Slavery and the Making of the University University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Manuscripts Department Slavery and the Making of the University

Slaves of Faculty and Townspeople

Home Home of William H. Battle, 1892. Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.

Several of the key antebellum faculty were not North Carolinians or even southerners. Joseph Caldwell, who came to the university in 1796, was a New Jersey native and graduate of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Elisha Mitchell, who arrived in 1818, was a native of Connecticut and graduate of Yale University. James Phillips was born in England, emigrated to the United States in 1815, and established a school for boys in Harlem, New York, before moving to Chapel Hill in 1826. All three were Presbyterian ministers, and all three remained at the university until their deaths. Though they were northerners, all of them also adopted the practice of owning slaves. Mitchell, in fact, became something of an apologist for slavery.

The federal census of 1800 contains a single entry for "Joseph Caldwell & the Other Professors" and indicates that two slaves were part of this "household." These slaves likely were Caldwell's personal servants, but it seems possible that they also had some university-related duties. In the entire village of Chapel Hill, there were sixty-three slaves in 1800, and well over half of them belonged to two individuals. John Taylor, who was the university's first steward, owned nineteen slaves. Pleasant Henderson, whose career had included helping Daniel Boone build the Wilderness Road, followed Taylor as steward; he also owned nineteen slaves.

After Caldwell died in 1835, David Lowry Swain became president of the university. Unlike his predecessor, he was a North Carolinian and he did not have an academic background. He had studied law, gone into politics, and been elected governor in 1832. Swain was a wealthy man by the standards of the day, owning slaves and real estate in both North Carolina and Tennessee. He, too, remained at the university until his death, in 1868.

From University Papers #40005 (connect to finding aid).

19 December 1843. David L. Swain to Charles Manly. Swain refers to "a serious accident to a servant of my house-hold" that will keep him from attending the meeting of the trustees.

31 October 1845. Caroline Scott to the trustees. Scott asks permission to remove two small buildings at the north end of Steward's Hall; she wants to use one of them as a sleeping room for her servants.

1 June 1848. Receipt. This item indicates that David L. Swain paid Willis Dunstan [?] two dollars for "underpinning negro house;" see also verso of this document.

Lucy Battle, undated. North Carolina Collection Photographic 

          Archives. Lucy Battle, undated. Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.

From Battle Family Papers #3223 (connect to finding aid).

16 February 1844. Lucy Battle in Chapel Hill to her husband, William H. Battle. Lucy writes that she "went down to _____ to procure some cloth for our men servants."

8 March 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Governor Swain has called to find out "how many slaves we have here that are taxable--the list was easily given." Lucy also reports, "The workmen (the black hands) went down to Raleigh on Friday & returned Monday. They are going on jollily with the house."

16 March 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. ". . . by the way_ you own another negro. Sue wrote that China has a fine daughter . . . your property is increasing rapidly."

29 March 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Lucy describes the progress on their new house. She writes that "Mr. Jenkins has dismissed two (Ransom & Lewis) . . . The black men have been preparing the paling at night & they called on me to pay the two who left $3."

10 April 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. She is sorry to inform him that "Ben is in decline" and she has sent him to the doctor. "I trust he will get well for he is a good negro, if he is not bright."

31 August 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. They are moving into the new house. "York has mended the wheelbarrow for which he charged me 2 1/2 --75 for a table." She goes on to explain "what Jerry is doing," i.e., various painting.

17 September 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Lucy mentions John, who is traveling with her husband. She writes that the children, along with Ben and Billy, have been concerned about John's lameness; Jerry has finished his work and left; the windows in the new house are hard to open - Lizzy can't manage them and they have to get Ben to help.

29 September 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. At the end of this letter, Lucy writes that she has promised to let Lizzy visit her parents.

8 October 1844. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. She is glad "to learn that you had received John safe and sound. I trust that he will continue so until his master is safely lodged at home." She also mentions that some of Governor Swain's negroes are sick and that she needs to purchase clothing for the children and servants. She expects "Lizzy will go down Saturday."

6 March 1845. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Lucy writes to her husband with news of Chapel Hill, informing him that she keeps Ben busy planting shrubs and flowers. "I kept him as busy as you did the day you made him plant your trees." She writes that President David Swain wanted to hire Harry for work on Steward's Hall. She assures her husband that she will "hire Harry out whenever I can." Lucy goes on to describe Billy and says that she has "heard no complaint of him nor any of them, they all seem well disposed--so far I have found enough for them to do."

15 March 1845. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. "Harry says he thinks it would be best to put the fodder house about 8 feet from the other."

William H. Battle. North Carolina Collection Photographic 

          Archives. William H. Battle, ca. 1845-1869. Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.

17 March 1845. William H. Battle to Lucy Battle. "I expect Harry will hardly finish the work I laid off for him, time enough for you to be much troubled with hiring him out. Should I be wrong . . . you may dispose of him as you think proper."

29 March 1845. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Mrs. Moore's husband has returned. "The children told me that his negroes are to be brought out by a cousin of his. I am very glad he recovered them . . . Billy's father (Chesterfield) has come up to stay at Miss Nancy's."

3 April 1845. William H. Battle to Lucy Battle. He is "glad to hear that Harry and the other servants are attentive to their business. I hope Mainer has furnished the shingles by this time so that the houses may be completed, but if he has not, Harry had better go to work on the gates I directed him to make. I intended myself to have requested you to order Ben to let off the water from the pond in the grove, and I am glad it has been already attended to."

5 April 1845. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Harry is working on the gates because the shingles still have not come; Ben is preparing to plant corn using a mule loaned to them by Governor Swain.

12 April 1845. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle (has a fragment missing). Lucy reports to her husband on illness in Chapel Hill, including that of a servant girl belonging to President Swain. Lucy says that Swain requested "one of our women go and sit up with her--I of course sent them." Also included in the letter are descriptions of work performed for the household. "Harry has made three large gates, has nailed on all the shingles we have, & is now making doors for those stables, etc. We have got the corn planted & I have put the hands into the garden."

2 January 1854. Lucy Battle to William H. Battle. Lucy relates to her husband the hiring out of several of their slaves, which she refers to as the "putting out of the negroes." The slaves were hired out without advertisement, and Lucy writes that they all appeared "well pleased with their homes but Hal, he didn't wish to go at all." Lucy also reports that "the Morgan negroes were hired publicly . . . they went enormously high--children & all."

3 January 1854. William H. Battle to Lucy Battle. W. H. Battle writes home to wife Lucy to discuss the hiring out of slaves. Battle laments the lower rates of Chapel Hill when compared with Raleigh and writes that they "must be content to take less." He goes on to complain about paying Chaney's stage fare back to Chapel Hill and writes that "she has thus cost us first & last more than she has been worth in money." He advises his wife to "get as much hire for her" as she can for the present year and estimates that Chaney can be hired out along with her youngest child for thirty-five dollars.

David L. Swain. David L. Swain. Click on the image to open a larger version in a new window.

From David L. Swain Papers #706 (connect to finding aid).

1 July 1855. Volume S-1. In this ledger university president David L. Swain lists the names of approximately forty slaves along with their dates of birth. Some slaves are designated as being "at home," while others are with Dr. J. A. Blakemore of Shelbyville, Tennessee.

From Manuel Fetter Expense Book #1963-z (connect to finding aid).

December 1841. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Manuel Fetter (1809-1889) served as professor of Greek language and literature from 1837 to 1868. Fetter's expense book documents Professor Mitchell's hire of slave Phyllis from 1841 to 1842 for the sum of twenty dollars. Also among Fetter's expenses was a twenty-five cent purchase of a Christmas gift for Serina, one of his slaves, whom he had purchased for $350 in November 1841.

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