To Martin Howard Chief Justice and Maurice Moore and Richard Henderson Associate Judges.
The Humble Petition of the Inhabitants of Orange County humbly sheweth,
That as it is a Maxim in our Laws that no Law Statute or Custom which are against Gods Law or principalls of nature can be of any validity but are all null.
If therefore Laws themselves when against Reason and Justice are null and void much more the practice used by men in the Law which is contrary to the Law as well as Reason Justice and Equity ought to be condemned and surely it is against Justice Reason and Equity to exact Taxes and extort Fees that are unlawful from the poor industrious Farmers—Yet these are but a few of a great many more evils of that nature which has been of a long time our sad case and condition and to such a degree general among so many of the men of the Law that we quite despaired of any redress being to be had that way. But as you the Governor Kings Attorney Generall and other Gentlemen of the Law pledged to us your words your honours your oaths that we could and should be redressed by the Law it would be tedious as well as unnecessary to recite thed our point could we have obtained Jurors of unprejudiced Men—for though the Law impowers the Justices of the Inferior Courts to appoint the Jurys yet it was to the end they might be chosen of unprejudiced Men, this was the spirit end and design of the Law—But it has so happened that too many of our Justices are partys concerned some of them being insolvent high Sheriffs themselves and others insolvent Sheriffs securities, yet under all this disadvantage as we labored against this very unfair dealing the goodness of our course and the uprightness of our Intentions gained ground with such Justices as was not parties concerned and for some Courts past a few of the Jurors was unprejudiced Men, but at our last Inferior Court Tyree Harris and Thomas Lloyd took a most notorious and bare faced advantage of choosing the Judges [juries] on the first day of the Court contrary to the known and usual custom and have made up the Jury mostly of Men well known to be prejudiced in favor of extortionate Officers and of such Officers themselves. Tyree Harris at whose instance we suppose it was done was high Sheriff for the years 1766 & 1767, whose accounts are yet unsettled, and likely we may be sued by the Treasurer as well as the Vestry to the Court besides almost may we believe every under Sheriff he had is inditable for their Extortions and exactions of Taxs and most of them have already been found guilty and though they attempt to make you believe the charge against them for exacting 4d 6d & a shilling extraordinary from ignorant Men Women and in remote neighbourhoods to be a false charge yet it is not only notoriously known to be the truth by hundreds of people from whom and among whom they exacted it, but at the same time they exacted 4d more from every man in the County in the very same Tax and though this was what we had some Item of from the very beginning yet we could never come at the certainty thereof till now, we think it can be proved beyond all doubt and this is a very particular matter of great weight and moment as it was one immediate cause of the rise of the mob and for which reason we Mittimus, besides all this he has been Vestry Man and Church Warden frequently these Ten years past and more during which time the Vestry accounts are unsettled and irregularly kept and large Ballances behind. Thomas Hart being the only Sheriff that ever settled which was for 1762, the particulars of whose accounts is also kept from the eyes of the public, all which is contrary to Law and for which neglect the Church Wardens and Clerks are indictable.
Mr Chief Justice you at our last Court seemed to be somewhat prejudiced against us in a speech that you made in which you signified your Jealosie that we acted through Malice, Ambition &c: But concluding if what we did was from motives to promote Justice detect Extortion &c: for the publick good that you wished us all the success imaginable and heartily concurred with us in our undertaking. Oh that you might be sincere and could but a known our hearts. However be that as it will your Speech could not but afford us consolation and encouragement to persevere for we could lay our hands on our hearts and call God to witness in ourselves that this was our whole sole end and purpose and that too out of pure necessity to keep ourselves and innocent helpless Neighbors from utter ruin our whole properties having become quite insecure as well as our characters—As the two persons who was indicted last Court for perjury by reason they had indicted and witnessed against Extortions are two honest innocent men—Yea we need say no more but that we know these two men are honest men of good characters and innocent of that charge, whereas on the contrary to pick the whole country there cannot be found men of much worse characters than many or most of those who have sworn against them. As for the objection that some pretend to make (to wit) that it is hard to find Jurymen but what is prejudiced to one side or t' other this objection has not the least foundation in Truth or Reason Absolutely no more than if a gang of horse thieves had been numerous and formidable enough to have engaged the same attention and concern of the publick—for those Extortioners and Exactors of Taxs are certainly more dangerous than those Thieves and in the next place they and all who espouse their cause knowingly are as to numbers inconsiderably small, only that they have the handling the
To sum up the whole matter of our Petition in a few words it is namely these that we may obtain unprejudiced Jurys, That all extortionate Officers Lawyers and Clerks may be brought to fair Tryals—That the Collectors of publick money may be called to proper settlements of their accounts, namely the Sheriffs for the years 1764, 1765, 1766 & 1767 to which time the taxes was generally collected (a small part of the last year excepted) the refusing to settle for which or give us any satisfaction occasioned the past disturbances—If We cannot obtain this that we may have some security for our properties more than the bare humour of offers, we can see plainly that we shall not be able to live under such oppressions and to what extremities this must drive us you can as well judge of as we can ourselves, we having no other determination but to be redressed and that to be in a legal and lawful way—As we are serious and in good earnest and the Cause respects the whole Body of the people it would be loss of time to enter into arguments on particular points for though there is a few men who have the gift or art of reasoning yet every man has a feeling and knows when he has justice done him as well as the most learned.
Therefore that Justice which every man will be ashamed to own that over he denyed us of when in his power to grant is the prayer of our Petition and your Petitioners as in duty bound shall ever pray.
Signed by 174 Subscribers.
1 Enclosed in Governor Tryon's letter of 20th October 1770.