Two hundred and eighteen years ago today, UNC’s first student finished his trek from Wilmington to Chapel Hill — which he completed on foot.
Today, the University celebrates Hinton James Day with events hosted by the General Alumni Association.
UNC’S FIRST STUDENT
Hinton James’ legacy is celebrated annually on campus, and a residence hall is named after him.
- He served three terms in the state legislature and spent time as mayor of Wilmington.
- He was one of seven in UNC’s first graduating class.
- James died in 1847 and was buried alongside two of his three wives.
C. Hawkins, manager of student engagement for the alumni association, said he hopes today will provide students with an appreciation for Hinton James and the University’s history.
“It’s significant because it shows how old the University is and the great traditions we have,” he said.
“The walk he took from Wilmington to Chapel Hill shows how dedicated he was to attend UNC — he knew it was a special place before anyone else.”
Jay Gaidmore, University archivist, said according to popular legend, James walked the entire way to the University from Wilmington — and then spent a week in bed recovering afterwards.
James entered the University on Feb. 12 1795, with two weeks passing before any other student joined him at the University.
He was an engineering major and one of the first members of the Philanthropic Society. He also helped organize the first literary club and debating society on campus.
James went on to become a successful civil engineer, working on projects along the Cape Fear River.
Gaidmore said James was a member of the first graduating class in 1798.
A march commemorating James’ legendary walk will be held at 8:45 a.m., starting at Hinton James Residence Hall and ending with breakfast at the Alumni Center.
There will also be an event outside Wilson Library today at 11 a.m., where there will be corn hole games, cupcakes and appearances by students dressed as James.
There will be a Hinton James exhibit throughout this week in the Wilson Library lobby. The exhibit includes a letter written by James in 1833.
Hawkins said he hopes this day raises awareness of James.
Freshman Tyler Ramer, who lives in the residence hall named after James, had only a vague idea of James’ accomplishments:
“Some kid was named Hinton James a long time ago. He walked here or something.”
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