History of Clay County
History of Clay County
According to the late J.V.A. Moore, a local historian, the first white man to settle in what was to become Clay County, was John Covington Moore during the late 1700’s, and the first emigrants moved into this section, which at the time was a part of Macon County, in the early part of the 1830s.
In 1837 General Winfield Scott was commissioned to gather all the Native Americans throughout the region and detain them in improvised stockades before taking them to the Oklahoma Territory. During this time, a Captain Hembree was sent to this section of what was to become Cherokee County (in 1839) and constructed a stockade about a mile south west of the present town of Hayesville, where the Indians were held until they had all been captured and the infamous "Trail of Tears" began. This stockade was called Fort Hembree and around it grew a business and civic center, where the people had the protection of the Fort.
Mr. George Hayes, who lived in the general area of Tomotla, was running for Representative from Cherokee County in the Fall election of 1860. It seems that he was having an uphill fight in his home territory; but when he brought his campaign to the southeastern end of the county, he found that his constituents here wanted separation from Cherokee County and a county seat of government of their own. By promising them that he would introduce legislation to form a new county, he captured most of the votes in this area and was able to swing the election. So in February of 1861 such legislation was introduced and passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.
In recognition for his services in helping create the new county, the county seat was named Hayesville in honor or Mr. Hayes, and the new county was named in honor of the great Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay.
For the most part, Clay County was taken from the then Cherokee County. However, there was a small area taken from Macon County, moving the Macon County line from the crest of Chunky Gal Mountain to the divide between the Buck Creek watershed and that of the Nantahala River.
Probably due to the unrest and uncertainties growing out of the Civil War together, a formal government for the new county was not organized until 1868. This same year, May 7, 1868, a post office opened at Hayesville. Prior to this there had been post offices serving what is now Clay County at Fort Hembree (1844), Tusquittee (1848), and Shooting Creek (1849).
Throughout the rest of the Nineteenth and early part of the Twentieth Centuries, Clay County remained a largely agricultural area. Today, a variety of industries can be found with most of these industries relating to the hospitality and retail sectors. One benefit of the past few decades has been the growth of tourism in the area.