University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sketches of the history of the University of North Carolina, together with a catalogue of officers and students, 1789-1889 online

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University of North Carolina,
















CHAPEL HILL, K C., April 8th, 1889.

I wish it to be understood that the following sketches of the Univer-
sity of North Carolina are not intended as a grave history for the public,
but chiefly for the gratification of the students, old and new. I have
been compelled to prepare them hastily, even hurriedly, while much
engrossed with other duties. I have not hesitated to use extracts from
my published addresses, now out of print. Fragmentary and imper-
fect as the sketches are, I venture to hope that they will be of interest,
not only to those for whom they are especially designed, but to all
friends of our University.









It might be claimed that the Centennial year of American In-
dependence was likewise the Centennial year of the University of
North Carolina, although the charter was not granted until 1789.

In December, 1776, a Convention, then called Congress, of
enlightened men met at Halifax to form a Constitution for the
new free State of North Carolina, under whose protection the
people could maintain the Independence they had declared a few
months before.

Without an army or navy, they had entered on a war for exist-
ence with a nation powerful, populous and wealthy, having the
tradition of invincibility, which had, under Marlborough, within
the century, broken the power of the Great Louis of France had,
with heavy hand, crushed the fortunes of the Pretender at Culloden
had sent Wolfe to storm the Heights of Quebec ; had swept the
seas with her fleets. The Revolution, if it failed, was Rebellion. The
penalty of defeat was the doom of traitors. The State had barely
two hundred thousand inhabitants, widely scattered and badly
armed, and divided in sentiment. But notwithstanding these
odds, this Congress, with wisdom unparalleled and faith approach-
ing sublimity, provided for the interests of unborn children. They
knew that those children would not be capable of freedom with-
out education. They knew there could be no education without


2 Sketches of the History of the

teachers. They knew that teachers could not be procured without
colleges, and they made the requirement of the University a part
of the fundamental law. In the month of December, 1776, in
the Constitution of the new State, then first adopted, are found
these golden words, written amid storms and thunderings, to be
made good when the sun shone on a free and united people :


It was an act of sagacity and courage and far-seeing statesman-
ship, prompted by the bold men of Mecklenburg, who, smarting
under the repeal of the charter of Queen's College, instructed their
delegates, John Phifer, Robert Irwin, Zaccheus Wilson, Hezekiah
Alexander, and lastly, but most prominent, Waightstill Avery,
when cannon were booming and banners were flying and soldiers
marshalling for the great death-struggle, to use all their endeavors
for the establishment of a University and its endowment and

The Revolutionary Fathers went to their honored graves. Gen-
eration after generation grew up and passed away. The old Con-
stitution, after conferring the blessing of good government for
many decades, was amended to suit the wants of a growing West.
A great civil war desolated our land and destroyed institutions
woven into the fabric of society. A race of slaves was suddenly
made a part of the governing voting element of the State. A
Constitution, superseding the old Constitution of 1776, was adopted
to carry into effect this great change, and by a singular coincidence,
exactly one hundred years after the adoption of the old Constitu-
tion, the people of the State amended the new, giving it a shape
which will probably remain essentially unchanged to a distant
period. But in all these vicissitudes and changes, showing the
settled determination of the people of North Carolina, which no
anxieties or disasters could banish from their minds, is still the
substance of those golden words of 1776 ; or rather the execution
of the mandate of the old Constitution, in part, is assumed, and
the General Assembly is directed to go on and provide for rearing
up, to the full magnitude of its usefulness, the University of the

While the Revolution was progressing, as might be anticipated,

University of North Carolina. 3

the mandate of the Constitution lay dormant. Inter arma silent
leges. When Caswell was beating McDonald at Moore's Creek
Bridge, and Campbell, Shelby, Cleveland, Sevier, Williams and
McDowell were capturing Ferguson's forces at King's Mountain,
and Cornwallis and Greene were wrestling for the victory at Guil-
ford, and Fanning was carrying as prisoner from Hillsboro the
Governor of our State, and the momentous question whether our
ancestors were patriots or traitors was still undecided, there was no
time for erecting universities. And after the war, industry must
have time for restoring plenty to wasted lands and statesmanship to
form a settled government in the place of a nerveless confederacy.
In the month of November, 1789, our State, after first a stern
refusal and then a coy hesitation of a year, entered the American
Union. In the next month of December, as if forming part of a
comprehensive plan, the charter of the University, under the pow-
erful advocacy of Davie, was granted by the General Assembly.
The Trustees under the charter comprised the great men of the
State, the good men of the State, the trusted leaders of the people.
The first named and chairman was Samuel Johnston, who, in
legislative, executive and judicial station, in war and peace, left the
impress of his wise conservatism on the State. There were James
Iredell, one of the earliest Judges of the Supreme Court of the
United States, and Alfred Moore, his successor in this high office.
There were the first Federal District Judge, Colonel John Stokes,
and John Sitgreaves, his successor. There was Hugh Williamson,
the historian, and signer of the Constitution of the United States,
a delegate to the Convention of 1787, and a long array of men
who were to become Governors : Samuel Ashe and William Rich-
ardson Davie and Richard Dobbs Spaight, Benjamin Williams and
Benjamin Smith. There were military men, who had been con-
spicuous fighters in the Revolution : General Joseph Graham,
scarred with wounds in the defence of Charlotte under Davie, the
father of the revered statesman, William A. Graham, the last exer-
tions of whose honored life were spent for the revival of the Uni-
versity ; General Thomas Person, whose hatred of injustice began
with the disastrous struggles of the Regulation. There were Colo-
nels W T illiam Lenoir and Joseph McDowell, who aided in thwart-
ing -the plans of Cornwallis by the capture of Ferguson at King's

4 Sketches of the History of the

Mountain. Of the State Judiciary we find the three Judges under
the Court law of 1777 Samuel Spencer, John Williams, and Sam-
uel Ashe, already mentioned, whose name is worthily represented
by his descendants, Thomas Samuel Ashe, of Anson, and Samuel
A. Ashe, of Raleigh ; and of others distinguished in the history of
the State Archibald McLaine and Willie Jones, bold and active
patriots, Stephen Cabarrus, long Speaker of the House of Com-
mons, and John Haywood, the popular State Treasurer. Of the
national House of Representatives, were Charles Johnson, grand-
father of the late distinguished physician, Charles E. Johnson, of
Raleigh, Joseph Dixon, James Holland and Alexander Mebane.

At the same session the General Assembly granted to the Uni-
versity all escheats and certain debts due by tax collectors during
the Revolutionary war, called arrearages. All sheriffs realize that
claims nearly ten years old of the nature of these arrearages were
likely to remain in a state of suspension for many years and so
indeed they have, even to this day.

The grant of escheats under the act of 1789 was of real value,
and by the energy and good management of the Trustees, after a
long period was the source of the endowment of the University.
Many denizens of foreign birth left no heirs, citizens of North
Carolina, and under the law as it stood until 1871, their lands
escheated to the State; and in like manner obscure soldiers, to
whom land warrants were granted for their services in the war, died
leaving no heirs to inherit their claims. Of course the revenue
from this source naturally diminished as the years rolled away
from the Revolution, and it was still further diminished by acts of
the Legislature giving the lands to a remoter heir, being a citizen,
when the next heir is an alien, and giving the widow all the
estate if her husband should die without an heir. At this day the
chances of an escheat are worth but little, as an alien stands on the
same footing with a citizen in regard to the possession of real

It was not from parsimony but hard necessity that the long ser-
vices of our patriot-soldiers, in hunger, and thirst, and cold, and
nakedness, were paid for in a paper currency, like that of which
the conquered Confederates have had such bitter experience. To
this meagre dole was added for faithful service warrants for land

University of North Carolina. 5

to be located in a country of great fertility, but the home of bears
and panthers and not friendly Indians, the western region of Ten-
nessee, then a part of the domain of North Carolina. To a private
was given 640 acres, to a Lieutenant 2,560, to a Captain 3,840, to
a Major 4,800, to a Colonel, or Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding,
7,200, to a Brigadier-General 12,000 acres. To the great General
Greene, who had by his genius retrieved the fortunes of the war
after Gates' disastrous failure, they gave 25,000 acres.

The gift of the unclaimed land warrants was to the University
like the cool waters near the parched lips of Tantalus. North
Carolina, in 1789, ceded all its territory of Tennessee to the
United States. The new State, after its admission into the Union
in 1796, claimed all the rights of sovereignty, and refused to give
effect to the grants made by North Carolina.

The State of North Carolina would never have secured an acre
of these lands. No argument but that they were to be used for
education, had any weight with the legislators of Tennessee. The
Trustees" sent to plead their cause one of the most enlightened mem-
bers and most skilled in the arts of managing men, Judge Archi-
bald Murphy. Even he, with all his eloquence and address, was
forced to a hard compromise. Two-thirds of the warrants were
given to the College of East Tennessee and the College of Cum-
berland, and one-third to the University of North Carolina. It
was not until 1835, after suffering untold privations, staggering
under a debt of nearly $40,000 to the banks, that funds were
gathered from this source and the donations of Smith, Gerrard and
others, to lift its head above the waters.

It is pleasant to note that by the providence of our ancestors the
enemies of our country's freedom contributed, albeit unwillingly, to
the enlightenment of our people. But it is of pathetic interest to
know that the ignorant soldiers of America, who, after countless
sufferings, filled uncoffined graves, were not only gaining liberty
for their country but, unintentional benefactors, were building a
great institution of learning. They did glorious work, those
" unnamed demigods of history," as Kossuth calls them, blindly
suffering martyrdom for a cause they dimly understood, but that
cause triumphant and leading to never ending blessings of free
institutions and liberal education.

6 Sketches of the History of the

With the exception of $10,000 loaned by the State for erecting
buildings (afterwards converted into a gift), all the benefactions of
the General Assembly were only of such interests as could be of
little, if any, advantage to the State. This is expressed in the
preamble of one of the acts : " Whereas, The State possesses certain
funds from which no profit is yielded, but which by the zeal,
activity and united exertions of the Trustees of the University,
might be rendered productive," &c. The abortive gift of uncol-
lected taxes has been mentioned.

The gift of confiscated property was likewise of this nature,
though at one time great revenues were expected from it. The
Trustees had collected a handsome sum from debts due Henry
Eustice McCulloch, the agent of Lord Granville, for lands sold by
him prior to the .Revolution, when behold, our Conference Court,
then the Supreme tribunal, decided in accordance with the Treaty
of Peace of 1783, that these debts could not be taken from McCul-
loch, and the University was forced by the Legislature to disgorge
a rare instance of a corporation performing an act so disagree-
able and "contrary to nature."

The Trustees met for organization on the 18th of December,
1789, Charles Johnson being chairman. The journal kept by one
of the earliest Treasurers, Walter Alves, written with wonderful
neatness and accuracy, gives the names of the subscribers. The
largest donations were by William Cain of the Orange District,
and Alfred Moore of the Cape Fear, great-grandfather of a dis-
tinguished son of the University, Alfred Moore Waddell. The
charter was accepted and steps were taken to solicit subscriptions.
Da vie cheered the hearts of the Trustees by announcing the gift by
Benjamin Smith of warrants for 20,000 acres of land.

The second meeting was likewise in Fayetteville, November
15th, 1790.

Col. William Lenoir, a hero of King's Mountain, the Speaker
of the Senate, on the nomination of the Speaker of the House,
Stephen Cabarrus, was made President of the Board. James
Taylor, of Rockingham, was elected Secretary, while to the posi-
tion of Treasurer, the State Comptroller, John Craven, was ap-
pointed. Death had invaded their ranks. The old heroes were
dropping off. The venerable Robert Dixon was succeeded by

University of North Carolina. 7

James Kenan, grandfather of our Attorney General, and battle-
scarred Judge Winston by Alex. Martin, who, like our Vance, had
been Governor in times of war, and after a long interval in times
of peace, occupied the executive chair. James Hogg proceeded to
the welcome duty of presenting to the Board patents for the
20,000 acres of land, donated at the preceding meeting by
Governor Smith. On the resignation, by Col. Lenoir, of the
chairmanship, Governor Alexander Martin was chosen as his suc-
cessor. It was agreed that the places of future meetings should be
selected by ballot. Hillsborough was the choice of the Board for
the next meeting, and also for that of August, 1792. It was at
this meeting that steps were taken for the purpose of locating the
institution. The attendance of members proved the interest taken
in the question. There were present 25 trustees out of 40, the
largest proportion ever known. The largest number in these days
of easy railroad travelling, is 39 out of 80, in 1885, when six
professors were elected. Such patriotic sacrifice of comfort in the
heated dog-days deserves to be recorded. Those who answered to
the roll-call were :

Alex. Martin, Governor, of Guilford ; Hugh Williamson, the
historian, of Chowan ; Benjamin Williams, afterwards Governor,
of Moore ; John Sitgreaves, Judge United States District Court,
of Craven; Fred. Hargett, State Senator, of Jones; Richard
Dobbs Spaight, the elder, elected Governor that year, of Craven,
who was afterwards killed in a duel by John Stanly ; Wm. H.
Hill, member of the Legislature and of Congress, of JSTew Hanover ;
James Hogg, merchant, of Cumberland ; Samuel Ashe, then Judge,
afterwards Governor, New Hanover; John Hay, lawyer, Cumber-
land ; Wm. Barry Grove, member of Congress, Cumberland ; Col.
Wm. Polk, member of the Legislature, then of Mecklenburg ;
Judge John Williams, Granville ; Alexander Mebane, afterwards
member of Congress, Orange; Joel Lane, member of Senate,
Wake ; Alfred Moore, then member of the Legislature, afterwards
Judge Supreme Court, Brunswick ; Willie Jones, Halifax ; Ben-
jamin Hawkins, Senator in Congress, Warren ; John Hay wood,
State Treasurer, then of Edgecornbe; Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Mc-
Corkle, a distinguished preacher and teacher, Rowan ; Wm. Rich-
ardson Davie, afterwards Governor, Halifax ; Joseph Dixon, State

8 Sketches of the History of the

Senator, afterwards member of Congress, Lincoln; Joseph Mc-
Dowell, Jr., member of the Legislature, Burke; Wm. Porter,
member of the Legislature, Rutherford ; Adlai Osborne, Clerk of
the Superior Court of his county, a well-read and influential
man, Rowan.

According to localities, counting New Hanover as an Eastern
county, and Cumberland, Warren and Guilford as Middle counties,
there were ten Eastern, nine Middle, and six Western Trustees.

Willie Jones submitted a motion, which was adopted, that the
Board would not select any particular spot, but would choose by
ballot a place with liberty of locating within fifteen miles thereof.
This was all the more proper because the charter provided that the
site should not be within five miles of the permanent seat of gov-
ernment or any court house an incidental proof of the drunken-
ness and rowdyism of the country during court week, horrible
specimens of which may be witnessed to this day.

The places in nomination were as follows : Raleigh, in Wake
county ; Williamsboro, in Granville county ; Hillsboro, in Orange
county; Pittsboro, in Chatham county; Cyprett's Bridge, over
New Hope, in Chatham ; Smithfield, in Johnston county ; Goshen,
in Granville county.

The Board proceeded to ballot, and Cyprett's, or Cipritz, Bridge,
now Prince's Bridge, on the great road from Newbern by Raleigh
to Pittsboro, was chosen. The choice was a natural one. The
fifteen miles radius allowed a range over wide areas of Chatham,
Wake and Orange, from the highlands of New Hope to the hills
of Buckhorn, from the Hickory Mountain to the eminences over-
looking our beautiful capital on the west. The same influences
which secured that the capital should be located within ten miles
of Isaac Hunter's plantation, in Wake county, that is, as near the
centre of the State as possible, carried this vote.

On the 4th of August, 1792, the Board adopted an ordinance to
carry into effect the selection of the University site within the circle
described. One commissioner from each Congressional District
was appointed by ballot. There were from the Morganton District,
Wm. Porter, of Rutherford ; the Salisbury District, John Hamil-
ton, of Guilford ; the Hillsboro District, Alex. Mebane, of Orange ;
the Halifax District, Willie Jones, of Halifax ; the Edenton District,

University of North Carolina. 9

David Stone, of Bertie ; the Newbern District, Frederick Hargett,
of Jones; the Wilmington District, Wm. H. Hill, of New Han-
over; the Fayetteville District, James Hogg, of Cumberland.
They were to meet in Pittsboro on November 1st, 1792, prepared
to visit in person all places deemed eligible.

At the appointed time a majority convened in Pittsboro, viz :
Hargett, Mebane, Hogg, Hill, Stone and Jones. It was an excel-
lent committee. Senator Hargett had already assisted as Com-
missioner in locating and laying out the city of Raleigh. Alex-
ander Mebane had been a member of the Convention which framed
the State Constitution and a useful officer of the Revolutionary
army. He long served the county of Orange in the State Legis-
lature and the year after this was elected to the Congress of the
United States. He was father of James Mebane, first President
of the Dialectic Society, who attained the honor of the Speakership
of the House of Commons, and grandfather of another alumnus
of the University, the respected Giles Mebane, once Speaker of the
Senate. James Hogg was an influential merchant, afterwards of
Hillsborough, among whose descendants are the Binghams, Nor-
woods and Webbs of Orange, and Dr. Wm. Hooper, an eminent
professor of the University. Wm. H. Hill, a descendant of Gov-
ernor Yeamaus, was an able lawyer of Wilmington, afterwards
State Senator and member of Congress. David Stone, then a mem-
ber of the House of Commons from Bertie, afterwards Governor and
Senator of the United States, was a well educated and accomplished
young man. Willie Jones was one of the most active and influen-
tial men of the Revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods, as
chairman of the Committee of Safety, wielding executive authority
in 1776, a member of the Continental Congress.

We have the journal of the proceedings of these Commissioners
as, in the beginning of November, ninety-seven years ago, they
started from Pittsboro to view the various points offered for their
choice. Great efforts were made for the location at Haywood, in
the forks of Haw and Deep rivers, likewise a competitor with
Raleigh for the seat of government. An offer was made of six
hundred and forty acres of land to secure the selection of the
Cross Roads in Wake, near Cary, where then lived Nathanael
Jones, called of White Plains, to distinguish him from Nathanael

10 Sketches of the History of the

Jones of Crabtree. Ten other places were tendered, mainly in
the county of Chatham, but in far-sighted liberality, the men of
Chapel Hill and its vicinity exceeded all others. I give their
names, because they should be had in especial remembrance by the
lovers of the University :

Colonel John Hogan, two hundred acres; Benjamin Yergan,
fifty-one ; Matthew McCauley, one hundred and fifty ; Alexander
Piper, twenty-six ; James Craig, five ; Christopher Barbee, two
hundred and twenty-one ; Edward Jones, two hundred ; Mark
Morgan, one hundred and seven ; John Daniel, one hundred and
seven ; Hardy Morgan, one hundred and twenty. Total, one
thousand one hundred and eighty acres, of which eight hundred
and forty were in one body.

Let me describe the spot more particularly, as it appeared to the
eyes of the Commissioners.

The construction of railroads has made a wonderful change in
the relative importance of our public highways. In the old days
those who made tobacco rolled it away to Petersburg, the hogs-
heads being at once the wagon and the wheels for carriage. Those
who made corn, generally converted it into hogs and drove them
on foot to Philadelphia or Charleston. Wheat was ground into
flour and sent by wagon to distant markets to Fayetteville, Wil-
mington, Newbern and Petersburg. The corn and rye not fed to
swine was changed to whisky and the fruit into brandy, and that
which escaped the capacious throats of the neighborhood drinkers,
was peddled along the road side to the rural drinkers or sold in
bulk to the village shops. In violation of all rules of political
economy, a man was at the same time an agriculturist, a manu-
facturer, a transporter, a wholesale merchant, a retailer, and a
voracious consumer.

The returning wagons carried home supplies of molasses and
sugar, iron and salt, shot and powder and flints, not forgetting the
ribbons and combs and such paraphernalia, that ladies in all ages
will obtain to gild the refined gold of their personal charms. They
were the vehicles also of the news of the day, there being no post-
office nearer than Tarboro. The wondering neighbors heard from
these drivers what was going on in the big world that Washing-
ton had consented to accept a second term of the Presidency, that

University of North Carolina. 11

the heads of the King and Queen of France had rolled into the
guillotine basket, that the allied armies had been driven back
from the Rhine ; and then what has proved to be of more impor-
tance than all the victories of armies or the crownings of kings,
that a Yankee schoolmaster, named Whitney, had invented a ma-
chine for picking seed out of cotton, and every old lady paused in
the musical whirr of her spinning wheel to listen to the astounding
intelligence, not more than three months old, that in the old coun-
try a man named Arkwright was spinning yarn by water power,
and more incredible still, a preacher named Cartwright was weav-
ing cloth by wood and iron instead of human muscles.

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Online LibraryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillSketches of the history of the University of North Carolina, together with a catalogue of officers and students, 1789-1889 → online text (page 1 of 23)