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Letter from Thomas Burke to James H. Craig
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
June 27, 1781
Volume 22, Pages 1026-1029

GOVERNOR BURKE TO MAJOR CRAIG.

State of North Carolina, June 27th, 1781.

Sir:

Your letter of the 20th instant to my predecessor in office, came to my hands and I am now to return you an Answer.

Being entirely uninformed of the executions you allude to I am

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unable to say whether they ought to be denominated Murders or not, but I will venture to affirm that if they were and wanton and unnecessary, or contrary to the Laws and Rights of War they were not tollerated by the Government of this State, nor shall such ever be approved by me.

In several parts of the country, the war has, unhappily kindled the most fierce and vindictive animosity between the People who adhere to the Government of Great Britain and those who resolved at all hazards to oppose what they deemed an unconstitutional exercise of power, very lamentable effects have always been apprehended from this disposition and as the best means for preventing them, a resolution was very early taken to remove out of the State those People together with their property who could not reconcile themselves to the Established Government and this resolution was in part executed but the Legislature was afterwards prevailed on by the Entreaties of those very people to dispense in a great measure with the further Execution. The Animosity still continues and on some Occasions when the people have been obliged to take arms has produced reciprocal violences and bloodshed which are entirely unauthorized by the Magistrates of the State, and as much reprobated by them as they can be by his Brittanic Majesty’s Officers.

To this cause may probably be attributed the acts of which you complain and whether it has produced more violence on the one side than the other might probably prove a very unpleasant and unsatisfactory Enquiry, but it is certain that many people have been killed by those whom you are pleased to call the King’s friends where nothing could be assigned as provocation or excuse.

Duty and Inclination conspire in determining me to use my utmost Efforts for checking and, if possible, entirely preventing those practices which, tho occasioned by the war, are no way necessary for, nor in my opinion conducive to its happy termination. To this restitution your letter could not contribute, for the evil was already perceived and threats have no influence on my Conduct.

With respect to the particular behaviour of General Caswell I shall only say that the Laws reach every officer of this State and so far as it may depend on me they shall be enforced on all for the prevention of offenses against the Law of nations as well as the municipal Law.

I cannot see the Justice of your present Treatment of Mr. Samuel Ashe and his comrades nor of the future measures which you

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threaten them with. I believe they do not live in the parts of the Country which are infected with the animosity above mentioned nor can I learn that they themselves or any of their Connections have even countenanced such pratices as you comlpain of and which are unauthorized and unapproved by this Government so far as they come within the description above mentioned, &c. Should you therefore continue your treatment of those citizens or listen to any Emotions which may dictate any measures against them on the ground of retaliation which you refer to, I shall find myself under the unhappy necessity of taking Similar measures against British Prisoners, tho all such measures are utterly repugnant to my disposition.

The delivering over of such Prisoners as from Character or Situation are most likely to gratify the Vengeance of those enraged People to whom you allude which you are pleased to say you will not hesitate to do so is conformable to no pratice that know of among CivilizedNations, and should you in any instance put this Threat in execution, the Effect will be very different from what you expect, for altho we should Abhor the following of the Example of our Indian Savage Neighbors in delivering over Prisoners to be tortured at the pleasure of a fierce and vengeful kindred, yet the example of a nation so polite and celebrated as Great Britain would meet with more respect, and we should probably imitate it with peculiar advantages should our humanity be obliged to give way to public utility.

I wish to be favored with your ultimate resolution on this subject because there are at present some Prisoners in my Power to whom I am much disposed to grant some Indulgences which are requested, but which must be delayed until I know the result of your determination.

I concur, Sir, in your wish to mitigate as much as possible the Miseries Incident to War, and am of opinion that clemency and humanity should in every Instance prevail most liberally except where incompatible with Indispensable public utility.

I perceive the letters to my Predecessor are not directed to him in his Official Character tho on an Official Subject, as I can hold no Correspondence with the Subject of his Brittanic Majesty or other Enemies of the United States except in my Official Character none will be opened but such as those addressed to me as Governor.

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This, Sir, it will be necessary to observe should I be favored with any future address.

I have the honor to be,
Your Obd. Ser.
THOS. BURKE.