unc logo

Collection Number: 00315

Collection Title: Charles Wilson Harris Papers, 1765-1924

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 FAQ section for more information.


expand/collapse Expand/collapse Collection Overview

Size 0.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 100 items)
Abstract Charles Wilson Harris (1771-1804), orginally from Concord, N.C., was a lawyer and educator of Halifax and Warren counties, N.C., and one of the first professors at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. Papers include letters from Charles Wilson Harris to his uncle, Charles Harris, a physician, and to his brother, Robert Harris, a student at the Universiy of North Carolina and later a merchant in Salisbury, N.C. Topics include business, foreign affairs, state politics, the Universiy of North Carolina, and the legal and medical professions, and advising his brother on choosing a career. Additions include a 1916 publication reproducing some of Harris's letters; a history of the Poplar Tent Church, a Presbyterian church in Cabarrus County, N.C., in which the Harris family was active; and deeds, correspondence, genealogical information, and other items relating to Charles Wilson Harris and the Harris and related families.
Creator Harris, Charles Wilson, 1771-1804.
Language English
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Information For Users

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 Charles Wilson Harris Papers #315, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Received probably from the North Carolina Historical Society in the 1930s; gift of Jane Harris Nierenberg, April 2007 (Acc. 100655); gift of Brevard Barnett Crowll, April 2007, (Acc. 100650).
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.
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subject Headings

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.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

Charles Wilson Harris (1771-15 or 26 January 1804), educator and lawyer, was born at Mill Grove Plantation, about seven miles west of Concord, N.C. His paternal grandfather, Charles Harris, emigrated with four brothers and a sister from Ayrshire, Scotland, to Pennsylvania about 1725 and thence to the Poplar Tent district of what was then Anson County sometime between 1745 and 1751. His father, Robert Harris, served under General Joseph Graham in the Revolutionary War and lost his right arm in the skirmish at Clapp's Mill, preliminary to the Battle of Guilford Court House. His uncle, Dr. Charles Harris, is credited by Kemp P. Battle with having "taught at his home probably the first medical school in the State."

Charles Wilson Harris was the second of three children born to Robert and Mary Wilson Harris. His older sister, Jane Wilson Harris, married Nathaniel Alexander. His younger brother, Robert Wilson Harris, was briefly engaged in commerce at Salisbury and later undertook farming near Sneedsborough in Anson County. His mother died in his youth, and his father married Mary Brevard Davidson, the widow of General William Lee Davidson for whom Davidson College was named. Although no record of Harris's preparatory education survives, it is known that a classical school was conducted in association with the Poplar Tent Church of which his father was for many years the presiding elder. Harris attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and was awarded the Mathematical Oration at his graduation in 1792.

For the next two years, Harris was a teacher in Mecklenburg County, N.C., and later in Prince Edward County, Va. Although impossible to substantiate, this was probably at Hampden-Sydney College. At some point, he attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg to obtain, as he wrote some years later, "a smattering of experimental philosophy," a subject that he felt had been shamefully neglected in his studies. On returning to North Carolina, Harris studied medicine for a while with his uncle, Dr. Charles Harris, a well-known physician. During his later tenure at Chapel Hill, there being no physician at the University, he kept a stock of medicines, both for the students and the townspeople, which he sold at cost. In March 1795, he joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina as professor of mathematics. The only other member of the academic staff at this time was the presiding professor, David Ker. In the summer of 1796, Ker resigned under pressure from the trustees, and Harris thereafter acted as presiding professor until the time of his own resignation the following December.

Although his tenure on the faculty was brief, Harris played a seminal role in the early direction of the University. On 3 June 1795, he organized the students to form a debating club, which in succeeding months became the Dialectic and Philanthropic Literary Societies. Organized exercises were conducted by these societies each Friday evening and Saturday morning to provide practice in public speaking, English composition, and debate. The exercises were drawn from modern history and literature, subjects not included in the standard classical curriculum prevailing at colleges of the day. The sessions implemented Harris's belief that "true learning consists rather in exercising the reasoning faculties and laying up a store of useful knowledge, than in overloading the memory with words of dead languages," a pedagogical theory he shared with General William R. Davie, the moving spirit among the trustees. His second lasting contribution to the University's early development lay in persuading Joseph Caldwell, a graduate of the class of 1791 at the College of New Jersey, to join the faculty in October 1796. Caldwell succeeded Harris as presiding professor in 1797 and continued to guide the University's growth until his death in 1835.

Harris completed his legal studies in April 1797, reading law under General Davie at Halifax. He was admitted to the bar in that same year and succeeded to Davie's practice when Davie was elected governor. While in Halifax, Harris maintained his interest in the University of North Carolina, which in 1799 granted him the honorary master of arts degree; in 1800, he was elected a trustee. In 1802, he was induced by Davie and others to accept an appointment on the bench. However, a worsening tubercular disease, which had first afflicted him in October 1798, prevented his nomination from being considered. In the spring and summer of 1803, Harris traveled to the Bahamas attempting to recover his health. He arrived in New York in September, and after a brief stay returned to the family home at Mill Grove.

On 14 April 1798, Harris was admitted to the Order of Freemasons at Chapel Hill. Although both his grandfather and father had served as elders of the Poplar Tent Church, Harris himself appears to have held no religious convictions until the period immediately preceding his death. It seems likely that his religious lassitude as well as his membership in the Freemasons were attributable to the influence of his mentor, General Davie. During the weeks before his death, Harris confessed the Christian faith and instructed that no Masonic rites be included in his funeral service. He died at Sneedsborough while visiting his brother Robert and was buried in a private cemetery in Anson County. Although his tombstone records his date of death as 15 January 1804, both the Raleigh Minerva and the Register in their issues of 15 February 1804 report his death as having occurred on 26 January.

From the Documenting the American South website, using information from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, editor (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1979-1996).

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

Papers include letters from lawyer and college professor Charles Wilson Harris of Concord, N.C., and later Halifax County, N.C., Warren County, N.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C., to his uncle, Charles Harris, a physician, and to his brother, Robert Harris, a student at the Universiy of North Carolina and later a merchant in Salisbury, N.C. Topics include business, foreign affairs, North Carolina state politics, the Universiy of North Carolina where Charles Wilson Harris was an early professsor, the legal profession and the medical profession, and his brother's choice of a career. Additions include a 1916 publication reproducing some of Harris's letters; a history of the Poplar Tent Church, a Presbyterian church in Cabarrus County, N.C., in which the Harris family was active; and deeds, correspondence, genealogical information, and other items relating to Charles Wilson Harris and the Harris and related families.

Back to Top

Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series Quick Links

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Letters, 1793-1803.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Additions.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100655), 1916-1924.

2 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Two publications from the early 20th century. The first is a collection of 27 of Harris's letters, transcribed and published as Volume 14, Number 1 in the James Sprunt Historical Publications series by the North Carolina Historical Society in 1916. The volume was edited by H. M. Wagstaff. The second is a short 1924 history of the Poplar Tent Church, where Harris's family, especially his father, was active.

Folder 3

The Harris Letters, 1914 #00315, Subseries: "Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100655), 1916-1924." Folder 3

Digital version: of The Harris Letters

Documenting the American South

Folder 4

Historical sketch of Poplar Tent Church, 1924 #00315, Subseries: "Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100655), 1916-1924." Folder 4

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subseries 2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922.

About 75 items.

Deeds, correspondence, genealogical information, and other papers relating to Charles Wilson Harris and his family.

Note that original file folder titles and and folder order have, for the most part, been retained.

Folder 5

Deeds, 1765-1785 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 5

Folder 6

Papers, 1775-1807 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 6

Folder 7

Samuel Harris, 1790-1798 and undated #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 7

Folder 8

Papers, 1815-1869 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 8

Folder 9

Papers related to Jamaica Bob Harris, 1875, 1919 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 9

Folder 10

Papers, 1910-1915 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 10

Folder 11

Notes on the Harris family and related families, 1922 and undated #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 11

Folder 12

Essay on agriculture by W. S. Harris, undated #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 12

Folder 13

Death of Sarah Harris Harris, undated #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." Folder 13

Oversize Paper Folder OP-00315/1

Deeds, 1765-1785 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." OP-00315/1

Oversize Paper Folder OP-00315/2

Samuel Harris, 1790-1807 #00315, Subseries: "2.2. Addition of April 2007 (Acc. 100650), 1765-1922." OP-00315/2

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Items Separated

Back to Top

Processing Information

Processed by: SHC Staff and Amy Johnson, September 2007

Encoded by: Amy Johnson, September 2007

Back to Top