College Life at the University of North Carolina
from the 1790s to the 1890s
Excerpts from letters and diaries available in Southern
Research Report #4
Item 1: John and Ebenezer Pettigrew, letter to their father, 4 May 1795
We are now in the Cordeiry and I think we both understand more of it than we ever did, the masters are very capable of their business. . . . I hope we shall get perty far advanced in Corneliusnepos by the examination. . . . We read every saturday fournoon. We have only saturday evening and sunday to refresh ourselves; before sunrise in the morning we have to attend prayers and study untill eight, & then eat brakefast and go in again at nine, study untill twelve, we dine and go in at two, we study untill five, then we have nothing appointed for us to do untill next morning: On sunday we have prayrs in the morning as usual at twelve we have a Sermon red, and at four we are questioned uppon religius questions. The books I reckon we most want is the Pantheon and some Roman Histories. As soon as I consult Mr Taylor, I will let you how it is, I should be glad you would notbe uneasy about it, for I shall do the best I can.
[Note: This letter is available in full at Documenting the American South.]
Item 2: John London, letter to Ebenezer Pettigrew, 29 Sept. 1799
The place is not in the most thriving condition but I hope it will turn out better than I thinke. Most of the boys that are here this year will not return next I am afraid, which will tend to hurt it. Our President has got a horse [whipping] from a boy which he and the Teachers had expelled unjustly and we have been in great confusion in taking his part for he was liked by all the boys, but everything is put to rights again only our president relished the [whipping] so badly as to return. William Baker, Robert Alston, Samuel McCulloch are expelled for taking an active part in the business.
Item 3: Thomas L. Spragins, letter to his brother (Mel Spragins), 22 Sept. 1808
Among the [advantages] at this place are the two Societies which is an advantage peculiar [to] Chapel Hill, all transactions performed in each society are kept in profound secrecy we have some of the most distinguished men in the State in our Society which is the Dialectic, and from the decorum which exist in it, and the worthy members which composed it, and also the information which it affords, it even merits the attention of Sages. The Library belonging to this Society exclusive of that which belong to the University cost $1500 which is the best by far that I ever saw.
Item 4: Leander Hughes, letter to his father, 2 Oct. 1824
I have just heard the sentence of expulsion pronounced against two of the students viz. Augustus Alston and Leonidas King; for having on last thursday night, committed violence upon . . .the persons, of some of the faculty viz. Mr. Betner, Mr. Sanders, -- and it is said that Mr Mitchel, the now president received several blows, both from Alston and King, though he has [no?] appearance of it now. These acts of violence were committed in a time of intoxication. I did not see any of the engagements that took place though one was ensued in thirty steps of my room between, Alston & Mr. Sanders after which, Alston ran into my room and requested that I should give him a knife (which I refused as both Mr. Mitchel & Sanders had both been upon him. Betner is confined to his room, though not from the blows he received but from spraining his ancle by some means in the contest. A. & King were expelled at a meeting of the trustees to day, and the sentence pronounced by judge Ruffin. There have been three others dismissed this session.
Item 5: Joshua Perry, letter to his father, 18 May 1839
I find in your letter, that I am accused of neglecting my studies, and also of disorder, both of which charges, I deny. . . . I am very certain how that [story] originated, some three or four weeks ago [President] Swain was absent from the hill, and one evening at [prayers], something took place, which created a great laughter, and Old Mitchell, (to be smart) got up, and spoke very harshly, and in return, nearly every fellow in college commenced stamping; and those whom he did not see, he reported on suspicion.
The honors were distributed among the senior class this morning, and as usual with great partiality. Jones & Matsby, who were entitled to the first honor, have both met with injustice. . . . Jones being a member of the Dialectic society, gets first, and Matsby, because he is a member of the Philanthropic society gets only second. Various acts of partiality have thus been [conferred] on the Dialectic Sosiety. And daily observation proves to me, that the Faculty are a set of rascals.
Item 6: Tristam Lowther Skinner, letter to his father, 22 September 1840
My opportunities for studying here, are not near so good as I expected them to be. I mentioned to you, when I wrote before, that I could not prosecute the course which you desired me to pursue. I now attend Dr. Mitchell's lectures on chemistry, and read history & other books which I think are useful. The french teacher who was here (and he was not a good one) has gone away. He did not think himself prepared to teach Spanish. There are no Spanish books on the hill, and very few french. The few that are here are in the college library, but I have obtained permission to use them. I have to study latin by myself, and do the best I can with the help of the advice which I can obtain from my friends. I borrowed a copy of Blackstone, from a gentleman in Hillsboro, rather than buy one (as I thought that you had one at home,) to study under Gov. Swain. I find enough to occupy my time pleasantly, and I hope usefully; and if the day was longer by several hours I could easily find occupation for them. We have had some little disturbance here lately. The faculty have dismissed several students, and the trustees are to meet here the last of this week when it is supposed several others will be sent off.
.... I have joined the Philanthropic Society.
Item 7: William Sidney Mullins, diary, 19 Jan. 1841
An amusing circumstance occurred today in our room. It is usual for Gov. Swain [the college president] to visit all the Rooms in College at the commencement of each Session and enquire of the occupants if they have any guns, pistols, or other deadly weapons, and on this semiannual tour of enquiry he came this morning to our room and asked us the usual question. To it my roommate (one of the stoutest fellows in College) replied, at the same time shaking very significantly his brawny fist, "None but this, Sir." The Governor was very much amused at the reply and laughed heartily. N. B. I had a pistol in the [drawer] and therefore said nothing, but let Tom talk.
Item 8: William Bagley, letter to his father, 27 Apr. 1844
This place is filled up mostly by those of the lower classes -- in fact there are very few decent families in the place & I understand the faculty dont encourage decent persons to come here to reside at all, thus the poor student is destined to grope his away along through the drudgeries of a session without the encouragement of the smiles of the ladies . . . and I think the faculty are disposed to be tyrannical -- they wish to impose duties on the students that he cant without considerable exertion, accomplish, and give him scarcely no respite whatever. On account of these things there is an almost continual warfare kept up between: the faculty & students, now for instance, the other night, deems went to some fellow's room & they locked them both up in there & threw stones in at the window, broke the lights, & kept him there until one of the Tutors, aroused by the disturbance, went & turned him out. Hee (Deems) is in the habit of going around to the rooms while the classes are at recitation & by this means has rendered himself very unpopular & he is accused of searching their drawers &c. that he may find translations or anything else that they may have contrary to the rules of College which I think is decidedly wrong. The rowdyism and low dissipation of the students is still another objection whose highest ambition seems to be, to be expert in shuffling cards, turning off a dose of liquor, or engaging in any low revelry. . . . My religion also would stand a severe test as there is very little opportunity for cultivating pious emotions & numberless avenues to sin & degradation.
Item 9: William Bagley, letter to his father, 27 February 1845
Last Saturday, the 22nd being Washington's birthday, it is customary for the students to partake pretty freely of the intoxicating cup & about night I observed that they were getting unusually rowdy & boisterous. I however retired about ten & had been abed I suppose about an hour when I was aroused . . . [and] got up & witnessed the manoeuvres of the revellers, I soon saw Gov. Swain [the college president], who had come up, accost a student, who raised his stick in defence & Dr. Mitchell & Mr. Philips, the tutor of Mathematics, both being near ran up & seized him, he called lustily for help & one student ran to his assistance & I expected to see a real encounter but the Faculty did not strike him, their only object being to discover who it was, the Governor, however lost both the buckles off his cloak in the engagement, the fellow whom he rushed upon having collared him. One of the young men was dismissed—the other suspended. Some of the trustees also have been sitting on the cases of two young men to-day [sic] who will be dismissed or expelled & then probably delivered over to the civil authorities. Seven, I believe, will be sent off in all.
Item 10: Willie L. Grimes, letter to a friend, 1890s
I like [it] up here very well with the exception of one thing and that is my social-standing, I deem it unnecessary for me to explain to you about the Fraternites, that are here at the University. I do not know how it was when you were here, but now unless a student belongs to some Fraternity he is not looked upon as being much. I think I can well say that all the boys who are from nice people and have friends here, are sure to get in some Fraternity. By not belonging to one myself you readily can see how it places me. Several years ago only the nice boys of the state came here to the University, but now since Dr. Winston became President the students are very much mixed. So many of the boys have their tuition given them and the majority of this kind are not from very nice people. I came up here a stranger and had no friends to tell me how to do and whom to go with. I made a great mistake by not rooming in the South Building, and then I would have associated with the very best of society. I was too late in applying for one of those rooms, and the Bursar put me in the New East B which you know yourself is not a very desirable place to room, but I was hazed and freshed so much, till I was satisfied to get in any building.
The boys who room over in this Building do not belong to any Fraternity and being with this crowd you see I was looked upon as being like one of the others. I think from what I have already stated you will see why I was not asked to join. It is true I knew Willie Kenan but I never was well acquainted with him or at least I did not feel so. He is a senior too and they do not trouble themselves about a freshman. He roomed down the streets therefore I hardly ever saw him, and besides he might possibly have thought I was a Fraternity Man and did not ask me to join, as there was one, Grimes, up here who joined. Willie belongs to a good one, but I would be glad to get in most any one so I could associate with the boys I want to. If you think there is no harm in doing so, wont you please write to him and ask him to try to get me in, but please do not let him know I wrote to you, as they never take in one who is over anxious for they call such boys — "Booters." I think Willie is very well acquainted with Father and Henry and do not think he would have any trouble in recomending me as being all right. There are some freshmen here who have just been asked to join. I wish you would write to Willie, and even if nothing results of this, it will be all right anyway.
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