An industrialist who later entered into the political arena as a friend of farmers, Thomas Michael Holt served North Carolina as its 47th governor. His administration is known for supporting higher education and returning elective control to localities.
Born in what is now Alamance County, Holt studied at Caldwell Institute and attended UNC for one year. After his freshman year (1849), Holt decided to pursue his financial and industrial interests.
The college drop-out, however, was a member of a family that had become pioneers in the textile industry, according to historian Michael Hill. Another historian writes: “The Holt family, having acquired many more mills in the Carolina Piedmont, established an industrial dynasty in North Carolina, one which flourished for 89 years.”
In 1851, Holt started running one his father’s mills and it was there that he displayed innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. At the Alamance Creek mill, the future governor designed “Alamance Plaid”—one of the first commercially produced plaids in the South. Holt, a Whig, realized that his product could travel across the nation on the developing railroad systems. The colored plaid soon sold far and wide and was particularly popular in the North. During the Civil War, Holt sold textiles to the Confederate States and essentially clothed Confederate armies.
Holt’s political career began in the 1870s. He served as a county commissioner in Alamance County, a state senator, and a state representative. He ran successfully for the lieutenant governor position in 1888. When Governor Daniel Fowle died in 1891, Holt assumed office.
During his political career, and even during his gubernatorial service, Holt earned a reputation for promoting higher education and returning elective control to localities. He promoted or supported the establishment of four major institutions: North Carolina State University; a normal school for white women (now University of North Carolina–Greensboro); North Carolina A&T State University; and Elizabeth City State University.
Holt died on April 11, 1896 and was buried in Graham, North Carolina.
Lindley S. Butler and Alan D. Watson, The North Carolina Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History (Chapel Hill, 1984); Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2006); William S. Powell, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill, 1989); Milton Ready, The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Columbia, 2006).