William Waightstill Avery

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William Waightstill Avery (1816–1864) was a North Carolina politician and lawyer. Born at Swan Ponds in Burke County, North Carolina, he was the brother of Isaac E. Avery, the son of Isaac Thomas Avery, and the grandson of Waightstill Avery. In 1846 Avery married Mary Corinna Morehead, the daughter of Gov. John Motley Morehead.

At Marion, N.C. in the fall of 1851, Avery was beaten with a cowhide whip by Samuel Fleming, a merchant from Burnsville, who was a participant in a lawsuit in which Avery appeared as legal counsel for Ephraim Greenlee. Avery was unarmed and a smaller man than Fleming. He could not defend himself. Several weeks later Fleming came to Morganton bragging of his courage and making unpleasant comments about Avery. When Fleming appeared in the courtroom and stood five feet from Avery and near the presiding judge, Avery shot Fleming dead where he stood. Avery was brought to trial for murder but was acquitted on the grounds of extreme provocation leading to temporary insanity.

A Democrat, Avery served in the North Carolina House of Commons and later in the North Carolina Senate to which he was elected Speaker in 1856. He ran for Congress in 1858, but a split among the Democrats led to a victory by Zebulon B. Vance.

In 1860 Avery was a representative to the Democratic Party Convention in Charleston. He had a prominent role on the committee which wrote the party platform, which divided the party over how to address the issue of slavery, particularly the Fugitive Slave Act. Due to this, there was a later convention held in Baltimore which did not include delegates from several slave states and divided the Democratic party leading up to the election of 1860.

After North Carolina seceded from the union in 1861, Avery was chosen to represent the state in the Provisional Confederate Congress. Then, he returned to Burke County to raise a regiment for the Confederate States Army. He died in Morganton from wounds received in a skirmish with a party of Tennessee Unionists in 1864.

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