Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Advanced Search Options
Letter from Gabriel Johnston to the Board of Trade of Great Britain
Johnston, Gabriel, ca. 1698-1752
October 15, 1736
Volume 04, Pages 173-178

[B. P. R. O. North Carolina. B. T. Vol. 10. B. 14.]

My Lords [of the Board of Trade]

It is now above a year since I had the honour to hear from your Lordships except a few Lines by Mr Popple in December last, concerning Mr Littles Books, when I first appointed Mr Allen Receiver I ordered him to demand all the Papers, relating to the Quit Rents from Mr Littles Executors, And then he could get no more than three loose sheets of paper which gave no manner of light into that Affaire. If I could have procured anything which would give the least Information I had certainly transmitted it to your Board before this time.

It is a very great loss to this Province that we have not the Attorney Genlls opinion as to the Validity of those Pattents referred to him, I must beg the favour of your Lordships to advise His Majesty to determine them speedily in such manner as you shall think most proper. This long suspence keeps the whole Country in great confusion and I shall be heartily glad to see any issue to it, rather than have it remain any longer undetermined. If your Lordship should advise the King to allow of them all it is only the loss of five or six hundred pounds per annum to the Revenue, provided care is taken that no new ones which may be kept

-------------------- page 174 --------------------
in Petto and have never been recorded be Trumpt up for if that is not guarded against they may lay them on anybody's land they please and private property may suffer much by Peoples being robbed of their Improvements who have taken up Land under His Majesty as the others had, and perhaps still have the power of filling up the date of their Pattents as shall best suit them.

In order to settle this whole Affair, to doe justice to His Majesty and at the same time to show favour to the possessors of these Pattents (tho' I can't say their behaviour deserves much) I will venture with submission to propose the following Expedient to your Lordships. Primo. That as the most considerable Frauds in Lands, have been carried on since the year 1724 That no Pattents or titles preceeding that year shall be called in question on any pretence whatsoever. 2. That all persons who hold Lands by Pattents since the year 1724. If they have built upon or cultivated the same shall have them Confirmed at the Quitt Rents mentioned in their Pattents Provided such Pattents were preceeded by Regular Surveys. If not regularly surveyed, they may still have them at His Majesty's Quitt Rents. 3. That no Pattents for Land since 1724 which were never cultivated or built upon shall be deemed valid or good unless they were preceeded by regular surveys. 4. That all Pattents in the name of the Lords Proprietors since the soil became Vested in His Majesty be declared void. But to such as have cultivated even under these Pattents a Liberty be given to take up the Lands at His Majestys Quit rents. This is the best that I can think of but I once more repeat my request to your Lordships to putt an end to this Controversie one way or other and I shall most cheerfully do whatever you are pleased to direct.

There is another thing in this Province which occasions much debate and controversie amongst the People, Vizt the payment of their Quit Rents in Commodities, there is no Law in the Province positively allowing this, and the Lords Proprietors demanded Payment in Gold and silver. but as they were very ill and negligently served by their officers here (the bad effects of which we their successors still feel) they took their rents in any Commodities they pleased to give them. The People now are willing to pay in the following Commodities and at the following Prices. Tobacco at 8s 4d per hund: Rice at 10d per pd Dear skins at 2s 6d per h. Hemp at 3d and Flax at 4d per h. But then they propose payment at so many different places that it would take more than one half to defray the Charge of collecting, besides the loss one would be at, in disposing of them in a Country where the Navigation is so indifferent and the disputes might be occasioned about the goodness of the Commodities. What

-------------------- page 175 --------------------
they really want to be at is to pay their rents in Tobacco and Rice at the prices above mentioned, but as my Instructions are positive to receive the Kings rents in Proclamation money only, I have always insisted on their passing a Law in Conformity to them and after getting this proof of their obedience then to address His Majesty to allow payment in their Commodities, and this method I design to continue in until I receive further Orders from your Lordships.

I have sent along with this the original Bills as read the first time in the Lower House for Payment of Quit rents and Officer Fees That your Lordships may see what strange unaccountable notions are instilled into the People by the late Lord Proptrs officers and the Possessors of the Blank Pattents, if ever your Lordships should be of opinion that they may be permitted to pay in Commodities it would not be amiss to reject both Tobacco and Rice as these two Products are already so much overdone the one in Virginia and the other in South Carolina, and if this large fertile Country should run into the same it might sink their price already low enough still more, but to confine them to Flax and Hemp the former at 30 and the latter 20 per hundd which might produce this good Effect to sett them upon raising these two usefull Materials for the British Manufacture and these Commodities ought to be collected at the Countrys charge, as Tobacco is in Virginia and paid in Neat to the Receiver. It is true in this case we must have Sherrifs as they have in Virginia for the Provost Martial and his Deputies will never be able to do it. Indeed there are a thousand inconveniencies in this wide extended Country for want of Sheriffs and the people are strangely bent upon having them established by a Law, and in Case they will give a Consideration to the Gentleman who enjoys at Present the place of Provost Marshall and who has behaved extremely well, I should be glad to have your Lordships directions, whether I might venture to give my assent to such a Law One thing I am sure of, it is impracticable to go on as we are at prest There is another notion the same possessors of Blank Pattents have carefully inculcated upon the People and which I cannot get the better of without a speedy Declaration of your Lordships Judgment upon it. My Instructions require the Payment of Quit rents in Proclamation money which I understand to relate only to the rents under the King of 4s per hundd acres, but these gentlemen want to extend it to the old rents of six pence, one shilling and two shillings per hundred acres which before His Majestys purchase was always paid in sterling money without the least dispute and accordingly for their own lands which as they have managed matters are almost all at six pence or one shilling per hundd They offered four pence half penny and Nine pence to the

-------------------- page 176 --------------------
receiver, but I did not care for sinking one ¼ of His Majesty's Revenue upon what appeared to me so far fetched an Inference & so obliged them to pay in sterling as formerly. I hope I shall soon hear from your Lordships on this head also.

There is a practice of long standing in this country, which has heen of immense prejudice to the Revenue of the Lords Proprs formerly, and of the Crown now, that is the boxing of Pine Trees for Turpentine & burning the light wood for pitch & tarr, without ever taking out Pattents, or paying Quit rents for the lands which has entirely prevented their being taken up by any Person, they being generally of little value for any other purpose, & by this means in many parts of the Country the lands are waste & not a house to be seen in travelling a great many miles together. A few months after my arrival I published a Proclamation with the advice & consent of Council, offering a reward of £20 currency to any person who would discover such practices, so that they might be prosecuted in the Court of Exchequer, this has very much disobliged those who used to make great gains by such means.

I cannot forbear observing here My Lords that my condition has been very hard since I came here, purely because I have been so assiduous in taking care of the interests & Rights of the crown which is a very new thing in this country. In the time of the Lords Proprs their Officers collected the rents in a very incorrect slovenly manner, & what they did collt was generally sunk among themselves. My Predecessor under the King never once attempted to collect His Matys Quit rents or gave himself the least trouble about any part of the Revenue as far as I can learn, besides, he gave several Persons here of all even his most private Instructions, which has sett them (supposing mine to be the same) a cavilling & making strange inferences on every one of them, & as if all this was not enough, he has by several Letrs to People here boasted of many Audiences at your Lordships Board, that both His Majesty & your Lordps entirely disapprove of my calling any Fraudulent Pattents into Question, of collecting the Quit rents in the manner I have done, & in short of every step I have taken, & he neglected, for his Majestys service entreating them to send over complaints & all the scandalous stories they can pick up against me & he would speedily do my business & get them another Governor who will suffer things to go on in the old way. As those letters have been read in the Fields of Election & other Publick Places it is natural to believe that in persons who were never brought into any order before, they must produce bad effects & make them highly insolent. I am sure I have found it very difficult to carry on business upon the Account of these confident assertions, that my conduct is

-------------------- page 177 --------------------
entirely condemned by your Lordships. I am very sensible how unjustly he has charged your Board by such suggestions as these, But still I must entreat that your Lordships would be so good as by the first opportunity to acquaint me with anything which you may think amiss in my conduct & to favour me with a hearty approbation in what you shall judge I have done according to my duty & Instructions and assurances of being supported in it. That I may have something to shew against my Predecessors assertions. It has been a great impediment to his Majestys service, that I have not had something of this nature before for your Lordships declaring in such strong terms in favour of a Court of Exchequer has quite silenced all the Clamours Mr Burringtons friends made on that subject. Besides, my Lords I am really very diffident of my own judgment in any matter of Consequence until I find it confirmed by yours upon which I always have and will depend.

The Receiver has collected of the Arrears of His Majestys Quit rents since 1729 above £4200 sterling which is more than ever was collected in this Country. But my Predecessors correspondents (who are highly blamed by him for their tameness in paying the Arrears) are by his Encouragement making strong Parties to oppose the next Collection tho' by your Lordships speedy answer I make no doubt but I shall soon get the better of them. The accounts are sent to the Lords of the Treasury by the Receiver.

I sent your Lordships the only Copies of our Laws I could procure last December with such remarks as my bad state of health would then permit me to make. I did venture at that time to desire you to advise His Maty to repeal as soon as possible the Biennial Law & to order that no Precinct should on any Pretence whatsoever be Represented by more than two members & to discharge me from consenting to Erect any new Precinct without His Majestys permission. I am still confirmed in my Opinion of this matter, and I am satisfied we never shall have a Reason[able] Assembly while this Act subsists. I have by this Conveyance sent an attested Copy of the said Biennial Law & shall only observe 1 That it is highly unreasonable that any Assembly should presume to meet without His Majestys Writt, & therefore I dissolved them when they mett last. 2 The six Precincts in the County of Albemarle have in each five Members making thirty, & the number of People in it is I am sure not fifteen thousand, which is by much too large a Representation. 3 The whole lower House by this means consists of forty six & it is impossible to pick out in the whole Province so many fitt to do business. 4 The greatest objection is that there must be a new election every two years which is too short a time to settle a Country which has been so long in

-------------------- page 178 --------------------
confusion, & men of sense who sincerely mean the Publick good are so much afraid of the next Elections that they are obliged to go in with the majority whose Ignorance & want of education makes them obstruct everything for the good of the Country even so much as the Building of Churches or erecting of schools or endeavouring to maintain a direct Trade to Great Britain. If your Lordships approve of this I beg no time may be lost but I may have this Repealed by the way of Virginia & South Carolina by June next at farthest and the Governors of these Provinces may have orders to forward it. This one thing would contribute to the quiet & settlement of this Country more than I am able to Express.

Inclosed I send your Lordships an Estimate of the Charges (not received) in running the line between this Province and South Carolina I must do the Gentlemen concerned the justice as to say that they performed their business with great diligence and exactness, that they endured very great fatigues and were at great Expenses. Before they finish this Affair they want to be directed by your Lordships where to apply for payment whether to His Majesty or to Assembly here.

I have according to your orders sent a state of the Currency of this Province & hoping speedily to hear from your Board, I remain

Your Lordships most &c

Edenton in North Carolina
15th of October 1736.