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zeb vance photo
Zebulon Baird Vance

Library of Congress photo

Vance County: Zeb's 'black baby'

Vance County was named for Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894), a North Carolina lawyer, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator and three-time governor, who was neither from, nor ever lived in, the county which bears his name.

The following excerpt from the book,
Zeb's Black Baby, by Samuel Thomas Peace Sr., published 1955, Henderson, NC, offers details about the formation of the county and how it came by its nickname:

"The formation of Vance County was accomplished largely as a political expediency. It was in 1881 when Negroes in large numbers were voting solidly Republican, Granville and Franklin Counties were nip and tuck, Democratic or Republican. From the Democratic standpoint Warren County was hopelessly Republican. But by taking from Granville, Franklin and Warren, those sections that were heavily Republican and out of these sections forming the new county of Vance, the Democratic party could lose Vance to the Republicans and save Granville and Franklin for the Democrats. [U.S.] Senator [Zebulon Baird] Vance was a Democrat. He took kindly to this move and thanked the [North Carolina] Legislature for honoring him with naming the new county after him. At the same time Senator Zebulon Baird Vance showed his humor by always referring to Vance County as 'Zeb's Black Baby.'"

    Note: 1890 US Census statistics show Vance County's total population was 17,581 persons. Of that total, the census data shows 11,143 persons (or 63.4 percent of the total) were Negro. [source: US Historical Census Data Browser at Library of Virginia]

Zeb Vance was born in the western North Carolina county of Buncombe, a son of David and Mira Baird Vance. Several websites offer historical and biographical information about his life.

new1896 Vance Co description from:
Raleigh. Winston.
M. I. & J. C. Stewart, Public Printers & Binders. 1896.

Vance is a new county, formed in 1881, out of Granville, Franklin and Warren, and combines the best qualities of those three important counties. It is well situated as to railroad communication, and also as to water-power, character of soil and diversity of crops. The county is traversed by numerous streams, with fertile lowlands, and the uplands are equally adapted to cotton, tobacco and the cereals. The cotton crop yields annually about 3,000 bales, and the annual tobacco crop averages about 2.000,000 pounds. For diversity of crops, Vance yields the palm to none. The principal market crops are tobacco and cotton, which are marketed within the county at fair and remunerative prices. The cotton is of an unusually fine staple, and the tobacco is the fine yellow, known to be the finest tobacco raised in the world. Vance is happily located in the center of the "golden belt" district. In addition to tobacco and cotton, wheat, corn and oats are raised in abundance, while the usual yield of rye, potatoes, millet, peas, beans, peanuts and melons is large and somewhat above the general average of the State. Apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, stawberries and grapes have done well and are raised in large quantities in many parts of the county. Along the railroad these fruits are raised for shipment to northern markets, and, when properly cared for, yield large profits. There are several large vineyards, where the different varieties of wine of superior quality are manufactured in quantities, and profitably.

        The county is traversed by the Raleigh and Gaston railroad, a part of the Seaboard Air Line System, and by the Oxford and Henderson railroad, a branch of the Southern Railway system.

        Henderson, the county seat, has a population of 5,000, has several tobacco factories, sales warehouses, in which are annually sold between 8,000,000 and 12,000,000 pounds of leaf tobacco, and is the market for from 6,000 to 8,000 bales of cotton. The growth of Henderson has stimulated the industrial activity of the surrounding country to very marked extent. The town proved to have been most advantageously situated. The tobacco and cotton crops here overlap each other. Until within the past few years very little or no tobacco was raised
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of Henderson, and very little or no cotton west. Now the bright yellow tobacco, for which this section is so famous, is raised in large quantities east as well as west of Henderson; and cotton is planted successfully west as well as east of this town.

        Henderson has a $125,000 cotton mill. The county and town governments are well managed and tax rates are kept at the minimum. In the county are many northern settlers who are doing well.

        Kittrell has a population of 317. Middleburg and Williamsboro have smaller populations.

        Vance county has 165,217 acres of land, valued at $863,943, and 914 town lots, valued at $616,157.

        Of domestic animals there are--1,692 horses; 499 mules; 3,508 cattle; 7,997 hogs, and 562 sheep.

        Product of taxation--for State use, $5,394.70; pensions, $1,044.45; schools, $8,573.26; county, $7,201.35.

        Population--white, 6,434; colored, 11,147; total, 17,581.

Nearly all the counties in the State raise tobacco, in patches for home consumption, if not for market; but the crop for market purposes was confined, as shown by the census of 1890, chiefly to thirty counties. Of these thirty, only eleven are accredited with over a million pounds, and these eleven counties produced two-thirds of the crop of '89. These are, in descending order of production: Rockingham, Granville, Stokes, Caswell, Person, Madison, Vance, Forsyth, Buncombe, Surry and Durham.

O. W. Blacknall, Kittrell

Tobacco Factories:
Vance     Tobacco Factory; Carolina Tobacco Co.      Henderson.
Vance     Cigars and Cigarettes; D. Aycock     Henderson.
Vance     Tobacco Factory; Davis Tobacco Co.     Henderson.

Miscellaneous Industries:
Vance . . . . . Henderson      Wagons, Buggies, &c.; Crow & Manton.
Vance . . . . . Henderson     Cannery; Henderson Canning Co.
Vance . . . . . Henderson     Sash, Doors and Blinds; Robert Baum.
Vance . . . . . Henderson     Roller Flour Mills; Silas Powell.
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Vance . . . . . Henderson     Sash, Doors and Blinds; R. Pinkston.
Vance . . . . . Henderson     Roller Flour Mill; J. S. Pothress.


        Many institutions in North Carolina, some private and some ranked in the reports of the Superintendent of Public Instruction under the above title, have merit sufficient to advance them into the class of colleges, but some of them being placed under the supervision of the public school authorities, can be considered only as they are above entitled. There are so many of them that they can only here be referred to briefly.  Among them are:

Male Academy     J. A. Gilmer      Henderson.

For the Colored Race:
Normal and Industrial  . . . . .  Kittrell.