Mars Hill's First Student: The Story of William Wallace Rollins
William Wallace Rollins holds the unique honor of being the first student to enroll in Mars Hill College, then the French Broad Baptist Institute, when the school opened its doors in 1856. William Rollins was the son of Thomas Jefferson Rollins, who served as a trustee of the institution during the Civil War, and the brother of Reverend Pinkney Rollins, who served as president of Mars Hill College from 1861-1863 and again from 1865-1866.
Following his time at Mars Hill, Rollins enlisted in Company D of the 29th North Carolina Infantry Regiment on August 13, 1861. Rollins would be promoted to sergeant major of the 29th Regiment, and eventually elected as captain of Company D on May 2, 1862. It is unknown exactly what happened following Rollin’s election as captain. A letter dated January 29, 1865,from Major Ezekiel H. Hampton of the 29th North Carolina, requests that Rollins be dropped from the regiment roll, stating
“Capt. W. W. Rollins deserted from Hospital in August, GA on or about the 12th of Aug. 1864...went to enemy [and] took twenty men with him, and is commanding troops in the enemy’s lines in East Tenn.”
On March 14, 1865, Rollins was appointed as a major in the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US). In April 1865, Colonel George Kirk ordered some of the 3rd North Carolina to Blowing Rock in Watauga County, North Carolina. Once there, the soldiers built an earthwork fort and named on For Rollins in honor of Major Rollins. Rollins was granted a leave of absence from the military in July 1865, allowing him to return to North Carolina to assist Governor William Holden reorganize the state’s government. According to William C. Harris’s biography of Governor Holden, Rollins was chosen by the Holden to lead a force of North Carolina soldiers into Alamance, Orange, and other surrounding counties to stop the growing Ku Klux Klan. Rollins declined the offer, insisting that Holden appoint Col. Kirk instead, resulting in the infamous Kirk-Holden War and the impeachment and removal of Governor Holden.
Following the war, Rollins became a successful tobacco farmer, served in the North Carolina General Assembly, was appointed Collector of Internal Revenue of Western North Carolina from 1889 to 1892, and served as postmaster of Asheville from 1897 to 1925. William Wallace Rollins passed away on March 24, 1925.