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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Primrose, William Stuart

by William S. Powell, 1994; Revised December 2021

12 Nov. 1848–11 Apr. 1909

Portrait of W. S. Primrose, member of the North Carolina State Board of Agriculture.  From <i>North Carolina and Its Resources</i>, by the State Board of Agriculture, Raleigh.  Published 1896 by M.I. & J.C. Stewart, Public Printers and Binders, Winston, North Carolina. Presented on William Stuart Primrose, businessman, member of the State Board of Agriculture, and North Carolina State College official, was born in Raleigh, the son of John and Eliza Tarbox Primrose. His father, a native of Scotland, was a merchant; his mother, a native of Hebron, Conn., went to Raleigh as tutor for the children of John Devereux. Young Primrose's earliest education was in Raleigh, after which he attended Davidson College for one year; otherwise, he was self-educated. As a young man he was assistant cashier of the State National Bank (1874–78), of which he later became a director. His interest in business inspired him to advocate and support the State Exposition of 1884, and he was elected president of the sponsoring body. When the North Carolina Home Insurance Company was organized, he was elected secretary and in 1885 he became president.

As a member of the influential Watauga Club in Raleigh, a group of the state's leading citizens who sought ways to advance North Carolina, Primrose is said to have been the first person to propose creation of what became North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. Because he did not have a college degree, he twice declined to be a candidate for president of the college. Nevertheless, he was a strong supporter of the institution and served as president of its board of trustees for twenty years. A building on the campus was named for him. He also served on the board of trustees of Peace Institute and of Davidson College.

Primrose, like his parents before him, joined the Presbyterian church as a youth. At age twenty-eight he became a ruling elder of Raleigh's First Presbyterian Church, a position he would fill for the remainder of his life. He also served as superintendent of the Sunday school and sang in the choir. He was an active Mason.

Primrose married Ella Williams, and they became the parents of six sons and a daughter: John Shelton, William S., Jr., Hugh Williams, Robert Owen, Henry Fries, Jesse Lindsay, and Helen (Mrs. R. Y. McPherson). After a funeral at the Presbyterian church, he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh.


Grady L. E. Carroll, Sr., They Lived in Raleigh, vol. 2 (1977).

A. M. Fountain, Place-Names on State College Campus (1956).

North Carolina State Alumni News 2 (May 1930 [portrait]).

Papers in the possession of George London, Raleigh.

Raleigh News and Observer, 29 Oct. 1984.

Additional Resources:

Connor, R. D. W. (Robert Digges Wimberly). History of North Carolina, Volume V. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co. 1919. (accessed May 23, 2014).

Image Credits:

North Carolina State Board of Agriculture. North Carolina and Its Resources. Winston: M.I. & J.C. Stewart, Public Printers and Binders. 1896. (accessed May 23, 2014).

Origin - location: