The Records, Documents, &c., entitled The Colonial Records of North Carolina, were prepared for publication under the direction of the Trustees of the State Library, and consist almost entirely of transcripts of records, &c., in the offices of the Secretary of State, at Raleigh, and of those in the British Public Record Office in London.
The incompleteness of the records in the Secretary's office in this State is scarcely credible and at a very early day turned attention to those in London. Of the first fifty years, indeed, no original records scarcely remain in North Carolina except some court records, a few grants, and perhaps a few other papers of no great importance. The records of proceedings of Governor and Council go no further back than 1712, though there were Governors as far back as 1664. The records of Assembly go back only to 1754, with the exception of a mutilated copy of the Journal of the Assembly that met at the house of Capt. John Hecklefield in 1715. There were Legislatures as far back certainly as 1665.
The first search made in London for information in regard to North Carolina affairs was doubtless that made by the historian George Chalmers, who, in 1780, published his Political Annals of the Present United Colonies, the fruit of his labors in the British Record Office, to which the official position he held gave him access. This volume has been the standard authority with all later Carolina historians. Its general accuracy as to matters of fact is by no means perfect, and Mr. Chalmers's bitter prejudices as a Loyalist render his conclusions utterly unreliable.
At a later date, the historian Williamson, who desired copies of certain papers in London relating to Carolina, hoped that Mr. Chalmers would furnish him therewith or assist him in obtaining them. Mr. Chalmers would do neither, and threatened to interfere if application should be made to the head of the proper department. In this connection, it must be borne in mind that access to the records in the British offices could not be had without special permission until a comparatively modern period.
But how to account for the utter absence of records in North Carolina? There could have been no inducement to their destruction, and it follows, therefore, that we must look to natural causes, the want of towns and the consequent lack of known and suitable buildings used as depositories for public records. Experience proves that the most valuable documents, unless put away in such muniment rooms, soon disappear and are lost.
The incompleteness of the records in North Carolina continued to be more and more felt until it was determined to perfect them as far as possible.
As early as February 9th, 1827, Mr. John Scott, representing the town of Hillsboro in the House of Commons, moved the following resolutions, which were adopted, sent to the Senate, and on the next day there also passed, so far as the records show, without a moment's hesitation or the slightest opposition:
“Resolved by the Senate and House of Commons of the General Assembly of North Carolina, That his Excellency the Governor of the State be requested to make a respectful application to the British Government for liberty to procure for the use of the State from the office of the Board of Trade and Plantations in London, copies of such papers and documents as relate to the colonial history of North Carolina.
“Resolved further, That the application aforesaid be made through the American Minister in London, and that he be requested to lend his aid
Under this resolution, Governor Burton wrote to the Hon. Albert Gallatin, then American Minister in London, on the subject. Mr. Gallatin after formal correspondence with the British Government obtained, and under date of 25th of August, 1827, forwarded to Governor Burton a list of papers relating to the colonial history of North Carolina then on file in the public offices in London.
The documents themselves, however, were not copied, for the reason that it was supposed the entire collection would be obtained by Mr. Peter Force and printed in the American Archives. Finally, disappointed in this expectation, the list itself was printed in 1843 by order of the Legislature.
In 1849 the Legislature authorized the Governor to procure from the public offices in London such documents as were worthy of preservation, to be placed in the archives of the State.
In 1855 the Legislature authorized the Governor to appoint an agent to procure these documents, and, in case he found it necessary, to visit London for the purpose.
In 1857 the Legislature renewed and continued this authority in the Governor. At the time, however, that Hon. David L. Swain, who had been appointed agent, was ready to begin the work, the relations between Great Britain and the United States were so unfriendly that the Hon. James C. Dobbin, then Secretary of the Navy, advised him it was an inauspicious time to ask favors of British officials. This delayed the work. Why this effort finally failed is not known.
In 1859 the Legislature authorized the Governor to make an arrangement with Rev. Dr. Francis L. Hawks and Hon. David L. Swain to edit and publish two volumes of the documentary history of North Carolina.
In 1861, as if in view of the coming war and its possibilities, the Legislature, putting out of sight for the first time the archives in London, determined to make sure of what it had at home, and directed the principal records in the Secretary's office to be printed. But it was too late.
In 1881 the Legislature passed a resolution, moved and advocated by Hon. Theodore F. Davidson, Senator from the 40th District, now Attorney-General, directing the Trustees of the Libraries (the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, being ex officio the Trustees) to publish the records and documents then here.
In 1883 the Trustees of the Libraries, reporting progress to the Legislature, under the Act of 1881, announced that the gaps in the records here were so many and so great that they had determined to print nothing until an appeal had been made to the Legislature for authority and assistance to procure from London the lacking documents.
In response to this appeal, the Legislature passed a resolution authorizing the Trustees of the Library to procure the missing documents, Colonel Samuel McDowell Tate, member of the House of Representatives from the county of Burke, and Hon. James L. Robinson, Lieutenant-Governor and President of the Senate, being especially instrumental in securing its adoption.
The first step taken under the resolution was to secure the services of Mr. W. Noel Sainsbury, of the British Record Office, honorary member of the New England, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and other Historical Societies, editor of Calendar of [British] State Papers, Colonial Series, &c., &c.
To the historical student, Mr. Sainsbury needs no introduction. For the information of others, however, it may, perhaps, be well enough to state that Mr. Bancroft writes that Mr. Sainsbury is “a veteran in the State Paper, now Record Office, of Great Britain. I have known him for nearly forty years; have employed him very frequently during that time, and have always found him intelligent, accurate, and in every way trustworthy. My own collection of documents is full of copies of State Papers which he has made for me. Having been so long in service, and so much appealed to by American scholars, he has become thoroughly familiar with the subject, as may be seen from his Colonial Series of State Papers reaching from 1574 to 1668.”
With such commendation from such a source, every one may feel assured that Mr. Sainsbury has done his part intelligently, faithfully and thoroughly. His instructions were to do the work so thoroughly and so exhaustively that there would never be need or desire for it to be done over again, and it is believed that we now have copies of all North Carolina colonial papers in the British Public Record Office.
Upon the undersigned, the execution of the task imposed by the Legislature was devolved by his co-trustees, the Public Records here being in his custody, and the duties of his office requiring him as far as possible to have a familiar knowledge of their contents. How he has performed the task thus assigned to him, it is not for him to determine. He can only say, that for near seven years he has devoted himself to it, and that he has done the very best he could, without reward, or the hope of reward, and solely because of the love he bears North Carolina and her people.
It is but simple justice to add that the work could not have been begun even without the hearty and cordial coöperation of Governor Jarvis and Hon. John C. Scarborough, Superintendent of Public Instruction, who were his co-trustees at the time of its inception, and that it could not for
Thanks for services rendered are especially due to Major Graham Daves, then residing in South Carolina, Hon. S. F. Phillips, of Washington City, Capt. S. A. Ashe, Rev. Jos. Blount Cheshire, Jr., Rev. F. M. Hubbard, D. D., Prof. W. J. Rivers, formerly of South Carolina, now of Maryland, and the Rt. Rev. William Stevens Perry, L.L. D., Bishop of Iowa, the Historiographer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America.
For the very handsome make-up of the volumes, and for help, assistance and encouragement, in every way, the undersigned makes especial and personal acknowledgment to his friend Peter M. Hale, the Public Printer.
Finally, the undersigned feels it to be a matter of conscience to say also, that to the influence of the late ex-Governor Henry T. Clark, and to that of his old preceptor, the late ex-Governor David L. Swain, so long President of the University of the State, he is indebted for the cultivation of a taste that has made bearable the years of sheer drudgery absolutely necessary to the preparation for publication of The Colonial Records of North Carolina.