Before there was an Ashe County, this territory was part of the English colony called Anson County. In 1753 it became part of the Rowan County, then part of Surry County in 1771, and part of Wilkes County in 1777. From 1784 until 1789 it was part of the State of Franklin, along with much of eastern Tennessee. From 1789 when the State of Franklin dissolved until 1792, when these lands were returned to North Carolina governmental jurisdiction as part of Wilkes County, the area would be just a part of United States territory. (This may be the basis for occasional historical references to this region as “The Lost Province.”)
In 1799, the North Carolina legislature created the County of Ashe. The name was given to honor Samuel Ashe, who had been Governor, Superior Court Judge, and a Revolutionary War patriot. The new county contained approximately 977 square miles. In 1849 approximately 320 square miles was ceded to the formation of Watauga County, and in 1859 approximately 230 square miles to the formation of Alleghany County.
One of the county’s most distinctive features is the New River. It is said to be over three hundred million years old, and is unique in that it flows North. The river has been a major reason for settlement here, as well as a popular source of recreational activities. On July 30, 1998, it became protected from major development when it was proclaimed an American Heritage River.