjoining tracts, one of 50 acres and one of 69 acres, which they marked as sections 80 and 81. Those tracts encompass most of the land that’s now Cashiers’ main business district.

There were a number of steps required to secure a state land grant, and local historian Jane Gibson Nardy outlined those steps, based on the book “North Carolina Research” in a printed copy of a talk she gave at the Cashiers Historical Society.

“It wasn’t a quick purchase,” Nardy said. “There was a four-step process to claim land. The first step was called a Land Entry which meant an individual, having found the land he wanted would make application to the nearest ‘Entry Taker’ who would transcribe the request into a volume called the Land Entry Book.

A rough description of the vacant, ungranted land that was being requested accompanied the entry. In this area the ‘Entry Taker’ was located in Franklin as the land comprising Cashiers Valley was then part of Macon County and stayed so until December of 1851. The second step of obtaining a land grant was called the ‘Land Warrant,’ which was an order to the county surveyor, authorizing him to set apart the land described in the entry. Step 3 was the ‘Plat of Survey,’ which was a map of the requested land, drawn by the surveyor.

Then came the fourth and final step which was the actual ‘Grant,’ sometimes called the ‘Patent.’ It consisted of a copy of the warrant and survey plat being recorded and a grant filled out with a copy provided to the applicant. The pioneer now officially owned the requested land. It sometimes took a number of years to complete all these necessary steps.”

Col. John Zachary (1779-1872) first came to Cashiers Valley around 1833, according to a family history prepared by Nardy, one of his descendants. Zachary, who was past 50 at the time and had lived a prosperous life in Surry (now Yakdin) County, apparently made the decision to start a new life in distant Macon (as it would be until 1851) County after financial ruin.

It seems Col. John had co-signed a loan as a favor to a friend, putting up his home and property as collateral. When the “friend” defaulted, Col. John and his family lost their home, prompting the colonel (though a Quaker, John Zachary was an officer in the Surry County militia, hence the title) to search for greener pastures.

Nardy bases this account on the transcript of a 1917 speech given at the ninth Zachary Reunion by Ralph Horace Zachary, son of Jonathan Zachary and grandson of Col. John. Ralph was a teenager when his grandfather died and lived nearby, so it’s likely he heard the story from Col. John himself, Nardy says.

“But, by an unfortunate coincidence emanating from the goodness of his heart, ready to help his fellow man in trouble, he lost his property and his home,” Ralph Zachary said in 1917. “In his depleted condition he was unable to purchase another at the prices in that community, and rather than subvert the independence of his spirit which rebelled at the idea of becoming a tenant, he preferred to seek where he could build a home of his own, however humble, even tho it be in a foreign land.”

Based on Nardy’s account, Col. John and son Alexander “Andy” Zachary arrived in 1833 and picked out the land they would settle. While Andy stayed behind to protect their future homestead, which was located in the valley between Chimneytop and Rock mountains, encompassing most of what is now High Hampton Inn, Col. John went back to Surry County to collect his wife, Sarah Roberts Zachary and the rest of his family, returning to stay the following year. In 1836 Col. John Zachary received a 640-acre state land grant, plus two 100-acre land grants adjoining the 640 acres.

While that financial ruin was devastating to Col. John and his family, it was a blessing to the future Cashiers, for the Zacharys – Col. John and sons Jefferson, Mordecai, Alfred, Jonathan and Andy were skilled artisans, writes Arthur in “Western North Carolina: A History.”

According to Arthur, Andy was a brick mason and brickmaker, who produced the first bricks made in the south end of the county and also operated a store; Alfred was a hatter who made both fur and wool hats; Mordecai was a carpenter who built a fine house that still stands; and the Zacharys built the first sawmill in the valley.

According to Nardy, Andy’s land and home were located on what is now a hiking trail on the High Hampton property, and he took in summer boarders and operated a general merchandise store next to his house. Andy sold the first piece of land for the resort that is now High Hampton to Wade Hampton III in 1855.

Bryson says the best argument for the importance of the Zachary family to Cashiers’ development is the town’s name, which, she says, can be traced to Andy Zachary’s store, based on its 1843-1849 ledger.

Despite the many stories that Cashiers Valley was named for a racehorse named Cash, or a steer by the same name, or even a hermit named Cash, Bryson says she is convinced that the name comes from the Zachary Family.

“The pages of the store ledger book contain an accounting of the individual miners and the gold-mining company of Andy Zachary,” she said. “Andy Zachary was the keeper of the ledger and the cashier, weighing the gold dust. The youngest son of the family, Jonathan Zachary chose to name the growing mining community after his brother, the ‘cashier,” when he applied to become the first postmaster for the new settlement in 1839.”

According to Bryson’s “Glenville and Cashiers” book, Col. John Zachary began building a second house around 1844. Shortly thereafter, his son, master carpenter Mordecai Zachary was crafting his Greek-revival style boardinghouse, which still stands alongside N.C. 107. Now known as the Zachary-Tolbert house, it is maintained by the Cashiers Historical Society. Col. John’s second home, once located on the High Hampton property, has been moved to a spot behind the Z-T House and is also overseen by the CHS.

For more information on the houses, contact the Cashiers Historical Society at 743-7710 or info@cashiershistoricalsociety.org or visit online at cashiershistoricalsociety.org 

Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.