powered by google
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
April 04, 1749
Volume 04, Pages 919-923

[B. P. R. O. North Carolina. B. T. Vol. 11. B. 90.]

Edenton, April 4th 1749.

My Lords, [of the Board of Trade]

I send by the Hands of the Chief Justice a fresh Copy of all the Laws of this Province passed since November 1746, until the 28th of March 1749. There has been four other Laws enacted at an Assembly which is but just now broken up, which I shall transmit by the very first opportunity, one of these last Laws has I hope put an end to all the Difficulties that have hitherto attended the Collection of His Majesty's Quit Rents, which in this Province have been very great, and carried to a tedious length. I hope your Lordships will find upon the whole that more has been done for the Settlement and Prosperity of this Country within this three years, and since the cecessation of the Members for the six Northern Counties then ever has been done before since the foundation of the Colony.

I shall not trouble your Lordships with remarks on any of the Laws, except that one for building fortifications, because it gave rise to the small addition was made to the Paper Currency, and was the unhappy occasion of my being drawn in to Transgress a most plain and express Instruction of his Majesty, by which I am terribly afraid I have incurred his Displeasure and have reason to apprehend I shall be recall'd from the Government,

-------------------- page 920 --------------------
and I assure your Lordsps the first of these makes a much deeper Impression on my mind than the Latter. As I thus frankly confess my guilt I hope your Lordships will indulge me while I trace these things from the beginning in order to sett this Matter in a true Light and Discover the real motive of my Proceedings.

The Province of North Carolina was first settled by People fron Virginia in low circumstances who moved hither for the benefit of a larger and better range for their Stocks, from such a small Beginning it was a great many years before it appeared there was any Increase of Inhabitants sufficient to form a Government the whole number of Taxables in Thirty years time not amounting to one thousand, and those generally dwelt on the North side of Albemarle sound, and composed the four Precincts of Chowan, Perquimons, Pasquotank & Currituck, which Precincts, now called Counties sent each of them five Members to the Assembly, the whole number at that time amounting to those Twenty Members.

The poverty of the first Inhabitants made (for want of a better currency) to Enact in their Assemblies that all Payments whatsoever, might be made in sundry Commodities or Products of the Province a List whereof here follows, agreeable to the Law as it past upon the Revise, Anno: 1715.

£. s. d.
Indian Corn per bushel
1
8
Tallow per Pound
5
Beaver & Otter Skins per Pound
2
6
Butter per Pound
6
Raw buck & Doe Skins per Pound
9
Feathers per Pound
1
4
Pitch per Barrel full gauged
1
Pork per Barrel
2
5
Tobacco per 100 cwt
10
Wheat per Bushel
3
6
Leather tann'd uncurried per pound
8
Wild Cat Skins per piece
1
Cheese per Pound
4
Drest Buck & Doe Skins per Pound
2
6
Tarr per Barrel full gauged
10
Whale Oil per Barrel
1
10
Beef per Barrel
1
10

This Method has been continued down to this time with very little Alteration to the great Damage of the Revenue it being a stated rule,

-------------------- page 921 --------------------
that of so many Commodities the worst sort were only paid. Altho' many attempts have been made to remedy the Inconvenience attending such a currency it has always proved fruitless (the People being generally fond of a Law which gave them such Advantages).

By advice of His Majesties Council and all His officers in this Province a Quit Rent Law was passed whereby the abovementioned practise was greatly remedied, for in that Law very few Com̄odities were allowed to be paid for rents & those at such a Rate as to be near the value of Sterling rather than Proclamation Money. So great an advantage gained for the Crown in this particular as also a sure method of forming an exact Rent Roll, were both lost by the Repeal of that Law before the Rent Roll was formed; objection being made to the valuation of the Paper Currency when in truth the Valuation of it was to be by those officers who were to receive their salaries in that currency.

After this Deduction I must further take notice to your Lordships that when I arrived here in 1734 I found a Paper Currency issued in the time of the Lords Proprietors to the Value of about 10,000£ it had but an indifferent Foundation being on Land security, which is no great value here, but there being little gold & silver we were obliged to take these Bills in discharge of Quitrents and the Governor and officers were obliged to take them in Payment of their Salarys and Fees, as with them they could purchase any produce of the Country, and sometimes Bills of Exchange to send Home and to buy the necessaries of Life for themselves and Familys, but the Planters were very unwilling to part with these Bills in discharging of their Taxes for the support of Government, but insisted most obstinately in paying of Comodities according to the above Table by which there was always a large Deficiency in the Supplies of the Year and the Country fell every Year deeper in Debt.

In the Year 1744 the time fixed for sinking these Bills, it was with the greatest Difficulty we could prevail on the Assembly to provide a Fund for that purpose, it cost us two or three Assemblies however at last we got it done, tho' not in the best manner could be wished for, but after this matters turned out still worse, there was no money in the Publick Treasury, and they could not carry their Gross, Bulky, and some of them perishing Com̄odities there, Divers Assemblies were held, and nothing to pay the Charges of the Sessions, Clarks could scarcely be procured to write and Transcribe the Journals of the two Houses, and not a Man would go Twenty miles as an Express on the Public Faith, so that I was forced, either to send my own servants or pay People out of my own pocket, and indeed for these fifteen years past, the charge of all Publick Letters, Packets & Expresses have been all to a trifle advanced

-------------------- page 922 --------------------
by me for the Publick for which I became the most considerable of their Creditors, and it straitened me very much considering the misfortunes I have met with of late Years, besides this there was a vast arrear of Quit rent due to the Crown and Earl of Granville, an entire stagnation of Business in all the Public offices and a vast load of Debt owing from the Country, all this raised a loud & clamorous Demand for a large & speedy Emission of a Publick Currency; Here it is my Lords that I blame myself with the greatest severity for want of forethought and consideration, and not applying to your Lordships for advice & Direction in such perplexed Circumstances, but I was so imprudent as to trust to my own firm Resolution, which I had often declared both Publickly and in Private, that in no Case and on no Conditions I would consent to break through his Majesty's Instructions or admit of any more Paper Money.

Matters continued in this situation for three years, when in the year 1747 several small Sloops & Barcalonjos, came creeping along the shore from St Augustine full of armed men, mostly Mulattoes & Negroes, their small Draught of water secured them from the attacks of the only ship of war then on this station, they landed at Ocacock Core sound, Bear Inlet, and Cape Fear, where they killed several of his Majesty's subjects, burned some ships and several small Vessels, carried off some Negroes, and slaughtered a Vast number of Black Cattle and Hogs, these Practices were continued all the summer 1747 and enraged the People to the highest degree, they exclaimed that there was no safety for them without Forts, and as there was no money in the Treasury Forts could not be erected without an imediate Emission of Publick Bills that other Governours had found it necessary to allow a new Currency on the pressing Exegencies of a hot war, but their Governor would rather see the Country ruined before his eyes than Depart from his obstinate Resolution, at the same time the People in the Northern Counties were by Macculohs Artifices all in an uproar on account of their five Members in such a situation, when matters were everywhere in flame. I could not avoid complying in some measure with their Importunate Demands. I have endeavoured to do it in such a manner that his Majesties service, and the Country in General, will be greater gainers by it, than they can possibly be loosers by this constrained Emission. It was upon these three Conditions I was prevailed upon to grant my consent. 1st The Four Forts should be built, two large Ones, one at Ocacock the other at Cape Fear, and two smaller, One at Core sound, the other at Bear Inlet. 2nd And for discharging all Publick Incumbrances, and this purpose no larger sum should be issued than £6,000 Sterl: over and above the

-------------------- page 923 --------------------
£10,000 of the former currency. 3rd That no more Taxes should be paid in Com̄odities but Publick Payments of all kind should be paid in Proclamation money which they have solemnly engaged to do for the future.

Thus with this small addition to their former Currency, his Majesty has gained four Forts, one of them Vizt at Cape Fear already finished, and the rest going about and that odious sham method of supporting the Charges of Government by paying Comodities forever discarded.

The whole amount of the new Currency is less than 6:000£ sterl: or between 21 & 22000£ Proclamation money, this is a true and plain Account of this whole Transaction, in which I have not in the least Endeavoured to Disguise or Conseal what was wrong or blameable in my Conduct, for which I most humbly beg your Lordships to intercede with His Majesty for his pardon & Forgiveness.

I am with great respect, &c.,
GABl JOHNSTON.