Samuel Hopkins was a builder who came to Orange County about 1793 and constructed some of the first buildings at the University of North Carolina. When the United States Census was taken in Orange County in 1800, the residents listed under “The University of North Carolina” included “Joseph Caldwell and the other professors,” the “students (thereof),” and fourteen other heads of household, including Samuel Hopkins (and five people enslaved by him).
Samuel Hopkins was a friend of builder James Patterson
of Chatham County, who erected the first building at the university, Old East (1793-1795). By the early 1790s Hopkins owned two lots in Chapel Hill. In 1793 he contracted to build the university’s President’s House
. In 1794 Samuel Hopkins and other men including William Cain
of Orange County signed a bond to assure the successful completion of the President’s House. In 1794 Hopkins wrote to John Haywood from Hillsborough concerning building projects under consideration and referred to the house he had already built for William Cain, which might be either Sans Souci
in Hillsborough or Hardscrabble
in (now) rural Durham County.
Samuel Hopkins worked for the university for several years. In 1795 he proposed to build a grammar school
, noting that “I have now a parcel of prime hands” (i.e. workmen, probably mostly enslaved) who could do the work, but the school was instead built by John M. Goodloe. In 1795, Samuel Hopkins and Philemon Hodges (a free African-American craftsman from Hillsborough) contracted to build the college chapel, named Person Hall
In 1799 Hopkins was appointed “Superintendent of the Principal Buildings” at the still struggling university, specifically to oversee construction of South Building
, a large, three-story brick building. The project ran into logistical and financial problems. On November 11, 1799, Hopkins reported to John Haywood that the quantity of oyster shells hauled from Fayetteville was insufficient to make the amount of mortar needed, and “as the time of our brick laying was too short to make it worth while to send Waggons to Fayettv[ille] expressly for more oyster shells, we have quit the brickwork for this season.” Funds ran out, the project stopped in 1801, and not until 1814 was the building completed. Hopkins last appeared in local records in 1805 when he sold three slaves to William Kirkland.
There were several men named Samuel Hopkins in this period. According to Ancestry.com
and the Documenting the American South
web site, Samuel Hopkins was born February 11, 1769 in Mecklenburg County, Virginia and moved to North Carolina from Albemarle County, Virginia. He was an original owner of a lot or lots in Chapel Hill, served as the town’s first postmaster, married Judith C. Daniel in Granville County in December 1797 (she died in 1817 in Virginia), married his second wife, Harriet, about 1820, and moved to Henderson County, Kentucky where he died September 14, 1839.
Authors: J. Marshall Bullock, Catherine W. Bishir, Steve Rankin.