Copyright notice

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.

Printer-friendly page
Average: 3 (2 votes)

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.


I too am a great grand son of Hinton James. My mother was born Mary Wall James and married Jim Sutherland. My brother Willian Fulton graduated from UNC, my son has a masters from the Physical Therapy School at UNC, several cousins have graduated from UNC, now my grand daughter , McKenna James Sutherland will enter as a freshman 2020!!
Proud to be a James, James L. Sutherland (Sunbeam)

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.

My great-great grandfather's name was Dr. Hand James, so I assume he must have been the son of Hinton and Ann Maria Hand. Are you aware of anyone named Hand James? My grandfather's name was Walter Baker James, so there's the Baker name too!

My 5th great grandfather was Hinton James. My fathers mother was a James. We recently found evidence in the NC Masonic Grand Lodge proceedings of1832 the name Hinton James from St Johns Lodge 1 in Wilmington. Dad always suspected he was a Mason. UNC was founded by Masons. In answer to your question I have an Uncle Hand, so the name lives on. Dad donated an original picture of Dr. James to the Wilson library at Chapel Hill. I would be interested in learning more about Dr. James

Dr. James is mentioned on page 74 of Michael Braun of the Old Stone House by Roscoe Brown Fisher, 1975, Delmar Publishers and Printers, Charlotte, NC :
"Hariott Isabella, a sister of Edward and C. S. Brown, married Dr. Hand James of Wilmington in1847. Dr. James was a sporting gentleman who loved to hunt. When not in the fields, he practiced medicine here (Salisbury) and operated a drug store with his brother-in-law Edward Brown in the building formerly occupied by J. H. Ennis. He served on the city council in 1850 with J. M. Brown and was the son of Hinton James the first student enrolled in the University of North Carolina. He is buried in the Old English Cemetery.

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.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at