David Lowry Swain

23rd Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1832 to 1835

Date Born: January 4, 1801

Date Died: August 27, 1868

Place Born: Buncombe County, NC

Place Buried: Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, NC

Residence: Asheville, NC, Chapel Hill, NC

Occupation: Lawyer, President of UNC Chapel Hill


David Lowry Swain was born on January 4, 1801 in Buncombe County, NC, the son of George and Caroline (Lane) Swain. He received his early education at the Newton Academy near Asheville and briefly attended the University of North Carolina. Swain left his university studies in 1821 after only four months to study law with Chief Justice John Louis Taylor of the North Carolina Supreme Court; he was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1823. He returned to Asheville to practice law.

In 1824, David Lowry Swain was first elected as one of two men to represent Buncombe County in the NC House of Commons of the:
- 49th General Assembly that met from 1824-1825
- 50th General Assembly that met from 1825-1826
- 51st General Assembly that met from 1826-1827
- 53rd General Assembly that met from 1828-1829
- 54th General Assembly that met from 1829-1830

In February of 1826, David Lowry Swain married Eleanor Hope White, daughter of William White and Anna (Caswell) White. They had five known children.

In 1830, David Lowry Swain was appointed a Judge in the NC Superior Court, a position he held until 1832.

In 1832, the General Assembly elected David Lowry Swain as the next Governor of North Carolina, and he served three terms from December 6, 1832 to December 10, 1835. Gov. Swain was a promoter of internal improvements, including railroads and education, although he received little support form the legislature.

In 1835, David Lowry Swain was a delegate to the NC Constitutional Convention; his last act as governor was to issue the proclamation declaring the ratification of 1835's extensive amendments to the North Carolina Constitution.

Also in 1835, David Lowry Swain was named President of the University of North Carolina, a position he retained for 33 years and promoted the growth of the institution. In 1836, he moved his family to Chapel Hill, where he remained for the rest of his life.

During the American Civil War, David Lowry Swain was drawn back into North Carolina politics; he represented the state at an 1861 Confederate Convention, but declined a position in the Confederate Senate in 1863. In 1865, Swain helped negotiate the surrender of Raleigh to the forces of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and, following the end of the war, advised U.S. President Andrew Johnson on Reconstruction policies.

Although David Lowry Swain had succeeded, facing serious challenges, in keeping the University of North Carolina open during the course of the Civil War, by 1868, the school was suffering financially, and, at the request of a new Board of Trustees appointed by the state legislature, he resigned.

David Lowry Swain died after being injured in a bizarre buggy accident. He was thrown from a buggy pulled by a horse that General Sherman had given him. Though confined to bed due to shock and weakness, he appeared to be recovering, but he succumbed to his injuries on August 27, 1868. Swain was buried in the garden of his home in Chapel Hill, but was later re-interred in the Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


David Lowry Swain (4 January 1801 - 27 August 1868) was the Whig governor of North Carolina from 1832 to 1835.

Swain was born in Buncombe County in western North Carolina; his father, George Swain, was a farmer and a member of the North Carolina General Assembly. He received his early education at New Academy near Asheville and briefly attended the University of North Carolina. Swain left his university studies in 1821 after only four months to study law with Chief Justice John Louis Taylor of the North Carolina Supreme Court; he was admitted to the bar in 1823.

The citizens of Buncombe County chose Swain as their representative in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1824 to 1830; he was appointed to the state Superior Court as a judge and served there from 1830 to 1832.

Swain resigned as a judge to accept the vote of the North Carolina General Assembly to serve as governor; at the time he was the youngest governor in state history, and the first to belong to the Whig Party. As governor, Swain was a promoter of internal improvements, including railroads and education, although he received little support form the legislature. In 1835, he chaired the state constitutional convention; his last act as governor was to issue the proclamation declaring the ratification of 1835's extensive amendments to the North Carolina Constitution.

After serving the constitutional limit of three one-year terms, Swain was named president of the University of North Carolina in 1835; he held this post for 33 years and promoted the growth of the institution.

During the American Civil War, Swain was drawn back into North Carolina politics; he represented the state at an 1861 Confederate convention, but declined a position in the Confederate Senate in 1863. In 1865, Swain helped negotiate the surrender of Raleigh to the forces of General William Sherman, and, following the end of the war, advised President Andrew Johnson on reconstruction policies.

Although Swain had attempted, facing serious challenges, to keep the University of North Carolina open during the course of the war, by 1868, the school was suffering financially, and, at the request of a new Board of Trustees appointed by the state legislature, he resigned. Swain died later that year after being injured in a bizarre buggy accident; he is buried in Raleigh.


David Lowry Swain, governor of North Carolina, was born in Buncombe County, NC on January 4, 1801. His early education was attained at New Academy near Asheville, and later he attended the University of North Carolina, however he left before earning a degree. He went on to study law in Raleigh, and then established his legal career. Swain first entered politics as a member of the NC House of Commons, a position he held from 1824 to 1830. He also served on the NC Superior Court bench from 1830 to 1832. Swain next won election to the governorship in 1832. He won re-election annually until 1834. During his tenure, railroad development was encouraged; the state’s penal laws were improved; and a new state constitution was sanctioned. After leaving office, Swain became president of the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees, a post he held from 1835 to 1868. His last political position came in 1861, when he served on the commission that represented North Carolina’s interest in the Confederate government. Swain continued to stay active and was instrumental in establishing the North Carolina Historical Society, as well as launching the University of North Carolina Magazine. David Lowry Swain was seriously injured in a buggy accident, and consequently passed away on August 27, 1868. He was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.

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