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Letter from Josiah Martin to Wills Hill, Marquis of Downshire
Martin, Josiah, 1737-1786
March 07, 1772
Volume 09, Pages 263-268

[B. P. R. O. Am. & W. Ind.: No. Carolina. Vol. 219.]
Letter from Governor Martin to Secry Hillsborough.

North Carolina New Bern,
March 7th 1772.

My Lord,

I have the honor to inform your Lordship that Mr Strudwick having arrived here and satisfied me by sufficient evidence that he

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has rented the Secretary's Office in this Province of Mr Falkner the Patentee and produced at the same time his Majesty's Warrant under the Royal Sign Manual granting to him the Office of Clerk of the Pleas here during his Majesty's Pleasure and directing a Patent to be made to him: therefore in obedience to his Majesty's commands I have accordingly issued such patent, and Mr Strudwick has qualified before me to these several Offices and to those of Clerk of the Crown and Clerk of the Council, that are involved in that of Province Secretary.

As I am directed by his Majesty's Royal Instructions to communicate from time to time what I shall think for the advantage of his Majesty's Government and the advancement of the public good in this Province, I hold it my duty humbly to offer to your Lordships consideration my sentiments in relation to the office of Clerk of the Pleas.

The History of its creation into a separate office here is somewhat curious and I apprehend quite unknown to your Lordship, the powers of it had been involved in the Office of Secretary and confessedly exercised by him time immemorial until after the late Mr Heron became Tenant of that Office under lease from the present Patentee. At this time My Lord there were eight precinct Courts in the whole Province to which the Secretary appointed Clerks or Deputies when Mr Heron availing himself of the custom of an Office under the Title of Clerk of the Pleas in South Carolina in which province there was then only one General Court held at Charles Town and seeing it at once the example which suggested and that might give Colour to the stratagem he was afterwards to put in practice although it was obviously a precedent that would not apply to the circumstances of this Province of very different constitution by an address that cannot be remembered to his honor engaged Governor Dobbs to erect an Office of the same name here in his person in the year 1761. Upon the strength of this appointment Mr Heron went to England and the Governors recommendation for his Majesty's confirmation which he obtained by the Royal Warrant bearing date at St Jame's the 27th day of January 1762. By this sinister proceeding your Lordship will see he cut out of the Secretary's Leasehold Office a distinct appointment for himself immediately under the Crown holding the Patentee blinded to a transaction in which he had so flagrantly betrayed his interests and which he had carried on thus secretly, altogether without his participation or consent by

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continuing the same rent of £250 sterling per Annum for the Secretary's Office after he had abridged it of its best appendage contented as he well might be (having it seems no very scrupulous delicacy of conscience) to secure at so insignificant a price an independant right to the office of more certain emolument of which he had so cunningly and clandestinely divested his principal and upon a better tenure.

Mr Heron having thus far effected his design returned hither and in order to give the greater scope and power to his new Office made interest so successfully with the Assembly under the Governor's patronage that an Act was passed in the latter end of the year 1762 for erecting inferior Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, in the several Counties of the Province which abstracted of its relation to Mr Heron's Office was certainly an improvement in the constitution of this country as it tended to facilitate the administration of Justice; by this Act my Lord the Clerk of the Pleas is directed to appoint a Clerk to each County Court during good behaviour upon his entering into bond with the Justices in one thousand pounds for the safe custody of Records and faithful discharge of his Office while he the principal, who is to make these subordinate appointments holds his Office during pleasure only a solacism that I must concede invalid in Law as repugnant to common sense at which however he connived, as he actually submitted to the retrenchment of his power ineffectually as I think designed by it in order to gain quiet admission and establishment of his Office which met with most unwelcome reception.

In consequence of all these arrangements My Lord Mr Heron possessed himself of an Office of greater Influence than belongs to his Majesty's Governor of the Province, the Clerk of the Pleas has now the appointment of thirty four Clerks in the Counties in this province which have increased from time to time to that number, the Clerkships as I am informed are worth from £50 to £500 per annum of which the Clerk of the Pleas receives a proportionate share in acknowledgment for his appointment. The gentleman who holds this Office under a Commission from Governor Tryon in the interval between Mr Heron's death and the late arrival of Mr Strudwick Mr Hawks a very ingenious and worthy man at my instance has furnished me with a schedule of the rents of these numerous Clerks that run from £40 of which there is one only rated so high to £30 of which there are only two six more of and above £20 thence decreasing so low as to £4 annual Rent, in the whole however amounting

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to £560 per annum an handsome income from an absolutely sinecure Office, hence your Lordship will perceive that the County Court Clerks are tributaries of the Clerk of the Pleas who conferrs his appointments upon the best bidders, hence these offices of great importance are filled with persons not chosen for loyalty, integrity and ability which should be the sole grounds of their election, and hence they are led to extortion upon the people to indemnify themselves for the Clerk of the Pleas participation of their profits with impunity for most strangely taught to consider himself independant of his principal by the Province Law that makes these Offices tenures during good behaviour and sure of the connivance of the Magistrates who being for the most part as corrupt as ignorant are controaled and managed by a Clerk of the least address, he unites his interest with theirs by reciprocal countenance of malversation and thus confederated the persons who ought to be the Ministers of Justice and the Arbiters of the Peoples Rights and Properties, prostitute the Power with which they are vested for their benefit to their oppression and shamelessly in concert with the Clerks, become the vilest and most dangerous instruments of Tyranny and iniquity, studeous only under Colour of justice, by rapine and plunder to enhance their extorted instalments finding security against impeachment and detection in abetting each others villany the only check upon the Clerk is thus removed and his Office is made a lifehold by collusion instead of good behaviour.

Under these circumstances the County Court Clerks acquire influence in the Counties and find their way readily into the Assembly where recognizing no obligation to Government for their offices rendered so independent they openly oppose and embarrass its design for the public good instead of augmenting its strength as might be reasonably expected as the Act of Assembly under which these Clerks are appointed by the Clerk of the Pleas will expire next year, when attempt will most certainly be made through their influence to renew it in its present shape or with more disadvantage to the Clerk of Pleas and to the Public Interests and that I am directed by the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations to take care to reserve to the Crown the power of appointing the six Clerks of the Superior Courts heretofore held by the Chief Justice and which are Offices of no influence and and less value in general. I humbly submit to your Lordship whether that may not be a proper season for the Crown to annul the Office of Clerk

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of the Pleas which is an absolute sine cure and to resume or delegate the power of appointing likewise the Clerks of the Inferior Courts to his Majesty's Governor, in my poor Judgment it is no less consistent with the Interest honor and dignity of Government and I am confident (I speak my Lord from the knowledge and sentiments of many) that it would be more agreeable to this people the former will derive from such a measure incredible augmentation of strength now too feeble and impotent fatally to the public Interests and the latter will see and feel sensibly and joyfully that Office extinguished in whose venality their heaviest grievances have originated and whence all their clamors and discontents flow and may be fairly deduced the odium and reproach attending this sine cure will cease, its removal will gain honor and credit to administration these appointments will rise in reputation and become objects to a better species of Men whose merit ability and integrity will be the only and indispensable recommendation of Competitors and the Influence of Government will in proportion be extended to the advancement of public prosperity and happiness. This my Lord upon the maturest consideration I conceive to be the sine qua non the first step necessary to the improvement of the police of this Country without which it can never enjoy that peace and good order that is the result of an equal and impartial administration of justice so admirably contrived by the British Constitution and which his Majesty so graciously and unremittingly labours to extend to all his subjects throughout his wide Empire.

I cannot help feeling much concern at being compelled by my duty to my Royal Master which must ever supercede every other consideration of private friendship and regard to counteract in this business the Interest of Mr Strudwick the present Clerk of the pleas who will acquit himself I am persuaded as honorably as any man can do, not impossibly divested of attention to his own interest which in this Office appears to stand in too open opposition to that of the public. His office of Secretary I believe in the present circumstances of the Province will not much more than enable him to pay his Rent but if as I hope His Majesty shall purchase the proprietary of the Earl of Granville it will become an office that will well stand alone.

I have a recent proof of the collusive malpractices of the Magistrates and County Court Clerks in a complaint from the Rector of St Lukes Parish in Rowan County, who alledges that the Clerk who

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under a Law of the Province is the dispenser of the Governor's Licences for marriages encourages people who take them to go to Magistrates to solemnize their Marriages in preference to the Rector and that he conceals from him the number of Licenses granted by which means he is deprived of his dues.

I most humbly beg leave My Lord to recommend the subject of the foregoing letter to your Lordship's consideration and I beseech your Lordship to furnish me with instruction as soon as may be in relation to it that such reformation as His Majesty may see fit to order in this matter of so great importance may meet with no delay or embarrassment.

I have the honor to be &c