Collection Number: 00706

Collection Title: David L. Swain Papers, 1807-1877 (bulk 1833-1868)

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.


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Size 2.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 1,800 items)
Abstract David L. Swain was a white lawyer, legislator, governor of North Carolina, president of the University of North Carolina, and an enslaver. The collection includes a volume, 1855-1868, with a list of the people he enslaved, as well as debts owed to him. Correspondence relates to Swain's position as president of the University of North Carolina; his interest in the history of North Carolina in the colonial, Revolutionary War, and early national periods; and his activity as a collector of historical manuscripts. Also included are three letters from George Moses Horton, a Black poet enslaved by the Horton family in Chatham County, N.C., and scattered items on politics and on railroad promotion in North Carolina and South Carolina. The few items of earlier and later dates are miscellaneous and family materials, with little relating to Swain's active political career. Papers include correspondence with state and national leaders in fields of politics, education, and history. Also included are typed transcriptions of Swain correspondence, 1827-1868, probably prepared by former Southern Historical Collection Curator Carolyn Wallace as part of her research on Swain in the mid-1970s. These are not transcriptions of the original correspondence in these papers, but are likely transcriptions of original Swain materials held in the North Carolina Collection (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and elsewhere.
Creator Swain, David L. (David Lowry), 1801-1868.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the David L. Swain Papers #706, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Acquired from the North Carolina Historical Society prior to 1940 with subsequent additions.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

David Lowry Swain was a white lawyer, governor, educator, and enslaver. He was born near Asheville, N.C., in Buncombe County. His father, George Swain, was a Massachusetts native who settled in Georgia and served in the Georgia legislature and constitutional convention of 1795 before moving to the North Carolina mountains. Caroline Swain, his mother, was the daughter of Jesse Lane. Caroline Swain had four children with her first husband, David Lowry. She and George Swain had seven children, of whom David was the youngest.

David Swain was educated in the Newton Academy and remained there for a time as an instructor in Latin. In 1822, Swain left to pursue his aspiration of becoming a lawyer and entered the junior class of the University of North Carolina. Older than most of the students and somewhat disappointed with the University, Swain left after only one week in order to study law in Raleigh at the school of Chief Justice John Louis Taylor.

In 1823, Swain returned to Asheville to practice law and soon became active in the political campaigns of his half brother, James Lowry, who was elected to the House of Commons. Along with most of his friends and associates, Swain supported the People's ticket, which first supported John C. Calhoun and later Andrew Jackson. Swain successfully ran for a seat in the House of Commons in 1824 by emphasizing local issues. Buncombe County voters sent him to the House of Commons five times, 1824-1826 and 1828-1829, where he became a champion of western interests.

In February 1826, Swain married Eleanor White, the daughter of former secretary of state William White. The couple had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood--a son, Richard Caswell Swain, who became a physician, and a daughter, Eleanor Swain Atkins.

In December 1832, the General Assembly selected Swain to serve a one-year term as governor of North Carolina, a selection which surprised the public. By the end of his year in office, he was highly popular and some informed leaders thought him the most influential man in North Carolina. The General Assembly then elected Swain for another one-year term. In December 1831, Swain was also elected a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina.

The University's respected longtime president, Joseph Caldwell, died in 1835, and the position remained vacant for most of the year. Swain, needing employment after the end of his term as governor, sought the post. Despite Swain's lack of scholarly credentials, influential trustees concluded that Swain would be an effective manager, what they believed the University needed most.

In January 1836, Swain moved to Chapel Hill to assume his new duties as president and professor of national and constitutional law. He would remain at the University for the rest of his life, filling the longest term of any University president. His administration and the renewed prosperity of the University and the state produced the popularity and growth of the institution that the board had wanted. By the end of the antebellum period, enrollment had increased to nearly five hundred, the largest of any southern institution, with students drawn from throughout the South. New buildings were erected, the campus was improved curriculum and faculty were enlarged, and alumni began filling the most important state offices.

David Swain was an avid historian, concentrating on the study of North Carolina and the collection of source materials for the history of the state. At the University, he established the North Carolina Historical Society, which collected important newspapers and manuscripts about the state.

During the Civil War, Swain devoted most of his efforts to keeping the University alive by seeking exemption from conscription for University students and refusing to cease operations despite hardships. Most of the students left for the war, as did younger faculty members, and Swain and the older faculty members were left to teach a dwindling student body. Through Swain's determination, the University remained open and held commencement exercises every year of the war.

As William T. Sherman's army reached the center of North Carolina, it was Swain along with William A. Graham who acted as representatives of Governor Zebulon B. Vance and met with the general to request protection for Raleigh and the University. Sherman was conciliatory to the two old Unionists, and Raleigh was not destroyed, and the University was not vandalized.

During Reconstruction, despite of the University's largely Unionist board and faculty, Republicans considered the University a hotbed of secessionists because the students had been overwhelmingly southern in sympathy. In contrast, many North Carolinians felt that the University had given little support to the Confederacy. They thought Swain's readiness for peace, his acceptance of a horse as a gift from Sherman, his approval of his daughter's marriage to Union general Smith D. Atkins, who commanded the troops occupying Chapel Hill, and his invitation to President Johnson to the commencement of 1867 to be betrayals of the southern cause.

With no effective political or public support, the bankrupt University, which had only a few students and faculty, was in great danger. Some of its trustees and alumni concluded that a change in the plan of education would revive the institution. An elective system of education was recommended, and Swain along with the other faculty members tendered their resignations to facilitate the new plan. The new plan was adopted in the fall of 1868, but these efforts proved to be ineffective and political control proved to be more important. Under Reconstruction, a new state constitution was adopted, providing that the old board of trustees be replaced by a new one chosen by the Board of Education. The old board, at its last meeting in June 1868, reelected the old faculty. The new board convened in July and courteously heard the reports of the old faculty, but met without them the next day and accepted their resignations.

Swain, shocked and hurt by his removal, wrote a long legalistic protest that was ignored. An accident cut short any further effort on his part to regain the presidency. On 11 August 1868, he was thrown from a buggy pulled by the horse that Sherman had given him. Though confined to bed due to shock and weakness, Swain appeared to be recovering, but he succumbed to his injuries on 29 August. He was buried in the garden of his home in Chapel Hill, but was later reinterred in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

David L. Swain was a white lawyer, legislator, governor of North Carolina, and president of the University of North Carolina, who also enslaved people. The collection includes a volume, 1855-1868, with a list of the people he enslaved, as well as debts owed to him. Correspondence relates to Swain's position as president of the University of North Carolina; his interest in the history of North Carolina in the colonial, Revolutionary War, and early national periods; and his activity as a collector of historical manuscripts. Also included are three letters from George Moses Horton, a Black poet enslaved by the Horton family in Chatham County, N.C., and scattered items on politics and on railroad promotion in North Carolina and South Carolina. The few items of earlier and later dates are miscellaneous and family materials, with little relating to Swain's active political career. Papers include correspondence with state and national leaders in fields of politics, education, and history, including William A. Graham, William H. Battle, William H. Haywood, Elisha Mitchell, John Motley Morehead, Thomas Ruffin, William W. Holden, Charles Phillips, and Cornelia Phillips Spencer

Also included are typed transcriptions of Swain correspondence, 1827-1868, probably prepared by former Southern Historical Collection Curator Carolyn Wallace as part of her research on Swain in the mid-1970s. These are not transcriptions of the original correspondence in these papers, but are likely transcriptions of original Swain materials held in the North Carolina Collection (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and elsewhere.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated.

About 1000 items.

Arrangement: chiefly chronological.

Folder 1

Correspondence, 1807-1813 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 1

Folder 2

Correspondence, 1830-1835 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 2

Folder 3-4

Folder 3

Folder 4

Correspondence, 1837-1838 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 3-4

Folder 5-6

Folder 5

Folder 6

Correspondence, 1839 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 5-6

Folder 7-8

Folder 7

Folder 8

Correspondence, 1840 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 7-8

Folder 9

Correspondence, 1841 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 9

Folder 10

Correspondence, 1842 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 10

Folder 11

Correspondence, 1843 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 11

Folder 12

Correspondence, 1844 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 12

Includes a letter by George Moses Horton, a Black poet who was enslaved by the Horton family in Chatham County.

Folder 13-14

Folder 13

Folder 14

Correspondence, 1845 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 13-14

Folder 15

Correspondence, 1846 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 15

Folder 16

Correspondence, 1847 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 16

Folder 17

Correspondence, 1848 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 17

Folder 18-19

Folder 18

Folder 19

Correspondence, 1849 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 18-19

Folder 20

Correspondence, 1850-1851 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 20

Folder 21-22

Folder 21

Folder 22

Correspondence, 1852 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 21-22

Folder 23-24

Folder 23

Folder 24

Correspondence, 1853 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 23-24

Includes a letter by George Moses Horton, a Black poet who was enslaved by the Horton family in Chatham County.

Folder 25

Correspondence, 1854 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 25

Folder 26-27

Folder 26

Folder 27

Correspondence, 1855 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 26-27

Folder 28-29

Folder 28

Folder 29

Correspondence, 1856 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 28-29

Folder 30-35

Folder 30

Folder 31

Folder 32

Folder 33

Folder 34

Folder 35

Correspondence, 1857 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 30-35

Folder 36-38

Folder 36

Folder 37

Folder 38

Correspondence, 1858 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 36-38

Folder 39-44

Folder 39

Folder 40

Folder 41

Folder 42

Folder 43

Folder 44

Correspondence, 1859 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 39-44

Folder 45-46

Folder 45

Folder 46

Correspondence, 1860 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 45-46

Folder 47

Correspondence, 1861 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 47

Folder 48

Correspondence, 1862 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 48

Folder 49

Correspondence, 1863 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 49

Folder 50-51

Folder 50

Folder 51

Correspondence, 1864 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 50-51

Folder 52-53

Folder 52

Folder 53

Correspondence, 1865 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 52-53

Folder 54-55

Folder 54

Folder 55

Correspondence, 1866 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 54-55

Folder 56

Correspondence, 1867-1877 #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 56

Folder 57

Correspondence, undated #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 57

Includes a letter by George Moses Horton, a Black poet who was enslaved by the Horton family in Chatham County. Also included are clippings.

Separated Folder SEP-706/1

Letter, 15 May 1781, from George Washington to Ezra Stiles #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." SEP-706/1

Washington's response to Stiles regarding an honorary law degree from Yale College.

Restriction to Access: The original item is not available for immediate or same day access. Please contact staff at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu to discuss options.

Folder 58

Notes on North Carolina history #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 58

Folder 59

"Catalogues of the David Swain Papers, 1855" #00706, Series: "1. Correspondence, 1807-1877 and undated." Folder 59

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated.

About 800 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

Typed transcriptions of David L. Swain correspondence, probably prepared by former Southern Historical Collection Curator Carolyn Wallace as part of her research on Swain in the mid-1970s. These are not transcriptions of the original correspondence in these papers, but are likely transcriptions of original Swain materials held in the North Carolina Collection and elsewhere.

Folder 60

Typed transcriptions, 1820s #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 60

Folder 61

Typed transcriptions, 1830s #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 61

Folder 62

Typed transcriptions, 1840-1842 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 62

Folder 63-64

Folder 63

Folder 64

Typed transcriptions, 1843 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 63-64

Folder 65

Typed transcriptions, 1844 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 65

Folder 66-67

Folder 66

Folder 67

Typed transcriptions, 1845 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 66-67

Folder 68-69

Folder 68

Folder 69

Typed transcriptions, 1846 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 68-69

Folder 70

Typed transcriptions, 1847 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 70

Folder 71

Typed transcriptions, 1848 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 71

Folder 72

Typed transcriptions, 1849-1851 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 72

Folder 73

Typed transcriptions, 1852 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 73

Folder 74

Typed transcriptions, 1853 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 74

Folder 75

Typed transcriptions, 1854 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 75

Folder 76-77

Folder 76

Folder 77

Typed transcriptions, 1855 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 76-77

Folder 78

Typed transcriptions, 1856 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 78

Folder 79

Typed transcriptions, 1857 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 79

Folder 80

Typed transcriptions, 1858 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 80

Folder 81

Typed transcriptions, 1859 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 81

Folder 82

Typed transcriptions, 1860 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 82

Folder 83

Typed transcriptions, 1861-1862 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 83

Folder 84

Typed transcriptions, 1863 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 84

Folder 85

Typed transcriptions, 1864 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 85

Folder 86

Typed transcriptions, 1865 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 86

Folder 87

Typed transcriptions, 1866 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 87

Folder 88

Typed transcriptions, 1867-1888 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 88

Folder 89-90

Folder 89

Folder 90

Typed transcriptions, Undated #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 89-90

Folder 91

Materials concerning possible publication of the David L. Swain Papers, 1972-1975 #00706, Series: "2. Typed Transcriptions, 1827-1868 and undated." Folder 91

Chiefly correspondence of Southern Historical Collection Curator Carolyn Wallace regarding her efforts to compile and publish the extant papers of David L. Swain.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 3. Account Book, 1855-1868

Oversize Volume SV-00706/1

Account Book with list of enslaved people, 1855-1868 #00706, Series: "3. Account Book, 1855-1868" SV-00706/1

Also includes accounts of debts owed to Swain.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Library Staff, 1980

Encoded by: Bari Helms, March 2005

Updated by: Noah Huffman, addition of typed transcriptions, March 2008.

Conscious Editing Work by: Nancy Kaiser, October 2020. Updated abstract, subject headings, biographical note, scope and content note, and container list.

Since August 2017, we have added ethnic and racial identities for individuals and families represented in collections. To determine identity, we rely on self-identification; other information supplied to the repository by collection creators or sources; public records, press accounts, and secondary sources; and contextual information in the collection materials. Omissions of ethnic and racial identities in finding aids created or updated after August 2017 are an indication of insufficient information to make an educated guess or an individual's preference for identity information to be excluded from description. When we have misidentified, please let us know at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu.

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