north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     On January 14, 1930, the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina accepted a gift from Sarah Graham Kenan to establish an endowment fund for the Southern Historical Collection. In the same action they named Kenan Professor J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton as the first director. Fifty years later, UNC chancellor, history professor, and Hamilton student J. Carlyle Sitterson said of the “Southern,” “It was J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton who at once cherished the idea, made a career commitment, secured the necessary institutional support, and through his imagination, energy, and dedication made a dream come true.”

     Joseph Gregoire de Roulhac Hamilton was born on August 6, 1878, in Hillsborough to a distinguished southern family. His great-grandfather was Nullification governor of South Carolina. His father came to North Carolina to teach at Hillsborough Military Academy and remained to fight in the 13th N.C. Regiment and to serve as clerk of Orange County Superior Court. Young Hamilton pursued his studies at the University of the South and at Columbia University, completing a Ph.D. under William A. Dunning in 1906. The same year Hamilton came to the University of North Carolina, where he soon established a reputation for his writings on Reconstruction.

     The appointment of R. D. W. Connor in 1922 to teach North Carolina history freed Hamilton to concentrate on the broader region. In 1927 he announced plans for what he initially called the “National Southern Collection.” His manuscript-collecting travels across the South, placing almost a million miles on a series of Ford coupes, are legendary. In some states attempts were made to block his efforts and he came to be known as “Ransack” Hamilton. He was succeeded as director by James W. Patton in 1948 and fully retired in 1951. Another successor, Carolyn A. Wallace, places Hamilton “in the tradition of the entrepreneurial manuscripts curator, the historian turned collector who never quite became an archivist.” His historian colleagues have since become indebted to him. The renaissance in southern history in the mid-twentieth century is credited by many to Hamilton’s foresight. In partial recognition of that fact, the new building occupied by the UNC History Department in 1972 was named for him. His death came eleven years earlier in Chapel Hill on November 10, 1961.

Fletcher Greene, ed., Essays in Southern History (1949)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, August 12, 1951, and November 13, 1961
Bookmark, no. 50 (1981)
Carolyn A. Wallace, “Roulhac Hamilton, Manuscript Collector” (paper prepared for delivery to the Society of American Archivists, 1986)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources