Caswell County Genealogy

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Swain, David Lowry

Swain, David Lowry

Male 1801 - 1868  (67 years)

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  • Name Swain, David Lowry  [1
    Birth 14 Jan 1801  Buncombe County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Reference Number 43093 
    Death 29 Aug 1868  Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Burial Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I42287  Caswell County
    Last Modified 13 Oct 2023 

    Father Swain, George Charles,   b. 17 Jun 1763, Massachusetts Find all individuals with events at this locationd. 24 Dec 1829, Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location (Age 66 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother Lane, Caroline Ayock,   b. 26 May 1761   d. 25 Dec 1824 (Age 63 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Marriage 1789 
    Reference Number 637201 
    Family ID F15236  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Living 
     1. Swain, Anna   d. 1867  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
     2. Living
     3. Swain, David Lowry Jr.,   b. Abt 1834   d. 15 Oct 1840, Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina Find all individuals with events at this location (Age ~ 6 years)  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
    +4. Swain, Eleanor,   b. Abt 1843   d. 1881 (Age ~ 38 years)  [Father: natural]  [Mother: natural]
    Family ID F15237  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart
    Last Modified 13 Oct 2023 

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBirth - 14 Jan 1801 - Buncombe County, North Carolina Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDeath - 29 Aug 1868 - Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Photos
    David Lowry Swain
    David Lowry Swain
    David Lowry Swain
    David Lowry Swain Historical Marker

    A Consequential Life: David Lowry Swain, Nineteenth-Century North Carolina, and Their University
    A Consequential Life: David Lowry Swain, Nineteenth-Century North Carolina, and Their University

  • Notes 
    • David Lowry Swain (1801-1868)

      David Lowry Swain (1801-1868)

      (for larger image, click on photograph)

      David Lowry Swain (4 Jan. 1801-29 Aug. 1868), lawyer, governor, and educator, was born in the Beaverdam area near Asheville in Buncombe County. His father was George Swain, a Massachusetts native who settled in the Georgia frontier, married, and served in the legislature and the constitutional convention of 1795 before moving to the North Carolina mountains for his health. His mother, Caroline Swain, was the daughter of Jesse Lane, member of a well-known North Carolina family, who moved first to Georgia and then farther west. Her first husband, by whom she had four children, was David Lowry, who was killed during an Indian raid in Georgia. She and George Swain had seven children, of whom David Lowry Swain was the youngest.

      Source: Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, Editor (1994) (Volume 5, P-S).

      See: Biography of David Lowry Swain.

      Death date also seen as 27 August 1868. Source: Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General, Suzy Barile (2009).

      On August 27, 1868, David Lowry Swain, president of the University of North Carolina and former governor, died at age 67. His death was the result of a buggy accident on August 11. Initially buried at his Chapel Hill home, he was later reinterred in Raleigh's Oakwood Cemetery. A native of Buncombe County, Swain became recognized as an advocate for western interests, internal improvements and progressive government. The General Assembly elected him to his first term as governor in 1832. Swain called for the constitutional convention which met in Raleigh in July 1835, and to him, more than anyone else, belongs the credit for the accomplishments of that meeting, including crucial reforms in the methods of representation and the election of governors by popular vote. In 1835, Swain was elected UNC president and won the respect of both students and faculty for his administrative ability, personality and integrity. Though the state experienced severe hardships during the Civil War, Swain managed to keep the university open. As Sherman's army approached Raleigh in the spring of 1865, Swain played a role in surrendering the state capital and in securing assurances that the university would not be harmed.

      Source: This Day in North Carolina History: 08/27/2017.

      The following is from the will of James McConnell Smith (Asheville, North Carolina, 9 February 1850):

      I nominate, constitute and appoint my long and well tried friend the Honorable David L. Swain of Chapel Hill and my sons-in-law, Valentine Ripley and Wm. W. McDowell, and my son, John P. Smith, executors of my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the 9th day of February, A. D.1850.

      It is probable that the Smith family and the Swain family were neighbors and/or knew each other through attendance at the Newton Academy in Asheville. Also, a sister of David Lowry Swain, Althea Swain, married William Siler. A brother of William Siler, Jesse Richardson Siler, married Harriet Dorothy Patton, sister-in-law of James McConnell Smith. Thus, through marriage, the families were related.

      Serious researchers should consult three sources which contain an enormity of details to include genealogical information. They are; (1) Volume XXIV, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register; (2) Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - 1000 items including 6 volumes; and (3) Private Collections 84.1 - 84.9, Papers, David Lowry SWAIN, NC State Archives, Raleigh, NC. His father was George Swain born 17 June 1763 in Roxboro, MA. His grandfather was Samuel SWAIN who married Freelove George. His ancestry beyond his grandfather is yet to be determined. He was one of eight children in order of birth, Caroline (1789-1792), Cynthia (1791-1829), George, Jr. (1792-1877, Caroline (1795-1828), Matilda (1797-1858), Althea (1798-1846), David Lowry (1801-1868) and Mary "Polly" (1803-1829). He married Eleanor Hope White on 12 Jan 1826. Of their children only three grew to adult years, a gifted and supposedly unmarried daughter who died March 1867, a daughter Mrs. Gen. Atkins of Freeport, IL and a son Richard Caswell Swain of Shannon, IL. Several inquiries prompted this posting and hopefully it will clarify the past confusion and uncertainty about this notable North Carolinian. His contribution to the preservation of North Carolina history has been recognized by many historians and is a matter of historical record.

      Source: Message #153 Swain Family Genealogy Forum (, 17 November 1998.

      The first lawyer of Buncombe County who was a native thereof was the late Governor D. L. Swain. Born, as has been already stated, at the head of Beaverdam, on January 4, 1801, he was educated under George Newton and Mr. Porter at Newton Academy, where he had for classmates B. F. Perry, afterward governor of South Carolina; Waddy Thompson, of South Carolina, distinguished as congressman and minister to Mexico; and M. Patton, R. B. Vance and James W. Patton of Buncombe County. In 1821 he was for a short while at the University of North Carolina. In December, 1823, he was licensed to practise law and was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons in 1824, 1825 and 1826, and in 1827 was made solicitor of the Edenton Circuit, but resigned this latter office after going around one circuit. In 1828 and 1829 he was again in the House of Commonsfrom Buncombe County; in 1830 he became a judge of the Superior Court of North Carolina; and resigned that office in 1832 on being elected governor of that State.

      After the expiration of three successive tenns as governor, he became president of the University of North Carolina in 1835, and continued in that place until August 27, 1868, the time of his death. He was largely instrumental in securing the passage of the act incorporating the Buncombe Turnpike company, and to him more than any other man North Carolina is indebted for the preservation of parts of her history and the defence of her fame. His early practice as a lawyer was begun in Asheville. For further details than are given here in regard to the life of this truly great man, the reader is referred to Wheeler's History of North Carolina, and his Reminiscences, and to the more accurate lecture of the late Governor Z. B. Vance on the Life and Character of Hon. David L. Swain.

      Governor Swain was tall and ungainly in figure and awkward in manner. When he was elected judge the candidate of the opposing party was Judge Seawell, a very popular man, whom up to that time his opponents, after repeated efforts with different aspirants, had found it impossible to defeat. "Then," said a member of the Legislature from Iredell County, "we took up old warping bars from Buncombe and warped him out." From this remark Mr. Swain acquired the nickname of "Old Warping Bars," a not inapt appellation, which stuck to him ulntil he became president of the University when the students bestowed upon him the name of "Old Bunk." He continued to be "Old Bunk" all the rest of his life. While he was practising at the bar the lawyers rode the circuits. Beginning at the first term of the court in which they practised, they followed the courts through all the counties of that circuit. Among Swain's fellow lawyers on the Western Circuit were James R. Dodge, afterwards clerk of the Supreme Court of the State and a nephew of Washington Irving, Samuel Hillman and Thomas Dewes.

      Source: Asheville and Buncombe County, F. A. Sondley (1922) at 125-126.

      "A Consequential Life: David Lowry Swain, Nineteenth-Century North Carolina, and Their University" by Willis P. Whichard. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press (2022).

      Author's Dedication

      To the memory of Terry Sanford, a successor to Swain as governor of North Carolina, who joined Swain in implementing Archibald Murphey's vision of progress for the State, and William C. Friday, a successor to Swain as president of the University of North Carolina, who found Swain "a very interesting man" and thus strongly encouraged the author in this endeavor.

      Disclosure: David Lowry Swain was a close friend of my western North Carolina ancestors. He wrote the will and the grave marker epitaph of my fourth-great grandfather (and Revolutionary War soldier), Col. Daniel Smith (c.1757-1824). Swain also attended school in Asheville with the children of Col. Daniel Smith, including my third-great grandfather, James McConnell Smith (1787-1856), the first mayor of Asheville.

      Shortly before David Lowry Swain's thirty-second birthday, the North Carolina General Assembly elected him the state's twenty-sixth governor. He remains its youngest. In the context of his time he was an activist executive, prodding the state to develop its infrastructure, thereby promoting economic development, which in turn would sustain universal public education (although then for white males only). As Swain's constitutionally limited time as governor was expiring, The University of North Carolina trustees elected him its president. He would occupy the position until shortly before his death almost thirty-three years later. Under Swain's leadership the University would grow to be second only to Yale in student enrollment. He was largely responsible for student admissions and conduct, faculty hiring and supervision, and promoting the University to a broader public, both state and national.

      Notwithstanding the title "president," he remained known as "Governor Swain." The appellation was apt. The larger life of North Carolina, and to no small degree the United States, continued to reflect his fingerprints. As university president he avoided overt partisan activity, yet stayed deeply involved in the political life and public policy of his state and beyond. His leadership in matters of historic preservation was uncommon and exemplary.

      The Civil War devastated Swain's university. At its end those who would have been its students were in battlefield graves or recovering from war wounds. The able-bodied among them were busy reviving neglected family farms. A tuition-driven university could not sustain the resulting financial losses. Other lingering problems, and concerns for the president's health, surfaced with the fiscal difficulties. Only a regime change, the University trustees concluded, could revive the University's fortunes and secure its future. A little over a month later Swain, the deposed president, would be in his grave.

      Over half a century ago historian Hugh T. Lefler viewed Swain as a North Carolina leader who perhaps merited full-length biographical treatment. A Consequential Life fills this perceived gap in the state's biographical literature. It not only details the life and work of the man who was arguably the state's most significant nineteenth-century leader; in the process it also recounts the history of the state's university in the three-plus decades when he was the focal point of its life.

  • Sources 
    1. Details: Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, Editor (1991), Volume 5 (P-S) at 483-486.