What Is a University?
The Perspectives of
Erika Lindemann, Professor
of English and Interim Chair of the Department of Romance Languages
2005 Gladys Hall Coates University Lecture
Thank you, Janice, for your generous introduction and thank you
Bob for the honor of inviting me to give this year's Coates lecture.
The title of my talk is deliberately meant to echo Jim Leloudis's
inaugural lecture last year - What's a University For? His work on
the history of UNC, especially his book, Schooling the New South
(1996), has been invaluable to my research on the early period
of the University's history, and I want to build on his remarks by
focusing on the lives and writing of UNC's antebellum students. Institutional
histories usually chart the careers of university presidents, illustrious
faculty members, and famous alumni. They rarely give space to ordinary
students. This evening, though, I want to introduce you to some of
these remarkable people, to let them tell you in their own words what
the University meant to them. In describing what it was like to be
a student here 150 to 200 years ago, I plan to show you materials
drawn from over 1800 documents in Wilson Library's rich collections
of antebellum student writing. These documents include letters, compositions,
speeches, diaries, letter books, notebooks, account books, grade books,
grade reports, diplomas, and debating society records housed in the
Southern Historical Collection, the North Carolina Collection, and
the University Archives. (1)
Their authors were young men who attended UNC between 1795, the year
that the University opened its doors, and 1869, when the social and
economic upheaval following the Civil War closed them again. As a
composition teacher, I have learned much about "my antebellum students"
from editing and annotating some 120 of these documents for a website
and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students
at the University of North Carolina. This site will be part
of the impressive Documenting
the American South project, and I am grateful to
the many talented librarians and technical staff who are working to
make these materials available to a wider audience. Snooping among
these students' papers has been a remarkable and rewarding experience
for me, and the website will enable many others to discover who some
of these students were and what they have to tell us about themselves,
their school work, their shenanigans, and their hopes for the future.
Because our time is limited this evening, I am unable to give a comprehensive
answer to the question in my title - What Is a University? - but given
the perspective of most antebellum students, I'd like to focus on
two contexts that preoccupied them most - the classroom and the debating
When the University of North Carolina opened on a cold, dreary January
15th in 1795, not a single student was present. Gov. Richard Dobbs
Spaight, (3) other
distinguished guests, and a single faculty member, Rev. David Ker,
inspected the finished building and went home. (4)The
two-story brick College, now known as Old East, and the unpainted wooden
house of the "presiding professor" as Ker was called, were the only
buildings defining the campus. A pile of yellowish red clay had been
dug out for the foundation of the chapel (the east wing of Person Hall)
and a wooden structure known as Steward's Hall would soon be built
to serve students their meals. But the first student would not arrive
for almost a month.
By February 23, John Pettigrew (5) was
able to write to his father, "There are now 73 or 4 students at the
University. They come very fast, and there is not room for more than
nine or ten more." On May 4, John wrote to his father again, this time
explaining how he spent his days:
We have only saturday evening and sunday to refresh ourselves;
before sunrse in the morning we have to attend prayers and study
untill eight, & then eat brakefast and go in again at eight
nine, study untill twelve, we dine and go in at two, we study untill
five, then we have nothing appointed for us to do untill next morning:
On sunday we have prayrs in the morning as usual at twelve we have
a Sermon red, and at four we are questioned uppon religius questions.
Establishing a university was not simply a matter of constructing
a building, hiring a teacher, and advertising for students. It also
involved creating supportive relationships among faculty, students,
parents, and North Carolina citizens. That work continues today, of
course, as we promote bond referendums and seek effective ways to urge
support for our work with students. In 1795, however, in a new nation,
born of revolution against a colonial power, the new university seemed
perpetually caught up in sectional controversies and contests over
who remained in charge. Presiding professor Ker, "a furious Republican" in
a predominantly Federalist state, lasted only eighteen months, and
subsequent faculty members often seemed to spend less time educating
students than civilizing them. Many students, in turn, were as bent
on resisting the authority of the faculty as their fathers had been
in resisting the British Crown.
Though periods of rioting and tormenting the faculty eventually subsided,
individual students continued to get into trouble much more frequently
than they do today. Leander Hughes, (6) a
student from Virginia, reported to his father on October 2, 1824, the
expulsion of several students for violence against professors:
I have just heard the sentence of expulsion pronounced against
two of the students. viz Augustus Alston and Leonidas King; (7)
for having on last thursday night, committed violence upon
upon the persons, of some of the faculty viz. Mr Betner, Mr Sanders,(8)
- and it is said that M r Mitchel, the now president (9)
received several blows, both from Alston and King, though he has
[no] appearance of it now. These acts of violence were committed
in a time of intoxication. I did not see any of the eng=agements
that took place though one was ensued in thirty steps of my room
between, Alston & M r Sanders after which, Alston ran into my
room and requested that I should give him a knife (which I refused)
as M r Mitchel & Sanders had both been upon him. Betner is confined
to his room; though not from the blows he received but from spraining
his ancle by some means in the contest. A. & King were expelled
at a meeting of the trustees to day, and the sentence pronounced
by judge Ruffin. (10)
Students who refused to submit to the authority of the faculty were
dismissed, but they might be reinstated if they wrote a letter of contrite
apology and pledged to uphold University regulations. Jonathan Ambrose
Ramsey, (11) for
example, petitioned the Board of Trustees on June 28, 1810, to be allowed
to return to school midway through a six-months' suspension. His offenses
had included firing a pistol, blocking the door of the chapel, and "conveying
away" President Joseph Caldwell's carriage.
Having been debarred for some time past from the priviliges
resulting from your institution, I take this method of informing
you my sentiments and lay open the cause that leads to this address.
Probably some of the members of your honorable board have not heard
my situation, or the relative circumstances of my unfortunate punishment.
It was during the agitations and commotions which happened at College
in the month of March last that I was seduced to take a part in
those disturbances; a part which I long have sorely repented that
I ever bore, as it gave reason to the faculty to imagine that I
wished greatly to add to the confusion which universally spread
The reason upon which was founded my suspension appeared to
have been the act of firing one pistol and if it is any palliation
of the crime, it did not take place within the hours prescribed
by law for study, nor at night when
amid the silence of darkness the
cracking of a pistol might have caused greater tumult.
Although the presence of gun powder, knives, and illegal alcohol made
for a potentially deadly combination, fortunately no student or faculty
member that we know of was killed. Mischief making, however, remained
a significant pastime of students throughout the antebellum period.
What else was there to do in Chapel Hill except get drunk and try to
outwit the tutors who kept watch over the dorms? One of the more creative
accounts of student mischief is the tale of Gooly, whose trip to a
local whore house was thwarted when the tutors chased him back to campus.
The story is recorded in an 1841 diary kept by Gooly's best friend
James Lawrence Dusenbery, a native of Lexington, NC. (12)
Chap. 1 st
Now it came to pass in the eigth month, even the month August & in
the thirteenth day of the month, that Gooly (13) surnamed
the drummer arose & went forth into the wilderness of Sin. And
there were with him in the wilderness, certain mighty men of valour
of the tribe of Freshmen, worshippers of Baal who had not the fear
of God before their eyes. Now there were harlots in those parts,
who enticed the men of the land & were stumbling-blocks before
Gooly & the men who were with him. For they were moved in their
hearts to go in unto them; so they arose & went forth by night,
bearing in their hands, gifts of raiment & precious metal. But
the intents of their hearts were evil before the Lord continually & it
was forbidden that this great wickedness should come to pass. For
behold as they went the very trees cried out at their approach & put
forth their arms to forbid their passage. But Gooly & the men
of might who were with him, were hardened in their hearts & pressed
forward to give battle to the giants of the forest. And lo! one of
the giants pressed sore upon Gooly & smote him between the eyes & he
fell upon his face to the earth. Then Gooly arose & fled to his
own house & the men, when they saw what was done, turned & fled
after him. Thus was Gooly & the worshippers of of Baal discomfited
before the giants of the wilderness of Sin.
Done on Saturday the 14 th of August 1841.
Although the University grew to become the fourth largest college
in America in the decade before the Civil War, (14) for
most of its antebellum history, it was a modest regional school enrolling
between 100 and 200 students annually. A concise description of the
University appeared in the December 15, 1833, issue of Chapel Hill's
first short-lived newspaper The Harbinger:
University of North Carolina. - Seniors 16, Juniors 23, Sophomores
35, Freshmen 28, irregular students 7; total 109 - from N. Carolina
87, Virginia 13, Tennessee 4, S. Carolina 2, Alabama 2, Maryland
1. Number of Professors 5, one vacancy. - Expenses per session:
tuition $15, room-rent 1, servant hire 2, board 6 to 8 per month;
washing, mending and bed, 8; deposit, most of which is returned,
$3 - The annual Commencement is on the fourth Thursday in June.
- First vacation, six weeks from the fourth Thursday in June; second
vacation, four weeks from the 15th of Dec. (p. 3, NCC)
The school year in the antebellum period was slightly longer than
it is today, each semester lasting nineteen to twenty-two weeks. The
school day remained much as John Pettigrew described it in 1795. Other
students provide interesting details however. Writing to his sister
on February 28, 1838, Kenelm Harrison Lewis (15) constructed
a sequence of scenes, from dawn until noon, punctuated by the college
bell, which hung in a wooden tower in the middle of campus near the
Very early in the morning the observer may see lights at a few
of the windows of the buildings inhabited by the students. They
mark the rooms occupied by the more industrious or more resolute,
who rise and devote an hour or two to their books by candle light
on the winter mornings. About day the bell awakens the multitude
of sleepers in all the rooms, and in a short time they are to be
seen issuing from the various doors with sleepy looks and a few
with books under their arms to attempt to make up as well as the
faint but increasing light will ennable them, for the time wasted
in idleness or dissipation
on the on the evening before.
the first who come down go slowly, others with quicker and quicker
step as the tolling of the bell proceeds; and the last few stragglers
run with all speed to answer to their respective names. One of
the Professors reads a portion of Scripture by the mingled light
of the reddening beams which comes in from the eastern sky. He
then offers the morning prayer. The hundreds of young men before
him exhibit the appearance of respectful attention. when prayers
are over, the several classes repair immediately to the rooms assigned
to them, and recite the first lesson of the day. During the short
period which elapses between the recitation and the breakfast bell
College is a busy scene. parties are running up and down the stairs
two steps at a time with the ardour and activity of youth. And
now and then a fresh crowd is seen issuing from the door of some
one of the buildings where a class has finished its recitation
and comes forth to disperse to their rooms; - The breakfast bell
brings out the whole throng again and gathers them around the long
tables in the Steward, s Hall or else scatters them among the private
families of the Village. - An hour after breakfast the bell rings
to mark the commencement of study=hours; when the students are
required by College laws to repair to their respective rooms, which
answer the 3fold purpose of parlour bedroom and stud[y to] prepare
for their recitation at 11. o'clock they [however] who choose to
evade this law can do it without any detection. The great majority
comply, but some go into their neighbour, s rooms to receive assistance
in their studies, some lay by the dull book and read a tale: and
others farther gone in the road of idleness and dissipation steal
secretly away from College and ramble in the woods or skate upon
the ice, evading their task like truant boys. they of course are
marked absent but pretended sickness will answer for an excuse.
they go, on blind to the certainty of disgrace which must soon
Studies of antebellum college life offer few glimpses into the classroom.
We know that the method of instruction was primarily recitation, students
answering the professor's questions, usually by reciting or quoting
memorized portions of the textbook. Students rarely comment on their
recitations, except to note when they were "taken up" or called on
and whether or not they came off well or poorly. Students often recited
in alphabetical order, so they could predict when it would be necessary
to prepare for class. Having been called on, a student could then
skip studying for a few days, until the alphabetical rotation came
his way again. Thomas Miles Garrett (16)
wrote in his 1849 diary, "This morning our lesson was in Philosophy,
and as I expected to be called upon to recite, I commited verry thoroughly.
I was called upon as I expected and made a pretty good recitation.
I am now free for three or four lessons." That students admit to such
sporadic preparation should make us cautious about inferring what
they might have learned from textbooks. Though students were responsible
for studying their textbooks - and a number I'm sure did so diligently
- plenty of students took shortcuts, working from books that previous
students had helpfully annotated with answers to math problems or
translations of Latin and Greek texts.
Though we would like to know more about what took place in the antebellum
college classroom, Thomas Williams Mason's (17) 1856
composition gives us a glimpse through the door. Titled "The Journal
of a Day," the essay was written for Professor John Thomas Wheat's (18) sophomore
composition class. Wheat, professor of rhetoric and logic from 1849
to 1859, wrote "excellent" at the bottom of the last page. Let me read
an excerpt describing a recitation conducted by Henri Herrisse, (19) instructor
The curtain being again drawn, discloses a scene in Prof H__s
[Instructor of French Henri Herrisse's] recitation room. The Prof.
is seated on a high rostrum, assuming all the dignity of his lofty
station. His class consists of between thirty and forty young men
of all sorts of characters and dispositions. one is grave and sober,
another all fume and fuss, another delighting in his wit, another
trifling beyond all tolerance. After calling the roll Prof. commences
the recitation. He calls upon Mr. G__. to translate some English
sentences into French; which Mr. G__. does admirably well no less
to his own satisfaction than to that of Prof. Mr. H__. is next called
upon. He could probably write the exercise very well, but makes
some awful mistakes in pronunciation, much to the amusement of Prof.
and his own discomforture. The recitation thus proceeds until at
last the celebrated wit of the class is called upon, Mr.
J__. Prof asks him to translate the sentence, Have you the bad butter,
into French. Mr. J__. replies - Avez-vous le vieux beurre. Prof.
informs the gentleman that vieux means old. Mr. J__.
startles him with the brilliancy of his wit by informing him in
return that, old butter is generally bad. Prof. is forced to acknowledge
the wit of his remark, and J__. takes his seat amid the applause
of his class-mates, feeling highly gratified with his performance.
Prof. has hardly suppressed their loud congratulations, when the
bell rings and all leave the room, seeming highly honoured at having
so brilliant an intellect among them.
Although the course of study in the antebellum University was heavily
oriented toward classical languages, mathematics, and sciences, composition
was part of the curriculum from the beginning. Students in Ker's day
submitted a composition every fortnight to the presiding professor.
Seniors were required to write and deliver orations of their own composing
twice a year - they called it "senior speaking" - and most students,
especially those graduating with honors, participated in their own
graduation ceremonies by offering commencement speeches that had been
vetted by the professor of rhetoric and then memorized. Juniors took
a year-long formal course in rhetoric, logic, and history, and by
the mid-1840s, a sophomore course in composition appears to have been
established, students hearing occasional lectures and preparing an
essay every three weeks.
For a time, it seems, juniors had to satisfy a college-wide essay
requirement. Beginning in Fall 1839 and continuing through Spring
1846, one and sometimes two compositions were collected from each
junior. They were filed in what one student refers to as "the archives
of the University" (H. Octavius Hooker, June 1844) and are now housed
- all 701 of them - in the North Carolina Collection. Customarily,
students all wrote on the same topic, so what survives are complete
class sets of papers addressing such questions as "Is it likely that
poetry will ever attain a high degree of excellence in the United
States?" "Has climate an influence in the formation of character?"
and "Should capital punishment be stricken from our penal code?"
That students could fail these compositions is illustrated by the
work of John Herritage Bryan, (20) who
submitted to adjunct professor of rhetoric Charles Force Deems (21) an
essay on capital punishment in Spring 1843. Bryan evidently had failed
the assignment twice before and titled his essay in the belief that
he had written a "Failure Third on Capital Punishment":
"This is your second failure in Composition"
Mr. Deems' criticism on my
on Capital Punishment.
The subject of this essay is one which demands the attentive
consideration of every enlightened citizen of our free and happy
country, for many and various reasons. First: because it involves
the destruction of human life, the greatest blessing bestowed on
us by our all=wise Creator. Secondly: It deprives many a human
creature, already sufficiently destitute, of her only support in
this world, or involves numerous young children, too young to work
to support themselves, in vile and intolerable disgrace, or casts
them to wander through the wild world alone and by paths thick=set
with snares and tending downwards to destruction. These weighty
arguments, though they be but few, in number, are sufficient to
show that the subject is one of deep and abiding interest and that
it behooves every man, who has the well-being of humanity at heart,
to labor strenuously to overthrow the system, if false and pernicious
in its effects and to uphold it if, on due consideration, it shall
be found to be conducive to their welfare. With these few desultory
remarks I must close for the present my essay on the subject of
Jno. H. Bryan
Wednesday May 17 th 1843. Raleigh
N o Ca.
In taking no clear position on whether or not he supports capital
punishment, Bryan certainly would also fail the assignment in an English
11 class today.
No antebellum compositions show any grades. End-of-term grades were
used, at least by the late 1830s, but they were based on a seven-point
scale - VG, G, VR, R, T, B, VB (Very Good, Good, Very Respectable,
Respectable, Tolerable, Bad, and Very Bad). Each student received
two grades every semester - one for scholarship and one for deportment.
These grades were recorded for members of the senior class in the
faculty minutes for 1847; they are a copy of an annual report sent
to the trustees. Matt Ransom's claim to fame was that, during his
four years at UNC, he never missed any "duty" - attending all payers,
recitations, and Sunday church services. (22)
Grade reports sent to parents looked a bit different.
This 1854 report for Hugh Thomas Brown (23) is
typical. What matters is how often he attended prayers, recitations,
and divine worship. President David L. Swain (24) consulted
Hugh's professors, tallied his attendance, and wrote on page two of
the form "His relative grade of scholarship in his class is considered
promising and his deportment very good."
If compositions were not graded - oh, happy thought for students
and composition teachers everywhere! - how, then, were they evaluated?
According to the 1846 University catalogue, "[the students'] compositions
are carefully examined, and returned with written corrections and
oral criticisms" (1846-47 UNC Catalogue 23, NCC). Students,
however, give us almost no information about how faculty members judged
their writing. I've found only a brief reference to the feedback students
received in William B. Whitfield's (25)
diary. On April 3, 1860, he was taking composition with Andrew Hepburn,
(26) who was professor
of metaphysics, rhetoric, and logic from 1860 through 1867.
Found all the benches in the Chapel tarred and just over the
place where "Old Hub" [Fordyce Hubbard] sits was written in letters
of tar the word "Fordyce". The students stood in all parts of the
Chapel regardless of Classess. (27) Prof.
[Andrew] Hepburn gave out that the 3 rd Section would have him
on Compositions immediately after prayers. Nearly all the Section
had heard of it before but he had not given out the notice publicly
and I did not carry my composition. He read out the compositions
of W. Smith, Staton, Skinner (28) and
two others, the authors of whom I do not know. He doesn't read
out the authors' names but only the Compositions.
Presumably, then, the professor of rhetoric collected his students'
compositions, commented on them orally when he "read them out," and
then returned them with a few written corrections. We would hope that
he singled out meritorious work to read to the class, but I have found
no evidence of what was said. What is clear, however, is that faculty
members made minimal corrections on students' papers. The marks almost
always addressed only word choice and spelling.
In addition to writing letters, keeping diaries, and writing for
teachers, UNC's antebellum young men had another forum for their written
work - the debating societies. Students freely admit that these societies
drew them away from their studies and received more energetic attention
than class compositions and recitations. William Carey Dowd, (29)
who became president of the Dialectic Society in 1858, wrote in his
inaugural address: "So have I sometimes been delighted at a meeting
of the Society: so convinced of the utility of debate, that in retirement
I would almost abandon long, dull lessons and apply myself exclusively
to the pleasing tasks assigned by my fellows." Let us now turn our
attention to these societies, which seemed to promote an interest
in learning that academic coursework did not.
The earliest debating society at UNC - called simply The Debating
Society - met for the first time on June 3, 1795. The price of entrance
was 25 cents for the year. Charles Wilson Harris, (30)
a graduate of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and a tutor
of mathematics, had helped the students organize the society. Three
weeks later, the members divided themselves into two societies - The
Debating Club and the Concord Society - and a year later both societies
adopted classical names: The Dialectic Society and the Philanthropic
Society. Society membership was determined for most students by where
they lived. Students from eastern North Carolina joined the Phis,
whose color was white; primarily, they were federalists, Episcopalian,
and members of the plantation aristocracy. Dialectic Society members
tended to be Westerners, republican, and Presbyterian; their color
was Carolina blue. Students from other states joined whichever society
suited their politics, religion, or economic background. The societies
replicated the east-west sectionalism dominating North Carolina politics,
and students appear only rarely to have engaged students from a rival
society socially. These sectional differences also were reflected
in the geography of the Carolina campus, Dis living in Old and New
West and Phis occupying Old and New East.
Virtually all colleges of the period had two debating societies. As
Albert and Gladys Hall Coates have argued, (31) these
societies represented the earliest forms of student government on college
campuses. They provided students with opportunities to read contemporary
literature and to discuss current events. From the students' perspective,
they offered a significant social outlet on campuses that lacked cultural
resources, constructive diversions, and women. At UNC, the societies
competed with each other to amass libraries and substantial portrait
collections, to build dormitories, and to host elaborate commencement
balls. They buried their own as well, in plots surrounded by ornate
fences in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
Every student was expected to join one or the other society, and faculty
members were explicitly excluded. The societies certainly legitimated
a uniformity of thought and conformity of behavior, but to the students'
credit, they rewarded exemplary academic achievement. Each society
competed with its rival for excellent students, scholastic honors,
and prominent honorary members, and graduating seniors received a
diploma from their society as well as from the University.
Students in both societies engaged in similar activities: writing
compositions, debating, and declaiming or reading aloud extracts from
works by other writers. The students organized themselves into groups,
as Richard Henry Lewis, (32) class
of 1852, explains:
The members [of the Dialectic Society] were divided into four sections.
The first and third always debated against each other, and the second
and fourth. The alternate sections performed duty on Saturday morning
following the Friday night's debate by the other two [groups]. The
Seniors were required, once in each term, to deliver orations. (33)
Students who missed a "duty" or misbehaved during society meetings
paid fines, collected by an elected student officer known as the supervisor
among the Phis and the censor morum among the Dis. Society
members also elected "correctors," whose job it was to correct the
weekly compositions written by fellow students.
Among the earliest Dialectic Society compositions is an essay on whether
treaties made contrary to the laws of nations can be binding by William
Edwards Webb, (34) who
joined the Dis in 1797. The manuscript is inscribed by the corrector "No
mistakes/Wm. Houston/Sept. 2nd 1797." Houston, (35) a
senior in 1797, was a charter member of the Dis; William Webb, a first-year
student, belonged to the second class or section when it came to determining
what duties he would perform each week.
Abner Wentworth Clopton, (36) a
Virginian, joined the Dis in 1808 and graduated a year later, becoming
a tutor at UNC for a year, then a physician and Baptist minister. His
first composition, on the pursuit of happiness, was corrected "and
ordered to be filed" by Thomas Gilchrist Polk, (37) a
Students chose their own topics for these compositions, and because
they were writing for one another, not the professor of rhetoric, they
approached those topics differently. Occasionally students wrote poems,
character sketches, descriptions of places, and stories. One piece
that I especially like describes the campus as students rush around
preparing to leave for the Christmas vacation. Written probably in
1845 or 1846 by James Johnston Pettigrew, (38) a
Phi, it includes a rare glimpse of a college servant, a slave known
to students as Lord Chesterfield. Pettigrew's composition is a draft,
but here's a portion of it:
In another room are three or four standing round a table, hats
on and pantaloons inside boots, ready to start, but before the go,
taking a farewell glass. The passage is full of trunks and negroes,
willing to seize anything unappropriated. Put your head out in the
Campus again; see a poor fellow while making his way to his conveyance,
stopped at every step by some darkey with Mister B, "I come for
that little you owe me". "Well how much?" "forty-five cents, sir."
- " Mr B. - I believe you owe me a quarter." "For you old senior"
"for a chicken supper sir." And so on, till at last, when he does
reach the carriag, it is with a diminished purse. Yonder is one
man with his head out the East Building window, roaring out for
"Chester-r-r-r,! oh! Chester; Chesterfield! # how long before my
concern will be ready," "The boy says, sir, the salubrity of the
atmosphere is very congressional to the consolidated feelings of
his concomitancy and that he will be there presently."
In addition to such creative works, students wrote essays on federalism,
on liberty, and on military leaders they admired; they argued that
Americans should develop their own national literature, that reading
poetry has value, that critics and reviewers are responsible to society.
When these students composed essays on ethical topics such as friendship,
ambition, mental improvement, and the beneficial effects of adversity,
they typically supported their arguments by referring to the obligations
and privileges they enjoyed as members of their debating society. They
placed enormous value on their association with other students, a bond
of brotherhood that lasted for the rest of their lives.
Students also set their own topics for weekly debates. Assigned a
week or two in advance, these debates involved four students, two taking
the affirmative and two the negative. The following questions are just
a sampling of the sorts of issues students addressed: Is duelling justifiable
(1804; no, 1816; no, 1824)? Ought the U.S. to remove the Indians. .
.West of the Mississippi (1825)? Has the influence of the Theatre upon
the morals of Society been beneficial or not (not; 1830)? Should Texas
be admitted to the Union (no; 1837)? Should congress receive petitions
for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia (1838)? Was
Queen Elizabeth justified in executing Mary (yes; mid-1840)? Was the
Mexican war justifiable? (no; 1851) Is southern slavery justifiable?
(yes; 1855) Would disunion be profitable to the South? (no; 1859).
The debating societies were important not only for building lasting
friendships but also for providing significant training in writing
and speaking. Antebellum students lived in a community steeped in public
address. They listened to faculty lectures, Sunday sermons, and visiting
political figures. They read published speeches printed under the auspices
of the debating societies or appearing in newspapers. As seniors they
were required to deliver publicly senior speeches and commencement
addresses. The debating societies offered weekly opportunities to prepare
for such work. They promoted a practical literacy that focused on the
skills of composing, argumentation, delivery, and parliamentary procedure
that would serve well a university graduate seeking a career as a lawyer,
minister, and teacher.
Let me illustrate the point by singling out Leonidas Fidelis Siler, (40) class
of 1852. Leonidas began his college career at Emory and Henry but came
to UNC in 1848, joining the Dialectic Society. In a letter to his cousin
Sarah "Sallie" Jarrett, he complained, "[I am] hurrying to finish up
my letter, so that I can prepare a recitation in Rhetoric. This is
not pleasant I assure you." In other letters to Cousin Sallie, he expressed
pleasure in "listening to an excellent sermon on the truth of the Christian
religion" (May 25 1850), and he applauded a temperance lecturer who "advanced
[his argument] with his profound reasoning, cutting irony and exhilerating
anecdotes" (October 13, 1850). When he invited Sallie's parents to
his family's Christmas celebration, he promised, "I'll make a speech
and they will hear others that will be interesting & good" (December
For Leonidas - church-goer, worker for the Sons of Temperance, and
would-be lawyer and Methodist minister - Dialectic Society meetings
had a relevance to his life outside the academy that recitations and
compositions written for professors did not. He participated actively
in society meetings. In March 1851 he opened a debate on the question
"Were the wars of Napoleon Buonaparte beneficial to Europe?" arguing
that they were. When he became society president in August 1851, his
inaugural address, like those of most society presidents, urged his
fellow-students to take their society responsibilities seriously.
Two of the compositions he wrote for society meetings were ordered
filed, one titled "Life's but a Span; I'll every Inch Enjoy," the
other an essay on "slander, that worst of poisons." In 1852, the year
he graduated, he established, together with five other students, The
North Carolina University Magazine, the institution's
first literary magazine.
The importance Leonidas attached to speaking and writing well was
echoed by other debating society members. Forty years after graduating,
Richard Henry Battle, Jr., (41) Class
of 1854, could still remember many of the classmates with whom he debated,
declaimed, and wrote compositions. He clearly regarded his responsibilities
as a Di "sacred":
To those of us who made any effort at elocution the sympathetic
and indulgent attention of our fellows was an inspiration to do
our best, and we acquitted ourselves in declamation much better
than in the chapel before the Faculty, or in the classroom of the
Professor of Rhetoric, where we had the fear of unsympathetic criticism. (42)
These students renew my appreciation for the ways in which students
give their college experience meaning. What is a University? For most,
it provides an education and a means of growing from adolescence to
adulthood. Then as now, students come to Carolina to get good grades,
compete for honors, and make their parents proud. Others mean to have
fun and to enjoy being away from home for the first time. A few learn
that failing to accept adult responsibilities carries disastrous consequences.
For all, the University experience creates friendships that advance
careers and last a lifetime. In fact, our ties to one another and
to this place prompt the invaluable support Carolina needs to insure
that each generation of students continues its significant contributions
to the economy and culture of this state and beyond. Now as then,
students believe that higher education has a power to improve the
self and the world. Though few of them will become famous - in the
ways our culture assigns such prominence - they will use their years
in Chapel Hill to grow toward productive and rewarding lives. It's
been my pleasure to introduce you to these students of long ago, and
I appreciate all that you do to support this institution in its work
with the students of today.
© Erika Lindemann, 2005.
1. The materials on which I base this
talk are all located in Wilson Library on the UNC - Chapel Hill campus.
To date, my search has yielded over 1800 documents housed in three
a. Housed in the University Archives (UA), the Dialectic
Society Records include an unbroken series of thirteen volumes
of minutes, five volumes of circulation records for the Society's
library, and 934 student compositions, 678 of them written between
1796 and 1868.
b. The North Carolina Collection (NCC) houses eight
bound volumes of student papers written primarily in the 1840s
and 1850s. A total of 571 students wrote the 701 autograph manuscripts;
several students are represented by more than one composition,
and whole sets of compositions on the same topic await further
c. The Southern Historical Collection (SHC) houses
student writing in 98 separate collections of individual and family
papers. Here we find over 300 letters from faculty members, students,
their parents, relatives, and friends; over 100 additional documents
shed light on the life and work of antebellum students.
2. Studies of nineteenth-century American
education abound - though few of them focus on Southern institutions
- and my work has been immeasurably aided by recent studies of the
history of composition, including Anne Ruggles Gere's Writing
Groups (1987), Sharon Crowley's Composition in the University
(1998), Robert Connor's Composition-Rhetoric (1997),
John Brereton's The Origins of Composition Studies in the American
Colleges, 1875-1925 (1995); and Nan Johnson's Nineteenth-Century
Rhetoric in North America (1991). These books together with
standard histories of several southern universities and old, still
useful, often multi-volume histories of higher education offer important
contexts for the work I present here.
3. Richard Dobbs Spaight (1758 - 1802)
was born in New Bern, NC, and educated in England, Ireland, and the
University of Glasgow in Scotland. Returning to the United States,
he served as an aide to Major General Richard Caswell during the
Revolutionary War. A member of the NC General Assembly from 1781
to 1783, Spaight served in the Continental Congress from 1783 to
1785 and was a delegate to the constitutional convention. He was
elected governor of North Carolina in 1792 and served three terms,
until November 1795. Representing North Carolina in the US Congress
from 1798 to 1801, Spaight was wounded in a duel with political rival
John Stanly on September 5, 1802, and died the following day (DCNB
5:403 - 04).
4. David Ker (1758 - 1805) was born
in Ireland and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He had emigrated
to the United States by 1789 and by 1791 was a Presbyterian minister
and school teacher in Fayetteville, NC. On becoming the University's
first presiding professor, he moved to Chapel Hill in 1794 and lived
in a house provided for him on the site of present-day Swain Hall.
Controversy over Ker's political and religious views as well as unrest
among the students prompted the Board of Trustees to replace Ker
as chief administrative officer. Though the board was willing to
allow him to remain as professor of languages, Ker demanded that
his salary be increased to include the value of his house. The board
refused and called for his resignation in July 1796. Ker moved to
Lumberton, NC, then in 1800 went to Natchez, MS, possibly as a tutor
to the children of Gen. John Willis. With his wife Mary he opened
the first public school for young women in Mississippi Territory.
Ker retired from the ministry, studied law, and became clerk of superior
court, sheriff, and eventually a territorial judge, appointed by
President Jefferson. Mary Ker continued to operate the school and
lived until 1847. The Kers were the parents of three daughters and
two sons (DNCB 1:353 - 54; Connor 1:347 - 38; Battle 1:104 - 07).
5. John Pettigrew (1779 - 99), known
as Jackey in the family, was the son of Charles Pettigrew (1744 - 1807)
and his first wife Mary "Polly" Blount. John attended the University
from 1795 to 1797 and was a member of the Philanthropic Society.
Charles Pettigrew hoped that John would become a physician, and by
1798 he was studying "under the direction of doctor Knox at Nixonton" (Connor
2:355). John died in an epidemic in 1799. The letter is housed in
the Pettigrew Family Papers, SHC; Pettigrew's sketch of Old East
(ca. 1797) is housed in the NCC.
6. Leander Hughes, son of John Hughes
of Patrick County, VA, was a student at the University for only the
1823 - 24 academic year. The letter is housed in the Leander Hughes
7. Augustus A. Alston (1805 - 38) from
Sparta, GA, entered the University in 1821. Leonidas King from Anson
County, NC, entered in 1822. Both students were members of the Philanthropic
Society, but neither received a degree from the University.
8. Joseph Hubbard Saunders (1800 - 39)
of Chowan County, NC, graduated from the University in 1821 and was
a tutor from 1821 to 1825, receiving the MA in 1824. He became a
minister in the Protestant Episcopal church and rector of Christ
Church in Pensacola, FL. George Shonnard Bettner (1801 - 60) from New
Bern, NC, graduated in 1823 and served as a tutor from 1823 to 1826.
He later became a physician.
9. Elisha Mitchell assumed the president's
duties during the 1824 - 25 academic year, while Joseph Caldwell was
in England purchasing books and scientific equipment.
10. Kemp Plummer Battle's History
of the University of North Carolina (Spartanburg, SC: The
Reprint Company, 1974) contains the following account of the "flagrant
A. A. and L. K. loaded themselves with whiskey in
the village grog-shop, and arming themselves, one with a club and
the other with a pistol, "sallied forth for the purpose of attacking
the persons of different members of the Faculty." They committed "violent
outrages" on two of the persons hunted. (1:298; see also Faculty
Minutes 3:49 - 50, UA)
After investigating the matter the faculty met on October
2, 1824, with the trustees living in Orange County: Thomas D. Bennehan,
Duncan Cameron, Francis L. Hawks, Thomas Ruffin, James S. Smith,
and James Webb.
The young criminals expressed their regret for their
misconduct, but it appeared to the authorities assembled impossible
that the peace and good order of the institution could be maintained,
if such outrages were permitted to pass without exemplary punishment.
The said A. A. and L. K. were therefore expelled. As we now say, "the
line was drawn" at cudgelling the Faculty with sticks, while looking
into the muzzle of loaded pistols. (Battle 1:299)
Judge Thomas Ruffin evidently pronounced the sentence
in front of the full student body assembled in Person Hall.
11. John Ambrose Ramsey of Moore
County, NC, entered the University in 1806 and was a member of the
Philanthropic Society. In March 1810 he was suspended for six months
for firing a pistol, blocking the door of the chapel, and "conveying
away" President Caldwell's carriage. Midway through his suspension,
in June 1810, he wrote to the Board of Trustees requesting reinstatement
and permission to graduate. Minutes of trustees' meetings make no
mention of Ramsey's letter, and he may not have been reinstated.
According to Battle, Ramsey, "a former student of high rank," received
an "honorary" BA at the 1811 Commencement, there being no other graduates
that year (1:186). In 1816 Ramsey received an MA from the University.
From 1814 to 1820 and again in 1823 he represented Moore County in
the NC House of Commons. The letter appears in the Faculty Minutes
1:1, pp. 193-96, UA.
12. James Lawrence Dusenbery (b. 1821)
from Lexington, NC, entered the University in 1839, joined the Dialectic
Society, and graduated in 1842. He studied medicine at the University
of Pennsylvania and hung out his shingle in Lexington in 1845. He
moved to Statesville, NC, in January 1846. During the Civil War Dusenbery
served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Though he survived the
war, it is not known when or how he died. He was a member of the
Board of Trustees from 1874 to 1877. The diary is housed in the James
Lawrence Dusenbery Papers, SHC.
13. John Lea Williamson (d. 1904)
of Caswell County, NC, entered the University in 1841, became a member
of the Dialectic Society, and graduated in 1843. He received the
MA degree in 1847 and became a physician and cotton manufacturer.
Williamson was a good friend of James Lawrence Dusenbery, whose diary
refers to him as "Gooly."
14. Harvard had close to 900 students;
the University of Virginia, nearly 650; Yale, approximately 500;
the University of North Carolina, 456 students [Edgar W. Knight, A
Documentary History of Education in the South Before 1860 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1949-53), 3:425, 5:279].
15. Kenelm Harrison Lewis (1816 - 66)
was the son of Exum and Ann Harrison Lewis of Edgecombe County, NC.
Known in the family as Kelly, he entered the University in 1834,
became a member of the Philanthropic Society, and graduated with
a BA in 1838. He received his MA in 1845. A lawyer, he settled in
Rocky Mount, NC, with his wife Elizabeth H. Bryan and two children,
John Bryan Lewis and Anna Lewis. The letter is housed in the John
Francis Speight Papers, SHC.
16. Thomas Miles Garrett (1830 - 64)
of Hertford County, NC, entered the University in 1848, was a member
of the Philanthropic Society, and graduated in 1851. He became a
lawyer. Enlisting in the Confederate Army in 1861, Garrett was twice
wounded in battle. Promoted to colonel in 1863, he died at Spotsylvania.
The diary is housed in the Thomas Miles Garrett Papers, SHC.
17. Thomas Williams Mason (1839 - 1921)
was the son of Temperance Arrington and Nathaniel Mason of Brunswick
County, VA. He attended boarding school in Warren County, NC, and
entered the University in 1854, joining the Philanthropic Society
and becoming a charter member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. During his
sophomore year he won an award for the best English composition (Battle
1:669). Mason graduated with first honors in 1858, delivering the
Latin salutatory. From 1858 to 1860 he attended law school at the
University of Virginia. In 1860 he married Elizabeth (Bettie) Gray
(1839 - 97); the couple had three daughters and one son. Mason served
on Gen. Robert Ransom's staff during the Civil War, then returned
to his wife's parents' plantation Longview in Northampton County,
NC. He also managed farming operations in Virginia and Louisiana.
Mason was a judge (1877 - 85), a member of the NC Senate (1885, 1895,
and 1915) and a University trustee (1885 - 1909) (DNCB 4:234 - 35). "The
Journal of a Day" is housed in the Sally Long Jarman Papers, SHC.
18. John Thomas Wheat (1801 - 88) was
born in Washington, DC, the son of Mary Chatham and Thomas Wheate.
John, who dropped the final e from his last name, was educated
at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. In 1825 he married
Selina Blair Patten, who became well known for nursing sick University
students. The couple had eight children; three died young and two
sons were killed in the Civil War. Wheat was ordained an Episcopal
priest in 1826 and had charge successively of parishes in Baltimore,
MD; Wheeling, WV; Marietta, OH; New Orleans, LA; and Nashville, TN.
In 1849 he accepted the principalship of the new Ravenscroft Theological
Seminary in Tennessee, but when the school failed after a year, Bishop
James H. Otey recommended Wheat for the professorship of rhetoric
and logic at the University. During Wheat's years in Chapel Hill
(1849 - 59), he was rector of the Chapel of the Cross as well as a
member of the faculty. Wheat resigned his professorship to become
rector of Christ Church in Little Rock, AR. After the Civil War he
moved to Memphis, TN. He received the DD from the University of Nashville.
Toward the end of his life Wheat established congregations in California,
West Virginia, and North Carolina. He died in Salisbury, NC (DNCB
6:164 - 65).
19. M. Henri Herrisse (1829 - 1910)
was born in France and emigrated to the United States in the 1840s.
He taught at a school in South Carolina before becoming instructor
of French at the University, where he taught from 1853 to 1856 while
simultaneously studying law. He practiced law in Chicago (1857 - 59)
and New York (1859 - 70) before returning to France. His avid interest
in early American history led him to publish some ninety books, pamphlets,
and articles, for which work the French government made him a member
of the Legion of Honor.
20. John Herritage Bryan (1825 - 91)
was one of fourteen children born to Mary Williams Shepard and John
Herritage Bryan, a prominent lawyer and US congressman from New Bern
and Raleigh, NC. Young Bryan entered the University in 1840, joined
the Philanthropic Society, and graduated with third honors in 1844.
He became a teacher, receiving an MA degree from the University in
1847. Later in his life he was a lawyer and bank teller. The composition
is housed in Junior and Senior Orations, 1842-46, NCC.
21. Charles Force Deems (1820 - 93),
born in Baltimore, MD, came to North Carolina in 1840 as an agent
for the American Bible Society. Gov. Swain persuaded him to teach
at the University "in order to get a Methodist on the faculty" (DNCB
2:49). He left Chapel Hill in 1848 to teach natural sciences at Randolph-Macon
College. He is best known for establishing the religious newspaper The
Watchman (in 1866) and the Church of the Stangers in New York.
The Deems fund, established at UNC with the help of William H. Vanderbilt,
honored Deems son Theodore, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg.
For many years the fund provided loans to needy students.
22. The grades for the senior class
of 1847 appear in the Faculty Minutes, 1:6, p. 366-67, UA. The son
of Robert and Priscilla Ransom, Matthew Whitaker Ransom (1826 - 1904)
was born in Warren County, NC, where he attended Warrenton Academy
before enrolling in the University in 1842. A member of the Philanthropic
Society, he graduated in 1847. He practiced law in Warrenton, NC,
and in 1852 was elected the state's attorney general. The following
year he married Martha Anne Exum; they were the parents of eight
children. Ransom served in the NC General Assembly from 1858 to 1861,
when he entered the Confederate Army as a private. Wounded three
times, he rose to the rank of brigadier general. After the war Ransom
resumed his law practice. From 1872 to 1895 he served in the US Senate.
Then President Grover Cleveland appointed him minister to Mexico
for two years. Ransom retired to his wife's plantation on the Roanoke
River and died on his seventy-eighth birthday (DNCB 5:175).
23. Hugh Thomas Brown (1835 - 61) from
Wilkesboro, NC, entered the University in 1854, became a member of
the Dialectic Society, and graduated in 1858. He became a lawyer.
A captain in the Confederate Army, Brown was killed in battle near
Springfield, MO. The grade report is housed in the Hamilton Brown
24. The youngest son of Caroline and
George Swain, a farmer, David Lowry Swain (1801 - 68) was born in Buncombe
County, NC, and educated at Newton Academy in Asheville, NC. He was
admitted to the junior class at the University in 1821 but remained
only one week. Reluctant to spend his parents' scarce resources,
he went to Raleigh to read law under Chief Justice John Louis Taylor,
then returned to Asheville in 1823 to begin his law practice. He
married Eleanor White in 1826; they became the parents of two daughters
and three sons, two of whom died in infancy. Buncombe County voters
sent Swain to the NC House of Commons four times between 1824 and
1829, when the legislature appointed him judge of the superior court.
In 1832 Swain became governor, a role that allowed him to represent
western North Carolina interests; promote internal improvements such
as roads, railroads, and schools; and reform the state's constitution
by bringing together in 1835 a coalition of the state's Whigs and
Democrats. Despite his political success, the predominantly Democratic
General Assembly of 1835, the last to elect North Carolina's governor,
denied Swain a fourth one-year term. He became president of the University
in 1835, a position he held until his death in 1868 (DNCB 5:483 - 86).
Students referred to Swain as "the Governor" or as "Old Bunk."
25. William Blackledge Whitfield (1842 - 62)
of Jefferson County, FL, entered the University in 1859, became a
member of the Dialectic Society, and joined the Confederate Army
in 1861. He was killed in May 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines.
His BA degree was awarded posthumously in 1911. A photocopy of Whitfield's
diary is housed in the William Blackledge Whitfield Papers, SHC.
26. Andrew Dousa Hepburn (1830 - 1921)
was the son of Rebecca Williamson and Samuel Hepburn, a lawyer and
judge. Andrew grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Jefferson College
and the University of Virginia before graduating in 1857 from Princeton
Theological Seminary. In the same year he married Henriette McGuffey;
the couple had one son, Charles McGuffey. Hepburn was ordained in
the Presbyterian church in 1858. Assuming a professorship at the
University in Fall 1860, Hepburn sided with the Confederacy during
the Civil War and remained in Chapel Hill until 1864, when he took
a leave of absence to serve as a supply pastor for the First Presbyterian
Church in Wilmington, NC. In the summer of 1865 he studied at the
University of Berlin. After the war financial necessity prompted
him to accept a professorship at Miami University in Ohio; he served
as the institution's president from 1871 until it closed temporarily
in 1873. Hepburn then took a position on the faculty at Davidson
College, publishing in 1875 a Manual of English Rhetoric and
becoming president of Davidson in 1877. When Miami University reopened
in 1885, he was reappointed as professor of English literature, a
post he held until his retirement in 1908. He received a DD degree
from Hampden-Sydney in 1876 and an LLD degree from the University
of North Carolina in 1881 (DNCB 3:117 - 18).
27. Students sat with their classes
during services in Gerrard Hall, with the faculty and tutors seated
among the students "To ensure proper inspection of the attitudes
of the worshippers" (Battle 1:716).
Fordyce Mitchell Hubbard (1809 - 88), son of Sarah
Mitchell and Roswell Hubbard, was born in Connecticut and graduated
from Williams College in 1829, where he remained several years
as a tutor. He also taught Latin at a school in Boston, where he
met and married Martha Henshaw Bates. The couple had one daughter.
In 1836 Hubbard published an edition of Poems of Catullus. Though
he studied law, in 1842 he was ordained an Episcopal priest and
became rector of Christ Church in New Bern, NC. After serving as
principal of Trinity High School in Wake County, NC, Hubbard accepted
the professorship of Latin at the University in 1848. The same
year he published a life of William R. Davie in Jared Spark's Library
of American Biography. He received a DD from Williams College
in 1860. Hubbard resigned his professorship in 1868 and for many
years taught at St. John's School in Manlius, NY, where he also
was rector of Christ Church. In retirement he returned to Raleigh,
NC, to live with his son-in-law Col. Thomas M. Argo (DNCB 3:221).
28. Hubbard evidently read the compositions
roughly in alphabetical order. "W. Smith" is probably William James
Smith (b. 1837) of Bigbyville, TN, who was a student from 1859 to
1861, when he joined the Confederate Army; he became a teacher and
vice president of a bank. Thomas Gregory Skinner (1842 - 1907) of Hertford,
NC, was a student from 1858 to 1861, when he joined the Confederate
Army; after the war he became a lawyer, serving in the NC House of
Commons in 1899 and in the US Congress (1883 - 87, 1889 - 91). Archibald
Trenton Staton (1844 - 64) of Hamilton, NC, was a student from 1858
to 1860 and was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor. All three students
were members of the Philanthropic Society. Skinner and Smith received
BA degrees in 1911 "as of 1862."
29. William Carey Dowd (1835 - 60) was
born in Tarboro, NC. The second son of Patrick Dowd, a prominent
Baptist minister, William attended Eastalia high school and enrolled
in the University in 1854. He became a member of the Dialectic Society
and graduated as class valedictorian in 1858. Appointed as a tutor
of Latin in 1858, tuberculosis forced him to resign after one semester.
He traveled to Florida and Red Sulphur Springs, VA, to recover his
health but died on June 30, 1860, in Christiansburg, VA, on his way
home to Tarboro. A biographical sketch of Dowd appears in The
North Carolina University Magazine 10 (September 1860): 110 - 12,
NCC. Dowd's inaugural address is housed in the Dialectic Society
30. Charles Wilson Harris (1771 - 1804),
born near Concord, NC, was the son of Mary Wilson and Robert Harris,
a farmer. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (Princeton)
in 1792, Harris taught at schools in Mecklenburg County, NC, and
Prince Edward County, VA. He studied experimental philosophy at William
and Mary College, then medicine with his half-uncle, physician Charles
Harris of Carbarrus County, NC. Joining the University faculty as
tutor of mathematics in 1795, Harris became presiding professor from
July to December 1796 after David Ker resigned. After studying law
with William Richardson Davie in Halifax, NC, Harris was admitted
to the bar in 1797 and took over Davie's practice when Davie became
governor. Harris received an MA from the University in 1799 and served
as a trustee from 1800 until 1803. He died, evidently of tuberculosis,
in 1804 while visiting his brother Robert (DNCB 3:50 - 51; Hamilton, Harris
31. Albert Coates and Gladys Hall
Coates, The Story of Student Government in the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1985).
32. Richard Henry Lewis (1832 - 1917)
was born in Edgecombe County, NC, to Catherine Battle and John Wesley
Lewis, a physician. After receiving his preparatory education at
Edgecombe Academy and Lovejoy Academy, he entered the University
in 1848, joined the Dialectic Society, and received his BA in 1852.
He taught classical languages for two years in Person County and
Fayetteville, NC, and earned an MA in 1855. The following year, he
received an MD from the University of Pennsylvania and began a medical
practice in Halifax County, VA, later moving to Edgcombe County and
Tarboro, NC. In 1857 he married Virginia A. Cull, with whom he had
two sons. Lewis served as a captain in the Confederate Army. In 1863,
after the death of his first wife and his sons, he married Eleanor
Betts; they were the parents of four children. Troubled by poor eyesight,
Lewis turned to teaching after the war. He helped establish the Kinston
Collegiate Institute and Kinston College; from 1889 to 1892, he served
as president of Judson College. He and his wife also conducted a
private coeducational school out of their home until 1902 (DNCB 4:62 - 63).
33. "A Brief Sketch of the Dialectic
Society, 1848-'52," Catalogue of the Members of the Dialectic
Society (Baltimore: Isaac Friedenwald, 1890), 13.
34. William Edwards Webb (ca. 1777 - 1829)
of Granville County, NC, was the son of John and Rebecca Edwards
Webb. He was admitted to the Dialectic Society on June 2, 1796. Though
he did not receive a degree with his class, by 1797 he was teaching
in the University's preparatory school. He was "waylaid and stoned" during
the week of student unrest preceding the 1799 Commencement. Shortly
thereafter, when Samuel A. Holmes resigned from the faculty, Webb
became professor of ancient languages. He left the University in
1800 to teach school in Halifax, NC, and he represented Halifax County
in the House of Commons from 1809 to 1812. A trustee from 1809 to
1818, Webb eventually returned to the University and received the
BA degree in 1812 and an MA in 1815. He married Sarah Williamson
and after her death wed Ann Lindsey Zollicoffer, with whom he had
three sons and three daughters (DNCB 6:150 - 51). The essay is housed
in the Dialectic Society Records, UA.
35. William Houston of Iredell County,
NC, was a charter member of the Debating Society and became a member
of the Dialectic Society when the Debating Society divided. One of
seven students in the University's first graduating class of 1798,
Houston became a physician.
36. Abner Wentworth Clopton, a Virginian,
joined the Dialectic Society in 1808 and received his BA 1809. He
served as a tutor at the University for one year, complaining on
his resignation, "I find it utterly inconvenient to receive no more
than $250 a year. I am willing to serve for $500 a year, and am richly
worth it" (Battle 1:185). The trustees agreed to pay him $400 but
assigned him to head the grammar school, where he taught until 1819.
In 1812 he earned an MA. A Baptist minister and physician, he eventually
returned to Virginia, near Roanoke. One source states that he lived
for a while in China, perhaps as a missionary (Grant 116). The essay
is housed in the Dialectic Society Records, UA.
37. Thomas Gilchrist Polk (1791 - 1869)
was born in Mecklenburg County, NC, the son of Col. William and Griselda
Gilchrist Polk. He entered the University in 1805, joined the Dialectic
Society, and graduated in 1809. He received the MA degree in 1816.
A lawyer and prominent politician, Polk served in the NC House of
Commons (1823 - 25, 1829 - 32) and NC Senate (1835, 1836). He served
on the Board of Trustees from 1831 to 1839, when he moved to La Grange,
TN, eventually settling in Holly Spring, MS. In 1826 he married Mary
Eloise Trotter; they were the parents of three daughters and three
sons (DNCB 5:113).
38. James Johnston Pettigrew (1828 - 63)
was born in Tyrell County, NC, the eighth of nine children of Ebenezer
and Ann Blount Shepard Pettigrew. Educated at Bingham's Hillsborough
Academy, Pettigrew entered the University at fourteen. He joined
the Philanthropic Society and graduated first in his class of thirty-six
students in 1847, the year President Polk attended the commencement
exercises. A talented mathematician, Pettigrew became a professor
at the National Observatory, but he left after six months to travel
in Europe and study law there. Upon his return in 1852 he joined
the Charleston, SC, law firm of James Louis Pettigru, his father's
cousin. In 1856 he was elected to the SC House of Representatives.
A Union man, Pettigrew nevertheless became convinced that a long
civil war was inevitable, and he remained active in the militia throughout
the 1850s, becoming a self-taught military engineer and returning
to Europe to fight with the Italians in their war against Austria.
When the Civil War broke out, Pettigrew enlisted as a private in
Virginia's Hampton Legion, declining several commissions and promotions
on the grounds that no one should command men who had not previously
led them in battle. By the beginning of the Peninsula campaign, however,
he accepted a commission as brigadier general. Shot several times,
captured, and exchanged for other prisoners, Pettigrew was wounded
during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, then was shot again in the
stomach during the retreat from Pennsylvania. He died three days
later (DNCB 5:77 - 79). The composition is housed in the Pettigrew
Family Papers, SHC.
39. Chesterfield was a college servant
whom some students called "Lord Chesterfield."
40. Leonidas Fidelis Siler (1830 - 70)
was the son of Jesse and Harriet Patton Siler of Franklin, NC. A
nephew of Gov. David L. Swain, Leonidas entered the University in
1848 and joined the Dialectic Society. He graduated in 1852 as the
class valedictorian. After studying law with Judge Pearson of Surry
County, NC, Leonidas began a law practice in Franklin, NC. Also a
teacher, journalist, and Methodist minister, he evidently was twice
married and the father of three sons and three daughters. His letters
to Cousin Sallie are housed in the Sarah A. Jarrett Papers, SHC;
his debate speech, inaugural address, and compositions are housed
in the Dialectic Society Records, UA.
41. Richard Henry Battle, Jr., (1835 - 1912)
was born in Louisburg, NC, to Lucy Martin Plummer and William Horn
Battle, a justice of the NC Supreme Court. He entered the University
in 1850, joined the Dialectic Society, and graduated with first honors
in 1854. He became a tutor of Greek and mathematics from 1854 to
1858, when he received an LLB. Having studied law with his father,
Richard began his practice in Wadesboro, NC. In 1860 he married Annie
Ruffin Ashe; they were the parents of ten children. Battle served
in the Confederate Army, becoming quartermaster of his regiment,
with the rank of captain, but he resigned in September 1862 to become
a private secretary to Governor-elect Zebulon Vance. After the war
he resumed his law practice and was active in political and civic
life, including service in the state legislature in 1911 and on the
Board of Trustees from 1879 to 1912. In 1895 the University conferred
on him an LLD (DNCB 1:116 - 17).
42. "The Dialectic Society of the
University of North Carolina from 1850 to 1854," Catalogue of
the Members of the Dialectic Society (Baltimore: Isaac Friedenwald,