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James, Hinton

by Gary E. Trawick, 1988

20 Sept. 1776–22 Aug. 1847

Old East became the home of Hinton James on UNC's campus. East Building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sketched by a student, John Pettigrew, in 1797. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.Hinton James, first student of The University of North Carolina, engineer, and legislator, was born in that part of New Hanover County that became Pender County in 1875, the oldest of five children of John and Alice James. The family lived on a portion of the land set apart in 1725 by the Lords Proprietors for Welsh settlers, subsequently known as the Welsh Tract.

On 12 Feb. 1795 James became the first student of The University of North Carolina, which had opened its doors on 15 January. He was the only student for two weeks. James had an outstanding record at Chapel Hill. At the time, original essays were printed in a record book and those of James frequently appeared, including "The Motions of the Earth," "The Slave Trade," "The Pleasures of College Life," and "The Commerce of Britain." He was a member of the first literary club, the debating society, and the Concord or Philanthropic Society. On 4 July 1798, he was awarded the bachelor of arts degree in engineering as one of seven students in the university's first graduating class.

James became an assistant to Hamilton Fulton, an engineer from Scotland hired by the state to make improvements on the rivers of North Carolina to aid navigation. James was put in charge of channel improvements on the Cape Fear River, the first such project undertaken there. In 1807 he was elected to the state legislature and served three terms. He also served as mayor of the town of Wilmington. At the time of his death, he was clerk and treasurer of the city of Wilmington and a magistrate for New Hanover County.

James was buried in the cemetery of Hopewell Presbyterian Church, near Burgaw, in the community where he was born. He was married three times and two of his wives, Mary Ann Watson and Sarah Moorehead, were buried beside him. The name and burial place of his third wife is unknown. A historical marker was erected by the North Carolina Department of Archives near his grave, and a dormitory at The University of North Carolina was named in his honor.


Kemp P. Battle, History of the University of North Carolina (1907–12).

A. J. Howell, The Book of Wilmington (1930).

Louis T. Moore, "Burial Place of Hinton James," Charlotte Observer, 23 May 1926.

Additional Resources:

Hinton James (1776-1847) and Hinton James Residence Hall:

"Events commemorate Hinton James," by Taryn Rothstein, The Daily Tar Heel:

"Hinton James." N.C. Highway Historical Marker D-13, N.C. Office of Archives & History. (accessed May 23, 2013).

Image Credits:

East Building, home of Hinton James on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sketched by a student, John Pettigrew, in 1797. From the Encyclopedia of North Carolina. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.


It is interesting to note the parallel lives of UNC's first students David Gillespie and Hinton James who were close personal friends and fierce competitors scholastically. They both wrote especially interesting compositions that won the recognition of the professors and awards from the University Board headed by Governor Martin.
James continued his education graduating in 1798 during the Tenure of James Smiley Gillespie as university President . Meanwhile , David unselfishly gave up his leadership role of the first class to lead Ellicott's survey across Florida to ensure success of the Pinckney Goday Treaty with Spain to allow our new nation shipping rights on the mighty Mississippi River.
Upon graduating James began his career as a survey engineer serving as an assistant to Fuller a Scottish civil Engineer who was selected by the State of NC to improve the navigation of the coastal inlets and the Cape Fear River especially for commerce up to Fayetteville.
Following David's dangerous , successful, four year survey across the Indian infested swamps of Florida he having received a letter of recommendation signed by Jefferson due to his keen survey triangulation skills was selected by Hassler to serve as his assistant to survey the harbors along the Atlantic Coast, especially around New York harbor, to improve the young nations maritime operations .
During the war of 1812 the Coastal Survey was placed under the war department leading to David Gillespie receiving the rank of major. The coastal survey's maritime responsibilities over the years greatly increased ,especially during World War 1,wherein the Coastal Survey became the geodetic Survey .
During their engineering survey careers both David Gillespie and Hinton James served a number of years in the N.C. state legislature . Gillespie during his legislative years ,like his father Congressman James Gillespie , was selected to serve on the Governor's Council.

Hinton James was my great great great grandfather. His 1st wife, Sara Moorehead , died during child birth, and her son was buried with her. The 2nd wife was Mary Ann Watson, who also died during childbirth, het daughter was buried with her.The 3rd wife, Ann Maria Hand, survived Hinton James and is buried in Augusta, GA. And she later married John ? Baker.

Ms James
It is interesting to note the parallel lives of our 3rd great grandfather's Honton James & David Gillespie.Even though they were especially close friends with David supporting & inviting Hinton to join the Phi fraternity they were fierce competitors for scholastic honors @UNC .
As you are probably aware Hinton and David's friendship was separated when David volunteered to be in charge of the Florida field survey across Fla to resolve the Florida boundary disputes with Spain which provided acess for our new nation to the mighty Miss River .while Hinton continued to scholastically star ironically graduating under David' s distance cousin James Smiley Gillespie

Following Hinton's graduation and David's successful completion of the Florida surve they chose careers that used their keen triangulation surveying abilities . Hinton assisted Fuller in survey the NC harbors with David using his recommendation from Jefferson to assist Hassler in Surveying the harbors of our eastern coastline especially in and around NY. During the war of 1812 the coastal survey was placed under the War Dept thus David was an 1812 war veteran. The Coastal survey continued to become an important National geodetic department of government providing key critical military maps. The coastal survey is now known as the Geodetic Survey

In the interim both David and Hinton served in the NC state legislation
Im pleased to read your blogs about our ggggrandfater's achievement .

The very best please stay in touch Bill Moore

We as Gillespie family descendants would greatlly appreciate if NC pedia would correct your link to David Gillespie to prevent Hinton James commemorative information from popping up like Forrest Gump and Pug Henry when we search your link for our forefather David Gillespie.
Obviously Hinton James descendants would not appreciate theirs search for Hinton James to Obtain David Gillespie commemorations.

Excellent! Thank you very much for sharing the additional information!


Michelle Underhill, Digital Information Management Program, NC Government & Heritage Library

David Gillespie was my 3rd great grandfather, and I was thrilled and honored to attend the coffee at UNCW today, May16, 2014 where my brother, William A. Settlemeyer, Jr. presented the Division for University Advancement a copy of David Gillespie's diploma from UNC dated September 21, 1796 and signed by Governor Sam Ashe.

This is a legacy our family is very proud of.

Please ensure that David Gillespie's historical accomplishments are published in Powell's Dictionary of N.C. Biography. The other resources you mentioned, Battle & Gillespie papers were referenced in my recently released book, "Quest for Freedom", The Presbyterian Struggles for Pollitical and Religious Freedom is available on Amazon.
Upon discovering your comments today, April 23, 2014,and my constructive complaints about the absence of official recognition of David Gillespie my overall review and Gillespie family recommendations are:
*Justly provide commemorative recognition of David Gillespie on the UNC campus- a commemorative case for his diploma signed by Gov Ashe should as recommended by Dr. Schrader, former director of UNC Southern Historical library , be appropriately placed at UNC.
* Provide a roadside marker for David Gillespie
I apologize for my comments relative to Hinton James, David Gillespie's personal friend ,who as noted from Phi frat records always scholastically achieved in a similar ranking as David Gillespie.
As my friend Rodenbough who wrote the biography of Gov Alexandria Martin who should be recognized as the founding father of N.C., stated, " Bill, Our purpose is not to criticize the somewhat limited history , but to broaden and present exhilarating history that has been overlooked. This overlooked history obviously would embellish and provide increased interest to our founding fathers incredible achievements.
If you in some way could have UNC Appropriately commemorative acknowledge David Gillespie the leader of the 1795 first class the Gillespie family would be especially appreciative.
Thank you for your comments and please read"Quest for Freedom"

David gillespie was President of the first frat at Unc the Concord that became the philantropic invited Hinton James to Join He was leader of first class as son of Congressman James Gillespie who was a relative of Sam McCorkle who was married to a Gillespie . David Gillespie received the first diploma signed by
Governor Ashe. David Gillespie so unselfishly gave up his leadership of the first class to ensure the terms of the Pickney Goday Treaty were fulfilled surveying across 500 miles of dangerousindian infested Florida swamp ensuring America obtained rights to sail the Miss River. He discovered the treasonous activities of Aaron Burrand Gen Wilkinson in a cask of sugar
It is interesting to note that James has a dorm named for him and a roadside marker claiming he started the Concord at Unc when Gillespie invited him as a member. There is not one word of honorable mention of David Gillespie @ UNC . Why has he been overlooked for a roadside marker and at least a framing of his diploma a @ UNC?? Was there a contest to see who would arrive on campus first?..
Gillespie became a member of N C House of Commons served as assistant for the Geodetic survey Under Hassler. Can someone please explain these oversights and discredits to David Gillespie??"

Hi William,

Thanks for writing to NCpedia with your comments and questions about David Gillespie and his relative absence from the historical record.

Why someone is missing from the record or official recognition is always a fascinating question to us -- and one that really has no easy answers.  James Hinton's biographical sketch comes from William Powell's Dictionary of North Carolina Biography.  With over 3,000 biographical entries on individuals associated with North Carolina's history, it was a monumental undertaking by Mr. Powell and his researchers, but it's not exhaustive. Some entries on individuals often cover the history of other family members -- and David Gillespie is mentioned in the entry on his father, James Gillespie.  

Incidentally, NCpedia is always looking for contributions to add additional biographies.  If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing, please see our contribution guidelines page.  If you would like help researching a topic, librarians at the Government & Heritage Library (State Library of North Carolina) can help.  You can find their contact information at

So back to David Gillespie:  Here are a few resources that you may already be aware of where David Gillespie appears in the record.  The first is Kemp Battle's history of the University of North Carolina, with a number of references to David Gillespie. UNC Libraries also house David Gillespie's papers.

  • David Gillespie Papers, 1797-1799, 1825 (collection no. 05483-z). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.,David.html (accessed February 3, 2014).

Thanks again for your commment to NCpedia!

Kelly Agan, State of North Carolina Government & Heritage Library


David Gillespie was my 4th great grandfather. I am very pleased to find that there is interest in honoring him at UNC. Thank you.

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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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