powered by google
Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Advanced Search Options
Letter from Hugh Williamson to Alexander Martin
Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
September 30, 1784
Volume 17, Pages 94-105

-------------------- page 94 --------------------
HON. HUGH WILLIAMSON TO GOVERNOR MARTIN.

Edenton, 30th September, 1784.

Sir:

By the printed journals of Congress you will observe that a little before the adjournment sundry important subjects were agitated and the questions lost on principles which some of us could not have suspected. It was generally admitted to be essential towards the discharge of the National debt that the lands ceded to Congress by New York and Virginia should be purchased from the Indians; and a military force somewhat respectable is necessary either to holding an advantageous treaty taking possession of the Western ports, or keeping the Indians in check. But some of the States would not admit that Congress has any right to make a requisition of troops during peace. The Southern and middle States were of opinion that such a right could not be given up. It is provided in one of the Articles of Confederation that “the United States in Congress assembled shall have the sole power of raising troops.” There are no words by which this power is restrained to the time of War; hence we supposed it to be perpetual; especially when we considered that the existence of such a right may be essential; for the very independence or safety of an Empire may depend on its arming in time of peace to prevent an invasion. The minority however would not recede and we had recourse to a poor expedient, but the only one remaining, viz: To calling on certain States for Militia. The inefficacy and expence of this measure may probably give rise to better ones. The enclosed paper, No. 1, is an extract of a Letter from the Legislature of Massachusetts; No. 2, is an Act of the General Assembly of Connecticut. These papers have been referred to a grand Committee who have reported on the several articles to which they refer, but I cannot allow myself to believe that Congress will adopt the report without great amendments. For myself I confess that I am not possessed of such information, though I have sought for it with diligence as to enable me on those questions to determine with any degree of certainty what is the true Interest of the State. Hence it is that I am to trouble Your Excellency with a few questions, whose solution I cannot otherwise obtain.

-------------------- page 95 --------------------

You will observe that the propositions of Massachusetts open a field for extensive charges by that State against the United States. New Hampshire too has claims similar to those of Massachusetts for bounties and old Continental Money. There is a redundance of old money in Rhode Island, and Connecticut has large claims for Militia service. If these several claims are allowed the debt of the United States must be increased by several Millions of Dollars, some thing must doubtless be done on these several heads but if my calculation is right our State must gain or lose half a Million of Dollars according to the principles on which the different resolves may be founded. I am aware that since I have had the honor to serve the State some of the same questions that I am going to propose have been stated by the Delegates and no answer returned. However as I conceive the subject very important and as the time approaches when a final settlement must be made of the late military expences of the United States I flatter myself that more attention will now be paid to those different Subjects.

The claim of Massachusetts that she may be allowed for all the bounties that were paid for recruiting the Continental Line in the last years of the War is said to be very large, and New Hampshire has a similar claim. We are told that a bounty of 100 dollars per Annum was paid by the several classes to the recruits whom they raised for three years. In support of the claim Massachusetts alleges that she has raised more than her quota of the Continental Line and that Congress has promised to indemnify any State for such exertions.

I presume this single charge may amount to a Million of Dollars. But it is inquired has Massachusettts done more of her quota or has North Carolina done less than her quota of Military Service? At present we are not furnished with materials by which we can answer those questions.

The personal service to be performed by the Citizens of any State was to have been according to the number of its white inhabitants. And no account can be procured of the number of our Inhabitants. Early in the resolution our Delegates for obvious reasons, stated the number of our militia at 40,000, but the motives to such large Statements have long since vanished and it is now our duty and interest to be more correct.

-------------------- page 96 --------------------

The number of inhabitants in some of the States have been taken from the militia rolls by counting five Inhabitants for every Man on the roll. On this principle we may venture to fix the number of our white Inhabitants, without any risque of its exceeding the truth; especially if we take the very last Musters that were made on the year 1782, when the effective Militia in the Several counties were divided into Classes for the sake of making the 18 Months Continental draughts. Certainly the several Brigadiers could furnish you with such a return within a few weeks. As the Militia were classed in the same manner in the year 1781, either of the Muster Rolls would answer our purpose and they must be considered as correct for they were taken on oath. In such a return it would hardly be fair to include the Settlers in the new Counties over the Mountains who were not there during the War nor would any list taken in the present Year be so perfectly unexceptionable. I have some reason to believe that our fensible Militia were much nearer 25 than 40 thousand. Having discovered what was the number of our fensible Militia perhaps we shall find that near the beginning of the War we raised too great a proportion of Continental troops and when the vast bodies of Militia are considered who did duty towards the end of the War, who are chargeable or who may hereafter be charged to Continental account, it is probable that North Carolina will not appear to have been deficient.

If so she will hardly be the first in objecting to the claim of Massachusetts, provided she obtains a credit for similar bounties. There are other facts of which the other Delegates may need to be informed viz, What are the different tours of duty that have been performed by the militia of this State during the War? What are the number of men who have served on those several tours and the length of their service? At whose Instance was the Militia called out on the Several Occasions?

Your Excellency will immediately observe the use of this last question for according to the Resolves of Congress all militia service that has been performed in consequence of recommendations of Congress, or at the request of a Continental officer Commanding in a Separate department are to be charged to the account of the United States. I presume that all the militia who have served in Georgia or South Carolina, all those who were draughted in 1780 to serve

-------------------- page 97 --------------------
under Major General Caswell and those who served at any time with General Greene are chargeable to Continental Account. But I fear that they who served at the North East in Virginia under General Gregory and those who served in 1781 near Wilmington and in other parts of the State, also the State Regiment may not at present be chargeable to the accts of the United States. It is curious but not very pleasing to observe, that while some of the Northern States never turned out a Serjeants guard of Militia without obtaining the Sanction of Congress or of some Continental officer our State in the true Spirit of a patriot but not of an accoumptant has been expending Militia and raising State troops without taking any heed concerning the day of retribution. The Delegates can easily find what Militia have been called for by Congress, but they do not know how many have served in consequence of such calls nor do they know what numbers have served in consequence of the calls or recommendations of different Continental Officers. By an Extract from the Letters of the Several Continental Officers who have commanded in the Southern department, on the subject referred to we shall know what part of our Militia service is to be charged to the United States. As the Camp was formed on the borders of Virginia by order of the Executive Council sitting at Hillsboro, perhaps the measure was sanctioned by the Continental Commander who was then with them at Hillsborough.

Being possessed of the different informations to which I have alluded we shall be enabled to reason mathematically on the following heads viz, We shall know whether the amount of service performed by our State either by its Continental Line or by its militia in Continental pay is equal our quota of military service. If we find that we have done much service which we are not at present authorized to charge perhaps we may find that it will be our interest to indulge Massachusetts in her Penobscot claim, and Connecticut in her claim.

If Congress should agree that all tours of Militia duty that have been undertaken to repel an enemy or to stop his progress shall be charged to Continental account our Indian expeditions will be charged in course, but I suspect that some difficulty may arise in obtaining such a Resolve. The agreement of nine States is necessary. New Hampshire has already obtained credit for all the Militia

-------------------- page 98 --------------------
service she has done. Rhode Island is nearly in the same predicament as also New York. Pennsylvania has obtained a full credit. Delaware has rendered very little Service of that kind and Maryland none or none that can be mentioned. All these States or a majority of them may object to admitting any new charges by which their quota of the national debt must be considerably increased and nothing added to their own credit.

Having mentioned the difficulties that may arise in obtaining credit for the amount of our Militia Services I cannot help referring to the act of Cession that was passed by the last General Assembly and though I see by the journals that a great diversity of opinion prevailed in the House on that subject, I am not in the least apprehensive of giving offence to Gentlemen who have been on either side of the question, for I am fully persuaded that they were equally desirous to promote the true interest and honor of the State and the harmony and strength of the Union; they only differed in their opinions concerning the best means. It happens however that some very strange and unexpected incidents have presented themselves since the last Spring which may impress the minds of men considerably; must affect our finances greatly and may render it proper for the State to embrace measures or to use cautions which in the last Spring were not indicated. Be this as it may, it is my duty to mention the incidents of changes that have occurred, or if they should appear of little importance they will occasion the less trouble.

Congress or several of the States were in such haste to adjourn on the 3rd June last that we could not obtain a vote for appointing Commissioners to treat of Peace with the Southern Indians though the plan of a treaty had for some weeks been prepared by a Committee. Should an Indian War break out by such neglect, the Western Inhabitants of our State would be among the Chief Sufferers. When I consider the political and military Virtues of those brave Citizens who live over the Mountains and recollect that we are in a great measure indebted to them for one of the greatest actions that has been achieved during the late War, I am not a little hurt by any want of attention to their safety. Massachusetts has at this late hour put in her claim to an extent of two degrees of latitude across the Country that is claimed by New York and immediately before the adjournment she petitioned to have the question

-------------------- page 99 --------------------
determined by a federal Court, which is to be appointed. This claim I conceive is to extend to the South Sea or at least to the Mississippi and will include part of the New York and Virginia Cession though it will not come Southerly of the present Massachusetts. Connecticut having failed in her attempts to cut one degree out of the State of Pennsylvania, has just entered her claim to the Same degree Westward of Pennsylvania. Her South boundary is somewhere near the latitude 41, and she extends to the Mississippi. Indeed she is willing to cede that degree to Congress on condition that they will give her 100 miles in length of it from the border of Pennsylvania. This curious act of Cession arrived at Congress on May last. It may seem strange that Connecticut should have accepted of the Virginia Cession when she yielded that very land to Congress, without disputing her title which might have been tried by federal Court, tho' she now claims it from Congress when no such Court can be entitled; for there are no indifferent Judges. Another event of great importance has drawn the attention of the public since the adjournment. Rhode Island is said once more to have rejected the 5 per Cent Impost by a great majority in her Assembly. If this Impost shall finally be lost North Carolina has a bad prospect of being able to pay her quota of the National debt. Virginia and South Carolina will immediately impose a duty of 5 per Cent for their separate use by which they will be enabled to pay a considerable part of their quota. We too shall impose a duty and what will be the consequence? Near half of the goods we consume are imported by land from Virginia and South Carolina, and as our sea trade is carried on chiefly in small Coasters near half of the remainder will be smuggled through our numerous inlets. The goods we import by land have paid a tax of 5 per Cent for the benefit of Virginia and South Carolina but they will hardly pay one half per Cent into our Treasury; for it will not be possible to guard an entrance into the State of 150 miles in length on each boundary. The goods that come by water will in General have paid a Tax of 5 per Cent to some of the Northern States, but by the address of Coasters and small adventurers they will pay little into our Treasury. These are not very pleasing prospects.

It is well known that Georgia, who has done very little service during the War has obtained a very extensive territory by the manner

-------------------- page 100 --------------------
in which our bounds were settled at the Peace. She might yield to the United States at least 63 millions of acres after retaining to herself an Extent of 300 Miles from the Sea. Our share of such a Cession, if she could be prevailed on to make it in Concert would be I think equal to the greater part of what remains for us to give.

To the different considerations that have been mentioned we may add the situation of our Indian expeditions. You may recollect that on the 22nd of October, 1782, the delegates had the honor to express to your Excellency their hopes that if a Cession of Western territory should take place it would be on certain Conditions of which the first was “That the whole expence of our Indian expeditions shall pass to account in our quota of the Continental expences.” And on the 11 September on the same year the Delegates expressed their uneasiness that they had not been officially informed of an expedition then going on against the Indians nor authorized to apply to Congress for their approbation as Pennsylvania was doing at the very time so that she might pass the service to account. But no such approbation has been obtained and the whole of our expedition with a good part of our other Militia service continues to be a State expence. I perceive that a great part of the late general Assembly viewed this subject in a different light which doubtless was the reason why they omitted the stipulation that has been mentioned or some conditions to that amount, they seem to have thought that all Militia services whether they were pointed against tawney or the white savages ought to pass to the Continental account. If ever that should be the case it will cost us much trouble to obtain such a credit.

You observe that there are three measures which we are greatly interested in promoting viz, That Rhode Island and Georgia should agree to the 5 per Cent Impost. That Georgia should cede part of her territory and that the expences of our Indian Expeditions should be paid by the United States. Can the Western territory belonging to our State be so managed as to promote those several interests? The last mentioned we may doubtless secure. If we should immediately complete the Cession we shall give up the power of making advantageous terms and shall lose the argument which may bring others to adopt federal measures; on the other hand should we sell out what remains of this territory to the Western Inhabitants whatever

-------------------- page 101 --------------------
inconveniences they may suffer, they will lose the prospect of becoming a Separate State; the quota of our State will be doubled though we shall hardly have the means of paying half of our present quota. In that case too we should give up the means of making terms, or the power of adopting better measures if better should present themselves. The situation is critical. Perhaps it is most consistent with prudence and sound policy to make a pause. Whatever shall finally appear to be for the honor and true interest of the State may be done 12 months hence as well as now. But we may do wrong things which may not be undone.

Among the acts of the last Assembly there is one for impowering Congress in the final settlement of the proportion this State is to bear of the whole expences of the War the foreign loan excepted, to adopt such principles as may seem just, without being wholly governed by the rule laid down in the 8th Article of the Confederation. From this it appears to have been the expectation of the State, that Congress would come to a settlement and allot to each State the portion it is to pay of the National debt, the foreign loan excepted, which quota each State might discharge as it could or at least the balance of its quota. Doubtless the Delegates will press for such a settlement as nothing could be more fortunate for our State, but such a measure will be warmly opposed by most or all of the States who have no vacant Lands. The question has already been agitated. The reason is pretty clear why such States may refuse to divide the National debt. According the to present allotments Maryland which is one of the States that has no vacant territory, would have to pay 94 Dollars out of every thousand; and North Carolina would have to pay 72. But as soon as our vacant territory shall all be located and surveyed, our quota according to the existing rule would be near 148, I need not say that Georgia would pay above 200 whose quota is at this hour is 10, nor that the quota of Maryland must decrease while ours was increasing. However ungenerous it may seem to think of burthening posterity with our national debt, and of throwing half of it around the neck of those Infant States who rising on t'other side of the Mountains, there are people who are not ashamed to cherish sentiments of this kind. By the Letter from Massachusetts you will observe that Congress are still haunted by the old Continental Money. Justice and sound policy require that its monies

-------------------- page 102 --------------------
should get some repose. Massachusetts having called in 40 millions which was her quota, asserts that there are near 30 millions more remaining in the hands of Individual Citizens. Your Excellency may wonder how she made such a discovery, when we find so much difficulty in obtaining any information that can be of use as to funds or claims, but those people lose nothing by the want of industry. Massachusetts and the other States, who have too much of the old money propose that it should be sunk according to the resolves of Congress at 40 for 1. There are other States in which the money circulated at 5 or 600 for 1, who propose to sink it at that rate. Perhaps neither plan is founded on strict justice. It is very clear that a considerable part of the old money was carried into Boston after the value had sunk below forty but it is also affirmed that no part of it ever circulated after it had sunk to 100 for one. The States who have more than their quota of this money alledge that justice is refused them because it is the Interest of the Majority to do wrong. In whatever manner this question may be determined I think we shall find that our situation would not have been worse if there had been a few millions more of the old Continental money in our Treasury.

Your Excellency will see by the journals that Congress has not yet agreed on a plan for opening the land office for the sale of Western territory. Much of our hope depends on the prudent management of that business; however as I have more than once mentioned the Western territory as a fund by which a great part of the National debt might be extinguished I shall try to explain my ideas on that subject. We are apt to estimate the value of Vacant land by considering what it sold for under the regal Government; without considering that the object of the Crown was to settle Colonies and not to raise money; that the property is now conveyed in fee simple but the Crown used to reserve a perpetual quit rent, and that the value of land increases in such proportion as the Government is more free. From the States which were formerly proprietary Governments where the soil belonged to a Subject who was attentive to the improvement of his estate, we may form some estimate of of the true value of Vacant Land. In Maryland the price of Land was £5 sterling per hundred acres with a reserved quit rent of 4/per Thousand. The amount was equal to 37 dollars & 3d. In

-------------------- page 103 --------------------
Pennsylvania where the form of government was more free, with the advantage of having no Ecclesiastical establishment such as prevailed in Maryland, land was readily sold for a greater price. In the year 1769 the land office was opened for the sale of several millions of acres that had just been purchased of the Indians. The price was £5 sterling or £8.6.8. with a quit rent of 8-4 sterling or 13/-10½ Currency; but 13/-10½ per annum is the interest of £11, 10/-8, hence the purchase if the quit rent had been bought out would have been £19, 17 4½ or 53 Dollars lacking four pence per hundred acres. On those terms above three thousand tracts were sold in one day and more entries made in a fortnight than the whole of the Vacant lands. A Considerable part of the land referred to lay over the Mountains, Some of it on the Ohio and is exceeded in value by at least 50 millions of acres of ceded Land that is not controverted on tother side of the Ohio. Surely the present form of Government is more free than what formerly prevailed in Pennsylvania or any other Province and a silver Dollar was of more value either in Europe or America 15 years ago than it is at present, wherefore our lands ought to sell for much more than 53 Silver Dollars; but our Lands are to be sold for public securities not for Specie, and no man will say that money in the public funds is to be valued as money in the pocket. In Great Britain whose funds are among the best in Europe, a man could not in the last year get more than £65 in Cash for 100 pounds National Stock. In the United States, where the public funds have not acquired any system, national Stock is much lower. It is at 20 or 25 per Cent. Is it not certain that we may sell our lands at 100 dollars per Hundred acres without any difficulty? The money to be paid in public securities.

Your Excellency may possibly wish to know the present Situation of the public Arms, especially as that Situation may chance to draw the attention of the State. There are from 30,000 to 40,000 stands of arms besides a large train of artillery, deposited in different places. At Springfield in Massachusetts, at West Point in New York and at Carlisle in Pennsylvania there are large magazines and arsenals which have been erected at the Expence of the United States. In those places a sufficient quantity of arms is deposited for the Northern and Middle States. The proportion of public arms which ought to be laid up in the Southern States is stored at a

-------------------- page 104 --------------------
heavy expence in private ware houses in Philadelphia and at the Sea ports. It was proposed to build Arsenals and magazines at the point of Fork at James River, and at Camden in South Carolina to which those arms were to have been transported, but we have not been able during the last two years to obtain a vote for the expence of sufficient buildings; in fact money has been deplorably scarce in the Treasury, nor is the case like to alter much for the better. Hence it is probable that some other measures must be adopted for the disposition of our quota of the public arms. If our State was provided with an arsenal and magazines sufficient for holding them or if it had appropriated sufficient funds for the purpose, I think it probable that the Delegates would move to have our proportion immediately brought into the State for we should then understand it to be the wish of our Constituents. I need not mention that the Confederation requires nor that political prudence requires that our militia should be well armed and that we lay up military stores in time of peace so as to prevent insults by a respectable State of defence. If it is the opinion of our State that some kind of military preparations are necessary, perhaps no time can be so fit as the present for beginning to erect the buildings, for a small part of the State arsenal may be set apart for storing our quota of the Continental arms. In cold climates it is found that two men are sufficient to keep 4,000 stands of small arms free from rust. In a warmer climate 3 may be required. This is a small expence. I am aware that the low rate of our finances will be objected to this useful undertaking. But it appears to me that if 5 or 6,000 pounds worth of forfeited property was vested in the hands of Commissioners to be immediately sold for the sole purpose of erecting arsenals and magazines it would be a sum well disposed of.

And a military or political forfeiture would naturally be applied to a military use. You will be so good as to excuse this digression. It appeared to be my duty to represent the Situation of the public Arms and our embarrassments on that account. I have merely hinted at a measure by which some of those difficulties might be removed.

This Letter has insensibly grown very long. If the subjects to which it refers claims the attention of the State it needs no apology; if otherwise an apology would not save it. In every case where I

-------------------- page 105 --------------------
have ventured to give an opinion I have stated the facts on which that opinion is founded; from such evidence if the conclusions are ill drawn you will readily correct them.

In what manner shall this State obtain full credit for the services it has performed during the late War? In what manner shall our claims be supported so that our quota of the National debt may be diminished and our Citizens be rescued from heavy Taxation?

To this particular object I would turn your attention and for this purpose it is that I repeat the original request that the Delegates may be informed what have been the number of effective militia in the State? What tours of duty they have performed? And what is the Continental Sanction under which they have served on different occasions? It is with much reluctance that I have troubled your Excellency, or the State with such a detail of questions, but the property of our Constituents is deeply concerned in subjects to which those questions refer and in the determinations to which they may lead; hence it is of the utmost importance that the Delegates be well informed. It is humiliating in a Statesman to be reduced to conjectures, and perfectly shameful for an accomptant to be stumbling in the dark when certainty is to be obtained.

I have the honor to be, &c.,
HUGH WILLIAMSON.
His Excellency
Alexander Martin, Esqr.