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George Wetmore was one of the leading Episcopal priests in North Carolina. He is buried at
Banner Elk Cemetery.
Photo courtesy Michael Hardy

Originally published: 2012-11-08 12:06:57
Last modified: 2012-11-08 12:06:57

Our Avery County: Wetmore – Unearthing forgotten history

Michael Hardy / (

Sometimes, I believe that the title of this column should be “Stumbling Through History.” That is kind of how this article came along. I set out to write something else, but found this a compelling story that needed to be shared. 

Recently, I’ve been trying to track all of the men of Civil War military age buried in Banner Elk Cemetery. Some of them fought for the North, and some for the South. But one of the interments kind of jumped ahead of the others. That is the grave of George B. Wetmore. 

You will not find anyone with the last name of Wetmore in the Avery County phone book. And it appears that Wetmore’s stay in the High Country was brief: just long enough to die and be buried here. 

George Badger Wetmore was born in New Bern on Feb. 18, 1823. His father, Ichabod Wetmore, was a local merchant, and the family eventually moved to Fayetteville. George attended the University of North Carolina, where he graduated in 1844, giving the Latin Salutatory Address. For the next couple of years, Wetmore studied law under his uncle, George H. Badger. In 1847, the North Carolina Supreme Court examined him, where he was licensed to practice law. For a number of years, he practiced law and was very active in Whig politics. In 1850, he married Rose Hall.

In 1851, Wetmore published a book entitled “An Appeal to Protestant Christians of North America, in Behalf of the Temperance Reform.” Wetmore was a lifelong believer in the Temperance movement, which is interesting, considering a Fayetteville newspaper once advertised his father selling Jamaican Rum. A Raleigh newspaper advertised in 1881 his speaking on prohibition at the Good Templar’s Hall. 

Wetmore turned from temporal matters to those of a more heavenly nature in the 1850s. He was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in Raleigh in 1855, and then as a priest in Salisbury in 1857. Somewhere in that same time period, Wetmore’s first introduction to the mountains of Western North Carolina occurred. John Preston Arthur, in his “History of Western North Carolina,” wrote that George Wetmore was assigned to the Valle Crucis mission in Watauga County. His stay appears to have been short, and Wetmore pastored churches in Davie, Rowan and Lincoln counties in the 1860s, ‘70s and ‘80s. In 1877, Wetmore received his D.D. (doctorate of divinity) from Rutherford College. For the better part of 30 years, Wetmore was active in local churches, attended statewide conventions and worked with various private schools. 

Toward the end of his life, Wetmore returned to the mountains of Western North Carolina. He worked with various Episcopal churches in Watauga and Ashe counties. Wetmore died on June 10, 1888, in Banner Elk, and was interred in the local cemetery. He was 65 years old, and left behind eight children and a number of grandchildren. 

In 1906, the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1840, in Woodleaf, Rowan County, was re-designated St. George’s Church, in honor of the life and service of George Wetmore: yet another testimony to the life of a man whose final remains lie with those of local origins.