James Holland, also known as “Big Jim” Holland, was born in 1754 as the son of William Holland and Mary Harrison. His parents moved from Pennsylvania to Anson County, North Carolina about the time of his birth, and it is undetermined if he was born in Pennsylvania or North Carolina. At 15, Holland was apprenticed as a carpenter, but he still acquired an education, read law, and eventually became a successful business contractor. Holland became the sheriff of Tryon County, North Carolina from 1777 until July 1778.
During the Revolutionary War, Holland was a second lieutenant in Colonel Francis Locke’s militia regiment. Holland fought at Ramsour’s Mill, Cowpens, and Guilford Court House. In 1782 he became the superintending commissioner of specific supplies in the District of Morgan in 1782. After the conclusion of the war, he remained in the North Carolina Militia, and in 1787, he became a first major of the Morganton District Militia. He would use the title “major” until his death.
When Rutherford County was created in 1779, Holland was named county commissioner and trustee. He constructed the Rutherford County Courthouse on his property in Gilberttown. In 1780, Holland married Sarah Gilbert, the daughter of William Gilbert. Holland served as Justice of the Peace in Rutherford County from 1780 to 1800 and was the Rutherford County Comptroller from 1782 to 1785. Holland was elected to serve in the North Carolina Senate in 1783 and 1797. In 1786 and 1789, Holland was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons. During his time in the North Carolina legislature, Holland became known for his ability in finance, for his good judgment, and for his ability to remain impartial. Holland was a delegate to the Fayetteville Convention (1789) and favored the ratification of the Federal Constitution. Also in 1789, Holland became one of the first members of the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees and held the position until 1795.
In 1794, Holland defeated Colonel Joseph McDowell in the congressional race and became a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1795 until 1797. James Holland was an orthodox Jeffersonian Republican and during his first term in Congress opposed the Jay Treaty and the expansion of the United States Navy. He declined reelection to return to the North Carolina State Senate and expanded his law practice. He ran for reelection to the Federal Congress in 1798 but lost to the Federalist candidate Joseph Dickson. He won the election in 1800 and served in the United States House of Representatives until 1810.
During his second term, Holland was against military buildup until 1807. The Burr Conspiracy, British impressment of American sailors, the Nonimporation Act, and Henry Clay’s leadership changed in his opinion. However, Holland maintained that militia forces were preferable to a standing Army. Holland defended the Embargo Act of 1807, advocated a balanced economy with domestic manufacturing, wanted the direct election of the President and Vice President, and believed that the violation of the Nonimportation Act regarding the transportation of slaves should be a capital offense.
In 1811, Holland moved to Maury County, Tennessee. His sons had previously moved to Tennessee and established a home on the Duck River. In Tennessee, Holland became a wealthy landowner, was active in local affairs, and served as Justice of the Peace from 1812 to 1818. In 1822, Holland ran for Congress but, not having the same popularity as in North Carolina, he was unable to win. He died and was buried in Maury County, Tennessee on May 19, 1823.
William S. Powell. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography Volume 3, H-K. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 174-175.