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Collection Number: 00325

Collection Title: Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick Papers, 1843-1890

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 2.0 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 1,100 items)
Abstract Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick was born near Salisbury, Davidson County, N.C. After graduation from UNC in 1851, he worked for the Nautical Almanac in Cambridge, Mass., 1851-1853. In 1854, he became professor of analytical and agricultural chemistry at UNC. On 11 October 1856, he was dismissed from the faculty for having expressed his antislavery views. Beginning in 1861, he worked as examiner in the Chemical Department of the U.S. Patent Office, remaining with that agency until his death in 1886. Hedrick married Mary Ellen Thompson of Orange County, N.C., in 1852. They had eight children. Early items are chiefly Hedrick and Sherwood family letters from Davidson County while Hedrick was a student at UNC and employee at the Nautical Almanac. Among letters, 1851-1858, are several from UNC President David L. Swain and professors Charles Phillips and Elisha Mitchell. Beginning around 1854, there is correspondence with agricultural and other scientists. After the dismissal from UNC, there are many letters of support or condemnation; letters relating to potential jobs; and letters of recommendation, including one from Horace Greeley, 2 December 1856. There is also considerable correspondence, 1857-1869, with Hinton Rowan Helper, a North Carolina writer who published The Impending Crisis of the South in 1857, and correspondence, 1856-1862, with Henry Harrisse, historian of early American history and exploration, who wrote to Hedrick chiefly on political and literary issues. Most 1861-1863 letters are to Hedrick from his brother John A. Hedrick, a Unionist and abolitionist who was a United States Treasury Department customs collector in Beaufort, N.C., during the Civil War. John wrote about life in occupied Beaufort, North Carolina politics, war news, and actions of northern soldiers, black recruits, and southern Unionists. Materials 1861-1886 chiefly relate to Hedrick's Patent Office work. There are also many family letters during this period. Also included are a few writings, clippings, financial materials, and photographs.
Creator Hedrick, Benjamin Sherwood, 1827-1886.
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 Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick Papers #325, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Original deposit and early additions received from Jennie Hedrick and her sister (daughters of Benjamin Hedrick). Then received from Nancy Hedrick Beamer Dill of Ghent, N.Y., in December 1984; from Nancy West of Charlotte, N.C., in August 1986 (Acc. 96127); and Nancy Hedrick Beamer Dill in September 1994 (Acc. 94132).
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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Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick was born on 13 February 1827 near Salisbury in western Davidson County, N.C., the son of Elizabeth Sherwood and John Leonard Hedrick, a farmer and bricklayer of comfortable means. The family was descended from German immigrants who had settled in the Piedmont section of North Carolina in the 1700s.

After attending local schools, Hedrick received college preparation at Rankin's (or Lexington) Classical School, an academy directed by the Reverend Jesse Rankin near Lexington. In 1848, he entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore. At UNC, he distinguished himself particularly in mathematics, and, upon his graduation in 1851, he was awarded "first honor in the senior class." President David L. Swain recommended Hedrick to former governor William A. Graham, then Secretary of the Navy, for a clerkship in the office of the Nautical Almanac in Cambridge, Mass. While in Cambridge, Hedrick also took advanced instruction at Harvard College under such prominent scientists as Eben N. Horsford, Benjamin Pierce, and Louis Agassiz.

Hedrick was offered a professorship of mathematics at Davidson College in 1852, but he declined it deciding to wait for a position at UNC. In January 1854, the University appointed him to the chair of analytical and agricultural chemistry.

In Chapel Hill, Hedrick acquired a certain notoriety because of his antislavery views, although he initially made no attempt to disseminate his opinions on the issue. In August 1856, however, he was asked at the polls whether he would vote for the Republican presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, in the national election. Hedrick replied that he would do so if a Republican ticket was formed in North Carolina. The next month, a short article entitled "Frémont in the South" appeared in the North Carolina Standard , a leading Democratic newspaper published in Raleigh. The article recommended that those with "black Republican opinions" at schools and seminaries in the state be driven out, apparently suggesting that Hedrick be dismissed.

Against much advice, Hedrick published a defense in the Standard, explaining his opposition to slavery and likening his beliefs to those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Subsequently, the University faculty passed resolutions denouncing Hedrick's political views, and, on 11 October 1856, the executive committee of the board of trustees formally approved the faculty's action, which, in reality, constituted a dismissal.

Newspapers throughout the state were generally unsympathetic to Hedrick's case. On 21 October, while he was attending an educational convention in Salisbury, an unsuccessful attempt was made to tar and feather him. Hedrick soon headed north, where he remained except for visits south in January 1857 and in 1865.

For a time, Hedrick lived in New York, where he was employed as a chemist and then as a clerk in the mayor's office. He also lectured and taught at such institutions as Cooper Union. After his services in the mayor's office were terminated in 1860, he was successful in finding a job with the newly elected Republican government in Washington, D.C. Beginning in 1861, he was successively appointed assistant examiner, examiner, and chief examiner in the Chemical Department of the United States Patent Office, remaining with that agency until his death on 2 September 1886.

During his tenure at the Patent Office, Hedrick was also active in several other areas. Beginning in 1865, he worked to secure a speedy restoration of North Carolina to the Union. It appears that he was well acquainted with both President Andrew Johnson and North Carolina Governor Jonathan Worth. In April 1865, Hedrick petitioned the President for permission to visit North Carolina. Afterwards, H. M. Pierce appointed him an agent of the American Union Commission to ascertain the condition of refugees and the poor in the South, with particular emphasis on the schools in the region. In 1867, Hedrick was nominated as a delegate to the North Carolina constitutional convention, but was defeated in the election. From 1872 to 1876, he was professor of chemistry and toxicology at the University of Georgetown.

Hedrick married Mary Ellen Thompson, daughter of William Thompson, on 3 June 1852 in Orange County, N.C. They had four daughters and four sons, one of whom, Charles J., became a patent lawyer in Washington, D.C.

[Based on the note by Sharon E. Knapp in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography , William S. Powell, ed., Volume 3, 1988.]

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Materials chielfy relate to Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick. Early items are chiefly Hedrick and Sherwood family letters from Davidson County, N.C., while Hedrick was a student at the University of North Carolina and employee at the Nautical Almanac. Among letters, 1851-1858, are several from UNC President David L. Swain and professors Charles Phillips and Elisha Mitchell.

Beginning around 1854, there is correspondence with agricultural and other scientists. After the dismissal from UNC, there are many letters of support or condemnation; letters relating to potential jobs; and letters of recommendation, including one from Horace Greeley, 2 December 1856. There is also considerable correspondence, 1857-1869, with Hinton Rowan Helper, a North Carolina writer who published The Impending Crisis of the South in 1857, and correspondence, 1856-1862, with Henry Harrisse, historian of early American history and exploration, who wrote to Hedrick chiefly on political and literary issues. Most 1861-1863 letters are to Hedrick from his brother John A. Hedrick, a Unionist and abolitionist who was a United States Treasury Department customs collector in Beaufort, N.C., during the Civil War. John wrote about life in occupied Beaufort, North Carolina politics, war news, and actions of northern soldiers, black recruits, and southern Unionists. Materials 1861-1886 chiefly relate to Hedrick's United States Patent Office work. There are also many family letters during this period. Also included are a few writings, clippings, financial materials, and photographs.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated.

About 975 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Early items are chiefly family letters, mostly from North Carolina. Some are between Mary Ellen Thompson (Hedrick) in Orange County, N.C., and her sister Jane Clegg of Chatham County, N.C., and other relatives; these letters appear sporadically throughout the collection. Most of the early letters, however, are from Hedrick's father, John Leonard Hedrick, and his brothers, sisters, and Sherwood relatives in Davidson County, N.C., and elsewhere. Many of these letters were written to Hedrick while he was a student at the University of North Carolina, 1847-1851, or working at the Nautical Almanac in Cambridge, Mass., 1851-1853. Letters between Hedrick and his future wife begin in 1851.

Among the family letters are several, 1851-1864, from Hedrick's grandfather, Benjamin Sherwood (b. 1793), in Marion County, Iowa. In these letters, Sherwood not only discussed farming and family affairs, but politics and his own antislavery sentiments. In an 1853 letter to Mary Ellen Hedrick, Sherwood assessed her husband's character: "I have recognized him as knowing some things--as not knowing other things, and as being ... unable to distinguish between subjects that he did know and those that he did not know."

Letters in 1852 include a few relating to Hedrick's declining a teaching job at Davidson College. Among the letters, 1851-1858, are several from UNC President David L. Swain and professors Charles Phillips and Elisha Mitchell. Two letters of note in this period are a collegial note from Elisha Mitchell to Hedrick, 31 December 1855, and a letter from Calvin H. Wiley to Swain, 22 July 1856, describing an upcoming convention of teachers and friends of general education in North Carolina. During Hedrick's time at UNC, there are several letters from parents about sons who were students at the University. In 1854, several letters discuss Hedrick's plans to build a house in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Beginning in the 1850s, there are many letters to Hedrick from W. C. Kerr, a friend from Chapel Hill student days, who was also a scientist in Cambridge when Hedrick was at the Nautical Almanac. Letters from Kerr continue after he moved to Davidson College in 1858. Many of Kerr's letters relate to scientific issues. Beginning around 1854, there are also letters from others dealing with scientific investigations, particularly analyses of earths and other substances.

On 18 October 1856, there is a copy of the order from Governor Charles Manly, president of the board of trustees, notifying Hedrick of the executive committee's action to remove him. After this, there are several letters congratulating Hedrick for taking a stand and others, like one dated 22 October from a Raleigh colleague: "I presume you will see the propriety of my discontinuing the connection, which has heretofore existed between us ... owing to the state of public feeling in regard to the step you have taken on the subject of Politics." On 20 August, Hedrick's uncle, M. S. Sherwood, who was politically active himself, advised Hedrick against speaking his mind: "When I get to be a Minister or a teacher in a high Literary Institution, I shall most assuredly feel it my duty to lay aside the character of a politician." On 26 December, Hedrick's father wrote to Mary Ellen, saying that Hedrick should not return to North Carolina.

After his dismissal, Hedrick had, in fact, left town quickly. Letters show that, by 21 October, he was staying with his brother Adam in Salisbury, N.C., where he may have been attending a conference. Hedrick lived in nearly a dozen cities in the 18 months following his departure from Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, Mary Ellen remained in Chapel Hill until around April 1857. During this time, there is much correspondence between Hedrick and his wife, who, in December 1856, wrote to a friend about her reluctance to leave Chapel Hill even though her husband "has been most shamefully treated here. ... He thought he lived in a free country, but ... he was very much mistaken. They say he was dismissed because he wrote a political article, but that is only an excuse." To Hedrick, Mary Ellen wrote of her trials in Chapel Hill society, where she was apparently well treated, but often pitied (11 November 1856).

Following Hedrick's departure, there many letters relating to potential jobs and several letters of recommendation, including one from Horace Greeley, 2 December 1856, and another, 7 February 1857, in which David L. Swain, Charles Phillips, and Elisha Mitchell attested to Hedrick's teaching excellence. In 1859, there are also letters from Charles Manly discussing the legality of the dismissal. After Mary Ellen left Chapel Hill, the Hedricks kept in touch with certain friends there, especially Charles Phillips, who wrote of Elisha Mitchell's death on 3 August 1857 and David Swain's death on 1 October 1868.

Correspondence between Hedrick and Hinton Rowan Helper, a North Carolina writer who published The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It in 1857, begins on 27 October 1856 and continues sporadically through 1869. Included is a letter, 5 May 1859, asking Hedrick for permission to include his name on the dedication page of the new edition of Helper's book. There are also many letters, December 1856 through March 1862, from Henry Harrisse, a professor of French at UNC, who also lost his teaching post due to a controversy. Harrisse, a French native, bibliographer, historian, and author of books, pamphlets, and articles about early American history and exploration, wrote to Hedrick chiefly on political matters and literature.

Most 1861-1863 letters are to Hedrick from his brother John A. Hedrick in Beaufort, N.C. John, a Unionist and abolitionist, had left Davidson College to continue his education at Cooper Union in New York shortly after Hedrick left North Carolina. During the Civil War, John worked for the United States Treasury Department as a customs collector in Beaufort, which was in Union hands from spring 1862 until the end of the war. In his letters, John wrote about life in occupied Beaufort, North Carolina politics, war news, and the behavior of northern soldiers, black recruits, and southern Unionists.

Beginning in 1861 and continuing through 1886, there are many letters relating to Hedrick's Patent Office work. Included are simple requests for information and detailed letters from lawyers and inventors about particular patent cases. Also during this period, there are many letters from relatives in North Carolina to Hedrick and Mary Ellen in Washington and from Mary Ellen to relatives and friends.

In 1873, there are a few letters from son John A. Hedrick traveling in Europe. On 11 March 1876, there is a letter on Patent Office stationery from Hedrick to Georgetown University tendering his resignation as professor of chemistry and toxicology in the medical faculty. Letters after Hedrick's death are chiefly to Mary Ellen from her children. On 15 January 1891, there is a letter of son Charles J. Hedrick submitting a biographical note on his father to the National Cyclopœdia of American Biography .

Undated letters are chiefly family letters, a few clearly from the Chapel Hill area. Many are drafts of outgoing letters, mostly in Mary Ellen's hand.

Folder 1

1843-1849 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 1

Folder 2

1850 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 2

Folder 3

1851 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 3

Folder 4

1852 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 4

Folder 5

1853 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 5

Folder 6-7

Folder 6

Folder 7

1854 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 6-7

Folder 8-9

Folder 8

Folder 9

1855 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 8-9

Folder 10-15

Folder 10

Folder 11

Folder 12

Folder 13

Folder 14

Folder 15

1856 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 10-15

Digital version: Letter from Benjamin S. Hedrick to H. R. Helper, 27 October 1856

Documenting the American South

Folder 16-18

Folder 16

Folder 17

Folder 18

1857 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 16-18

Folder 19-20

Folder 19

Folder 20

1858 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 19-20

Folder 21-22

Folder 21

Folder 22

1859 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 21-22

Folder 23

1860 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 23

Folder 24

1861 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 24

Folder 25-26

Folder 25

Folder 26

1862 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 25-26

Folder 27-28

Folder 27

Folder 28

1863 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 27-28

Folder 29

1864-1868 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 29

Folder 30

1869-1874 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 30

Folder 31

1875 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 31

Folder 32

1876-1879 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 32

Folder 33

1880 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 33

Folder 34

1884-1891 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 34

Folder 35

1900 #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 35

Folder 36

Undated #00325, Series: "1. Correspondence and Related Materials, 1843-1900 and undated." Folder 36

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated.

About 90 items.
Folder 40

Writings: a few miscellaneous writings by Benjamin Hedrick, many of them fragments. Included is a handwritten fragment and complete newspaper version of his defense against being called a Black Republican, 1 October 1856. Also included is a draft description of a device Mary Ellen Hedrick claimed to have invented to hold hot stove covers and irons, 1868. (About 10 items) #00325, Series: "2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated." Folder 40

Folder 41

Clippings: chiefly newspaper clippings, many from the 1860s, collected by Hedrick on various subjects. Some relate to Hinton Rowan Helper; others relate to the Republican Party or to scientific matters. (About 30 items) #00325, Series: "2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated." Folder 41

Folder 42

Financial Materials: a few bills and receipts, chiefly 1850s-1860s, for miscellaneous goods and services purchased by Hedrick or his wife. (About 15 items) #00325, Series: "2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated." Folder 42

Folder 43-44

Folder 43

Folder 44

Miscellaneous: Trade and calling cards; a few advertisements for books and other items; and some scientific writings of others. (About 30 items) #00325, Series: "2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated." Folder 43-44

Folder P-325/Folder 1

Sketch of Benjamin Hedrick; printed cards with images of Civil War-era heroes; and two cyanotypes: Central High School, Washington, D.C., 1900, and Cousin Laura Hedrick, Cousin Bessie, Fanny McNeilly, Julia Ramsey, Rosa Bernhardt, probably in Salisbury, N.C. #00325, Series: "2. Other Materials, 1850s-1900 and undated." Folder P-325/Folder 1

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Separated items include photographs (P-325).

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Processing Information

Processed by: Carolyn Wallace, William Auman, Roslyn Holdzkom, 1969, 1985, 1996

Encoded by: Roslyn Holdzkom, January 2004

Diacritics and other special characters have been omitted from this finding aid to facilitate keyword searching in web browsers.

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