On February 12, 1795, Hinton James became the first student to enter the University of North Carolina. James, who had walked to Chapel Hill from his home in New Hanover County, was the only student for the first two weeks of the school year. Academically gifted, James helped organize the first literary club and debating society on campus. He was awarded a bachelor’s degree as one of the seven students in the university’s first graduating class in July 1798.
After graduation, James became an assistant to Hamilton Fulton, a Scottish engineer hired by the state to make navigation improvements on the eastern rivers. He was put in charge of operations along the Cape Fear River, but left in 1807 upon his election to the state legislature. He served three terms in Raleigh, before serving as mayor and treasurer of Wilmington and as a magistrate of New Hanover County.
James died in 1847 and was buried at Hopewell Presbyterian Church near Burgaw. A dormitory at the University of North Carolina is named in his honor.
On February 11, 1813, Harriet Jacobs, fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist, was born in Edenton. Harriet spent her childhood unaware of her station in life. But when her white mistress, Margaret Horniblow, died in 1825, Harriet and her brother John were willed to Horniblow’s three-year-old niece, Mary Norcom and thus, under the control of Mary Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom.
After suffering years of physical abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Norcom, Jacobs fled in 1835 and went into hiding in the attic of her paternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, a free black woman living in Edenton only a block away from Norcom. According to Jacobs memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, Harriet lived in that restricted space for almost seven years until she managed to escape north via Edenton’s maritime Underground Railroad.
Jacobs gained her full and legal freedom ten years later. While living the life of a fugitive slave, Jacobs became an anti-slavery activist and an abolitionist author. By the time of the Civil War, as a free African- American woman, Jacobs served as a relief worker dedicated to assisting the newly freed people of her southern homeland.