"Among the active, energetic and influential men of the mountain section of the generation which has lately passed away but few, if any, were more important to that region than Nicholas W. Woodfin." (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol.II, p. 481.)
Nicholas Washington Woodfin was born in "that part of Buncombe County which has since been incorporated into Henderson" on January 29, 1810. He was the fourth son in a family of twelve children. His early childhood was typical of mountain boys in the early 1800s, but he also distinguished himself on account of his great intelligence. "He worked on the farm when of sufficient age and strength, and was taught his primary education in the family. He attended the neighborhood schools when they were in session, and continued his studies at night at home. When he had progressed as far as the common country school would carry him, he...received invaluable instruction from a highly educated lawyer, Colonel Michael Frances, so that although he did not enter college, he had superior advantages at home, and was thoroughly grounded and well read in the classics. His mind was receptive and his memory retentive, and he was a close student and an exhaustive reader." (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol.II, pp. 481-82).
Nicholas Woodfin decided to become a lawyer. "He read law under Governor Swain, who conceived a high opinion of his ability, and a few days after he attained his age, in February 1831, he was admitted to practice in the county courts, and in June of that year he attended his first court at Franklin, in Macon County. The next year he obtained his license to practice in the Superior Court. At that period Asheville was a straggling hamlet in the mountains that possessed advantages for a residence, since all the mountain roads led to it, and it was the center in intelligence and influence in the mountain regions." Woodfin settled in Asheville and set up his practice. (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, p. 482).
In 1840, Nicholas Woodfin married Eliza Grace McDowell. They had three daughters: Miss Anna Woodfin -"who is much beloved by the people of Asheville" -Mrs. Benson Jones, and Mrs. Mira Holland. (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, p. 482).
Beginning in 1844, he represented Buncombe and Henderson Counties in the State Senate for ten years. Politically, he was a Whig and favored "internal improvements and...those measures that would tend to the material and social advantages of his community in that remote and sequestered region. Indeed, it has been said of him 'that there is no name in Western North Carolina more identified for the last thirty years -that is, beginning in 1845 -with all the material, industrial and educational interests of that part of the State." (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, pp. 482-83.)
Woodfin was just as devoted to his clients as he was to his beloved mountains. "In his professional career he devoted to the study and practice of the law an energy and industry never surpassed. Not only was he engaged during the day, but at times he gave a large portion of his nights to the interest of his clients. He made himself master of the facts of every case, and never failed to present them elaborately to the court and jury. His thoroughness brought him prominence, and the interest he manifested in every cause committed to him, and his unusual success in managing his cases, brought him an extensive and lucrative practice." (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, p. 483).
Woodfin was instrumental in bringing the railroad to Asheville. He was active on the Asheville School Board and helped many young men and women receive good educations. He taught many young men the business of law without receiving any compensation, and he was always willing to lend a book from his own library to a colleague. He was a member of the Episcopal Church and served as a senior warden in his parish. (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, pp. 483-84).
Woodfin remained a devoted Whig until that party collapsed. In the days leading up to the Civil War, he thought that secession was more of a threat to the South than the election of Lincoln was. He changed sides in April 1861, when President Lincoln asked North Carolinians to join Northern troops against the seceeding states. During the war, he was superintendent of the North Carolina Salt Works, responsible for supplying the Confederacy with salt. (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, p. 485).
After the war ended, Woodfin returned to his practice in Asheville. On Sunday, May 23, 1876, he died after suffering from a severe illness for several days. He was "lamented by his entire community; esteemed not only as an ornament to his profession, but a conspicuous example of eminent citizenship." (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, pp. 485-86).
In a sermon preached after Nicholas Woodfin's death, the Reverend Dr. Buxton said of him, "He was himself thoroughly aware, like all earnest men usually are, of his own infirmities of character; but he judged himself and lived in constant repentance and the fear of God. I have seen him under most circumstances that bring out character before men. I have seen him and been with him in sickness and in health, in prosperity and adversity, in family affliction and other troubles, till finally the dark curtains of death were drawn around him, to sleep in peace! From what I have seen of him under all this circumstances, I can testify that the Word of God was his delight, his trust and support, and drew to itself his unbounded reverence and submission as a rule of life. " (1905. Ashe, Samuel. The Biography of North Carolina. Vol. II, p. 484).
Ashe, Samuel. A Biographical History of North Carolina. Vol. II. 1905.