Letter from Robert Rowan to Richard Caswell
Volume 11, Pages 626-631
ROBT. ROWAN TO GOV. CASWELL.
[From Executive Letter Book.]
Cross Creek, 18th Sept. 1777.
May it please your Excellency:
It gives me no small concern to think that I should be under the disagreeable necessity of troubling your Excellency at this time with the grievances that many of the Inhabitants of this County labour under, from the tyranny, oppression and ignorance of those men who were appointed to rule over us. We have nobody to complain to at present, but to your Excellency and I am well convinced from the humanity of your disposition, and your love of liberty, that you will endeavour to put a stop to the evil conduct of our Militia officers and Justices, for if they proceed in the manner they have gone on lately, it will oblige many of us to leave the Country, and seek protection elsewhere. This, Sir, proceeds from our opposition to a man. (I mean Mr. Wm. Rand) who was scarcely known in the County, till he made himself remarkable by plundering the poor ignorant Scotch people after their defeat at
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Moore's Creek. This person, Sir, took most uncommon pains to have himself and friends elected Members of Congress, and contrived matters so that very few would be recommended for Justices, but such as he was well assured would give him their interest in the ensuing Court, for the Clerkship. This effected the next step he took, understanding that I had an intention of standing Candidate, still in hopes of strengthening his interest, and prejudicing me in the minds of the people, has falsely and maliciously reported that I had turned Tory, and in order to gain credit which he found some difficulty in, told all the lies his malice could suggest. My friends upon finding Mr. Rand a man of such a disposition were determined on opposing him, to the utmost, but as a large number of those in Commission were under promise of voting for him, there was no other remedy left, to keep him out, but by preventing if possible a majority from qualifying that Court, in hopes against the next of being able to get a favourable alteration in the Commission. For this purpose I spoke to John Matthews and Walter Murray, who were both in Commission, not knowing that they had been drawn over by the artifices of Rand, and begged the favour of their interests for the Clerkship, and among some other arguments that I had made use of to prevent their qualifying till the following Court, I told them that by that time, we should be better able to judge how matters were likely to go. I thought this the best argument I could make use of to men, of their cast, having sufficient reason to look upon them as timorous men from their behaviour at the time of the insurrection, for at that time if they favoured either side, it was evidently the Tories, at this time they well knew my motive, for speaking as I did, and am well convinced no further notice would have been taken of it, had I joined with them, and approved of the tyrannical measures they were pursuing. The particular offence I gave, beg leave to lay before your Excellency. There was Conner Donnel taken prisoner, and brought down under guard by Mr. Alston. I was much surprised on enquiry to hear of his being charged with treasonable practices, against the State, as from a conversation I had with him some time before, was persuaded he intended taking the oath. However knowing Mr. Alston's position well, I was afraid there was perhaps some private pique or resentment in the case, or that his crime must be very
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great indeed, being informed that bail was denied him, and that Mr. Alston was determined on seeing him in jail before he left the Town. Upon meeting Mr. Alston I begged to be informed of Mr. Donnel's crime, he did not seem willing to give me much satisfaction as to the particulars, but just told me that if upon examination the Justices should discharge him, he would then upon his own authority put him in close jail, and that he would not Bail him for one hundred thousand pounds. Upon his saying this, I told him, if he did so, he would behave like a Tyrant, which threw him into a violent passion, and on the trial at Wilmington, it plainly appeared that personal resentment and malice governed the conduct of Mr. Alston during the whole prosecution. The day of the General Muster he behaved still more like a Tyrant, tendering the oath to people under arms threatening all those with immediate imprisonment that refused it, or were not able to give security, no respect of persons in this arbitrary manner, Sir, everything is carried on. The Inhabitants of the District of Cross-Creek were the only people in the County, who shewed their spirit at the time of danger. Sixty of these people voluntarily turned and joined Col. Moore at Rock Fish, yet those people, Sir, had John Matthews appointed Captain over them without so much as consulting one of them if he would be agreeable. On the day of the General Muster these men refused to act under him and gave for a reason that he hid himself in time of danger, and insisted upon having liberty to choose their officer, with great difficulty it was at last granted; but on the person's refusing to act whom they chose, a second choice was denied them, and Matthews is still Captain, but the men are determined to submit to any fine, rather than obey a man whom they have the greatest reason to look upon as a coward. If your Excellency would only please to interfere in this and allow us the liberty of choosing our Captain and subaltern officers, and ordering us to rank as first Company, as undoubtedly we are entitled to it, by what I have just before mentioned, it will be esteemed as the greatest favour. This was also the same Company Sir that I raised as Independants, when we were first threatened by the Scotch, and long time before the insurrection, and at a time when no other dare avow themselves. This has been the reason of Matthews enormity and the affidavit which Mr. Alston no doubt shewed your Excellency. I followed him to
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Wilmington where he was in hopes the affidavit would injure me, but finding the people there too well acquainted with my principles he carried it off to your Excellency. It was so late before I was acquainted with Mr. Alston's designs, that he was left Wilmington before my arrival, being obliged to sneak off without effecting his wicked purposes. These men, Sir, notwithstanding what they have done, cannot have the least idea of my being a Tory, all my actions give their words the lie. They look upon me as an obstacle to their designs, that they will not have it in their power to tyranise over the people in the manner they would wish, while I am in the least degree of credit with them. They know that I abhor tyranny in every shape, and therefore are determined to strike at me, and all those that I have any influence with. This is evident, they have attempted it already, and marked me and all my friends as Tories—(I would much rather at this time be called a Horse thief.) The behaviour of these men last Court was truly arbitrary, they paid not the least regard to the Act of Assembly, but summoned the people indiscriminately before them, those few indeed who had been most forward in the cause of liberty, were particularly pointed at, because many of them were friends of mine. Those that refused taking the State oath, were not bound in security to leave the country in 60 days agreeably to the Act of Assembly, but were compelled to take an oath to leave it. Many of them would have taken the State oath upon a little deliberation, but were tied down by their oath to go away, thus they had no time for repentance. One poor infirm man, seventy years of age, that many years had laid by the profits of a few potatoes, Turnips, Greens &c. was compelled to take this oath or go to jail, another poor man, from one of the back counties had his loaded wagon carrying home salt to relieve his family, brought back a dozen miles and the owner thrown into jail for saying he would not take the oath here, but in his own County. In short, Sir, it would tire your patience were I to give you a full detail of the behaviour of our worthy Justices. Mr. Alston seems to rule them all, and a greater tyrant is not upon earth according to his power, and it is much to be lamented, that about two or three years ago, no Gentleman that had the least regard for his character would have kept this hectoring, domineering, person company.
I can assure your Excellency, we have not the shadow of liberty
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among us. The great object we are contending for, at the expence of our blood, our ruling men have at present lost sight of—I am not apt to complain the trouble that may ensue has wrung from me, I perhaps may have it in my power to defend myself from their attempts. Our jail in the hottest of the weather was crowded with miserable objects, several ill with the flux, Bail denied them—their crime no more than some ungarded words spoke in the heat of liquor—poor wretches unworthy of the least notice. It is not out of any personal pique or resentment to these men, Sir, that I have troubled you with this account, it is for the peace and welfare of the County, every thing set forth can prove by undoubted testimony, their insinuations with regard to myself I despise. It is true I can't help thinking I merited better treatment. I little thought some time ago, that I should ever be under a necessity of appearing at a Court of Justice to defend myself from a charge of Toryism. I fancy it would be difficult to find many people in my situation, that exerted themselves more in the defence of the Country, but I have never made a merit of it, in doing my utmost, I only did my duty, and am ready to do it again, when there may be occasion, I am only unhappy to live to be trampled upon by those that did nothing.
Before I conclude, beg leave to mention some circumstances that will induce your Excellency to be of opinion that these men I have mentioned to wit, Alston, Murray and Matthews, could not in their hearts think me an enemy to the American cause, notwithstanding what they have asserted to the contrary, you must know, Sir, that some weeks ago, we had information of a Mob being on their way to this place to carry off the salt at their own prices. The Inhabitants sent me word that if I would head them, they would endeavour to defend it, accordingly we got together, upwards of thirty persons armed, met the Mob, about 130 persons which we made prisoners of. I then informed them that they were worse than Tories, and that unless they took the State oath and paid the customary price, not a man should touch a grain of salt, such was the case not a man got a grain, but those who took the oath, Matthews and Murray were both present, and this was a considerable time after I had begged of them not to qualify—I also at the Court took the oath to encourage others, and make it appear that I have advised many people in this County to take the oath & be subjects to the
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State—and I am at the defiance of any man to prove that in any circumstance, I have acted in the least degree like an enemy to the Country. I owe almost my all to it. My children are natives of it, and I am determined to stand up in defence of it, to the last drop of my blood—That your Excellency may long enjoy the Government of this State in peace and tranquility is the warmest wish of your Excellency's most obedient and devoted servant,