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Slaves of Faculty and Townspeople

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

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

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

William H. Battle

William H. Battle, ca. 1845-1869.

William Horn Battle, ca. 1845-1869

Born in Edgecombe County, William Battle was a lawyer, legislator and jurist. A graduate of the university in 1820, he returned to Chapel Hill in 1843 with his wife, Lucy, and their children and in 1845 was named professor of law at the university. In 1868, when Reconstruction politics began to disrupt the university, Battle moved to Raleigh to practice law with two of his sons. He returned to Chapel Hill in 1876 again to teach law at the university, where his son Kemp Plummer Battle was then president. Battle would continue in this position until his death in 1879.

Home of William H. Battle, 1892.

Home of William H. Battle, 1892.

From Album, University of North Carolina [Richmond, Va.: Foster, Artist and Photographer, 1892] in North Carolina Collection (VC378 UVF).


Battle House

In 1843 Judge William H. Battle moved his family from Raleigh to Chapel Hill so that his five sons could attend the university. Among the Battle sons was Kemp Plummer, then eleven years old, who would later be president of the university. The judge purchased a house that, according to family history, dated "back to the earliest days of the university," and enlarged it by adding eight rooms to the front of the structure.

Several outbuildings, including a well-house, two servant's houses, a barn, and a bath house, were also built almost entirely by slave labor. In letters to her husband William H. Battle, Lucy Battle describes the construction. "Harry says he thinks it would be best to put the fodder house about 8 feet from the other."

When Kemp Plummer Battle returned to Chapel Hill in 1876 to assume the duties of president, he bought the house from his father and added a one-story wing on each side to produce the house pictured in this photograph. He also named it Senlac. The house still stands, on Battle Lane, and now serves as the Baptist Student Union.

Lucy Battle, undated.

Lucy Battle. Undated. Image from the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

Lucy Martin Plummer Battle

Lucy Martin Plummer Battle was the daughter of Kemp Plummer and Susanna Martin, prominent citizens of Warren County. Lucy married William Horn Battle in 1825 and was the mother of ten children, including Kemp Plummer Battle. Her grandson William James Battle described Lucy as "petite, vivacious, musical, very fond of hearing and telling good stories, but for all that she had a strong mind and will and was an admirable mother of a family and manager of a household of many children and slaves and much company." 


From Battle Family Papers #3223 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David L. Swain

David L. Swain. Image from North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

David L. Swain 

A lawyer and former governor of North Carolina, David Swain became president of the university in December 1835. In addition to his duties as administrator, Swain also served as professor of national and constitutional law. During his term of office, critics argued that standards of scholarship were low and the curriculum old-fashioned. But the university was prosperous under Swain's administration. As enrollment continued to grow, new buildings were erected, the campus improved, and the faculty and curriculum enlarged. At the end of the antebellum period, enrollment had reached nearly 500, making the university the largest of any southern institution.

Swain remained hopeful that secession and the Civil War could be avoided, but after the war broke out, he supported the South. When William T. Sherman reached Raleigh, it was Swain along with William A. Graham who met with the general as representatives of Governor Zebulon B. Vance. Many North Carolinians viewed Swain's efforts for peace, acceptance of a horse as a gift from Sherman, and his daughter's marriage to a Union general as betrayals of the South.

Although Swain had fought to keep the university open during the Civil War, the school began to struggle under Reconstruction, lacking in funds, political support, and students. A new Board of Trustees removed Swain from office despite his protests. His efforts for reinstatement were halted when, on 11 August 1868, he was thrown from his carriage, which was pulled by his Sherman horse. Although he appeared to be recovering, Swain died from his injuries on 29 August.

 Ledger listing the slaves of university president David L. Swain

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


December 1841. Manuel Fetter Expense Book

[Source Description: December 1841. Manuel Fetter Expense Book (#1963-Z), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]

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

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


Decr. 14 By 3 doz Eggs $ 30
" 16 " Subs. to Nat. Intell. frm Oct 27. 1841-2 6 00
" 18 " Ben 0.10. & for shoes mended 0.25   35
" 21 " C. W. Snipes for 1197 lbs of Pork, (but
if the market price exceeds $4.00 per 100 lbs I am to pay the difference)
48 00
" 22 " 1 ½ doz of Eggs   15
" " " 20 Chickens (Aaron Negro) 2 00
" 25 " Ben 0.25. Sylvester 0.25   50
" 28 ' Prof. Mitchell for the hire of
Phyllis (cold)frm 1841-42
20 00
" 30 " Serina (Christmas gift)   25
" 31 " 1 Qr’s Postage to date 4 50
" " " David for horse hire & c 2 00
" " " Charles for horse to Pittsboro to-morrow 1 00
      ____ ______
      85 11




12 June 1849. "Trustees in account with Ann S. Hillyard."

Hotel accommodations for travellers, horses, and servants.

12 June 1849. "Trustees in account with Ann S. Hillyard."

Along with her parents, "Nancy" Ann Segur Hilliard moved from Granville County to Chapel Hill in 1817. During the 1830s and 1840s, she was the proprietor of a boarding house known for a time as the Hilliard Hotel and later as the Eagle Hotel. The house catered primarily to student boarders but also accommodated other visitors. The trustees often boarded there during commencement. This account represents the costs of board for the trustees, their servants, and their horses. Trustees noted as bringing their own servants include Charles Manly, John M. Morehead, and William A. Graham. Board charged for servants was seventy-five cents, while the trustees were charged $1.50.

19 December 1843. David L. Swain to Charles Manly.

Swain refers to "a serious accident to a servant of my house-hold" that will keep him from attending the meeting of the trustees.

(connect to finding aid #40005)

31 October 1845. Caroline Scott to the trustees.

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

(connect to finding aid #40005)

1 June 1848. Receipt.

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

(connect to finding aid #40005)