Wealth of Our Community

Braxton Craven, 1822 – 1882

by WT Cox

Braxton Craven, the father of Trinity College. – Used by permission of Duke University Archives

A good example of someone overcoming diversity and hardship while leaving a lasting impact on our world is the life of Braxton Craven. Orphaned at a early age and adopted into the family of William Nathan Cox, who lived in the settlement known as Coxborough, located along the mouth of Millstone Creek and Buffalo Ford along Deep River approximately four miles south of Ramseur. Braxton chose to keep his birth name of Craven, but was deeply impacted by the Cox Family that raised him. He developed a work ethic and a desire to succeed despite the odds. His quest for learning was kindled at an early age. Braxton Craven went on to become a respected teacher, minister, scholar, writer and educator. He converted to Methodist while president of Trinity College but never forgot his Quaker up-bringing by his adopted Cox family. He is credited with allowing some of the first women to earn degrees of higher education in the South and his legacy lives on today in his school that later became Duke University. Learn more about Braxton Craven in the article below, taken from The Heritage of Randolph County , North Carolina: Volume I – 1993.


Braxton Craven was born on August 26, 1822, near the Holly Spring Community in Randolph County. At age seven he was orphaned and was taken into the home of Nathan Cox, a Quaker who operated a farm and a trading post. He had 14 children of his own, plus young “Brax” to help out with the farm work.

A minor accident when he was eleven years old had a great influence upon the life of Braxton Craven. He was riding in a wagon with his adopted father hauling goods to Fayetteville. He fell from the wagon and a horse stepped on his leg. They stopped at a store to secure bandages and the storekeeper gave Braxton his first book, a “speller” to divert his mind from the pain. This started him on his educational career. He persuaded his foster father to let him attend a subscription school about three miles from their home.

Braxton was an apt pupil and read everything he could find. At age sixteen, he organized a subscription school of his own at Soloman York’s plantation. During this period, young Braxton was converted to the Methodist faith while attending a meeting at Salem Church. His preaching career started soon after and he began preaching in 1840. He worked on the farm, taught school, and preached, saving his money to further his education. He attended New Garden Boarding School at Guilford College 1839-1841.

After finishing at New Garden, he went to Union Institute in Trinity, as an assistant teacher and became a full-fledged teacher in 1842. He succeeded Brantley York as head of Union Institute and soon became sensitive about the fact that he did not have a college degree. He secured permission from Randolph-Macon College in Virginia to take the examinations in certain courses.

After passing these exams, he received an honorary Bachelor of Arts Degree in June 1845. Two years later he did the same thing and received a Master of Arts Degree from the University of North Carolina. As his fame as an educator spread, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree from Andrew College in Tennessee and in 1874 was awarded a Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Missouri.

Braxton Craven married Irene Leach in 1844. They made their home in Trinity and he spent his life working for the betterment of education. He realized the need for a school to train teachers, and it was through his efforts that the Union Institute became Trinity Normal College. He guided the school through the trying years of the Civil War and Reconstruction. By his persuasion, the Methodist Church became the supporter of the college when it was near financial ruin. He continued to guide the institution until its move to Durham where it became Duke University.

Chair from the Office of Braxton Craven while President of Trinity College.  Courtesy of WT Cox

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.