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Burke County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of 2010, the population was 90,912. Its county seat is Morganton. The symbol of Burke County is Table Rock.

Morganton, North Carolina

Downtown Morganton


Native Americans of the Mississippian culture inhabited the county long before Europeans arrived in the New World. The largest Mound Builder settlement was at Joara, a 12-acre site and regional chiefdom near present-day Morganton. It was the center of the largest Native American settlement in North Carolina, dating from about 1000 A.D. and expanding into the next centuries

In 1567 a Spanish expedition arrived and built Fort San Juan, claiming the area for the colony of Spanish Florida. They had been sent by the governor at Santa Elena, Parris Island in South Carolina. Captain Juan Pardo, leader of the expedition, left about 30 soldiers at the fort while continuing his exploration. In the spring of 1568 the Indians attacked the fort, killing the soldiers and burning the fort. Introduction of European diseases and takeover by larger tribes led to Native American abandonment of the area. It would be centuries before the next Europeans - English, Scots-Irish and Germans - attempted to settle here again.

In 1777, Burke county was formed from Rowan County. It was named for Thomas Burke, a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1781 and Governor of North Carolina from 1781 to 1782. The western Piedmont was settled by many Scots-Irish and German immigrants in the mid- to late 18th century. They were generally yeoman farmers and fiercely independent. Very few families were slaveholders.

The county was divided over the years to form other jurisdictions. In 1791 parts of Burke County and Rutherford County were combined to form Buncombe County. In 1833 parts of Burke County and Buncombe County were combined to form Yancey County. In 1841 parts of Burke County and Wilkes County were combined to form Caldwell County. In 1842 additional parts of Burke County and Rutherford County were combined to form McDowell County. Finally, in 1861 parts of Burke County, Caldwell County, McDowell County, Watauga County, and Yancey County were combined to form Mitchell County.

Burke County citizens participated in the Battle of Kings Mountain that pitted Appalachian frontiersmen against the loyalist forces of the British commander Ferguson at Kings Mountain, SC in the American Revolution, rather than waiting for him to come to them, militiamen throughout the Blue Ridge crossed over the mountains and thus were called the "Over Mountain Men".

Law and government

Burke County is a member of the regional Western Piedmont Council of Governments.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 515 square miles of which 507 square miles is land and 8 square miles is water. The county contains portions of two lakes: Lake James along its western border with McDowell County and Lake Rhodhiss along its northeastern border with Caldwell County

Notable residents

  • Colonel Samuel Ervin, (1810-1900), Morganton politician.
  • Sam Ervin, (1896-1985), chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee.
  • William Waightstill Avery, (1816-1864), member of the Congress of the Confederate States from North Carolina.
  • Terrance McFarland, (1963-), linebacker for Notre Dame football.
  • Etta Baker, (1913-2006), Piedmont Blues guitarist and singer.
  • Joe Cheves, retired golf pro.

Cities & Townships

  • Connelly Springs
  • Drexel
  • Glen Alpine
  • Hildebran
  • Icard
  • Jonas Ridge
  • Linville
  • Lovelady
  • Lower Creek
  • Lower Fork
  • Morganton
  • Quaker Meadows
  • Rhodhiss
  • Rutherford College
  • Silver Creek
  • Smoky Creek
  • Upper Creek
  • Upper Fork
  • Valdese

Township Locations of Burke County of Western North Carolina


As of the census of 2010, there were 90,912 people, 33,964 households residing in the county out of which 5.9% had children under the age of 5, 22.5% had children under the age of 18 and 15.6% had persons 65 years old and over. The average persons per household was 2.68. The population density was 177 per square mile. There were 39,800 housing units at an average density of 77 per square mile.

  • White persons - 84.4%
  • Black persons - 6.6%
  • American Indian and Alaska Native persons - 0.4%
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander - 0.3%
  • Asian persons - 3.5%
  • Persons reporting two or more races - 1.8%
  • Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin - 5.1%

The median income for a household in the county was $36,177. About 17.4% of the population were below the poverty level.

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