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Collection Number: 00127-z

Collection Title: Joseph Caldwell Papers, 1791-1835

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the section for more information.


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Size 25 items
Abstract Joseph Caldwell was the first president of the University of North Carolina where he was also a professor of mathematics. The collection includes scattered papers, chiefly relating to Caldwell's student days at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and his administrative work at the University of North Carolina. Also included are a deed for land in Chapel Hill, N.C., and letters to his brother, Samuel H. Caldwell of Palmyra, N.Y., regarding a visit. Volumes include sermons, 1830-1831, and student notes on Caldwell's new system of geometry, 1806. Some items are photostats.
Creator Caldwell, Joseph, 1773-1835.
Language English.
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Joseph Caldwell Papers #127, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Provenance
Original deposit and addition received from James M. Owens of Shreveport, La., in 1935 and 1939. Owens deposited other related Caldwell items in the North Carolina Collection, and some of those materials later were transferred to this collection. Addition of 1951 transferred from the University of North Carolina Reference Department. Addition of 1954 transferred from the North Carolina Collection. Additions of December 1960 transferred from North Carolina Historical Society Papers (#1954), University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), and from the North Carolina Collection. Addition of 1965 transferred from the William Richardson Davie Papers (#1793). Addition of 1967 received from Mrs. E. D. DeRight. Addition of February 1969 transferred from the Thomas Felix Hickerson Papers (#3809). Addition of 2003 (Acc. 99571) received from Frank Oktavec of Clayton, Ga.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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Joseph Caldwell, (21 April 1773-27 January 1835), mathematician, Presbyterian minister, and first president of the University of North Carolina, was born at Lamington, N.J., in northeastern Hunterdon County, the youngest of three children of Joseph and Rachel Harker Caldwell.

His father died two days before Caldwell's birth, and the family moved several times during Caldwell's early life. At an English school in Bristol, Pa., Caldwell received his first schooling. When the family moved to Princeton, he entered a grammar school in 1784 under the supervision of John Witherspoon, long-time leader of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). When the Caldwell family moved to Newark, Joseph Caldwell's studies continued for a while under the tutelage of Alexander MacWhorter, a trustee of the College of New Jersey. Caldwell's formal education ceased when the family removed shortly thereafter to Elizabethtown, N.J., but then a visit from Witherspoon resulted in Caldwell's reentering the school at Princeton in 1787. A few months later, he entered the College of New Jersey, from which he was graduated as Latin salutatorian in 1791 at the age of 18.

For some months afterward, Caldwell taught languages to young boys; soon he took a position as assistant teacher in a classical academy in Elizabethtown. At this time he began study for the ministry, which was interrupted by his selection as a tutor at his alma mater in 1795. There he received a license to preach from the Presbytery of New Brunswick.

The following year, Charles Harris, presiding professor and professor of mathematics at the fledgling University of North Carolina, asked Caldwell to succeed him as professor of mathematics. Harris was acquainted with Caldwell from their student days at Princeton, and the knowledge that Caldwell was a tutor there prompted his request. Caldwell accepted and moved to Chapel Hill in October 1796; except for a few temporary absences, he remained in North Carolina until his death.

When Harris resigned as presiding professor in 1797, in the third year of the university's existence, Caldwell took the post. In 1804, he married Susan Rowan of Fayetteville. That same year,when the position of president of the university was created, he was unanimously elected by the trustees.

That Caldwell's abilities were becoming widely known in the state is evidenced by his selection in 1807 as the astronomical advisor for the running of the boundary between North and South Carolina and Georgia, which was completed six years later. As a result of this work, he received more than one offer of a higher salary elsewhere. An especially tempting proposal from the College of South Carolina came soon after his accession to the office of president. The University of North Carolina trustees, unable to match the offer, nevertheless urged Caldwell's remaining, and Caldwell declined South Carolina's offer and others, both because of his growing attachment to North Carolina and because he disliked the moving and change involved.

In 1807, Caldwell's wife and infant daughter died. In 1809, he married Helen Hogg Hooper of Hillsborough, N.C., widow of the son of William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. During this period, Caldwell worked for the completion of the as-yet-unfinished South Building, for many years the main facility on campus. The North Carolina legislature had withdrawn support, and the building was roofless. Caldwell sought private funds to complete the project and, during his vacation in 1811, raised the requisite $12,000 from various contributors in the state, matching the largest single contribution with $200 of his own. With this boost, the University prospered, and, feeling that he could afford to relinquish his office to return to his studies and devote more time to teaching, Caldwell resigned the presidency in 1812. He concentrated his energies on the completion of a text on geometry, finally published in 1822.

In recognition of his achievements, Caldwell was awarded the D.D. degree in 1816 from both the University of North Carolina and Princeton. Robert Chapman, who had succeeded Caldwell as president, left the office that year, and, after some persuasion, Caldwell reluctantly resumed it in 1817.

Under his guidance the University continued to grow; as a result, Caldwell urged the addition of a second hall, a new chapel, and enlargement of the original building, Old East. The faculty opposed this plea on the grounds that the University should first purchase books and such philosophical apparatus as telescopes, transits, and so on. In 1824, Caldwell traveled to Europe at his own expense to purchase $6,000 worth of materials for the University, which were of considerable aid to the quality of education there. Fund-raising for and construction of the new buildings was then begun, and all three building projects were eventually completed.

The last part of Caldwell's career presented many difficulties. The financial panic of 1825 resulted in a decrease in enrollment, and the trustees borrowed $40,000, a debt that caused much anxiety, to enable the school to continue. At about age 56, Caldwell contracted a chronic illness that hampered his activities, sometimes to the detriment of the institution, and eventually caused his death. Nonetheless, he produced several works during this period, most importantly his text on geometry A Compendious System of Elementary Geometry (1822). In 1828, he wrote, under the pseudonym "Carlton", a series on the desperate need for improved transportation in North Carolina; the series was compiled as Letters of Carlton and was followed in 1832 by a series entitled Letters on Popular Education Addressed to the People of North Carolina , in which he championed public education, chastising the state for its inaction, and proposed a detailed state system of primary, secondary, and higher education. His pragmatic and farsighted views earned him a wide reputation as a progressive force in the state.

Caldwell contributed personally to the construction of the University by building an observatory in 1830, at a personal cost of over $400. This, the first astronomical observatory for educational purposes in the United States, was built in order to make the most effective use of the instruments bought on Caldwell's European trip.

As Caldwell's health declined, his duties were increasingly delegated to younger members of the faculty. In 1833, Caldwell relinquished his authority in maintaining student discipline, a task he had performed almost since the beginning of the University. By 1835, he was in nearly constant agony, and he finally succumbed in Chapel Hill.

Caldwell's administration was marked by his zealous protection of the institution, the endless energy he devoted to it, and his strict discipline both in his studies and toward his students. Shortly after his death, his friends erected a sandstone obelisk to his memory on the campus of the University. This marker was replaced by a marble one erected in 1858 (under which now lie the remains of Caldwell, his wife, and his stepson), commissioned in 1847 by his former students.

Adapted from Roger N. Kirkman, "Joseph Caldwell," in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

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The collection includes scattered papers, chiefly relating to University of North Carolina president and professor of mathematics Joseph Caldwell's student days at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and his administrative work at the University of North Carolina. Also included are a deed for land in Chapel Hill, N.C., and letters to his brother, Samuel H. Caldwell of Palmyra, N.Y., regarding a visit. Volumes include sermons, 1830-1831, and student notes on Caldwell's new system of geometry, 1806. Some items are photostats.

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Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Papers, 1791-1835.

About 25 items.

Scattered papers, chiefly relating to Joseph Caldwell's student days at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and his administrative work at the University of North Carolina. Also included are a deed for land in Chapel Hill, N.C., and letters to his brother, Samuel H. Caldwell of Palmyra, N.Y., regarding a visit. Volumes include sermons, 1830-1831, and student notes on Caldwell's new system of geometry, 1806. Some items are photostats.

Folder 1

1791-1835 #00127-z, Series: "Papers, 1791-1835." Folder 1

Oversize Paper OP-127/1

Joseph Caldwell's diploma from the College of New Jersey at Princeton, 1791 #00127-z, Series: "Papers, 1791-1835." OP-127/1

Folder 2

Undated #00127-z, Series: "Papers, 1791-1835." Folder 2

Folder 3

Volume 1: Sermon on Ephesians III, 8, "The Unsearchable Riches of Christ" #00127-z, Series: "Papers, 1791-1835." Folder 3

Preached in Chapel Hill, November 1830, and in Hillsborough, N.C., March 1931

Folder 4

Volume 2: "A New System of Geometry By the Reverend Joseph Caldwell, Professor of Mathematics and President of the University of North Carolina," transcribed by Edward McKay, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1806 #00127-z, Series: "Papers, 1791-1835." Folder 4

This book, either class notes or a book written by Caldwell, served as a textbook and passed through the hands of several students.

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Oversize paper (OP-127/1)

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Processing Information

Processed by: SHC Staff

Encoded by: Nancy Kaiser, April 2004

Updated by: Kathryn Michaelis, June 2010

This collection was rehoused with support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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