Biography of James Noah Hillman

This article profiles James Noah Hillman, who was born on November 6, 1883, in Coeburn, Virginia. He pursued his education through the public schools of Wise County and obtained A.B. and A.M. degrees from William and Mary College. His career was marked by a dedicated tenure as a schoolteacher, eventually rising to become the Division Superintendent of Wise County Schools. A descendant of an early English family that settled in Virginia in the 1600s, Hillman carried forward a legacy of steadfast service and civic engagement. An active Methodist and prominent member of several fraternal organizations, he was married to Ethel Lee Powell and had two children. Hillman’s life exemplified a commitment to educational excellence and community leadership.

James Noah Hillman
James Noah Hillman

The battle of Kings Mountain was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The Southern States were almost completely dominated by the English armies when Ferguson made his expedition into western North Carolina. It was a thinly settled country occupied by hardy pioneers accustomed to struggling for existence with wild beasts and savage Indians. Remote from the activities of the more heavily settled eastern sections, their time occupied with holding the frontier against the Indians, the population had not, up to that time, taken an active part in the Revolutionary War. The people were nearly all of English and Scotch-Irish stock. Tories were practically unknown among them. They were Whigs and patriots practically to a man. Ferguson’s expedition stirred them up like a nest of angry hornets, and down from the mountains of western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee swarmed these hardy mountaineers with their long rifles in overwhelming numbers; and Ferguson, finding himself suddenly confronted by an army of foes of which he had not dreamed, was perforce himself under the necessity of making a retreat. The swift-footed mountaineers overtook him at Kings Mountain, and, notwithstanding a valorous defense, inflicted one of the most crushing defeats of the war, annihilating his force. Among the men who won this victory, none took a more active part than Colonel Campbell and his Virginians. Down to the present time, southwestern Virginia is occupied by the same stock. In these later days, the people go their way quietly, industriously and thriftly, but the fires of patriotism burn as brightly as ever, and only the occasion is required to bring out the virtues and the strength of these men who, in ordinary times, make no noise in the world.

A fine representative of this splendid stock is James Noah Hillman, of Coeburn, Virginia. A young man, yet in the early thirties, he is doing splendid work in his section, and setting an example worthy of emulation in every part of our country.

Mr. Hillman was born at Coeburn on November 6, 1883, son of Benjamin Franklin Hillman, who was a farmer by occupation. The maiden name of Mr. Hillman’s mother was Greear.1 Mr. Hillman went through the public schools of Wise County, finishing with a High School course at Wise Court House. Thence he went to the famous old William and Mary College at Williamsburg, taking the A. B. and A. M. degrees. Leaving school, he became a schoolteacher, and his entire manhood life has been spent in that work, of which he has made a marked success. For the last five years he has been Division Superintendent of the Wise County Schools, and his work as Supervisor was so effective that, after serving one term of four years, he was re-elected for a second term, of which he has (1916) served three years.

The progress that he has made is not the result of good fortune, or of any preferential treatment by those in power, but is the result of his own earnest labor. He is himself responsible for the statement that the first money which he ever earned was at the age of thirteen or fourteen when he chopped wood a half day for a neighbor, receiving the large reward of twenty-five cents, while his first dollar was earned as a day laborer on a public road. This statement needs no comment and illustrates the quality of the man.

He is prominent in fraternal circles, being a Mason, a Knight Templar, an Odd Fellow, a member of the Junior Order of American Mechanics, of the Woodmen and of the Bed Men. He has been honored by his brethren with the gift of every office in the subordinate lodges and has served the Masonic fraternity as a District Deputy Grand Master. In church matters he is an active Methodist, being Superintendent of the Sunday-school, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Board of Stewards. Politically he would be classified as a Democrat.

He was married in Williamsburg, Virginia, on June 28, 1906, to Ethel Lee Powell, a native of Williamsburg, born October 24, 1885, daughter of Floyd and Bettie Florence (Morris) Powell. Mr. and Mrs. Hillman have two children: James Noah Hillman, Jr., now (1916) nine years old, and Pauline Elaine Hillman.

As might be expected of a man engaged in his work, Mr. Hillman has found general literature, historical and biographical works of most interest to him. His whole soul is enthused with his work, he being a strenuous believer in a system of public education that will make possible an efficient and happy educated citizenship, a system which will give the same opportunity to the boy in the mountain hovel as is now afforded the boy living in the splendid mansions of our cities. He hopes to see the day when there will be a nine mouths’ public school in reach of every child, and a law in every State in the Union compelling attendance thereupon for a definite period. Himself a man of courage, not afraid of expressing his opinions, he is thoroughly convinced that the best interests of the State will be served when every citizen has the intelligence and courage to do his whole part, without hope of fee or reward, for the political, social and economic uplift of his fellows.

The Hillman family belongs to that great English stock which in the last four hundred years has cut such a tremendous figure in the world. In Virginia, they have been a part of the great mass of unobtrusive citizenship, and have contributed their share to the making of the Commonwealth without seeking place or power as political office holders. The first Hillman of whom we have any record in this country was Ellner Hillman, who came to New England in 1635. The next is James Hillman, of Milverton, Somersetshire, England, who took part in the disastrous Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, and after the Rebellion was crushed, was one of ninety prisoners deported by the British Government to the Island of Barbados, and was assigned to labor on the plantation of Richard Harwood, Esq. There is reason to believe that both Harwood and Hillman later removed to Virginia. There was another Hillman family settled in Pennsylvania, and to this family belonged James Hillman, born in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, who was one of the pioneers of Ohio. In conjunction with another man, he founded the city of Youngstown, Ohio; Hillman having built the first house in Youngstown. In the Revolutionary period in Virginia, John Hillman was a resident of Northumberland County, and had a family of five. In 1785, Joseph Hillman lived in Orange County, and was the head of a family of nine. In that same year, another Joseph, whose name appears on the old Assessors Record as “Hilsman,” lived in Amelia County, and was the head of a family of five. The family was also settled, at a comparatively early period, in York County. This is proven by the fact that a place in that County bore the name of Hillmans. From the Revolutionary period forward for about forty years there were quite a number of marriages between these Hillmans and other families, and it appears that they were connected by marriage with the Blankenships, the Eans, the Clements, the Clowtons, the Seays, the Farrars and the Lowrys. A majority of these were in Amelia County, but the Farrar marriage appears in Lunenberg County. in that part which is now Mecklenburg, while the Lowry marriage was in Norfolk County.

The immediate family of James Noah Hillman evidently descended from one of these eastern Virginia families, moved into southwest Virginia about one hundred years ago, settling first in Grayson and Scott Counties.

In a record of English families published in 1601, the Hillman family is given as being located in Charlton, Kings Parish, County Gloucester, England. The probabilities are that this was the home of the parent family. Evidently the family had attained respectable position in England, for it is classed by authorities as an armigerous family, and the Coat of Arms is described as follows:

“Gules on a bend cotised or, three roses of the field seeded of the second, barbed vert.
“Crest: A demi eagle with wings displayed or, holding in the beak a rose gules stalked and leaved vert.”


Wilson, Leonard, editor, Makers of America: biographies of leading men of thought and action, the men who constitute the bone and sinew of American prosperity and life, vol 2, p. 81-84, Washington, D.C. : B.F. Johnson, 1916.

  1. See her biography here: Biography of Nancy Susanna Hillman 

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