The monument now marks the grave of Wilson Caldwell and commemorates three others, but was originally constructed to commemorate the first president of the University of North Carolina, Joseph Caldwell, at another location on the University of North Carolina campus.
died due to chronic kidney disease in Chapel Hill on January 27, 1835, and was buried in the Chapel Hill Cemetery
. Soon after Caldwell’s death, Frederick Nash and William McPheeters were appointed by the university trustees "to erect an appropriate monument" over Caldwell's grave, specifically "a shaft worthy of the man and the University.” UNC alumni and arts patron Robert Donaldson sent designs, as did sculptor and painter Alfred S. Waugh. These were first submitted by the university trustees to David Paton
(one of the architects of the State capitol building), but apparently he never submitted any designs or re-designs back to the university trustees.
In the meantime, Caldwell’s body was exhumed in November 1835 so a cast of his face could be made by Alfred Waugh (from which a bust was made), the university trustees passed a resolution to erect a building named for Caldwell, and the North Carolina General Assembly named a county for him in 1841.
In 1837, a new design for the monument to Caldwell was submitted by UNC’s Superintendent of Buildings Thomas Waite
, and was selected by the university trustees to be constructed and erected. The monument was constructed of local sandstone, and cut by J. B. Turney , "a skilled mechanic." The monument was emplaced at a location on main campus near Cameron Street, to the west of the Old West building; starting with Caldwell’s grave, the site was intended to become a cemetery, "where the remains of eminent citizens of the State might be deposited."
Original location, view southwest, 1861 (photo is flipped)
However, the monument soon began to disintegrate and "grow dingy." There was a plan to insert (on its eastern face) a marble slab with inscriptions in Latin, written by William McPheeters, but when the slab came from the northern workman, the Latin was found to be "by careless workmanship, so atrociously bad as to be beyond amendment." UNC’s professor of Latin apparently "in disgust seized a hammer and smashed the offending marble into fragments."
On October 30, 1846, Caldwell’s (second) wife, Helen, died in Chapel Hill. She was buried at the monument, and Caldwell’s body was again exhumed and was reinterred at the base of the monument, alongside his wife, on October 31, 1846.
The idea of the location becoming a cemetery was eventually abandoned, as in 1859 the New West building was constructed to the south of the Caldwell monument (which was now hidden from view from Cameron Street by the building) on the site proposed for the cemetery. Also at the time, the monument was described as a "rugged and gruesome stone," and apparently former students of Caldwell's "beheld with sorrow the unseemly condition of the old sandstone monument which was the only outward evidence of the reverence felt by the alumni to his memory."
In 1858 a new monument to Caldwell was constructed and emplaced further north on McCorkle Place, still on campus but closer to Franklin Street. The monument had been commissioned in 1847 and money was raised by UNC alumni. However, the bodies of the Caldwells remained interred at the base of the original monument.
Helen’s son from a previous marriage, William Hooper, died August 19, 1876 in Chapel Hill, and at his request was buried beside his mother at the base of the (original) Caldwell monument.
View southwest, circa 1902 (photo by Collier Cobb)
View west, circa 1903 (photo by Collier Cobb)
In July 1904, the remains of the three were reinterred on the east side of the “new” Caldwell monument, with Caldwell on the north, Hooper on the south, and Helen between her husband and her son.
In 1910, the original monument was taken down and was "re-erected in the part of the City cemetery assigned to our colored population in memory of three faithful servants [i.e. slaves] of the University, November Caldwell, usually called Doctor November, David Barham and Wilson Caldwell." This is where it stands today.