Biography of David Lowry Swain

SWAIN, David Lowry, governor of North Carolina, was born in Buncombe county, N.C., Jan. 4, 1801; second son of George and Caroline (Lane) Lowrie Swain. His father, of English descent, born in Rexboro, Mass., 1763, was a hatter by trade; settled in Wilkes county, Ga.; was a representative in the Georgia legislature five years, and a member of the state constitutional convention. He removed to Buncombe county, N.C., for his health, in 1795, and was postmaster of Asheville. The son prepared for college at Newton academy, Asheville; was a student at the University of North Carolina, four months of 1821; read law under Judge Taylor of Raleigh, 1822, and was admitted to the bar in December, 1823. He was married in 1826, to Eleanor H., daughter of William White of Raleigh, and granddaughter of Governor Caswell. He represented his county in the state legislature, 1824-29; was state solicitor of the Edeston circuit, 1829; judge of the superior court, 1830-32; governor of the state, by yearly elections, three terms, 1832-35; member of the convention to revise the constitution of the state in 1835, and president of the University of North Carolina, 1835-68. He was a delegate for North Carolina, to the convention at Montgomery in 1861, that organized the Confederate States government. He was the founder of the State Historical society and of the University Magazine. As governor he had an immense influence and great personal popularity with all classes. As president of the university his [p.80] success was remarkable, the institution growing, under his administration, from less than one hundred to over four hundred and fifty pupils. After assuming the presidency Mr. Swain mastered the branches which he taught in the department of international law, moral science, political economy, and English literature, from the study of which he had been deprived by his early environments, and by his rapid advance in the public service. In 1865 he was appointed by Governor Vance a member of a commission to visit General Sherman, whose army was approaching Chapel Hill, to petition him to spare the state capitol and the university. He was a trustee of the University of North Carolina, 1831-1868, being president of the board, 1832-35, and visited the North in the interest of the university after the war. President Johnson appointed him a visitor to the U.S. Military academy, and in May, 1865, he visited Washington and conferred with the President in reference to the reconstruction of the Union. His knowledge of the history of North Carolina and of her public men was unequalled. His acquaintance with unwritten family history, his memory of persons, servants, and his familiarity with biography in all countries and all ages were extraordinary. Swain county, N.C., was named in his honor in 1871. He received the degree of LL.D. from the College of New Jersey, Princeton, in 1841, and from Yale in 1842. His son, Dr. Richard Caswell Swain (1837-1872), University of North Carolina, A.B., 1858, was the last living male representative of the name. Gov. Zebulon B. Vance wrote a sketch of Governor Swain's life for Peele's "Lives of Distinguished North Carolineans" (1898). He died at Chapel Hill, N.C., Aug. 27, 1868.

The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Volume X. Rossiter Johnson, ed., Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904.

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