Matthew McCauley, Sr.

Male 1750 - 1821

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  • Name  Matthew McCauley, Sr. 
    Suffix  Sr. 
    Born  1750  Carrickfergus, Antrim, N Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  6 Sep 1821  Orange Co, NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Death year also given incorrectly as 1832.
    Buried  McCauley Cemetery, Chapel Hill Township, Orange Co, NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID  I2146  adkinshorton
    Last Modified  8 Nov 2018 

    Father  William Erin McCauley,   b. 1712, Carrickfergus, Antrim Co, N Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1780, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Mother  Mary Ann Gattis,   b. 1712, Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  Bef 1738  Carrickfergus, Antrim Co, N Ireland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    • Bruce and Mattie Atwater's daughter, Billie Atwater Strowd, married James Bryant "J.B." Johns of Durham and Chapel Hill. Billie was a direct descendent of Orange County residents state Legislator Matthew Atwater and his grand-father Capt. Matthew McCauley. During the Revolutionary War McCauley survived the harsh Pennsylvania weather at Valley Forge to return to Orange County where he donated 250 acres of land to assist in the founding of the University of North Carolina. from

    • McCauley Mill

      This mill was where University Lake Dam was built in the 1920's on Morgan Creek in Carrboro. Battle's History of UNC (1907) says: "Thomas Connelly was once owner of the Matthew Mccauley mill tract." But there is no evidence that Connelly ever built a mill there. The first mill on this site was probably built shortly after Matthew Mccauley petitioned the Orange Court for a mill in 1793 (Archives).

      Apparently some time about 1860, Matthew J W Mccauley struck up a deal with millwright Berry Davidson to rebuild or improve the family millsite. Davidson thereby gained an interest in the mill for sometime. Davidson apparently raised the height of the dam to 13 feet and thereby flooded some of James Tilly's land (Orange DB 38, pg 218). Davidson relinquished his interest to Mccauley in 1866 (Orange DB 38, pg 219) for $1,500.

      Above from

      Related: Berry Davidson was a millwright who built several mills in Orange and Alamance Counties. He was definitely involved in the Mccauley Mill and was the owner of the Altamahaw Mill.


      Our tale is complex. It comes in part from well-established historical sources and in part from the oral history of the McCauley family to which one of us (KBN) belongs. The first question is, "Why was the University placed at New Hope Chapel Hll?

      One version is related to General William R. Davie's drinking habits. It has been said that, while having lunch in the vicinity of the Davie Poplar, he was overcome and made the decision to locate the University there when he aroused. The truth is more prosaic: it was the outcome of a complicated political process. The General Assembly decided in January 1792 that the University should be located near the center of the state. The trustees then decided that it should be located within 15 miles of either Raleigh, Hillsborough, Pittsboro, Smithfield, two sites in Granville County, or Cyprett's Bridge across New Hope Creek. The latter was chosen when all the courthouse towns were eliminated and the Granville County sites found unsuitable. A committee visited several potential sites in the target area, and Chapel Hill was selected because its bid was the largest: 1290 acres of land and about $1500 in cash! Professor Archibald Henderson attributes the winning Orange County bid to the covert activities of James Hogg, a friend of Davie's and a member of the selection committee. Now, who were the McCauleys and what role did they play?

      Matthew McCauley and his brother William emigrated from County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to the Carolinas before the Revolutionary War. They bought land in Orange County so named to honor the Protestants of Northern Ireland and prospered. Matthew, the younger, had been involved in a scrape in Ireland and had to be smuggled out of the country in a molasses cask. He acquired the nickname "Bung" because William had fed him through the bung-hole of the cask until they were well out to sea.

      Both McCauleys donated land for the University, Matthew 150 and William 100 acres. Matthew ("Bung") operated a grist mill on Morgan's Creek at the site of the present University Lake dam and was reputed to make the best Irish whiskey in the state. Both were present at the laying of the cornerstone of Old East on October 12, 1792 (known since 1877 as University Day). Several things happened that day which are not recorded in the history books, and Matthew was a major player behind the scenes.

      Cornerstone laying was serious business in an earlier age when buildings were constructed for permanence but is ignored today in our rapidly constructed, disposable buildings. Because of the absence of a royal family in republican America, the ceremony of laying cornerstones became the responsibility of Freemasons.

      Freemasonry is a secret order which grew out of the guilds of stone masons which built the cathedrals of Europe in the Middle Ages. It has been most prominent in the United Kingdom and the countries derived therefrom: Australia, and four million of the estimated five million living members are in the U.S. Masonry is characterized by secrecy, a tradition of high morality, and catholicity. It is not a religion and, although predominantly Protestant in Anglo-Saxon countries, does not exclude Catholics and Jews. It is not a patriotic or political organization, but American politicians have found identification with it to be advantageous. There is a parallel and independent black Masonic society, the Order of Prince William, which originated in London during the slavery era and still flourishes.

      The McCauleys were Master Masons and belonged to the Eagle Lodge of Hillsborough which had been asked to provide support at the laying of Old East's cornerstone. Since General William R. Davie, regarded by many as the founder of the University, was also the Grand Master of Masons for North Carolina it was fitting that he officiate. A mural on the west wall of the lobby of the downtown Chapel Hill Post office records what is believed to have occurred. History suggests that something slightly different seems to have taken place.

      General Davie came up to Hillsborough from New Bern for the occasion and "opened" the Eagle Lodge to legitimize the laying of the cornerstone. Details of the occasion can he found in the University histories of President Battle and Professor Archibald Henderson, Battle even recording the names of the prominent men in attendance and the accomplishments of their descendants. At this point oral history takes over.

      A legend in the McCauley family is that the Post Office mural is incorrect in two respects. First, General Davie should have been wearing a hat. (Masons will understand why.) Second, the stone was not lowered into place by a hoist and windlass. The family says that the stone was heavier than anticipated, and the hoist rope broke. When this occurred, "Bung" McCauley, a small man, turned to Big Dave, his body servant, a 6'5" slave who weighed 300 lbs., and said, "Dave, pick it up and put it in place." The story is that Dave put his arms around the stone and lifted it onto the spot designated by General Davie. Then, after a suitable oration by the Rev. Dr. Samuel E. McCorkle and the sealing of documents and Masonic "jewels" in the cavity of the cornerstone, the party repaired to a nearby spring for refreshments.

      Another McCauley legend is that "Bung" furnished the chief "refreshment." It is said that earlier in the day Dave had placed a 25-gallon keg of their best whiskey in their cart, and this became the centerpiece of the post-ceremony conviviality. General Davie was a heavy drinker, and the cup made many rounds. As nightfall approached, the well-oiled General said his goodbyes, and departed for New Bern. Unfortunately, the Masonic Grand Master had forgotten before departing to "close" the Eagle Lodge. It remained "open" until the Grand Master's next visit, more than a year later. It is said that by lying open for more than a year, the Eagle Lodge of Hillsborough achieved a distinction unique in Masonic history.

      We decided to investigate the present state of the cornerstone in view of the upcoming Bicentennial celebrations. To our astonishment, we were unable to find it. We then discovered that Old East's cornerstone had been vandalized and its brass plate stolen. This must have occurred sometime between the end of the Civil War and the re-opening by new trustees after the post Civil War closure (1871-75). It is known that cornerstones were also laid for Old West and South (and probably for Person), but our search uncovered none of these.

      Our hypothesis about the mysterious cornerstone caper is that a band of vandals attacked the empty and unprotected buildings in search of the Masonic "jewels" known to have been placed in the cornerstone. We can infer that they were not themselves Masons for two reasons: (l) a Mason would never do such a thing, and (2) a Mason would know that the so-called "jewels" were in reality only the simple tools of stone masons.

      "The brass plate from the Old East cornerstone turned up in 1916 at a foundry in Tennessee run by a UNC alumnus, William Foust '03. He returned the plate just before it was to be tossed into the furnace, and presented it to the University on October 12, 1916. Today the brass plate, with the maker's name and Masonic writing and symbols on the back, is on display in the gallery of Wilson Library.- Alumni Review""

      Written by John Graham, Distinguished Professor-Emeritus of Pathology; and Kemp Nye, Franklin Street fixture and former proprietor of Kemp's Records for the Carolina Alumni Review, published by the General Alumni Association of UNC/CH, April, 1990. Reprinted by permission (on

    Family ID  F7911  Group Sheet

    Family  Martha Ann Johnstone,   b. 1 Feb 1760, New Hope, Orange Co, NC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 28 Sep 1848 
    Married  1 Feb 1783  Orange Co, NC Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. John McCauley,   b. 1783,   d. 1832
     2. Charles J. McCauley,   b. 1789,   d. 1836
     3. William McCauley,   b. 1791,   d. 1826
     4. Synthia McCauley,   b. 1792,   d. 1843
    >5. Elizabeth McCauley,   b. 15 Jan 1793,   d. 1881, Orange Co, NC Find all individuals with events at this location
     6. George Johnston McCauley,   b. 1798,   d. 1867
     7. Eleanor McCauley,   b. 1801,   d. 1872
     8. James M. McCauley,   b. 1807,   d. 1870
    Matthew McCauley, Sr. & Martha Ann Johnstone
    Matthew McCauley, Sr. & Martha Ann Johnstone
    Early University of North Carolina Donor Memorial Plaque
    (incorrect death year, should be 1821)
    1992 Cemetery Restoration and University of North Carolina Donor Memorial Plaque
    1992 Cemetery Restoration and University of North Carolina Donor Memorial Plaque
    In Devoted Memory of John Charles morrow III
    Descendant of Matthew & Martha McCauley
    Last Modified  30 Oct 2018 
    Family ID  F7914  Group Sheet

  • Headstones
    Matthew McCauley, Sr.
    Matthew McCauley, Sr.
    grave plaque

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