Documenting the American South Logo

Overview: 1830-39
Erika Lindemann

By 1830 the University of North Carolina had graduated 460 students. Roughly the same number had attended the institution without receiving degrees. Tuition had doubled since the University opened its doors, rising from $15 in 1795 to $30 in 1830. Room and board had cost $35 a year in 1795, but by 1837, students paid at least $11 per month or $110 a year for meals. Faculty salaries had more than doubled, from $600 for the presiding professor in 1796 to President Caldwell's $1,600 salary in 1830. Other faculty members were making approximately $1,450 per year; tutors were paid $400 per year (Trustees Minutes, Vol. 5, June 22, 1830, UA).
An advertisement in Chapel Hill's first short-lived newspaper The Harbinger provides a concise description of the University in 1833:
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. (December 15, 1833:3)
During the 1830s enrollments increased only slightly, from 107 students in 1831 to 151 by 1839.1 The number of faculty members remained the same as in the 1820s—a president, five professors, and two or three tutors. Nicholas Hentz resigned in 1831, so French was not taught until 1836, when A. Burgevin became the professor of modern languages. Burgevin, a native of France and a Roman Catholic, stayed only a few months, and little is known about him, not even his first name. In 1833 Walker Anderson was elected professor of natural philosophy and astronomy, offering relief to Elisha Mitchell , who became acting president as Joseph Caldwell's health declined.
On January 27, 1835, Professor Caldwell died. In considerable pain for several years with what may have been kidney stones, he had decreased his teaching and administrative duties for at least a year prior to his death. His passing saddened students, faculty, and friends of education throughout the state. His presidency had been the stable influence needed to establish the reputation of the University, and Caldwell saw it through difficult financial and political times. He raised money to expand its library and build Old West and Gerrard Hall. In 1832 he constructed at his own expense the University's first observatory. For almost forty years he managed to navigate sectional controversies that might have lost the University friends and supporters.
Some historians believe that Caldwell's step-son William Hooper saw himself as the next University president. In December 1835, however, the trustees elected David Lowry Swain to that post. To some, the choice must have been puzzling. Swain was not a "learned man" or a clergyman. He was young, only thirty-four. Although a Presbyterian, he doubtless had been selected because of his experience as a politician, not an academic. Swain had served as North Carolina's governor from 1832 to 1835. He had been elected to the board of trustees in 1831 and, as governor, became its ex officio chair. Board members evidently thought that he could manage the University well and perhaps improve its popularity among the state's political leaders. In hindsight the choice was exactly right, for Swain's political skills would be needed to bring the institution through the three decades leading up to and through the Civil War. By January 1836 Swain and his family had moved to Chapel Hill.
A year later William Hooper left the University to become president of the Furman Institute in South Carolina. In 1838 Hooper's professorship of ancient languages was abolished and separate chairs of Greek and Latin were established, Manuel Fetter filling the former and John De Berniere Hooper , William Hooper's son-in-law, the latter. That same year William Mercer Green joined the faculty as chaplain and professor of rhetoric and logic. Charles Marey taught French and topographical drawing for a year but was dismissed for drunkenness in 1839. Elisha Mitchell , appointed under Caldwell , continued to teach chemistry, geology, and mineralogy; James Phillips , another Caldwell appointee, mathematics and natural philosophy.
Two or three tutors rounded out the faculty during the 1830s. Selected from among the distinguished graduating seniors, the tutors increasingly assumed responsibility for the instruction of first- and second-year students, a practice that anticipates by some fifty years the use of teaching assistants in undergraduate courses. The tutors specialized in either ancient languages or mathematics, and the senior tutor usually served as the University's librarian and as secretary of the faculty, taking minutes during faculty meetings.
Though funds for new construction were minimal,2 an inexpensive project to beautify the campus began shortly after Swain arrived. He conceived of surrounding the campus with stone walls built from the granite rocks that lay on and just below the ground. Constructing these "stone fences" became the work of Elisha Mitchell , whose many duties included supervising the buildings and grounds and who came from Connecticut, a state where such walls, constructed without mortar, are a feature of the landscape. Begun in 1838, the three-foot high walls continued to be built intermittently for six years. Townspeople found them so attractive that they began replacing the unsightly rail fences surrounding their own homes with stone walls. The walls were not only distinctive, but also functional. They kept out "wandering cattle, hogs, and sheep, which were allowed by law to roam at large" (Henderson 125). Today, they are one of the most prominent features of the University's campus.


1. Faculty minutes for November 22, 1839, record the names of 22 first-year students, 40 sophomores, 49 juniors, 31 seniors, and 9 irregular students, for a total enrollment of 151 students (3:308-15, UA).

2. The number of campus buildings at the beginning of the decade stood at five: Old East, Person Hall, Steward's Hall, South Building, and Old West. Two new buildings were finished in the 1830s, an observatory and Gerrard Hall. Construction of the observatory began in March 1832 and was completed in August 1832 (Henderson 101). President Caldwell built it himself, with $430 of his own money, though the trustees reimbursed him a few days before his death. It burned down in 1838. Gerrard Hall, a new chapel begun in 1822, was not completed until 1837 for lack of funds.