The lamented Colonel Saunders, in arranging The Records relating to the Colonial period of our history, thought it well to regard that period as extending to the adoption of the State Constitution in December, 1776, and Volume X. of The Colonial Records ends with the close of the year 1776. It seems, however, more in accordance with historical events to consider that the Colonial period was terminated by the Declaration of Independence; for then North Carolina disavowed further connection with the mother country and, solemnly asserting that her Colonial life had ceased, declared her title to full Statehood in the face of the world.
Indeed, the date of adopting a Constitution providing for a permanent government will appear to be of less moment when we recall that Colonial dependence had then long ceased, that the last Colonial Assembly met in April, 1775, that a month later the Royal governor had fled, and that the powers of government were being regularly exercised by the revolutionary authorities that had supplanted the Colonial system. The government by the Provincial Congress and the Committee of Thirteen, when the Congress was not in session, was as certain and autonomous in its character as any other could have been, and the new State did not arise on the adoption of a written constitution, or depend on the particular form of government established, but rather dates from the declaration that the people were no longer subjects of Great Britain, but were independent and sovereign, and that the Colony had now become the State of North Carolina. Therefore the Editor of this volume has regarded the Fourth of July, 1776, as the birthday of our Statehood, and he has treated it as the dividing point between the Colonial and State Records.
The Editor has been able to collate quite a number of papers, of more or less importance, bearing on the Colonial period, which he has embodied as a supplement to the admirable work of Col. Saunders; and he has in this volume added largely to the records published by Col. Saunders for the year 1776. But the excellent historical notes embodied by Col. Saunders in the preface to his
It may be well to recall the general trend of events, noting the orderly and systematic procedure that was observed by those who directed public affairs.
When information was received in December, 1773, that the British Parliament had again determined to tax America, the North Carolina Legislature, looking to unity of action among the Colonies, appointed a Committee of Correspondence to cooperate with similar committees appointed in the other Colonies. The members were John Harvey, John Ashe, Cornelius Harnett, Robert Howe, Edward Vail, William Hooper, Samuel Johnston and Joseph Hewes. This Committee at once became the virtual directors of events.
On June 9, 1774, the Committee received intelligence of the oppressive proceedings against the town of Boston, and in transmitting the papers the next day to the Committee of South Carolina they declared that the inhabitants of North Carolina will concur with and co-operate in such measures as may be concerted and agreed on by their Sister Colonies on this occasion; that it is absolutely necessary that deputies be appointed by the several Colonies to meet and deliberate; that, in case the Governors of the different Colonies should refuse or decline to call an Assembly of the Representatives of the people, they should, in pursuance of the laudable example of the respectable members of the late House of Burgesses of Virginia, meet and form associations, &c.
Ten days later, in their letter to the Virginia Committee, they say: “We had been happy if we had been fully authorized to speak the general sense of the people of this Province. Be assured that we will, with all possible expedition, use the best
As early as April 4th, Col. Harvey had declared that if the Governor would not call the legislature together the people themselves would call one, and on July the 21, 1774, the freeholders of Wilmington, in public meeting, presided over by Mr. Hooper, a member of the Committee, made the call for the election of deputies to the First Provincial Congress. The proceedings of that meeting (Vol. IX-, p. 1016, Colonial Records) correspond so nearly with the utterances of the Committee as to leave no doubt that the step taken was the work of that Committee; and from that time onward Committees charged with public affairs directed the course of events in North Carolina, leaving nothing to hap-hazard, but perfecting measures and accomplishing purposes in a manner so orderly as to excite high admiration when we fully realize the great difficulties that beset them on every side.
The Military Organization.—Necessarily the first work, in view of the coming storm, was the perfection of the military organization. In September, 1775, it was resolved to raise a thousand regulars, to be divided into two regiments, the first being under the command of Col. James Moore, who had served in the Indian war, twenty years before, and who had probably also at one time been in command at Fort Johnston, and the second being given to Col. Robert Howe, who also had some training as an officer, having been in command of Fort Johnston..
In addition to these regulars, each county was to raise at least one company of fifty men, and the larger ones two and three companies, to be known as minute men, who were to be enlisted for six months, and were paid bounties for enlisting, and were to be paid while in active service and be under strict military discipline. These companies were associated according to the former Judicial Districts, as were also the Committees of Safety, so that these districts became, as it were, the unit of organization. The companies in each district formed a battalion of 500 men, and
The militia also was put in training, was well organized and required to muster and be in readiness for active service. Their Colonels and other field officers were appointed by the Congress.
In December, 1775, it was ordered that two battalions of minute men be embodied in the Salisbury District, and Griffith Rutherford and Thomas Polk were appointed Colonels to command them.
In April, 1776, after the battle of Moore's Creek, and when the British lay in the lower Cape Fear, the enlistment of four new regiments of regulars was begun under Colonels Sumner, Thomas Polk, Edward Buncombe and Alexander Lillington, and the militia was reorganized, and was brigaded according to the judicial districts, the Brigadiers being Vail, Caswell, Ashe, Person, Rutherford and Allen Jones.
When service was required of the Militia at a distance, drafts were made, each Colonel being required to send so many, the period of service being generally three months.
On March 1, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Col. Moore and Col. Howe to be Brigadier Generals, and doubtless at the instance of the Virginia authorities, because Gen. Howe had given such great satisfaction when in command at Norfolk, he was ordered to proceed to Virginia and take command of the forces in that Colony, while to Gen. Moore was assigned the command of the forces in North Carolina. By these promotions Francis Nash and Alexander Martin became Colonels of their respective regiments, and when later Col. Lillington of the 6th, finding himself too old for the active service he had undertaken, resigned, Gideon Lamb became Colonel of the 6th Regiment.
Military Operations.—Just after the discomfiture of the forces at Moore's Creek there were large accessions to the British forces in the lower harbor at the mouth of the Cape Fear, and a formidable
The expectation in North Carolina was that, if repulsed at Charleston, Gen. Clinton would return to invade this Province, and much anxiety was felt because of that danger. On June 28th Clinton made his unsuccessful attack on Fort Moultrie. Notwithstanding his repulse, he lingered at Charleston and threatened Savannah and other points on the coast. Gen. Moore then returned at once to Wilmington, where the 5th and 6th Regiments of Continentals were in camp, leaving Gen. Howe and the brigade in South Carolina. Towards the end of July Gen. Clinton abandoned his designs against the Southern Colonies for the summer and sailed Northward, and when this became known, early in August, Gen. Ashe sent home the Militia brigades from the districts of New Berne, Halifax and Edenton, reserving only a part of the Wilmington brigade in active service.
The British still occupied the lower harbor and held Baldhead, remaining there all the summer, watched, however by Gen. Moore with his Continentals, or at least the 5th and 6th Regiments of Continentals; for the other regiments were on duty in South Carolina and Georgia, Gen. Moore having with him in his invasion of Florida as late as September three North Carolina Regiments. But eventually Gen. Moore was joined by all of the Continental regiments except the 3d, which, with some companies of the 1st and 2d, continued long with Gen. Howe in Georgia.
About the middle of September the Continental Congress, finding Washington hard pressed, ordered Gen. Moore to hasten with two regiments to his assistance, but soon afterwards, because another invasion of North Carolina was threatened, the order was modified, and it was left to the discretion of the Provincial Council whether it should be obeyed; and on October 23d
There was a general expectation that the British would seek to strike a blow at the South during the cold season, and when the Provincial Congress of North Carolina met in November it resolved to send two battalions of Militia to the aid of South Carolina, and also to raise three additional Continental Regiments for the war. Of these James Hogun, James Armstrong and John Williams were appointed the Colonels. Gen. Moore was also ordered to march his entire command to the relief of Charleston. Gen. Allen Jones was given the command of the Brigade of Militia to be raised and sent to South Carolina. These troops were embodied September 10th, and were to serve five months, their term of service expiring April 10th.
On the 14th of January, 1777, Col. Moore's brigade was at Charleston; but there being more pressing need for our troops to reinforce “the Grand Army,” as Washington's army was called, on February 6, 1777, the Council of State directed Gen. Moore to fill the ranks of three of his regiments by transfers from the others, and lead them to the North. On February 5th Col. Nash was promoted by the Continental Congress to be Brigadier General, and was directed to repair to the Western part of the State and superintend the recruiting, for new enlistments were being more slowly made, and the regiments were not being kept up to the mark in numbers.
Indeed, North Carolina was recruiting ground for the entire South. It was considered that she was very strong, particularly at the West. Gen. Rutherford made a return of over ten thousand men for his Militia brigade in the Salisbury District alone. And while Georgia was very weak and constantly exposed to assaults from Florida, South Carolina was not only weak but a large proportion of her inhabitants were disaffected. And thus
Gen. Howe on his first going to South Carolina had been assigned by Gen. Lee to the command of the City of Charleston. Indeed, he probably was ordered by Gen. Lee to Charleston from Virginia, along with the Virginia troops, and was never a Brigade Commander of our North Carolina troops. Gen. Moore ranked him, but in Moore's absence Howe was second only to Lee, ranking Moultrie; and upon Gen. Lee's return to the North Howe succeeded to the command of the Department, and soon afterwards was promoted to be a Major General, and was continued in that command.
On receiving these orders to join the Grand Army with his Continentals, Moore repaired to North Carolina to arrange for their long march. He left Nash in command, and ordered that the troops should join him at Wilmington; however, when the day for the departure arrived Gen. Howe felt that the exigency of his situation was such that he was justified in detaining them. But in April they reached Wilmington and went into camp there. There, unhappily, early in April Gen. Moore died. He was a man of delicate organization, whose body was too frail for his great spirit. He was carried off by an attack of gout of the stomach. Gen. Nash assumed command and marched to the North. A camp was established at Halifax, where all the Continentals were to concentrate before going on to the Grand Army, and another camp and a Hospital were located at Alexandria, where all the N. Carolina troops who had not had the small pox were inoculated before joining the army. The brigade reached Alexandria towards the close of May, and while many were detained there to be vaccinated, two hundred were found to have already had the dread disease, and these were hurried forward to reinforce Washington.
The three other regiments whose organization had been authoized
To the West the Militia were absent with Gen. Rutherford, who, having led them to subdue the Scovillites in 1775, was now subjugating the Indians, having three thousand men with him on that expedition.
At the East the brigade of Militia sent to South Carolina under Gen. Allen Jones for five months was still absent in the spring. Besides, the divisions of the people were a hindrance to recruiting, for, while the proportion of tories in North Carolina may have been less than in any other State, yet the number even here was so great as to be a continual menace, and the strength which entire unity would have given was greatly impaired by the influence of the disaffected in every part of the State.
Altogether, after the first impulse of patriotic ardor had subsided, recruiting for the regiments raised for the war proceeded but slowly. It was no easy task to raise the new battalions. Gov. Caswell was very energetic and active, and knowing that much depended on the personal skill of the officers in recruiting as in other matters, and having reason to believe that Col. Abram Sheppard would prove successful, he procured an order of the Provincial Congress directing Col. Sheppard to raise a tenth regiment. Col. Sheppard at that time was in South Carolina in command of one of the battalions of Militia under Gen. Jones. He had served as Lt. Colonel with Caswell at Alamance, and perhaps at Moore's Creek, and had been very efficient as Colonel of the Militia of Dobbs county, and had readily organized the detachment
Upon the departure of Gen. Nash from Halifax, Col. John Williams of the 9th was left in command of that camp, and as rapidly as possible recruits for the older regiments were collected there and sent forward in detachments, and the 7th, 8th, and 9th were brought together and their organization perfected. Three officers from each of the nine regiments were detailed to continue recruiting, and on September 1st Col. Williams broke camp and moved the entire force Northward to join the Grand Army.
The 10th regiment was organized at Kinston early in August, 1777, but, although ordered North in September, along with Capt. John Vance's Artillery Company, it was not until November that Col. Sheppard could move, so utterly wretched were the facilities for obtaining needed supplies and equipments.
The regiments that reached Washington early were at the battle of Brandywine, being in the division commanded by Lord Stirling. Later they were at Germantown, where unhappily the brave Gen. Nash fell mortally wounded; Col. Buncombe also wounded unto death and captured; Lt.-Col. Irwin killed and Maj. William Polk badly wounded; and other serious losses were suffered. On the death of Gen. Nash, General Lachlan McIntosh of Georgia was assigned temporarily to the command of the Brigade, to which were united all the N. Carolina regiments as they successively joined Washington's camp.
It was thought that North Carolina, by reason of her large forces in the field, was entitled to have a Major General and two Brigadiers in Washington's army, and our delegates to the Continental Congress urged upon the legislature to express a preference for such appointments. Cornelius Harnett, one of the delegates, wrote that the officers in the army desired that Colonels Summer and Clarke should be selected, and the legislature so recommended; but Congress delayed action and the year closed without any appointment; all of our ten regiments being with
At the West.—The British plan for subjugating the Carolinas contemplated bringing the Indians down upon the frontier, and in the summer of 1776 a stir among the Cherokees was observed, and several massacres occurred. The Council of Safety, being desirous of preventing an outbreak, resolved to sit at Salisbury, where they might more readily prevent an outbreak, but on July the first the Indians, knowing that the British fleet was to attack Charleston, began hostilities in South Carolina. All hopes of peace being thus frustrated, Gen. Rutherford was directed to embody a force of Militia and march into their country, co-operating with Gen. Williamson, who was marching from South Carolina. Genl. Rutherford left Rowan County on July 18th with two thousand five hundred Militia; and Col. Joseph Taylor was ordered to join him with five hundred of the Hillsboro brigade; but before this detachment had crossed the mountains it was thought unnecessary for them to proceed further, and they returned. Simultaneously with this movement against the Lower Towns and Middle Settlements, Col. Christian of Virginia moved against the Upper Settlements of the Indians, distinguished as the Over-hill Towns, and Gen. Rutherford, being so ordered, sent him a detachment of six hundred North Carolina Militia, under the command of Col. Joseph Williams, Col. Love and Maj. Winston. All of these operations were successful. Gen. Rutherford passed the mountains on September 1st with a force discribed as “chosen riflemen, the equal of any on this Continent.” At Cathey's Fort, just this side the mountains, he was joined by Col. Martin Armstrong with a regiment from Surry County, one of whose Captains was Benjamin Cleaveland, and William Lenoir was a Lieutenant in the same company. They destroyed thirty or forty Indian towns and left the Indians in a starving condition.
In February the Indians again became hostile, notwithstanding the treaty of peace that had been informally agreed on, and a detachment of militia was sent to the District of Washington, and one hundred and fifty men were ordered to range on this side
All of this service was fine training for the men who afterwards were destined to play such an important part in resisting the invasions of Cornwallis.
Situation in the State.—It must not be supposed that the disaffected elements throughout the State were entirely quiet after the rout of Gen. McDonald at Moore's Creek in Feb., 1776. In July of that year there were tories in arms in Surry, and disaffection manifested itself openly in Guilford; and in that month, the Council of State, writing to Gen. Rutherford, tell him that they cannot send him any troops from the Hillsboro brigade as he “well knows himself how many disaffected persons reside in that district and neighborhood.” The people were by no means of one mind on the subject of independence and separation. Had they been so, the task of the patriot leaders had been easier; but their daring, their constancy and fortitude would not have entitled them so thoroughly to the gratitude and admiration of succeeding generations. But while every community and section of the State was more or less divided in sentiment, it is to the honor of the public men of that period that no representative of the people, no man who had been honored with their confidence flinched when the test came or failed to move steadily forward through the gloom and obscurity of the doubtful and hazardous issue.
The spirit that animated them is well exemplified in Sam Johnston's letter tendering his resignation of Treasurer of the northern division to which he had been re-elected by the Legislature in April, 1777. “In the infancy of our glorious struggle,” he wrote, “when the minds of many were unsettled and doubtful of the event, I joyfully accepted every appointment that was offered by my fellow citizens, and readily stood forth to give testimony of my concurrence and approbation of every measure which tends to the security of the most inestimable rights of mankind; at this period when the Constitution of this State is happily, and I flatter myself, permanently established, when all doubts and apprehensions are entirely removed, and a number of gentlemen of unquestionable integrity and abilities are ready to offer their
But although many may have been willing then to take office, still there was a large disaffected element.
A test oath was required by act of assembly to be tendered to all citizens, and those who refused to take an oath of fidelity to the State were required to give bond and security to depart the State in sixty days. This led to the exile of large numbers of loyalists, among them being Col. Hamilton, a Scotchman who resided in Halifax, and who going to Florida organized there a regiment of North Carolina Loyalists.
Indeed Col. David Smith of Cumberland informed Gov. Caswell in July, 1777, that “it was evident that two-thirds of Cumberland county intend leaving this State and are already become insolent, and it is apprehended will be troublesome.”
About the same time there were such movements that apprehensions were aroused that a hostile outbreak was intended; and Col. Williams was ordered to march the Continentals from the camp at Halifax to Cross Creek, and Col. Sheppard to lead the 10th regiment from Kinston to that point, while Gen. Ashe was directed to call out the militia of the Wilmington district to protect the magazine of stores at Wilmington.
While it appears that a hostile rising was not then intended but that the object of the great crowd that came together to Cross Creek from Duplin in the east to Orange, Chatham and Guilford in the west was merely to take the salt stored there at their own price, yet the affair illustrates the fact that the authorities were alive to a widespread disaffection throughout the State. Indeed Gen. Ashe on that occasion, says that he found so much disaffection at Wilmington and the surrounding country, that he did not believe that the well affected part of the militia of that county would exceed three hundred men! It was just at that time, July, 1777, that a conspiracy for the tories to rise and fall upon their neighbors throughout the Eastern counties was discovered. Lt.Col. Irwin, of the Continentals, being at that time at his home in Tarborough, wrote to Gov. Caswell, “I am sorry to inform you that too many evil persons in this and the neighboring counties have been joined in a most wicked conspiracy; but I am in hopes
The principal mover in that plot was supposed to be Mr. Brimage, who was a person of some consequence in the north-eastern section. He was arrested and eventually sent out of the State. These disaffected persons not only interfered with the recruiting, but were a menace to the public peace and, particularly, to the magazines in the different sections of the State, and made it necessary that whenever any ammunition was moved that it should be strongly guarded.
Civil Affairs.—On the adoption of the Constitution by the Fifth and last Provincial Congress, Caswell was by an ordinance of the Congress declared to be Governor of the State until the end of the next session of the General Assembly, and a Council of State was appointed to sit with the Governor whenever any important business was to be transacted. The Congress also provided for Courts of Justices of the Peace, and, because the jails were filled with criminals, also for temporary Courts of oyer and terminer, to be held in the several districts. Gov. Caswell appointed the Judges to hold these courts, and in some of the districts they were held during the months of February and March.
The first General Assembly of the State met at New Bern, on the 7th of April, 1777. Sam Ashe was Speaker of the Senate and Abner Nash of the House. On the 18th of April Caswell was re-elected Governor; and acts were passed for regulating the Militia; for establishing Criminal Courts, and also Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions; to promote recruiting; concerning tories; for a general assessment; to carry on the Indian war; and to establish Courts of Admiralty, while Collectors of Customs were appointed for the various ports.
Gen. John Butler was elected Brigadier General in the Hillsboro district, succeeding Gen. Person, and Genl. William Bryan for the New Bern district to succeed Gov. Caswell. While care had to be taken to guard against the incursions of the Indians at the West, and the East was threatened with British invasion, and
Efforts had been made to establish a foundry at Deep River to cast cannon and balls, and strenuous endeavors were made to increase the supply of powder, lead and salt and to obtain needed munitions of war and clothing for the soldiers.
In short the duty of preparing for a long and exhaustive war and of putting in successful motion the wheels of the new government engaged the constant services of those devoted patriots, who fully realizing that they must “hang together or be hanged separately,” addressed themselves to the business of government with a prudence, sagacity and firmness that challenge admiration.
Where all were so zealous and capable, it might be invidious to particularize any in these notes; but the Editor cannot refrain from directing particular attention to the communications to the Governor by Dr. Burke, one of the delegates to the Continental Congress, and regretting that the practice he began of journalizing the proceedings of that body was not continued. His letters show that Dr. Burke was one of the foremost men of his day and give him easy rank along with Johnston, Harnett, Hooper, and the other distinguished men of the period; while of Caswell we may safely say, that he certainly was the right man in the right place.