Prior to the adoption of the State Constitution in 1776 there were three kinds of Government in North Carolina, first the Proprietary Government, second the Royal Government, and third a Government by the people.
The Proprietary Government ended practically in 1731, when Burrington was inaugurated. Royal rule then began. It ended in May, 1775. Under this rule there were five Governors; Burrington the first, who made himself so odious to the province that in three years he was removed by the Crown; Johnston the second, and Dobbs the third, who died natural deaths in the province; Tryon, the fourth Governor, who was transferred to the Province of New York, and Martin, the fifth and last, who fled before the people in May, 1775.
Having overthrown Kingly Government, the people instituted a temporary Government, being, for various reasons, not ready to establish a permanent one. This temporary Government was carried on by a system of Safety Committees, one for the State at large, one for each district and one for each county, and lasted until December, 1776, when the permanent State Constitution was adopted.
Josiah Martin, the fifth and last Royal Governor, son of Colonel Samuel Martin, was born on the 23rd of April, 1737. The most notable thing about him seems to be that he was a brother of Samuel Martin, the member of the British Parliament for Camelford, who wounded the celebrated John Wilkes in a duel. He entered the British army in the year 1756 as Ensign of the Fourth Regiment of foot, was appointed Major of the One Hundred and Third in 1761, and still later Lieutenant Colonel. In 1769 he sold his commission in the army.
Governor Martin reached NewBern on Sunday, 11th of August, 1771, from New York, after a passage of nineteen days, and took the oaths of office on the next day, in the presence of such members
Escaping from NewBern on the 24th May, 1775, he reached Fort Johnston on the 2d June, where he remained, not daring to go beyond reach of its guns, until the 18th of July following, when he was driven from the fort by an armed force and compelled to take refuge in the King's vessel, The Cruizer, then lying in the river, where he remained during the ensuing winter and spring, until General Clinton left that section, after the battle at Moore's Creek. In June, 1776, he was on board the British fleet with Sir Peter Parker, off Charleston; in 1780 he was with Cornwallis at Camden, and continued with him until after the battle at Guilford Court House in 1781. After this, his health already feeble, having utterly broken down, he left North Carolina and went to Long Island, and from there to England. He died in London in July, 1786.
Governor Martin, being a military man, naturally enough came here envying what he considered Tryon's good fortune, in having such an opportunity as the Alamance campaign afforded, to make a display of military abilities, and with altogether a bad opinion of the Regulators. It was not long, however, before his views began to change. In the summer after his arrival, being at Hillsboro on a tour through the disaffected regions, he reported to the English Secretary that his progress through the country had opened his eyes exceedingly with respect to the commotions and discontents that had lately prevailed in it; that he then saw most clearly that
And verily a whole volume would not give a better idea of the rise, development and end of the Regulation troubles than these few lines. Conscious, however, of the reflection therein made upon his predecessor, Governor, Martin added that inquiries of this sort were “so invidious that nothing but a sense of duty could have drawn from him his opinion of the past troubles of the country.”
So impressed, too, was the British Secretary, the Earl of Dartmouth, with this view of the case that he declared he “saw but too much reason to believe that those deluded people would not have been induced to involve themselves in the guilt of rebellion without provocation, but that it was not necessary for him to recur to transactions of so disagreeable a complexion.”
In this connection, the opinion of Chief Justice Howard, and that of Mr. Justice Moore also, given in writing and now printed for the first time, are well worthy of consideration.
Chief Justice Howard says:
“I know of no Insurgents in a state of Outlawry in the law sense of the word; as far as I can recollect, indictments were found against several persons at NewBern 1771 for felonies and trespasses committed at Hillsboro, and proclamations were issued by the Court to compel their appearance upon pain of being adjudged guilty of the offenses charged in the indictments, and also being killed by any
Mr. Justice Moore says:
“These people are not regularly outlaws; such of them as were indicted for inferior offenses and did not surrender themselves within the time limited by the Riot Act are to be held guilty of the offenses with which they were respectively charged, but no judgment can pass against them without trial and conviction. That Act prescribes a certain mode of notification to accused offenders; if that has not been strictly pursued, the penalties of the Act cannot have been incurred. This is a fact which can only be inquired of and determined by a jury. The Outlawries (as they are called) taken at the Court of Oyer and Terminer at NewBern in the year 1771 can only have relation to inferior offences. All proceedings against those who were capitally charged are ab initio void.”
The Attorney General, too, thought the proceedings in the New-Bern district against the Regulators charged with felonies were invalid, and what is of still greater importance, he says the proclamations of outlawry so called were never issued as required by the Johnston Act, so far as he “ever understood.”
And yet, and yet, Few, poor half-witted creature that he was, a prisoner taken in open battle, without any pretence of trial, conviction or judgment in any court either civil or military, was hung the morning after the battle as an “outlaw,” simply upon an order of Tryon, an order that, so far as appears, was not even reduced to writing; and all this, according to tradition, merely because Fanning pointed him out to Tryon as one of the parties concerned in pulling down his house. And this was the Government, and this was the regard for law, and this was the value put upon that sacred thing called human life in North Carolina under Tryon's administration! In Heaven's name, was it not time for somebody to revolt?
Nor, in connection with the matter of the Regulators, must the extraordinary letter of Mr. Alexander Elmsly, now for the first time printed, be passed by without comment. Mr. Elmsly was for years a resident in the province, a member of the Assembly, at one time the agent of the Assembly in England, and generally of the very highest authority in matters pertaining to the province. Mr. Elmsly, in a letter written in July, 1771, says that the want of money was a mere pretext on the part of the Albemarle people and not their true reason for refusing to go to Alamance; that the “Regulating spirit” had shown itself years before in Albemarle to such an extent that he would not have been surprised had the battle been fought on the banks of the Pasquotank River instead of on the Alamance.
Mr. Bancroft says that, in civil affairs as much as in husbandry, seed-time goes before harvest; that the present is always the lineal descendant of the past, and that a new form of political life never appears but as a growth out of its antecedents. Had North Carolina been in the eye of the great historian at the time he wrote, his words could not have been more appropriate to her at the close of her Colonial existence. Indeed they are so apt a description that it seems scarcely possible they were not used with special reference to her.
And now that we have come to the period in which she assumed a markedly new form of political life, it will not be out of place to recall the salient points in her antec dents. These antecedents show a continuous struggle on the part of the people of North Carolina, with the Indians in their front on the one hand and with Great Britain in the rear, so to speak, on the other. These struggles were the schools in which the people got their education, schools of adversity in some sense perhaps, but rare good ones for all that. In these schools two things were well taught: in the Indian school the capacity of man for self-government, and in the British the value of a written constitution as a safeguard against arbitrary government.
Frontier life, as we understand the term in America, indicates a phase of existence peculiar, perhaps, to the western world, and we may almost say, peculiar to it in its Anglo-Saxon development. Beginning on the shore of the Atlantic, the frontier moved westward until the red man was driven to the Pacific coast. A few words describe the fact, but it took near three centuries to accomplish it, for the Indian was no mean foe. Separated from the home country by an expanse of water of some three thousand miles, the colonists soon learned that upon themselves and not upon England must they depend. It was simply impossible for any Government, certainly for any European Government, to make the frontiers in America places of safe residence, and hence the necessity for selfreliance. In the nature of things, frontiersmen felt Government more in its burdens than its benefits, and only the simplest form of it, therefore, was long tolerable. Especially was this true in North Carolina, as will be seen when it is remembered that, after the terrible massacre by the Tuskeroras in 1711, it was from our brother colonists in South Carolina that the help came that saved us from utter destruction, and that from the Government in England, instead of help, came a requirement that rents for land should be paid in coin and not in commodities as hitherto. The result was that, taking lessons from the Indians, the frontiersmen soon came to be no respecters of mere persons, and learned that even the divinity that hedges in a King could not stop a well-directed bullet. In a word, frontier life in America was a school for republicanism.
And so was the continual struggle with the British. For nearly three-quarters of the first century of our settlement, our Government was in the hands of the Lords Proprietors. Under their rule the people, recognizing no authority not derived from their Charters, were confessedly “the freest of the free,” and rebellions, so called, were the order of the day. To this state of things the indifference of the Proprietors to our portion of their great province contributed no little. It must not be supposed, however, that the freedom enjoyed in North Carolina was simple license arising from a weak
Another document reverenced next to the Charter of Charles, and of less importance only in that it was of narrower scope, was the one called the Great Deed of Grant. This noted paper-writing, which was brought forward in our laws as late as 1836, was a deed made by the Lords Proprietors in response to a petition from the General Assembly at the first session of such a body ever held in North Carolina, by which the lands in the colony were henceforth granted upon the same terms as those in Virginia, terms much more advantageous to settlers than those they had hitherto obtained. It was sought for many years to break its force in various ways. The people, however, would not listen, and stood up stoutly for the integrity of their Great Deed, and continued to set it up as a conclusive reply to the pretensions of arbitrary rulers. Its value in teaching how effective a safeguard a known written constitution could be made against their rulers was certainly very great.
According, therefore, in 1719, when South Carolina threw off the Government of the Proprietors for that of the Crown, North Carolina neither revolted nor desired to revolt. She was not in the strait her Southern sister was; and, too, she was wise enough to know a good thing in the way of Government when she had one, and was by no means anxious to part with it. All this was not because she loved the Proprietors, but because the Government was based upon written instruments, and she both knew and was unwilling to surrender the advantages they gave her.
It mattered little, however, in those days, what the people thought or wished, and so, in no great time, the Lords Proprietors, having agreed with the King, delivered the province to him for a price. On the other hand, it mattered quite as little to the people of North Carolina what princes thought or potentates preferred, and so, under
It must by no means, however, be assumed, because of this one mention only of resort to violence, that North Carolinians were usually content with forensic arguments alone. Under the rule of the Proprietors, resort to force and violence was, it may be said, almost the habit of the country. Under Royal rule, scarce a decade passed that did not see the people up in arms to redress official grievances. Indeed, at a very early day they came to the opinion
Our records show indisputably that resistance to oppression was at the bottom of all these troubles, and that in every case violence was resorted to; troubles that, covering so many years and such a wide extent of territory, and coming so close together, one following directly upon the heels of the other, are not to be viewed as separate, casual, sporadic, isolated outbreaks, but as a connected series, similar in their nature, akin both in origin and development. Their history, like that of events generally in the colony, shows indisputably that the people of North Carolina, when occasion required, were quite given to force and violence, though not mere lawless rioters who loved strife for strife's sake and preferred violence to peaceful measures. On the contrary, there was much method in their madness, and cool, deliberate system in their force. Each one of the troubles set forth in our records exemplifies this; the Rent trouble, the Legislative representation trouble, the Granville District troubles (or the Enfield riots as they were called), the Stamp Act troubles, and the War of the Regulation.
And thus North Carolinians became prepared for the discharge of their duties in the great crises in which, in after times, it was fated they should bear such honorable and important parts.
Indeed the salient points that will strike the student, in an examination of her antecedents, with more force than any others, perhaps, are:
1.That North Carolinians, from their earliest days, relied upon the known and unchanging texts of written laws, and not like their English ancestors, upon unwritten law, with its corollaries and incidents, always more or less uncertain and varying, and always more or less flexible. “Our charter still subsists” was their slogan from post to finish, from the first Royal Governor to the last. In the face of the first they flung their charter as the supreme law of the land,
2.That whenever, in their opinion, speech had been exhausted and action was necessary, they hesitated not to use violence to prevent infringements of their charters.
With a knowledge of these antecedents, the student is prepared to understand and appreciate the stirring events that took place in North Carolina in the next five years, and how it was that in less than four years the Governor was a fugitive from his capital, and in place of the Royal Government was a Government of the people for the people and set up by the people.
Governor Martin was unfortunate in the time at which he assumed office in North Carolina; indeed, it may be said, that his administration was a sort of general legatee of the ill consequences of all the bad blood and bad government of his predecessors' administrations. And then, too, the harvest of a century and more of seed-time was about ripe.
The most pressing legacy that confronted him was the necessity for providing for the payment of Tryon's troops during their service in the war against the Regulators. This, of itself, was no easy task; not only because the amount required, some £60,000 as it turned out, was beyond the power of the province, already burdened with a large debt, to raise, without a great strain, but because the people were indisposed to contribute anything to the payment of these troops. Governor Martin came here with instructions to call a new Legislature at once, but he was advised both by Governor Tryon and President Hasell that no new Assembly would consent to any provision for such payment, and therefore it would be necessary to rely upon the old one, the one that authorized the levying of the troops and of whose members so many had taken part in the war. Acting upon their advice, he called the old Legislature together, instead of issuing writs for a new one in pursuance of his instructions. It will be remembered that in those days Legislatures
It sounds like anything save the truth, but it is the truth, for all that, to say that from the day she took upon herself that enormous debt of £60,000, North Carolina was delivered of her currency troubles, so that only once more during Martin's administration was any serious reference made to it, so far as the records show, and that was done more to perpetuate what was known as the valuation law,
To meet these new debenture notes, a special tax of two shillings upon each taxable in the province was ordered to be collected for ten years, and no longer. In case, however, the tax should yield £60,000 in less than ten years, its collection was at once to cease. How long the province could have staggered under this load of debt and consequent taxes is a matter of speculation more curious, perhaps, than profitable, as the test never came. In August, 1775, the province, no longer bound by British parliamentary prohibition, began to issue currency without levying any tax for its redemption, at which time, doubtless, the collection of taxes to redeem ante bellum debts and currency also ceased. But it is not from a financial point of view alone that the act of 1771, providing for the issue of £60,000 in debenture notes, is of interest. It gives us a basis from which to make a fairly accurate approximation to the population of the province at that time. The calculation was that a two shilling tax per taxable, which, however, was never levied, would pay off the debt in ten years or less, in other words, that it would raise some £6,000 a year, which meant that there were some 60,000 solvent taxables in the province, and including insolvent, unlisted and exempt taxables, indicated a population of some 250,000 souls at
But while the debt of the province was made to subserve a very useful purpose by its conversion into much needed currency it was nevertheless a great burden, especially upon the poorer people, as there then was no property tax in the province, and gave much trouble to the Assembly as well as the Governor.
At the end of Dobbs's administration, according to the report of the Treasurer, the provincial debt of all sorts amounted to some £75,000, most of which had been contracted in aid of the seven years' British war against the French and Indians. To this Tryon added “several thousand pounds” for running the Cherokee line, £15,000 for his palace and £20,000 for his expedition against the Regulators in 1768. So that upon the coming in of Martin the amount would have been near £115,000, but for the amounts called in by way of taxes levied for the purpose and burned. Of this debt a part was in the shape of legal tender obligations for the payment of which special taxes were levied, a part interest-bearing Treasury notes not legal tender, and another part notes bearing no interest and commonly called “debenture” notes.
On the 6th December, 1771, Mr. Burgwin, Clerk of the Committee of Accounts, pursuant to order, laid before the Assembly a statement of the public funds, from which it appeared that on account of the one shilling poll-tax imposed to meet the appropriation of £21,350 granted in 1748 and continued to meet the appropriation of £40,000 granted in 1754 and on account of the impost duty of four pence on imported liquors levied for the same purpose, there had at various times been burnt and destroyed, as by law required, the sum of £53,104 2s., and that there was on hand the sum of £12,586 5s. 6d., for which security had been given, making £65,690 7s. 6d. in all, that is to say, £4,340 7s. 6d. more than ought to have been collected, and thereupon the Assembly came to the conclusion that these special taxes had done their work and ought no longer to be collected, and a bill was brought in to prevent their further collection
But, as might have been expected, Assembly resolutions discontinuing special taxes and indemnifying sheriffs for their non-collection, were only partially regarded, for not only was it to their interest for the sheriffs to collect the taxes, but the threat of the Governor to bring suits on their bonds in case of non-collection was a serious matter, the courts being, so to speak, in the interest of the Government, if not in the hands of the Governor, and then, too, the sheriffs
These resolutions coming to the knowledge of the Governor he dissolved the Legislature by formal proclamation, in which he denounced the resolves of the Assembly as an unconstitutional attempt by that body, solely by its own separate action, to abrogate a solemn statute, and looking at the resolves with a purely legal eye, it must be confessed they are liable to that criticism, but then that mode of looking at things was fast falling into “innocuous desuetude.” Two years before he denounced similar resolutions as “irrefragible proof
Still another legacy of trouble was the unsettled dispute between the Carolinas about their boundary line. It will be remembered that in 1764 the line was carried to the Charleston and Salisbury road, and that at the intersection a stone was set up to mark the spot. This was simply a due-west continuation of the line from the Yadkin River. The necessity for a still further extension was undoubtedly urgent, and it would doubtless have been made, if the two provinces had been able to agree where it should run. Governor Tryon, unhappily, in spite of his boasted influence in England, was no more able to influence the King to conform to his wishes in running the line than he was to induce him to yield to them in the matter of allowing the province to issue additional currency, and so the King ordered that, instead of continuing the line in a due-west course from the Charleston road, as North Carolina contended ought to be done, it should be run substantially as it now exists, and accordingly, in December, 1771, Governor Martin communicated the order to the Assembly, and asked for funds to enable him to defray the expenses of the service. The Assembly, however, protesting against the proposed line because of the numberless injuries and great injustice that would accrue therefrom to North Carolina, declined to burden their constituents with any expense for its establishment. But for all that, in the summer following the line was run and a bill of expenses sent to the new Assembly in January, 1773, in a message in which the Governor informed that body that the refusal of the Assembly to provide therefor was ill-received by the King. The Assembly reminded the King and his Governor that as late as 1767 a line rendered entirely useless to North Carolina by the new line, was run under the inspection of Governor Tryon and exactly agreeable to a former royal instruction, “at an
Another unhappy inheritance was the dispute about the Court laws, the history of which, in its earliest phase, has already been fully set forth. The struggle, however, as it renewed itself under Martin, turned upon a new point, and one that, by no means, went to the essence of the entire judicial system as before. But, for all that, the Assembly fought quite as viciously, it may be said, under Martin upon the new point as it had done under Dobbs upon the old one. Under Dobbs the effort was to secure the independence of the judiciary; under Martin it was merely to secure the right to proceed by attachment against the property of debtors who had never been in the province. The right to attach the property of debtors who had absconded seems never to have been questioned or objected to from the earliest days of the Colony, and so in the first revisal of our laws now extant, that of 1715-'16, we find a provision extending the law to real estate. In time, however, British merchants began to do business here by means of agents, without ever themselves putting foot in the province. Large bodies of land here, too, were owned by people in Britain who had never been here, and in time both of these practices worked great hardship to North Carolina creditors by driving them to British courts for the collection of their debts. To meet this difficulty, when the Legislature, under Tryon's administration, in 1768, established a system of
It may be thought that in the above there is an unjust reflection upon the British merchants of that day, but, if so, why did they oppose the extension of the attachment law? What could have been their reason, save that they wished to trade here upon their own terms, and not upon ours? It has been long since men began to rob their fellows under the forms of law, and the practice unhappily still obtains.
Along with the many cases in the ordinary course of trade and traffic that illustrated and emphasized the necessity of extending the attachment law to debtors who had never been here was one in many respects quite outside of the ordinary course. It will be remembered that in his extreme old age Governor Dobbs married a very young and pretty girl “of good family and some fortune” on the Cape Fear, to whom, at his death, he left a legacy of £2,000. This legacy was charged upon an estate given to a younger son in Ireland who had never been here and who evinced no disposition to make payment. Without the proposed extension of the attachment law, therefore, the young widow's only remedy was by suit in Ireland, which, if at all adequate, was by no means convenient. The case, of course, had its attractions, for widows' weeds were doubtless as becoming to pretty young wearers in those days as they are in these, to say nothing of the Dobbs legacy, in prospectu, and her own fortune in possession, and so, in the nature of things, the young widow soon became an object of interest to eligible bachelors. But, however that may have been, there was always some one to see that every bill for a new Court Law contained the much desired attachment clause against debtors who had never been in the province.
The following is a brief history of the struggle:
In February, 1773, the Tryon Court Law being about to expire, a new bill, containing an attachment provision identical with that of the Tryon Law, was passed and presented to Governor Martin for approval. The Governor, in obedience to his instruction from the King, rejected it. The bill, with a provision that it should lastnem. con. that the right of attachment of the effects of foreigners had been long exercised by the inhabitants of the province, in common with other provinces in America, and several trading cities, liberties and franchises of Great Britain; that it had been found greatly beneficial to the trade and commerce of the country and the security of the property of individuals, and that the Assembly could not, by any public act of theirs, relinquish that right without at the same time abandoning the interest of their constituents, and the peace and happiness of the colony. As might have been expected, the bill was rejected by the authorities in England.
Meanwhile there were no courts in the province, either criminal or civil, so that lawyers were without practice and creditors without collections, and yet, to their praise be it said, the lawyers, with Samuel Johnston at their head, stood up manfully for the right. Of course no country without courts of any sort could long be in a desirable condition, for in such times the lawless and the violent, and the dishonest of every shade, always find their opportunity. The King, therefore, instructed Governor Martin that, as the Legislature would not establish the necessary courts, he must fall back on the ever ready prerogative, and create them himself, and accordingly in the summer of 1773 he issued commissions for special terms of Courts of Oyer and Terminer, one of the Judges of which was Richard Caswell. Whether Caswell's acceptance of the office under the circumstances created any surprise does not appear. It does appear, however, that it created a great uproar, and that “the current of popularity” was greatly against him because of it. Remembering that Caswell began his career as a pronounced patriot in less than twelve months his acceptance of a purely and avowedly prerogative
Before the prorogation, however, the Assembly formally resolved nem. con. that an address to the King be prepared, asking him to withdraw the instruction in regard to attachments, and that it be sent to Governor Tryon, of New York, with the request that he convey the same to the King, and support it with “his interest and influence,” and this they did, they said, as a testimony of the great affection the colony bore him, and the entire confidence it reposed in him. The truth is, however, doubtless, that it was intended rather as a testimony of the detestation the Assembly bore Governor Martin. Certainly, at least, it was so regarded, and caused him great mortification to be so pointedly slighted. In March, 1774, the Legislature met again, and the Assembly forthwith notified the Governor that the people fully endorsed what they had done.
It was then proposed, in order to give relief to the province, now greatly suffering for the want of Courts, to divide the questions at issue and to enact three separate bills, as follows: First, a bill to establish Courts for twelve months; second a bill for foreign attachments in the shape desired by the Assembly, and third, a bill to change the law in regard to fees; both of these latter to be passed with clauses suspending their operation until the pleasure of the Crown should be known. Upon this proposition, the yeas and nays were called in the Assembly, a thing then very rarely done, and it was rejected. The vote as recorded develops the fact that the Assembly was not unanimous in its action, and what is more surprising, perhaps, that the difference was almost entirely sectional, only three members, who could possibly be called Eastern members, voting for the proposed compromise, and only four, who could be called Western members, voting against it. It appears, however, from a letter of instructions from the people of Orange to their members in the Assembly, that the Attachment Law under the Tryon Act was in practice much abused in the Western counties by reason of the fact that the people, because of the distance they lived from markets, were often obliged to be absent from their homes, and that while thus absent on their necessary business their effects were seized under attachment, sold and removed out of their power. All of which, especially in the prevailing great dearth of legal tender currency, was a very great hardship. A law so easily abused was, they said, highly inconvenient, but, at the same time, they declared that when a man meant to get his person out of the reach of justice, some way of subjecting his effects to our process should be provided, and that when any person, by any means, contracted a debt in the Province his effects in the Province ought to be made liable to our process if his person was beyond its reach, and that notice to the agent or factor should be notice to the principal debtor, provided judgment was deferred long enough for the agent to notify his principal and get his reply. From this it seems the objection was not to the principle of the Tryon attachment law, but to the
Negotiations for a compromise having come to nothing, the Legislature passed a Court bill, with the now usual provisions, which was formally presented to the Governor, and by him as formally rejected; whereupon, the Assembly once more entered upon their Journal a resolution declaring that the power of attaching the effects of foreign debtors was founded upon principles of the strictest equity, and was a benefit so essential to the commercial interests of the colony that they thought it a duty they owed themselves, their constituents and posterity to retain it unimpaired, and that their not being able to obtain a law for continuing this power to the inhabitants of the country was the source from which the existing distresses of the colony were principally derived.
As the Legislature was very soon prorogued, and never again sat under Royal rule, save during the four stormy days of April, 1775, the result of it all was that until she became a sovereign State there were no more courts in North Carolina.
During this controversy the old “quorum trouble” cropped out once more, and for the last time, and somewhat after this wise: On Saturday, the 6th of March, 1773, Governor Martin prorogued the Legislature until the following Tuesday, to give the Assembly time to cool off, in the hope that it would then meet in a more complacent temper. But, regarding only the order for adjournment, and paying no attention to the order for the new session, the members generally went to their homes, which fact came to the Governor's knowledge about the hour for the new session to meet. He therefore sent a note of inquiry to the Speaker, who was still in town, in reply to which the Speaker stated that a majority of the members had already left town, and that others were preparing to do so. He thereupon again wrote to the Speaker, stating that under the King's instruction fifteen members constituted a quorum, that fifteen members were still in town, and required him to “make a House” with that number. The Speaker rejoined that the “charter still subsisted,”
Another trouble, as unavoidable perhaps as insuperable, was that North Carolina had outgrown Provincial Government, that the child having ceased to be a child no longer thought or spake as a child but was fast learning to act as well as to speak as a full grown man. As Mr. Elmsly wrote to Mr. Johnston in 1774, the grand argument in favor of America, an argument that only recently had an existence, was the consequence her numbers and resources gave her then; every other argument in her favor teemed with absurdity, he said.
In nothing perhaps was it more apparent that the garments of a child were upon the brawny limbs of a full-grown man, than in the selection of the personnel of the Government. A King in England, of his own whim or good judgment, the favoritism of a minister, the caprice of a woman good or bad, or for money in hand paid, selected the Governor, Chief Justice, Secretary, Receiver General and Attorney General, in a word all the chief officers; the Governor selected the members of the council, the associate Judges, the magistrates, and the sheriffs. The clerks of the county courts and the registers of deeds were selected by an officer, called the Clerk of the Pleas who having bought his office in England came here and peddled out “county rights” at prices ranging from £4 to £40 annual rent per county. In 1772 these rents amounted to £560 per annum “from an absolutely sinecure office,” as Governor Martin said. It was a vested right however. All this was done openly and above board, for “farming out offices,” as buying and selling them was called, was highly honorable. The bulk of the Chief Justice's salary came from
Of the thirty-four County Court Clerks, only eight or nine, in 1772, had complied with an outstanding requirement to furnish the Governor with a table of their fees, accompanied by a certificate that such tables were put up in their respective offices. Attorneys were licensed by the Governor, each man paying him a fee for his own use, for permission to practice. Temptation to irresponsible corruption was the rule and not the exception in every office, and as a matter of course, corruption stalked abroad throughout the land, unconcealed, unawed and unabashed, making Fanning and Frohawk not merely possibilities but assured legitimate results. The experience of North Carolina, when overrun in modern times by a horde of irresponsible foreign “carpet-bag” officials, as to the capacity of mankind for evil, when exposed to constant temptation to irresponsible corruption, enables us easily to understand the condition of things here a few years prior to the Revolution.
But the trouble, more potent in bringing about Governor Martin's expulsion from the province than all other causes put together, was the spirit of freedom that began to manifest itself about this time throughout the colonies. In North Carolina it had been long cropping out, in more or less demonstrative form, oftentimes in speech, many times in action, during her years of training and tutelage. But now the years of tutelage and training, and of preliminary skirmishes, were about to end. The lines of battle were formed, and the great trial of strength between the forces of constitutional government and prerogative rule was about to begin. The two schools, in which the people of North Carolina had been so long laying the foundations of their education, having done their appointed work, were now well-nigh their close.
The Legislature met on the 4th December, 1773, and on the 8th appointed a committee to obtain the earliest intelligence of proceedings
On the 21st of July, 1774, a circular letter, written by direction of a general meeting of the people of the district of Wilmington, was sent to the several counties in the province inviting them “to send deputies to attend a general meeting at Johnston Court-house on the 20th August, for the election of delegates to a general Congress of the colonies and for the consideration of ways and means to avert the evils threatening the American colonies. In response to this circular, hand-bills were duly issued calling upon the people to elect delegates, as desired. Delegates were accordingly elected, generally, however, by way of abundant caution, with discretion as to the time and place of meeting for the convention, which was
This convention or congress was the first representative assemblage that ever met in North Carolina, or in America, save by royal authority. Instead of having royal authority it had popular authority, and met in open, flagrant defiance of the Crown, its Governor and his proclamations. It consisted of just seventy members present, twenty-nine of the thirty-five counties into which the province was then divided being represented on the first day of the session, a very large representation both as to counties and as to members under the most favorable circumstances, but remarkably large, remembering that only a month intervened between the date of the Wilmington circular and the day appointed for the meeting of the convention. Only two of the Western counties, all of them counties that, because of their distance from Wilmington, might have been expected to fail of intelligence of the intended action in due time, were unrepresented. And so as to the character of its members; that first popular convention ever held has never had a superior from that day to this, and doubtless never will in all time to come. There was John Campbell from Bertie, Samuel Johnston, Thomas Jones and Hewes from Chowan, John Harvey and Joseph Jones from Perquimans, Coor and Cogdell, Abner Nash and Edwards from Craven, Caswell from Dobbs, Nicholas Long and Willie Jones from Northampton, Howe from Brunswick, John Ashe, Hooper and Clayton from New Hanover, Cray from Onslow, Simpson and Edward Salter from Pitt, and Hart from Orange. From the far-off West came Spencer of Anson, Patton of Mecklenburg, Kennon, Young and Winslow of Rowan, and Jenkins and Alexander of Tryon. Where can their superiors be found? Scarcely a name prominent in the annals of that day is wanting, giving assurance that in North Carolina public sentiment was as unanimous as it was determined, and for this evidence of a fact much to be proud of we are indebted to Governor Martin. Had he not attempted to prevent an expression of the popular will the delegates to the Continental Congress would have been elected in the usual way; as it was, however, they were elected in a very unusual way, a way without a parallel in
With this Convention began the actual overt act of revolution in North Carolina and its history from the date of its inception to the hour of its adjournment is matter of indisputable record. Step by step, from the moment when Harvey, solving the great problem presented to the province by Governor Martin's refusal to call an Assembly, declared in his wrath that the people would call one themselves, its progress can be distinctly traced, and every step of that progress, it is needless to say, is of the greatest interest, as that Convention inaugurated in North Carolina a system of purely popular government that was destined, in less than twelve months, to sweep from the province every vestige of Royal government. This new government consisted of the Committees of Safety, as they were called, that, in pursuance of the recommendation of the Convention, began to be organized in different parts of the province, the one in Rowan being the first, and that in Pitt being the second, of which we have any record. Usurping some new authority every day, executive, judicial or legislative, as the case might be, their powers soon became practically unlimited. They determined not only what acts and opinions even constituted a man an enemy of his country, but passed upon his guilt or innocence and fixed his punishment. And woe unto that man whom the committee declared to be an “enemy to his country.”
Seeing the drift of things, and foiled in his scheme to prevent the province from sending delegates to Philadelphia, Governor Martin, in very despair and sheer helplessness, issued writs for a new Legislature, whereupon Colonel Harvey issued a proclamation for a new convention, to meet at the same time and place appointed by Martin for the meeting of the Legislature. This proclamation was met by a counter-proclamation from the Governor, but to no effect, for the
But these two coincident, contemporaneous legislative bodies deserve more than a mere passing notice. It will be remembered that though the people depended greatly upon the Assemblies for protection, they had found that their efficiency in that regard was greatly impaired by the power of the Governor to prevent their meeting and to dissolve them at pleasure. Under every Royal Governor, without a single exception, from Burrington, the first, to Martin, the last, they had seen the evil effects of this tyrannical power, until it had come to be hateful. It was this consideration, doubtless, that frenzied Harvey to such an extent when informed that Martin intended, by its exercise, to prevent North Carolina from taking her rightful part in continental consultations. “He was in a very violent mood, and declared he was for assembling a convention independent of the Governor, and urged upon us to co-operate with him,” said Sam Johnston, and it was doubtless because the people saw that executive control emasculated the Assembly that they so quickly and so unanimously fell into the suggestion of convening a body that should be absolutely without such control, or, indeed, without any control save that which they themselves might choose to exercise.
The people were not dissatisfied with the members of their Assemblies, but with their want of power when in session as such under Royal writs. Accordingly while in August, 1774, they began to
The Convention adjourned on the 7th of April, and the Assembly was dissolved the next morning. The end was now fully in sight, for, as we have said, the Governor had again formally measured strength with the people and had been ignominiously beaten. But with emissaries already among the Scotch, with cannon and small arms and ammunition soon to come from General Gage, and with the help he was daily asking from Great Britain, he by no means despaired of final triumph. Meanwhile, the Committee government took firmer hold every day, every day usurped new powers and every day showed itself more despotic, and no help came from Gage or from the Scotch, and none from Great Britain.
On the 19th of April, 1775, a detachment of British troops, sent out from Boston by General Gage to destroy certain colony stores at Concord, fired upon a handful of citizens at Lexington, and continuing their march to Concord, met another body of citizens, before whom they were forced to retreat, with comparatively great loss. On that day forty-nine Americans were killed and thirty-four wounded. The loss of the British was two hundred and seventy-three. American blood had been spilled upon American soil by ruthless British soldiers, and cried out for vengeance. In North Carolina the cry was answered wherever heard, and events followed each other with winged feet. As we have said, American blood had been spilled by British soldiers, a fact that our ancestors knew full well how to take advantage of. Everywhere the news was used
Meanwhile the committees were hourly growing recklessly bolder and sharply more vigilant. Governor Martin's movements were closely watched and his correspondence “violated” whenever opportunity offered. His purpose to raise the royal standard in the province at an early day was well known. The story of his efforts to incite the slaves of the East to rise in rebellion against their masters, the story of his efforts to instigate the Scotch to take up arms in the centre, and the story of the King's orders to bring the bloody Cherokees upon the people of the West had each been published and had done its work, and altogether the Governor had been effectually made odious.
On Tuesday, the 23d May, 1775, the Governor having that morning dismounted certain guns in the town, the Committee at NewBern, with Abner Nash at its head and the people of the town at its back, waited upon him at the Palace and desired him to remount them at once. The reason for dismounting the guns was, that the Governor had been repeatedly informed that the Committee intended to seize them by force, as was actually done a day or two later. He prevaricated, however, as to his purpose and seemingly satisfied the Committee for the moment, but only for the moment, as he well knew.
The end was now fully come. Without a man or a gun to enforce his authority, and personally odious, Josiah Martin saw that he was no longer a Governor, but a prisoner in the Palace under the strictest surveillance, and that immediate flight was his
And well might any Royal Governor, no matter how shout of heart, quail to find himself at the mercy of a province that thought he and his Royal master were seeking to compass its subjugation by means, at one and the same time, of a servile war in the East, an internecine war in the centre, and an Indian war in the West, with all the relentless cruelties, the atrocities, the horrors and the barbarities these modes of warfare implied.
Nor does the result seem to have been altogether unexpected. As early as April, 1774, William Hooper of the Cape Fear wrote to James Iredell of the Albemarle section saying, in just so many words, that the American colonies were “striding fast to independence.”
It must be remembered, in this connection, that North Carolina had no special interest in the immediate cause of the movements against Great Britain. The shutting up of the port of Boston manifestly would not injuriously affect the port of Wilmington, but, on the contrary, would, in all probability, increase its trade. It appears, therefore, that North Carolina went into the contest, not from any pecuniary interest in the premises, but on principle, and that when she said the cause of Boston was the cause of all, she meant to avow her readiness to resist British oppression wherever it might show itself in America, and that she really meant what she said the event demonstrated. The merchants of Wilmington dispatched one of their own vessels with provisions and supplies without even freight charges for the relief of the people of Boston, who had come to much
New-Bern, January 27, 1775.
PUBLIC NOTICE is hereby given that Mr. John Green and Mr. John Wright Stanly, Merchants in New-Bern, have agreed with, and are appointed by, the Committee of Craven County, to receive the subscriptions which is now or may hereafter be raised in the said County for the relief of the distressed inhabitants of Boston, and to ship the same to Salem as soon as the several subscriptions are received.
Proper stores are provided by the said gentlemen for the reception of corn, Pease, Pork and such articles as the subscribers may choose to pay their subscriptions in.
Those gentlemen, therefore, who have taken in subscriptions either in money or effects are desired to direct the same to be paid or delivered to the above named Mess. Green and Stanly on or before the middle of March next; and to send as soon as possible an account of the subscriptions which are or may be taken, by which they may be governed in receiving.R. COGDELL, Chairman
But suppose it had been the port of Wilmington instead of the port of Boston that had been closed, would Massachusetts have rung with the cry that the cause of Carolina was the cause of all?
During Governor Martin's administration North Carolina lost three of her most distinguished sons, one in a ripe old age, for that day at least; one in the prime of life, and the third lacking many years of the allotted three-score-and-ten. Two were natives here and to the manner born, and typical sons of the soil, of the very highest type, indeed, but still truly typical North Carolinians, one
Samuel Swann, son of Major Samuel Swann and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Major Alexander Lillington, was born, says the family chronicle, “the 31st day of October, 1704, being Tuesday, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, the moon being full at 12 o'clock, and was baptised the 23rd day of August, 1705.” William Swann, the grandfather of Major Sam Swann, settled Swann's Point, opposite Jamestown, Virginia, of which “city” he had been an alderman, and died there in 1638. There his descendants continued to reside until Major Swann came to North Carolina, in 1694, as his Majesty's collector of customs for the port of Roanoke, deputy for one of the Lords Proprietors and surveyor of the colony. His first wife, the daughter of Governor Drummond, having died, he married a daughter of Major Alexander Lillington, by whom he had two daughters and two sons, all of whom were yet in tender infancy when, in 1707, Major Swann himself died. A few years later Mrs. Swann married Colonel Maurice Moore, and it was under the care of his step-father, Colonel Moore, and the society of his uncles, Edward Mosely and John Porter, and his brother-in-law, John Baptista Ashe, that young Sam Swann grew up to manhood. He became a practical surveyor, and in 1729 was a surveyor for the Commissioners who ran the dividing line between North Carolina and Virginia, and, to their honor, be it remembered, that while the Virginia surveyors, on reaching the great Dismal Swamp, went around it, the North Carolina surveyor's party went through it, and Sam Swann was the first white man ever to cross that swamp. For some years he continued the business of surveying, and then became a lawyer. He was chosen to represent Perquimans County in the Assembly of 1725, and continued a member of that body for a period of forty years. In 1731 he removed to the Cape Fear, where he had previously obtained some interests, and where all of his family connections settled, locating at Swann's Point, below Rocky Point, but afterwards resided in Wilmington. He early took a leading part
The laws of the colony were the acts of 1715-'16, of which some few imperfect manuscript copies were to be found, and modified by the acts of each successive legislature, which also were in manuscript.
These differences largely sprang from the determination of Swann to put the provincial Assembly on the footing of the British
General Hugh Waddell was born in Lisburn, County Down, Ireland. His parents were Hugh Waddell and Isabella Brown. His father, like Dobbs, and like Rowan, was a member of a well established family in the North of Ireland, but on account of the fatal result of a duel in which he was engaged he spent several years in Boston, Massachusetts, with his young son. He then returned to Ireland and not long afterward died. He was a friend, according to tradition, both of President Rowan and Governor Dobbs. The attraction for young Waddell in North Carolina was doubtless the opening for military service the Province presented at the time of his coming over, which seems to have been in the early part of the year 1754, an attraction that was heightened by family interest with both the acting Governor Rowan and the expected Governor Dobbs. He was then not twenty years old. In this connection it must be remembered that for some time North Carolina was the only Province that went to the help of Virginia against the French and Indians.
General Waddell was evidently a born soldier and, though so young, doubtless trained and disciplined, though there is nothing to show where he got his training, if any he had, before serving under Colonel Innes. But whether trained or not, wherever firing was to be heard there young Waddell was sure to be, and certainly as an Indian fighter he was without an equal in the Province. Physically he was a powerful man, of large stature, having not only unusual length of limb but great breadth of chest, activity, strength and endurance in a rare degree. He was, too, a man of no ordinary mental calibre, fertile in resources and quick and ready in making use of them. Many traditions remain showing the personal character of the man.
For seven years, covering all the Indian troubles, he lived and fought on the frontiers and was the leader and commander, facile princeps, in meeting every danger, so that the country and the people were alike familiar to him. And that the people were accustomed so long to fight under him, that they loved him and had confidence in him, explains why it was that ten years nearly after he ceased to live among them, he was able to raise troops there when sent by Tryon to rouse the country for the campaign against the Regulators. He had been “through the war” with the frontiersmen, as we would say in this day, a seven years' war, it must be remembered, sharing all their dangers and all their hardships, and his hold upon their affections and upon their confidence could not be broken. But civil affairs received his attention as well as military. In 1757 he took his seat as a member of the Assembly for the county of Rowan, the county in which Fort Dobbs was situated and in which he lived. In 1762, after peace was made with the Indians, he married, and having removed to the low country, represented the county of Bladen. He married Mary Haynes, daughter of Captain Roger Haynes, of the well-known “Castle Haynes,” near Rocky Point, on Cape Fear River, and granddaughter of Rev. Richard Marsden, first Rector of St. James's Parish in the county of New Hanover. He died on 9th April, 1773, in his 39th year.
An earnest patriot, with war the passion of his life, and possessing reputation, experience and capacity, General Waddell's career in the Revolution, had he lived and retained his health, would doubtless have been a great one. But he was cut off in the prime of life and just when his country most needed his services.
The Harveys were among the first comers to the Albemarle section. They went there from Virginia, where, like the Swanns, they had been settled for many years. Possessing wealth and education as well as vigorous mental powers, they occupied a very prominent position in the Province for more than a century. John Harvey, the great leader in the eventful times immediately preceding the Revolution, is the only member of the family, however, with whom we have now to do. He was a native of the Albemarle shore, and a citizen of the county of Perquimans. Endowed by nature with a vigorous mind, and having enjoyed the most liberal opportunities for its cultivation, he added the ornaments of an education to the hereditary qualifications of a polished gentleman, that so eminently distinguished his character. His first appearance in public life seems to have been as a member of the Assembly in 1746, when Governor Johnston, by illegal and fraudulent “management,” as he termed it, sought to deprive the Northern Counties of their accustomed representation in its Assembly. During the eight years following, Perquimans not-being represented, his name does not appear, but from the year 1754, the Johnston law having been repealed by the crown and full representation restored, until his death, Harvey regularly represented his county in the Assembly, so that his career covered many of the most eventful years in our history. Indeed, he may be said to have been for thirty years a prominent actor in the great struggle that ended in the overthrow of Royal government in North Carolina. Naturally of a bold, determined temperament Swann, though his elder in years, found in him a congenial spirit, an able coadjutor and in time a worthy successor. In 1766 he was elected Speaker of the Assembly, a station he filled, with but one interruption, to the close of the Royal government. Throughout the1
How well North Carolina must have been grounded in the faith to have shown no check in her course when Hugh Waddell, her greatest military leader, and John Harvey, her acknowledged civil leader, went to untimely graves at the very outset of the great struggle, and just when they were so much needed.
1 Jones's Defence of the Revolutionary History of North Carolina.