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Charles Pettigrew, 1744-1807
Last Advice of the Rev. Charles Pettigrew to His Sons, 1797
[S. l.: s. n., 1904?].


Charles Pettigrew was born March 20, 1744, in Pennsylvania to Irish immigrants James and Mary Cochran Pettigrew. The family, including eleven children total, moved to Virginia, then North Carolina, and finally settled in South Carolina, but Charles remained behind in North Carolina where he taught in a small school for seven years before being appointed schoolmaster at Edenton. After converting from the Presbyterian to the Anglican faith, Pettigrew became an assistant to a local clergyman before traveling to England, where he was ordained deacon and priest. He eventually became rector of St. Paul's Church in Edenton. A successful planter, Pettigrew started with nothing and eventually amassed "two [rice, corn, wheat and timber] plantations in North Carolina, eight hundred acres of land in Tennessee, thirty-four slaves, a chapel, and a good house that he built (it was still standing in the 1990s)" (Lemmon). Pettigrew married twice; he had two children, John and Ebenezer, with his first wife, Mary Blount (who died in childbirth in 1786). He then married Mary Lockhart, to whom he was married at the time of his death in 1807. Both John and Ebenezer were enrolled in the first session of classes held at the University of North Carolina.

In 1797, fearing his death to be imminent, Pettigrew penned his Last Advice for John and Ebenezer. A collection of thoughts on "virtue, religion and happiness," the text seeks to "guard [John and Ebenezer] from the rocks and shoals which are so numerous and so dangerous to youth" (p. 3). Pettigrew reminds his sons that "a dishonest man . . . lives like Cain, in a state of self-condemnation, which excludes the possibility of his being happy" and urges them to "always act on your guard" and "never be too self-confident" (pp. 4, 5). He observes that "to possess more than some others, is a crime sufficient to make the naturally envious and splenetic one's enemies" and thus encourages his sons to "overcome this evil with good," including remaining devoted to their religious faith (pp. 5-6). Because he claims that "the character of a christian and a gentleman are very consistent," he urges the brothers to "unite them, that you may be in favour with God and Man" (p. 9).

Pettigrew's advice also includes reminding the brothers "to be always closely united with each other in the bonds of fraternal affection," and to care for their step-mother by offering "her every attention that would be proper and becoming to an own mother" (p. 6). Pettigrew counsels "care and industry, sobriety and economy" as a sure means to wealth. (p. 8) He also reminds them of the "negro property" he will hand down, and, perhaps given the supposed personal nature of the letter, acknowledges a darker side of slavery as he admits to his sons that "to manage negroes without the exercise of too much passion, is next to an impossibility" (pp. 8, 10). Hence, he urges his sons to hire an overseer with whom they should maintain a "prudent reserve" and over whom they should keep a careful eye (p. 11). "Above all things,” advises Pettigrew, “strive to imbibe the sacred spirit of religion; it consists in the love of God shed abroad in the heart" (p. 12).

Despite Pettigrew's mortal fears, he would indeed live another 10 years past the writing of his Last Advice. Sadly, his oldest son John would die before him from an epidemic in 1799.

Works Consulted: Lemmon, Sarah McCulloh, "Charles Pettigrew, 20 Mar. 1744-8 Apr. 1807," Documenting the American South, used with permission from Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, ed. William S. Powell, accessed 1 July 2010, .

Meredith Malburne-Wade

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