New Collection: Fred Brooks Papers

Fred Brooks at the dedication of the Brooks Computer Science Building in 2008.
Fred Brooks at the dedication of the Brooks Computer Science Building in 2008. Photo by UNC News Services.

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. Papers. This collection documents the work of Fred Brooks, the pioneer computer scientist and founder of UNC’s Department of Computer Science. The UNC Computer Science building, dedicated in 2008, is named for Brooks.

The collection includes materials about the Department of Computer Science, the development of the Triangle Universities Computing Center (an early collaboration between Duke and UNC), and records of Brooks’s research and writing, including the manuscript of his influential book The Mythical Man-Month.

The Brooks Papers are open and available for research in Wilson Library.

Image source: News Services of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#40139). Digital Folder DF-40139/0382,


The Rise and Fall of Apple Chill

The Apple Chill festival began in Chapel Hill in 1972, a time when the city was (as the 1972 UNC yearbook said) “a town of small, even shops interrupted by one higher roof with the unmistakable air of village compactness and tradition.”

Springtime would bring the festivities to a Franklin Street closed to traffic, and people from far and wide would join the revelry. The large street fair brought thousands of people into Chapel Hill each year and provided exposure for artists and musicians of all types. A group that became a mainstay of the celebration was the Apple Chill Cloggers, a folk dance troupe that has performed in 14 countries since their first festival appearance in 1975.

The first Apple Chill festival page from the 1972 edition of the Yackety Yack.

As the years flew by Apple Chill began to change and three major issues began to make themselves clear: the astronomical cost, the violence, and the unbelievably bad traffic. The 2004 celebration cost the town $43,593. In 2005 the cost had doubled: the town spent $87,233 for police and other costs.

Apple Chill, for all its charm, had problems more serious than merely draining the treasury (DTH 4/15/05). Rising crime resulted in an increased police presence as the years drifted by: in 1993 there was a shootout after the festival, in 2003 alone 12 fights were reported, and two people were injured in a stabbing at the Local 506 in 2004.

Apple Chill 1979. [Yackety Yack]
All good things must come to an end, and the increasingly violent events caught up with the festival. In 2006 Chapel Hill chilled for the final time. Around 30,000 people (and 235 police officers) attended that year, unaware that they would be the final attendees to celebrate in Chapel Hill proper. That year officers arrested 11 people and issued 87 traffic citations, but that was only the beginning of the troubles. At an unsanctioned event called “After Chill,” the fun and games finally ended as the violence reached a head: three people were shot.

Traffic was another problem of Apple Chill; roads were congested so badly that not even ambulances could navigate. The News and Observer reported on one particularly shocking 2006 incident (N&O 4/25/06):

One of the shooting victims had to be taken from Franklin Street to UNC Hospitals on a John Deere Gator, which is like an all-terrain vehicle with a cab on the back that was retrofitted to hold a gurney.

Apple Chill 1990. [Yackety Yack]
The death of Apple Chill, though tragic, was also a reflection of Chapel Hill’s evolving culture. It was no longer a small town, and Mayor Kevin Foy was forced to acknowledge that fact even when facing resistance from many Chapel Hill locals. “The town is not the same as it was 35 years ago; as the town grows, as the region grows, we have to be willing to change.”

Despite being ousted from Chapel Hill, Apple Chill events can still be found hosted in other cities (though the Spoonerism of a name makes a bit less sense as a result). From 2007 until 2010 the festival was held in Roxboro, NC. Since 2011 it has been held in Fayetteville.



Apple Chill Cloggers

“Chapel Hill Town Council Passes Resolution To End Street Fair”

“Chapel Hill Votes to Kill Apple Chill”

“Police: Chapel Hill Festival Shootings Probably Gang-Related”

The Daily Tar Heel (articles cited above)

The Yackety Yack

UNC Students Study Nike, 1998

Daily Tar Heel, 29 April 1998.

In the mid 1990s, Nike and other apparel companies drew criticism for labor practices in overseas factories they owned or used. UNC students and faculty were at the heart of the debate in the spring of 1998 when an entire class looked at Nike and its role in the global economy.

UNC began its relationship with Nike in 1993, when it signed its first agreement with the company to provide shoes and other athletic apparel for Carolina athletes and coaches. It was a new era for the basketball team in particular, which had worn Converse shoes since the 1960s.

When the University began negotiating a renewal of the contract a few years later, students began to bring up concerns about Nike’s labor practices. In the summer of 1997, student Marion Traub Warner started the Nike Awareness Campaign to educate other students about concerns over Nike’s labor practices. This was not just a UNC issue. Other universities with apparel deals with Nike, including Michigan, Ohio State, and the University of California, collaborated with an independent study of working conditions in factories used by Nike. In the fall of 1997, business students at Dartmouth released a study of pay rates at factories in Indonesia and Vietnam. Workers were found to be poorly paid and subject to dangerous environmental conditions.

Inspired by UNC student interest and an opportunity to study and learn from a current, global issue, UNC faculty members Richard Andrews, Nick Didow, and James Peacock offered a class in the Spring semester 1998 entitled “Economics, Ethics, and Impacts of the Global Economy: The Nike Example.”

The course drew national media attention, including a mention on ESPN. At the end of the semester, the faculty arranged for a staff member from Nike to be present for the students’ final presentations, which included recommendations for the company. They were all surprised when the company representative turned out to be Nike CEO Phil Knight. Nike took steps to address labor concerns in its factories and the University continued to renew its apparel contracts with Nike.

This topic and the class are covered at length in a new collection in the University Archives. The collection includes materials gathered and saved by Dr. Raymond (“Pete”) Andrews. It is a terrific resource for anyone interested in studying labor practices of apparel companies in the 1990s and the ways that college students at UNC and around the country helped to engage and possibly influence the practices of a major international corporation.

UNC faculty and students with Nike CEO Phil Knight (third from left), 1998. From the Richard Andrews Collection on The Nike Class, UNC University Archives.

Otelia Connor: UNC’s Guardian of Good Manners

Otelia Connor, from the Daily Tar Heel, 9 March 1963.
Otelia Connor, from the Daily Tar Heel, 9 March 1963.

Before there were Pit preachers, there was Mrs. Otelia Connor, an elderly Southern woman who patrolled the manners of Carolina students in the 1960s.  Instead of a Bible, she carried an umbrella to thwack those who ran afoul of her rules.  Though she reportedly only used the umbrella once, the threat of her wrath was enough to keep many in line—at least in her presence.  Connor was known as a campus gadfly, a character whose outsized personality kept her on the pages of The Daily Tar Heel.  Her mission and popularity led Time magazine to write a feature in which they coined the term “Oteliaquette” to describe her unique take on campus etiquette.  She later appeared on other media outlets, including The Mike Douglas Show and various radio programs.  Her moment in the national spotlight faded, though she continued to contribute to campus life until her death in 1969.

Otelia Cunningham Connor, a widow from an illustrious North Carolina family, originally came to Chapel Hill for her son’s graduation from law school in 1957.  She fell in love with Carolina, and promptly moved to a modest apartment near campus.  Though the mother of two grown children, Otelia adopted the entire student body as her children and set about improving their manners from her base in Lenoir Hall.  Her rules ranged from common demonstrations of respect—such as holding the door for older people—to specific prohibitions against everything from chewing gum to bumping the back of her chair.  In general, she advocated friendly and thoughtful behavior as hallmarks of a proper upbringing and education.  She wrote of her calling, “The world expects good manners of a college graduate.  When I correct the young people it is because I think too much of them to see them go out into the world without the rudiments of good manners . . . . Most young people appreciate someone taking the trouble to correct their thoughtlessness.” Otelia Connor, “Manners Minder,” DTH (11 April 1962, pg. 2)

Dean of Students Charles Henderson described Otelia as an “anthropological treasure . . . a throwback to those lost days when manners counted for something, and when elderly ladies thought it their duty to preserve them.”  Students were more divided on her mission and methods.  Some students appreciated her contributions, as Stanley Cameron wrote to the DTH, “She is truly a pearl.  Carolina would not be the same without her.  Only a mature, reserved, detached woman like herself could display such keen insight in the life of this university.” Stanley Cameron, “Wants More Otelia, Wellman,” DTH (15 February 1963, pg. 3).  Others were more dubious, “Otelia Connor writes such stinging comments on the social manners of our times that she has been suspected of being the pseudonym of a crotchety editor whose pen has an acute case of acid hemophilia.” Alan K. Whiteleather, “The Pen’s Poison, But Manners Are the Motive: ‘Otelia’—It’s No Pseudonym,” DTH (13 February 1963, pg. 1).  Indeed, DTH editors had to reassure incredulous students that Otelia was indeed “real” on multiple occasions.

As the self-appointed guardian of manners, Otelia was often viewed as a prude.  The 1963 April Fool’s issue of the DTH (March 31, 1963) featured Otelia as a member of an imaginary “Human Relations Committee” to enforce the administration’s abolishment of sex.  Indeed, Otelia argued against pre-marital sex during a Di-Phi debate.  Otelia was also positively scandalized by a dance called the Thunderbird, citing its resemblance to “an orgy” and expressed concern that a male student might “shake his backsides right off,” continuing, “please excuse me from this bottom-shaking business.  Whatever it is, it is not a dance and shouldn’t be classified as a dance.” Otelia Connor, “From Otelia,” DTH (11 July 1963, pg. 4).

Despite her traditional ideas about sex and dancing, Otelia was more progressive regarding dissent.  As she wrote in a rare political letter to the editor, “When this country ever reaches the point where it is afraid of new ideas and afraid to let people express themselves in open and free debate, then democracy will already be dead, and waiting to be buried by the communist world.” Otelia Connor, “More Afraid Of J Birchers,” DTH (11 December 1962, pg. 2).  This is not to say that she embraced an activist worldview.  Although she claimed to support civil rights for African Americans, she objected to continuing demonstrations by the Civil Rights movement, “I think it would be the part of wisdom to consolidate the many gains they have made recently, and give the extreme segregationists a chance to accommodate themselves to the changes which have come about.”  Otelia Connor, “From Otelia On Civil Rights,” DTH (1 August 1963, pg. 5).

By the end of her life, Connor had recanted some of her earlier strictures regarding dancing, male-female relationships, and—in her final letter—long hair on men.  In that last article, she decried her earlier belief “that everybody should conform to the status quo, and that there should never be any changes.”  After exhorting men with long locks to keep their hair clean, she offered words of wisdom for all generations, “Let us all, students and adults, grow into maturity, and be ready to accept the next period of change around the corner.” Otelia Connor, “Time For Change,” DTH (31 July 1969, pg. 6).

Archival Photo Mystery: Buncombe County Military Recruits, 1916-1917

During a recent renovation project at Wilson Library, we came across a couple of photographic postcards that had been set aside.  Based on a note left with the photographs, it appeared that the items had probably been separated from the University Papers; however, when we tried to find corresponding folders or items in the collection, we were unsuccessful.  Thus began our most recent processing mystery.

The backs of the postcards are blank, which leads us to believe that they were enclosed with a letter, likely sent to President Edward Kidder Graham in 1917.  The photos are dated in 1916 and 1917 and show how two men have gained weight over the course of several months, before-and-after style.

We were of course curious about who these two men were and why their photos were sent to President Graham.  Based on UNC records, it doesn’t look like either White or Bryson were ever students here, but after some searching, we did learn a few things.

After looking through census and military records, we found a little information about the first man — Jobe White. He was from Weaverville, N.C., born in February 1897 to Malissa White, and he had two brothers — Bradshaw and Hardy.  We were less successful in discovering the identity of the second man.  The writing on the postcard appears to show just initials and surname — W.C. Bryson  — and we can guess that he was also from Buncombe County.  While we did find records that gave us pause and made us wonder whether this was the same man, none contained enough information for us to make a confident match.

What we can say is this: both men were part of the First North Carolina Infantry in 1916 and 1917. They were both from Buncombe County.  And they both gained a significant amount of weight over the course of five months of military training. (White gained 30 lbs. and Bryson gained 50.)

Based on the years and regiment, they were probably sent to Texas as part of the Mexican Border Campaign, also known as Pershing’s Punitive Expedition or the Pancho Villa Expedition. The First Regiment mustered at Camp Glenn, in Morehead City, during the first week of August 1916, arrived in El Paso in September 1916, and returned to North Carolina in early February 1917.

While we were able to find out all this just using the captions on both photographs, where they came from is still a mystery.  Were they sent to President Graham enclosed with a letter? Why were they sent to him? Who sent them?  If these men were never UNC students, how were they connected to the University? If you have any ideas, please let us know in the comments on this post or get in touch at


For further reading:

State Archives of North Carolina, First North Carolina Infantry Regiment Panoramic Photograph.

National Archives, The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition: Part 1.

Slave Labor and South Building

South Building, often called “Main Building” in early university records, was one of the first buildings constructed on campus. Work began around 1798.[1] It is currently the central administration building on campus, housing the Office of the Chancellor, the Executive Vice Chancellor, and Provost. South Building is located in the heart of the original campus where the first structures built by white and black workers are located, including Old East, Old West, Gerrard Hall, the Steward’s Hall, Person Hall, and Smith Hall. At least 35 known enslaved laborers, who were skilled brick-masons, carpenters, and artisans, and who likewise provided labor such as transportation of materials, contributed extensively to the construction of South Building and its subsequent repairs.

Gaps remain in the archival sources and historical records regarding enslaved peoples’ involvement in the original construction of structures such as South Building. University financial records list payments made to Samuel Hopkins in 1798 for his supervision of work on “Main Building,” and to Major Pleasant Henderson for procuring roofing shells and taking over the duties as superintendent in 1799. These records emphasize the involvement of white men, however, and provide little detail on the construction process. It was not until the 1820s and 1837 when extensive repairs and additions were made to South that enslaved workers were mentioned by name and with some degree of specificity regarding the nature of their labor.[2] There is a mention of “7 days labor of a hand moving” the steel and iron; no names are provided, however, for the enslaved men who contributed to the initial construction on South Building.[3]

Various issues, including the temporary loss of funds from escheated property (including enslaved people) hindered the building’s completion until 1814.[4] South Building stood as one and a half roofless stories from 1801 and 1811.[5] Trustees began raising funds for the university through donations, called subscriptions, in 1803. President Joseph Caldwell himself traveled throughout North Carolina in 1809 and 1811 collecting funds from elite North Carolinians. Construction on South Building resumed in 1811 once enough subscriptions were collected. Contractor John Close oversaw the completion of South Building in 1814, but the records do not indicate whether he used enslaved labor during construction.[6]

The Board of Trustees and the Building Committee hired architect William Nichols in 1822 to divide the Prayer Hall in South Building into two stories. Over the course of several years, enslaved laborers added a ceiling, and converted existing rooms into a chemical laboratory, and a library and lecture room.[7] From 1824 to 1826, Nichols and his laborers, which included several dozen enslaved men hired out from trustees and other local slave owners, worked to remove the leaky cupola, make the roof on South Building “continuous,” and to build a belfry.[8] Clayton, Daniel, Peter, Sam, Toney, and Will quarried rock, made repairs, and performed carpenter and sawyer work on multiple buildings in addition to South Building, including Old East, Old West, and Steward’s Hall under Nichols’ supervision.[9]

Thomas Waitt and his workers completed covering the roof of South Building in tin in 1837. A bill to the trustees listed the full names and wages of white workers, and listed the names of enslaved plasterers and masons Stewart, Chester, Peter, Calvin, Evans, laborers Lewis, Tom, Redin, Abraham, Jordan, and unspecified labor performed by unnamed hands.[10] Isaac, Jorge, Lewis, Luke, Ransom, and Sam were listed on a bill detailing that they had labored on South Building’s cupola and belfry, along with putting a new roof and portico on Gerrard Hall.[11]

No further repairs were commissioned for South Building until 1860. Architect and builder Thomas Coates and his laborers began construction on a new cupola after the first burned down in 1856.[12] However, no records have been found which detail who the laborers involved in this project were.

While William Nichols compiled extensive records which documented enslaved workers’ various duties and skills, other builders either kept far fewer records of their efforts, or such records were lost or destroyed.[13] What records do exist, however, prove the necessity of enslaved people to the university’s existence, their centrality in maintaining the university’s functions, and that the funds provided for construction, repairs, and additions to South Building and others came from slaveholders whose profits were made through the efforts of enslaved people.

[1] Board of Trustees for the University of North Carolina Records, 1789-1932, #40001, Series 1, Minutes 1789-1932, Oversize Volume SV-40001/3, 7/11/1799, 20-22.

[2] University of North Carolina Papers, 1757-1935, #40005, Series 1, Folder 79, 2/1/1823; Folder 82, 7/3/1823; Folder 86, 3/1/1824; Folder 101, 5/15/1826; Folder 103, 8/9/1826; Folder 104, 9/1/1826;

[3] Ibid., 70.

[4] “South Building,” UNC University Library, 2005,; Kemp Plummer Battle, An Address on the History of the Buildings of the University of North Carolina (Greensboro: Thomas, Reece & Co., Printers, 1883), 11, 134.

[5] Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, Volume I: From its Beginning to the Death of President Swain, 1789-1868, (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1907), 126-127.

[6] Battle, An Address, 11, 134.

[7] Battle, History of the University, 281-282; Archibald Henderson, “Chapter 9: Old West and The New Chapel; President Polk’s Visit,” The Campus of the First State University, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1949), 85.

[8] Battle, History, 282.

[9] Folder 79, 2/1/1823; Folder 82, 6/4/1823; Folder 86, 3/1/1824; Folder 101, 5/15/1826; Folder 104, 9/1/1826.

[10] “Thomas A. Waitt’s bill for labour,” UNC Libraries, last modified 2005,

[11] UNC Papers, Series 1, Folder 101, 5/15/1826.

[12] Battle, History of the University, 653.

[13] Battle, An Address, 134.

The Full List of Names of the Enslaved Workers Who Built the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As part of ongoing efforts to reckon with its past, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently joined several dozen universities and colleges in becoming a member of Universities Studying Slavery (USS). This “multi-institutional collaboration” aims to facilitate an environment of mutual support in order for these institutions to “address both historical and contemporary issues dealing with race and inequality in higher education and in university communities as well as the complicated legacies of slavery in modern American society.”

Each of these institutions has employees and students who have begun extensive research into universities’ founders’, employees’, trustees’, donors’, and students’ exploitation of enslaved peoples’ labor in order to to build, maintain, and serve the needs of higher learning in the United States. Undergraduates in Dr. James Leloudis’ HIST 398 course, entitled “Slavery and the University,” and graduate student research assistants conducted extensive research into the university’s use of enslaved labor and its role in the slave trade. In my capacity as a graduate research assistant for the History Task Force during the Spring 2018 semester, I expanded upon, collated, and formalized this research into a list of the names of enslaved people who have thus far been identified as workers and builders on and around the campus. This list includes the names of identified enslaved people, as well as information on their duties and the years in which they worked on campus.

In order to aid further research into these people and their lives, a more complete list is available below, which includes the names of identified enslaved people’s owners, and the sources in which enslaved people’s names were found. The aim is to provide such information to acknowledge and honor the previously unnamed enslaved people who literally built the university; to facilitate better understandings of the contexts within which the university operated; to promote further interest and research into the university’s past and its involvement with slavery; and to begin the process of reconciling the university’s past with its present.

More information on enslaved people not currently included in these lists will continue to be published as researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students, archivists, genealogists, and historians continue their work. Several employees, trustees, and presidents of the university provided their enslaved workers as hired labor in currently unknown capacities; attorneys throughout the state of North Carolina sold escheated enslaved people to fund the university’s operations; and Chapel Hill townspeople boarded enslaved people hired out to work on the campus.

In order to facilitate further research, the full spreadsheet of known enslaved laborers, along with associated owners and citations to relevant archival sources is available below. Click the link to download a copy of the Excel file.

Known Enslaved Workers at Chapel Hill

A New Addition of Athletics Photographs from the 1960s and 1970s

We are excited to announce that a new accession of photographs to the Department of Athletics Collection is available for research. This accession is particularly special since it contains images of less-documented sports — including women’s sports and intramural sports — from the 1960s and 1970s.

Included in this addition are images of the Titleholder’s Championship (also called the Women’s Pro Tournament), held at Southern Pines and sponsored by UNC in 1972.  The Titleholder’s Championship was only a handful of championship-level events for professional women’s golf in the 1970s, and the winner of the event — Sandra Palmer — was one of the most accomplished female golfers of the time. The addition also includes photographs of the 1963 renovations to Kenan Stadium.

The selection of photos below include images of men’s intramural handball; women’s intramural basketball, volleyball, tennis, and bowling.


Collecting a Snapshot of #SilenceSam

The Confederate Monument on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus has been the subject of controversy and protest for decades. A detailed timeline and corresponding archival materials related to the monument between 1908 and 2015 can be explored online via our Guide to Resources about UNC’s Confederate Monument. While some aspects of the current protests mirror past efforts, social media has facilitated new approaches for sharing information and sparking action on campus. In an effort to document the current protests, we knew it would be important to explore methods for collecting a sampling of tweets related to the Silence Sam protests.  

We decided to use a tool called twarc to harvest tweet data for specific hashtags searches. Twarc is a Python package that makes use of the Twitter API to collect tweets. Between August 22 and December 15, 2017, we performed a weekly search and harvest of #silencesam and #silentsam. In addition, we infrequently captured select complementary hashtags: #boycottunc #boycottunctownhall #iaarchat and the @Move_Silent_Sam user account. 15,063 tweets were collected across all searches. The hashtags #silentsam and #silencesam make the up the majority with 12,993 tweets collected.  

The tweets are in a raw form, so to speak. Twarc returns the tweets and associated metadata in a JSON document. So, in this collection you won’t automatically find a timeline that looks like the Twitter website. Instead, what we have is a structured text document with many lines and each line represents a tweet and associated metadata about that tweet. The data can be manipulated in a variety of ways for analysis or viewing. A wide variety of visualization tools could be useful for working with the data.  

To get started working with this collection, though, you’ll first need a Twitter account and Hydrator or twarc installed.

The first step is to “hydrate” the dataset. There are some specific access stipulations for this collection due to the Twitter API terms of service. We cannot make the full data we collected available for use. In particular, we are unable to make deleted tweets available for use. Instead, we provide a list of the tweet identifiers (tweet ids) for all the tweets we’ve collected in our repository. This list of identifiers can be hydrated by querying the Twitter API for the tweets that are still publicly available. There are two options for hydrating the tweet ids.  

Download the Hydrator tool  

  • You’ll need to authorize the app to connect to your Twitter account.  
  • Upload the tweet identifier document to Hydrator and start the process.
  • Download the hydrated tweets from the tool.

Hydrate using the command line with twarc 

  • This method will require you to have Twitter API credentials. It’s not as intense as it sounds. Social Feed Manager, a project at George Washington University Libraries, provides a helpful guide in their documentation under the Adding Twitter Credentials section. Don’t worry about the parts that are specific to using Social Feed Manager. Your API keys will be entered via command line when setting up twarc. Instructions for setting up twarc are available on GitHub. 

Once you have hydrated the dataset using one of the options above, you’ll have the full text of tweets and metadata in a JSON document or a CSV spreadsheet (from Hydrator).

The next step is to begin working with the data. You could use a variety of tools to visualize the data.  Twarc comes with a few useful “utilities” that can also be used. A few are highlighted below: 

Screenshot of a wordcloud. some of the most prominent words are students, confederate, statue, unc, monument, silent, campus, protest
Sample wordcloud generated from collected tweets that included #silentsam or #silencesam (from Fall semester 2017).

Screenshot showing emojis found in tweets. Angry, red face emoji was most used.
The program provides a way to tally up the emojis used across collected tweets. 

The program is the best way to generate a timeline of tweets that can be read one by one. and 

These programs may be useful if you want to pare down the dataset. We don’t anticipate much duplication of tweets in the dataset, but no deduplication has been performed by us prior to making the collection available.

A note on images and video: There are limitations to collecting video and image files embedded in tweets due to the nature of the collecting by API. You may try using the method shared in this blog post from Tim Sherratt under Get Images. He uses image URLs and wget to gather pictures.

Access the Collection: You can find the collection description here and access to the tweet identifiers documents can be found here 

Other on-going collecting efforts related to the Confederate Monument protests that began on August 22, 2017 can be found:  

If you have materials related to the protests – like photos, signs, or video – and you are interested in donating these materials to the University Archives, please contact us by email 

 Other twarc and social media archive resources: 


Slave Labor and Old East

Building Old East, 1793-1795

On October 12, 1793, construction began on Old East, UNC’s first building and the first public university building in the United States. Slave labor was likely used for the construction of Old East, and used extensively in subsequent repairs and expansion.

The Building Committee made a contract with a white man named James Patterson, a university land donor and slaveholder, to oversee construction of Old East along with two other men serving as undertakers, George Lucas and Patrick St. Lawrence.[1] The building was completed in 1795, but repairs and additions to the building took place throughout the antebellum period.

One indication that enslaved workers worked on Old East’s initial construction comes from a letter written by Patterson in 1795. Patterson mentioned that several of his “own slaves” had painted the roof of Old East that same year, a task he lamented for its dangers and the risk to the slaves’ lives. In subsequent maintenance, repairs, and construction from 1804 onward, many enslaved men worked as carpenters, bricklayers, and plasterers on Old East. Most of them appear to have been owned by slaveholders affiliated with the university or hired from the surrounding area of Orange and Chatham counties.

The records created by free whites such as Patterson can often be frustratingly limited in detail regarding the enslaved black people tasked with the majority of construction. Whites proved primarily concerned with documenting and discussing enslaved people in terms of their economic value, meaning their monetary worth and productive output as unpaid laborers. Indeed, Patterson’s concern for his slaves’ safety stemmed largely from his concerns over losing “a valuable servant.”[2] He never mentioned any of his slaves by name, and while three slaves are tallied in the 1790 census as part of Patterson’s household, no one but Patterson himself was identified by name.

Expanding Old East, 1822

In 1822, a third story was added to Old East under the supervision of designer and builder William Nichols and with the significant aid of enslaved workers. Some of the enslaved men who repaired Old East appear as first names tallied on bills so that their white owners could receive compensation for their labors. Bob and Henry repaired Old East’s foundation and put in stone window sills, while Nelson and Allman worked on the gable ends and chimneys; “Masons Tony” repaired holes in the walls and worked on the roof, while Luke, Isaac, Jonathan, and Caplen all assisted carpenters and performed various general labor tasks.[3] John C. White, who assisted William Nichols with overseeing the repairs and the workmen, presented a bill totaling the enslaved men’s labor at about $395, equivalent to roughly $7,935.35 today. He specified that the payment was “to be paid their several owners,” indicating the continued practice of hiring slaves from the surrounding area.[4] Beyond their first names and costs of their labor, however, it is difficult to parse out much about these enslaved men as individual people.

Bills and receipts for the “boarding of hands” during this time appears to indicate that various townspeople housed white contractors’ and professionals’ slaves for extended periods of time to work on the university buildings.[5] If this was the case, it would mean that these workers were potentially separated from their families and communities for extended periods of time filled with difficult and grueling work. The unabated nature of such labor appears to have taken a toll on these men, several of whom appear on records from 1823 to 1826. A receipt from 1824 indicates that enslaved workers owned by Colonel William Polk and Judge Frederick Nash, both trustees of the university, worked on Old East and several other buildings on campus when normally they would be resting.[6] From November 1823 to January 1824, enslaved workmen Phillips, Daniel, Will, Sam, and Jacob conducted overtime work on “Holy days,” usually the only days which enslaved people received respites from their dawn to dusk labor, as well as “night work.”[7]  Phillips, Jacob, and Sam were noted as carpenters, and likely performed more skilled work, while Will and Daniel worked as sawyers to cut the wood. Isaac and Allen, whose owner is unknown, also worked as sawyers for the Old East repairs. Sterling and Ned also worked on Old East in some capacity, though the records do not clarify what they both did. Nimrod Ragsdale, a white brick maker who provided tens of thousands of bricks for the third story addition to Old East, as well as the construction of Old West, also employed his slaves Dick and Ned Peek to assist him in making and placing the bricks, and it is likely they too conducted work on Old East.[8]

As valuable laborers put to difficult and sometimes dangerous work, enslaved workers at the university appear to have occasionally received some medical treatment. In September 1823, William Nichols received a bill from “Cave” Yancey, potentially a physician by the name of Charles Yancey who lived in Orange County and worked in some capacity near or at the university. The bill listed several visits Yancey made to several named and unnamed enslaved workers, including Peter and Anderson. Throughout 1823, Yancey had administered unspecified medicines, as well as an emetic, treated “bleeding,” and even spent “24 hours attendance” at the side of one worker. In all, the cost was $16.25 to keep enslaved workers sound and functional.[9]

In 1825, in the midst of work on Old East and other university buildings, a man by the name of Joseph Hawkins placed an advertisement in the Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser offering a $50 reward for the capture and return of an unnamed runaway slave. Hawkins noted that the “cut-finger cad” had been hired “for most of the last two years” to William Nichols and worked at Chapel Hill. The man had likely absconded in order to find his wife, and carried with him distinct clothes and a dagger and pistol, rendering him potentially dangerous.[10] There is no way of knowing what ultimately caused the enslaved man to run away from his position as a hired hand, but perhaps an onerous schedule and the nature of construction work took a toll the man was no longer willing to bear. Perhaps he had been planning to escape for years and finally had an opportunity and the means to do so.

Expanding Old East, 1844-1845

The roof to Old East was repaired and covered with fireproof material in 1842, but this work was largely undocumented. In 1844, the Building Committee hired architect Alexander J. Davis and builders Isaac J. Collier and Kendall Waitt to lengthen both Old East and Old West.[11] The addition and repairs to Old East cost $9,454, or about $301,102.50 today.[12] Collier and Waitt’s contract specified that they were to provide the necessary materials and workers, called “chattels,” for which the white builders would ultimately be compensated.[13] Two highly skilled enslaved laborers, brothers Albert and Osborne, were hired to cover the new additions of Old East and Old West in plaster in 1845.[14] The brothers belonged to Dabney Cosby, himself a builder and brick mason who occasionally worked with Thomas Waitt, likely a relative of Kendall Waitt’s. Cosby owned at least 19 slaves according to the 1840 census, making him a wealthy man. According to Cosby, of the two brothers it was Albert upon whom the builders could “rely” because he performed “firstrate work, his Plaistering and roughcasting here has preference to any done in this part of the state.”[15] Albert’s skills as a plasterer earned him praise and specific mentions in Cobsy’s correspondence, emphasizing the particular importance whites ascribed to enslaved labor.

No other major repairs appear to have been made to Old East during the antebellum era. As the oldest structure on campus, Old East stands as a reminder of the university’s various roles in United States history. Original pieces of Old East, including its cornerstone, remain in the building today. It is thus worth considering the fact that the work conducted by enslaved people continues to shape and impact the university and its students. Enslaved people were fundamental to the creation of the University of North Carolina’s campus.[16]


[1] Battle, 46; OVCFB Records 40095 Series 4.1 Historical Financial Records, 1789 – 1919, Oversize Volume 5 Journal of the University of North Carolina, 1789-1859, p. 5

[2] University of North Carolina Papers, 1757-1935 (#40005), Series 1, Folder 8, James Patterson’s Request for Payment, August 18 1795,

[3] Perhaps one of the masons owned Tony, hence the moniker. Ibid, Folder #79, John C. White’s Bill for Labor of Negro Workmen, [1824],

[4] Ibid; “$395 in 1804 → 2018 | Inflation Calculator.” FinanceRef Inflation Calculator, Alioth Finance, 1 Feb. 2018,

[5] University of North Carolina Papers, Series #1, Folder #79, To The University of N Carolina, By John [Thomas], For H Thomson, January 1823;  Folder #79, Of John [Beard], 7th February 1824; Folder #81, To Mrs. Mitchell, May 3 1823; To Magie Henderson, May 29 1823″; Folder #82, Trustees of University to Captain William Nichols for Bills, June 4 1823; To Captain Robert Anderson, From Chapel Hill, July 3 1823; Folder #83, Trio of letters by [Unclear], November 1823; Salley Mitchel, November 15 1823; Folder #84, Disbursements, 1823.

[6] Folder #86, Trustees of University from November 1 $23 up to the 1 of Jan 1, 1824; Building Committee of the University of North Carolina, March 1 1824; Folder #79, Labour of negroes on new building to 1st of Feby, 1823; Folder #104, Account of Money Owed William Nichols for Labor and Materials, September 1, 1826.

[7] Folder #79, Labour of negroes on new building to 1st of Feby, 1823.

[8] Folder #84, William Nichols to John Haywood, November 1823; Folder #85, To Nimrod Ragsdale for 33,279 bricks for old colege…; 66 days work of Dick on the Brick work…75 days work of Ned Peek.

[9] Folder #83, William Nichols by Jno Barr to Cave Yancey, Dr, Sept 15, 1823.

[10] Joseph Hawkins, “$50 Reward For Cut-Finger Cad,” Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser (NC), Jan 30, 1825,

[11] University of North Carolina Papers, Letter from Alexander J. Davis to David L. Swain, April 17, 1844,

[12] Ibid, List of Building Specifications and Costs, Compiled by Alexander J. Davis for David L. Swain, [1844?],; $9,454 in 1844 → 2018 | Inflation Calculator.” FinanceRef Inflation Calculator, Alioth Finance, 1 Feb. 2018,

[13] University of North Carolina Papers (#40005), Contract between the Board of Trustees and Collier & Waitt, December 20, 1844,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, Dabney Cosby to Davis L. Swain, May 11, 1846,

[16] Many thanks to Caroline Collins, Kacie England, Jennifer Gay, Claire Paluszak and Sydney Plummer for their exhaustive research on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s buildings and construction.