David L. Swain
A lawyer and former governor of North Carolina, David Swain became president of the university in
December 1835. In addition to his duties as administrator, Swain also served as professor of national
and constitutional law. During his term of office, critics argued that standards of scholarship were
low and the curriculum old-fashioned. But the university was prosperous under Swain's administration.
As enrollment continued to grow, new buildings were erected, the campus improved, and the faculty and
curriculum enlarged. At the end of the antebellum period, enrollment had reached nearly 500, making
the university the largest of any southern institution.
Swain remained hopeful that secession and the Civil War could be avoided, but after the war broke out,
he supported the South. When William T. Sherman reached Raleigh, it was Swain along with William A. Graham
who met with the general as representatives of Governor Zebulon B. Vance. Many North Carolinians viewed
Swain's efforts for peace, acceptance of a horse as a gift from Sherman, and his daughter's marriage to a
Union general as betrayals of the South.
Although Swain had fought to keep the university open during the Civil War, the school began to struggle
under Reconstruction, lacking in funds, political support, and students. A new Board of Trustees removed
Swain from office despite his protests. His efforts for reinstatement were halted when, on 11 August 1868,
he was thrown from his carriage, which was pulled by his “Sherman” horse. Although he appeared to be recovering,
Swain died from his injuries on 29 August.
Image from North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.