But few volumes of the Colonial and State Records contain more interesting information than the twenty-second. It contains the Journals of the Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and of 1789, the latter of which, at least, has been heretofore inaccessible, although the debates in the former have in a measure been preserved through the liberality of James Iredell and General Davie. For five days the Convention of 1789 discussed the Constitution, which then was in force in the other States, except Rhode Island, Washington having become President in the previous March. The discussion was thorough, and eight amendments were proposed by the Convention; but whereas in the previous Convention the Constitution was neither ratified nor rejected by a vote of 184 to 83, being 101 majority, now the Constitution was adopted by a vote of 195 to 77, a majority of 118. The change of sentiment indicated by these figures was remarkable; but there are some contemporaneous expressions of opinion that if Virginia had not acceded to the Constitution, North Carolina would not have done so.
Some interesting data has been collected with regard to the several “alarms” made on the coast by Spanish invasions. In 1741 some Spanish privateers took possession of Ocracoke Inlet, seized the vessels arriving, landed and destroyed the cattle of the inhabitants, and devastated the country. Vessels of provisions were sent for the relief of the sufferers, at a cost to the Province of more than ten thousand pounds.
In June, 1747, the Spaniards took possession of the town and harbor of Beaufort, and Colonel Thomas Lovick called out his regiment to repel them. Major Enoch Ward was on duty with fifty-eight men when the town was taken on 26 August, and the alarm continued until 10 September, although probably the Spaniards departed earlier. On 6 September William Moore brought in his bill against the public for fifteen hundred pounds of beef for maintaining and imprisoning ten Spanish negroes, and for a gun which had burst in time of action which he said cost him eighty pounds. These Spanish vessels were largely manned by negroes and mulattoes.
In like manner, there were two alarms on the Cape Fear in the following year. It was early in September, 1748, that the Spanish cruisers made an attack on Brunswick, one of the vessels being blown
The editor has thought that it would be interesting to embrace in this volume the wills of Governor Gabriel Johnston, Matthew Rowan, Arthur Dobbs, and Colonel Thomas Pollock as throwing light on the period in which they lived.
On page 314 in the return of Colonel Rutherford’s Regiment of the Bladen Militia for the year 1754 will be found some remarks of interest in regard to the inhabitants “on Drowning Creek, on the head of Little Peedee, fifty men, a mixed crew, a lawless people, filleth the lands without patent or paying quit-rent. Shot a surveyor for coming to view their lands, being enclosed in great swamps.” “No arms, stores, or Indians in the County.” Another item of interest is a recommendation of Colonel Rutherford that the Quakers in Bladen should be required to attend musters or pay as they do in the northern counties. Although there were no Indians in Bladen, which then embraced Robeson, evidently there was a Quaker settlement as early as 1754. The rosters of the militia at that date given for many of the counties will be found interesting and instructive.
The volume is rich in Revolutionary matter. There is much correspondence throwing light on the incidents of 1776 as well as of 1781.
After Sir Peter Parker’s fleet had sailed from the Cape Fear harbor, there was taken James Bowen, generally called the black lawyer, who as Judge of Admiralty in the British fleet condemned fourteen vessels, captured by that fleet. There still remained fifteen sails in the harbor. One of the British vessels getting aground at Charleston, General Lee sent a floating battery and some boats to take her. On board were found fifty-four Highlanders and Regulators who had sought shelter with Governor Martin, while on another vessel remaining at Cape Fear there were still more of these Tories who had been apportioned into companies and officers appointed over them.
The correspondence for 1781 when the Tories were so active from Surry to Brunswick well supplements the letters and reports heretofore published in these Records. Taken together, they remove much of the obscurity in which the operations of that period have heretofore been involved. The narrative of Colonel David Fanning, also contained in the volume, aids in making clear much that has been uncertain. But this journal was written years after the events, and corroborative testimony is always desirable with regard to Fanning’s statements. One of the letters published, that of Andrew Armstrong to Governor Burke, written 28 August, 1781, taken in connection with Fanning’s narrative and some letters contained in a previous volume, settles a point about which there has been some controversy—the date of the Battle of Elizabethtown. The account given in Wheeler’s History gives that date as in July, while Moore fixes it about the middle of September, and some very intelligent gentlemen have thought that it was in the last days of September. At that battle Colonel Slingsby was killed. Armstrong in his letter mentions that on 14 August Colonel Slingsby captured Cross Creek. With him were Neil and Ray, two noted Tory leaders of Bladen. A day or two later Fanning reached Cross Creek, and the Tory parties then separated. Fanning continued down the river, devastated the plantations of the Robesons and carried his prisoners to Wilmington, where he obtained another supply of ammunition. Neil and Ray went west towards Raft Swamp, and Slingsby apparently returned to his post at Elizabethtown. Fanning left Wilmington on 26 August, stopped at Slingsby’s camp some hours and then continued his course to the interior. The next day information reached him of Slingsby’s disaster, and he sent aid back from his own force; while, because he learnt that Neil and Ray were being pressed by Colonel Wade at Raft Swamp, he hastened there and readily defeated Wade on the first day of September. This would fix Slingsby’s death about the last of August. It is to be observed that about a month earlier, on 4 August, Wade had had a previous engagement at Raft Swamp, on the very same ground, in which he defeated Neil and Ray; but now he met with a lamentable disaster. From there Fanning took up his route to Deep River, and a few days later captured Governor Burke at Hillsboro; was intercepted at Cane Creek by General Butler, and in the battle was so badly wounded that for several weeks he had to remain in hiding in that vicinity. All doubt about the date of the Battle of Elizabethtown seems now to be removed.
Similarly, some of the movements of General Lillington and the gallant Colonel Kenan in Duplin are made more clear by the correspondence contained in this volume. There is another particular incident on which light is shed—the threat of Major Craig to put to death Major Sam Ashe, his young brother, and some other Whigs who had been captured by the marauding Tory bands. It seems that General Caswell had allowed five men taken at New River in Onslow County to be executed at Kinston. Doubtless these men had been guilty of murder and rapine, as was common with both bands of Tories and Whigs, for the bloody work done on both sides in the Cape Fear section at that period has seldom been equalled in enlightened times. Major Craig charged Caswell with murdering these men, and he threw Major Ashe and his comrades into irons, intending to deliver them over to the Tories that they might have ample revenge. But Craig was a soldier, and thought twice about it, and brought the matter to the attention of Governor Burke, who promptly advised him that if he should put his threat in execution there would be retaliation on some prisoners then in the Governor’s power. This deterred Craig from extreme measures.
The roll of Revolutionary pensioners gives additional interest to this volume; while the declarations made by the different applicants, when seeking pensions, contain some account of the movement of the military forces during the war, and throw no little light upon military affairs in the struggle for independence.
In the volume will be found, also, considerable new matter in regard to Tryon’s expedition against the Regulators. The receipt for the payment of thirty-six pounds to the executioner of the six Regulators hung is a melancholy memorial of that incident. From the list of those who owed quit-rents in the Albemarle section at the time when Governor Johnston came over in 1734, it appears that Edgecombe Precinct was then quite well settled.
The Journals of the Council of State, beginning immediately upon the institution of the State Government under the Constitution, are also of unusual interest. What the patriots of that trying period had to contend with is well summed up in a message by Governor Burke to the General Assembly after four years had elapsed from the organization of the State Government: “I perceive the country everywhere unprepared for defence: without arms, without discipline, without arrangements; even the habits of civil law and obedience to laws changed into licentious contempt of authority and a disorderly indulgence
The Constitution of the State of Franklin, and the correspondence relating to the establishment and the passing away of that Commonwealth within the limits of North Carolina will also be found of much interest. The editor regrets to observe that there is an unusual number of typographical errors in this volume; although some of these errors may have originated in the copying of the manuscripts. The intelligent reader will, however, readily correct these errors.