History of Burke County
Although many will begin Burke County’s history recounting 18th century settlements, Burke County’s first European inhabitants were actually residents of Fort San Juan. Built in 1567 by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo, the Fort was built near the Native American town of Joara, just a few miles north of present day Morganton.
Over 100 artifacts unearthed at the Berry Site provide evidence that Fort San Juan predates Jamestown by 40 years and the Lost Colony of Roanoke by 20 years. For additional details visit www.exploringjoara.org.
Native Americans burned Fort San Juan and the other five Spanish forts established in the Catawba and Yadkin river valleys in 1568. The Spanish set their sights elsewhere, setting the stage for English settlements of the 18th century.
In 1777, the state legislature created two new counties. One was named for John Wilkes, an Englishman, and the other was named for an Irishman, Dr. Thomas Burke, a poet, physician and attorney.
Eventually Catawba, Alexander, Caldwell, Avery, Yancey, Mitchell, Madison, Buncombe, McDowell, Haywood, Swain, Rutherford and present day Burke counties were carved from the area originally designated as Burke County. Washington County, Tennessee was also taken from Burke when Tennessee was part of North Carolina.
Burke County’s history is flavored with spicy tales of intrigue, murder, courage and patriotism, and tales from the earliest governmental authority for the western portion of the state.
To learn more about the history of Morganton, Valdese and Burke County, visit the following:
Overmountain Victory Trail www.ovta.org
Legend of Frankie Silvers www.visitburkecounty.com/frankiesilver.htm
Waldensian Heritage Museum waldensianheritagemuseum.org
19th Century Gold and Silver Mining historync.org/goldmining.htm
Senator Sam Ervin www.samervinlibrary.org