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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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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.


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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