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Letter from Gabriel Johnston to the Board of Trade of Great Britain
Johnston, Gabriel, ca. 1698-1752
December 28, 1748
Volume 04, Pages 1163-1166


Edenton, December 28th 1748.

My Lords [of the Board of Trade]

I had the Honour of your Lordships of 17th of June last a few days ago in which you have been pleased to inform me of the Petition of the Inhabitants of the six Counties against an Act of Assembly for ascertaining the number of their Members, and likewise of your Report to the Committee, proposing that I be directed to transmit the necessary evidence, and that a copy of the said Petition be sent to me, and that I transmit such reasons in support of the act as I think proper. At the same time your Lordships are pleased to recommend to me Dispatch, that an end may be put to the Confusion in which the Country must be necessarily involved on this occasion.

I am fully sensible of the justness and kindness of this Recommendation; for indeed the Country is in great Confusion by this, affairs being now two years undetermined.

I should not have delayed one Day to Answer the Complaint, if I had been served with a Copy of it, but as I never have been, it is impossible for me to Answer it. Nay I am certain I shall not be served with it for a good while to come, for the Confusion of this Province (of which your Lordships are so apprehensive) is what the Persons who are at the head of this affair find their account in, and it has been always their Play to keep things in that way. I know not whether by the Rules of the officers there is a time limited for serving Governors with a Copy of Complaints and for them to give in their answers, but it will be very hard if these People go on to keep things in Disorder by postponing the Execution of the Order of Council.

I have already given your Lordships my Reasons for assenting to this Law, I have likewise sent two authentick Affidavits proving that their absence from the Assembly at Wilmington was not accidental or occasioned by any Difficulties in getting to the Place of meeting, but premeditated and designed. And if your Lordships will be only pleased to

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consider my Situation for Twelve Years together in this Place, I am sure you will not blame my conduct.

At every Assembly I was obliged to stay Three or Four Days and often a week, before these Gentlemen thought proper to attend, And Four times I was obliged to dismiss the Assembly without opening it, because of their absence; for they insisted that no Assembly could proceed to Business without a Majority of the House of Burgesses, and they by their five Members constituted this Majority.

I have more than once overheard them when things were not going to their Mind say, Let us go home and see whether the Governour Council and rest of our House dare do anything when we (without whom there can be no Majority) are departed.

At last by a previous concert they Declared openly that they would not obey the Prorogation preceding the meeting at Wilmington.

The Members of the other Eleven counties and Burgesses for Three Towns, whose Health would permit them to attend did of their own accord bring in a Bill for regulating Elections and for preventing these abuses which had so long retarded the Settlement of this unhappy Province, His Majesties Council, then six in number unanimously approved of it. What could I do in such an affair when the People themselves, that is, Eleven Counties out of Seventeen, and three Boroughs out of four, offered to me a Law for my Assent, which prevented the Governour & Council from continuing Cyphers, which restored the Prerogative of the Crown to its just Weight in the Legislature and secured the People an Equal Representative.

I sincerely think it would have been highly Criminal in me, if I had neglected such an opportunity or hesitated one moment to give my assent to such a Bill, even if there had been any antiquated Deed or Charter that stood in the way, but I solemnly protest to your Lordships that tho' I have made diligent search among all our Records, I never could meet with any writing of that nature, and am firmly persuaded that the only Right ever had for five Members was founded on the Biennial Law long ago repealed by your Lordships Advice.

I have wrote all this not as an Answer to any Complaint (tho' I may perhaps take the Liberty to refer to this if I am ever put to the necessity of Answering) because I am not served with a Copy of any. But as his Majesty's Governor informing your Honourable Board (in obedience to his Majesty's Instructions) of the True Reasons for my assenting to a Bill presented to me regularly by both Houses of Assembly, and indeed I cannot help reconing it some misfortune, to be obliged to Answer as a Criminal for doing what it would have been a great Crime in

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me to neglect, and that the Artifices of those Persons who have always kept this Colony in confusion should have been so successful as to keep in suspence the fate of a Law so manifestly calculated for doing justice to the Crown, and for the ease and quiet of the Subject; and if your Lordships Goodness, does not prevent them, you will soon observe by their conduct that they will endeavour to keep Matters in this Dubious state for years to come.

I shall not trouble your Lordships with anything more on this Subject at Present, only beg you will be pleased to remember, that if these six Counties are allowed to send five Members each they will have a Negative upon Governor, Council and the Representatives of eleven Counties out of Seventeen, and three Towns out of Four. This is unavoidable.

Your Lordships will see by the Sequel of this Letter the Reason which has hitherto prevented my compleating the State of this Colony which I promised to transmitt to your Board two years ago.

I am sorry that the minutes of Council, and the Loans passed within these two years have not yet been Revived.

I have sent orders to the Secretary to provide a fresh Coppy and to send it me by Express which I shall not fail to forward with my Observations upon Them.

We have got several good Laws which I am sure will give your Lordships great satisfaction, & which we should never have obtained, if the overgrown Majority of the six Counties had continued.

There was only one more Law passed in that Session with the Law now nnder Debate; That was an Act for Building of Publick offices for Publick Meetings and Keeping of Records; This Province has been very unhappy for want of such Buildings ever since I knew it.

The Publick Records lye in a miserable condition one part of them at Edenton near the Virginia Line in a place without Lock or Key; a great part of them in the Secretarys House at Cape Fear above Two Hundred Miles Distance from the other Some few of 'em at the Clerk of the Council's House at Newbern, so that in whatever part of the Colony a man happens to be, if he wants to consult any paper or record he must send some Hundred of Miles before he can come at it.

Tho' the necessity of such a Law must appear plain to everybody, we have not yet been able to carry it into Execution by reason of the obstinacy of the Northern Gentlemen, who declare loudly they will obey no Law until the Fate of that relating to their five Members be Decided, and they have been hitherto as good as their Word.

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They treated the Kings writt for calling a New Assembly with the greatest Contempt: They will pay no Taxes, and tho' they do not appear in Arms, they are really in a State of Civil Rebellion.

I did not think it prudent to make Use of any Violent or Compulsive Methods, because I am sure that whenever this Affair is determined at Home the Tranquility of the Province will be restored at once, and I hope it will not be long now, before we shall be acquainted with His Majesty's Pleasure.

There is also an Act passed for revising the Laws and printing them, which have hitherto been scattered about in very sorry and incorrect Copys; An Act for the more punctual attendance of the Members of Both Houses; One for appointing James Abercromby, Agent for this Province: One for building two Forts, One at Ocacock, and another at Cape Fear; and one for Granting a Rent Roll to his Majesty and Lord Granville with several others, which for these several Years I have been endeavouring to procure, but never could before.

One mighty inconvenience we have to struggle with at present is, That nobody cares to lay in Provisions for Man or Horse at Newbern, tho' it is the most central and fruitful part of the Province; Such pains are taken to assure the People that the Seat of Government will be removed, when they get their five Members restored; But nobody cares for advancing Money for the entertainment of the Publick, so that in a fortnight or three weeks time, we are obliged to seperate for want of the necessaries of Life. Things would soon take another Turn if this point about their Members was Once Determined. The present Members of Council are: Nathl Rice, Robt Halton, Eleazor Allen, Mathew Rowan, Edward Moseley, Roger Moore, Cullen Pollock, William Forbes, all residing in the Province, and James Murray who has been absent three Years without Leave.

Three Members have died since my being in the Government Vizt William Smith, Edmund Porter and John Baptist Ashe; I have recommended several Gentlemen on former occasions, and now mention the following Gentlemen to supply these Vacancies Vizt James Innes, George Gould, and Thomas Lovick. I shall take care to observe punctually every Article of your Directions in relation to Indigo.

I am highly indebted to your Lordships for the News of the Cessation of Arms, I have never yet received the Proclamation of a Cessation betwixt Great Britain and France. That betwixt Great Britain and Spain I received a few days ago and have had it published with proper solemnity.

I continue with the greatest respect, &c.,
GAB: JOHNSTON.