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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Preface to the State Records of North Carolina
Clark, Walter, 1846-1924
December 1895
Volume 11

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At a period somewhat prior to the death of the late Col. William L. Saunders, the compilation and publication of the Colonial Records which, under his efficient superintendence, had reached from the beginnings of the Province down to and inclusive of the year 1776, and filled ten large folio volumes, were suspended. This work was not resumed for some years, till in 1893 the undersigned, at the invitation of the Trustees of the State Library, assumed the continuation of the work of collecting and publishing. It was soon ascertained that the difficulties of the work and the scarcity of material were much greater than had attended the preparation of the ten volumes already issued, and that this scarcity of material, even more perhaps than the failing health of Col. Saunders, had caused him to suspend at the end of the year 1776, instead of bringing the work down to the year 1781, as authorized by The Code, section 3609.

Down to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, and the flight of Gov. Josiah Martin from the State, copies of all important papers were “sent home” to England, and there preserved in the Public Records office. When the State determined upon the publication of her Colonial Records a tolerably complete sett of these official records were to be found in London. Under the instructions of Col. Saunders, these were copied for the State by W. Noel Sainsbury, Esq., who was admirably fitted for the work by more than forty years acquaintance with these records. After passing through his hands and those of Col. Saunders, these copies formed the chief material for the ten volumes which have been issued, the additions from other sources being comparatively insignificant.

But with the year 1776, this source of supply ceased. Copies of official records were no longer sent to England to be filed, and consequently the State is thenceforward thrown upon her home resources for historical records. These are very meagre indeed. For many years after 1776 the Governor and other Executive officers resided at their homes, often at remote points, meeting

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only when the Legislature was in session. There was no permanent seat of government for nearly a score of years, and no fixed and safe depositories for the public archives. Papers thus scattered and little cared for soon became much disordered and a large portion of them were lost or destroyed. As for those which remained to be transferred to the capital when it became settled at Raleigh, a large part were burned in the fire which destroyed the Capitol building in 1832, others were destroyed when Raleigh was taken possession of by the Federal Troops in 1865, and some valuable documents disappeared during the regime of 1868-70, when many new men of doubtful character filled unaccustomed seats in the Legislature and other official positions. Valuable papers from time to time have been loaned to historians and lost, or at least have not been returned, and besides this there has been the natural waste of material kept in ill-ventilated and damp recesses without attention or care.

It may be imagined, therefore, that our early archives are conspicuous from their poverty. Little was to be found therein save such portions of the Executive correspondence as many years after its date had been copied into the Executive letter books and a part of the Journals of the Legislature, some of these last being lost and others mutilated. An attempt was made to supplement our stores from the archives at Washington, but the same waste of material consequent upon a peripatetic capital had lessened the quantity of material to be found there, which had been still further diminished by the burning of the War Department early in the century, and again, a few years later in 1814, when the British captured Washington and destroyed the Public Buildings.

The writer visited and inspected the “Draper” collection preserved in the Capitol of Wisconsin, the Astor and Lennox Libraries in New York, and the State and War, and other Departments in Washington City, and has gathered fragments, as they could be found, from various other sources. After all the collection is very unsatisfactory, but probably represents very nearly the sum total of historical material (not heretofore printed), which at this late day can be gathered together. It must always be a source of lasting regret that the Legislature of 1829 did not accept the offer of Judge Murphey, to collect and publish such of the early archives of the State, as at that date still remained. We possess a bare fragment of the stores

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accessible to him. The correspondence of Genl. Gates in 1780, so far as it relates to this State, has been copied from the originals on file in the Astor Library in New York, and there is a possibility of securing copies of Genl. Greene's correspondence, 1781-3 relative to North Carolina and North Carolina Troops while commanding the Southern Department. Permission to copy these was given, but the owner having died before it could be done, the letters have now passed into other hands.

Application was made to W. Noel Sainsbury, Esq., to make a more exhaustive search in the Public Records office in London. The result has been the discovery of a few papers which were overlooked in copying the records for Colonel Saunders and many other papers were found in the South Carolina files in the English records office, the papers of the two Provinces often pertaining to subjects of interest, common to both, not being filed in duplicate. These omitted papers have now all been copied, and appear in the Supplement 1730-1776, which occupies the first part of the present volume. Mr. Sainsbury passed away, at a ripe old age in March last, and his death is a distinct loss to this State, whom he has served so well and faithfully.

Governor Elias Carr, the present executive, has been a warm and earnest friend of this labor of gathering and publishing the remnants of our early archives and he has given every possible aid and encouragement to the prosecution of the enterprise. Hon. John C. Scarborough, the head of our educational system, has appreciated the value of the work and has always been its earnest friend. Major Graham Daves, of Newbern, an accomplished scholar, with fine historical attainments and tastes, has made laborious researches in the departments at Washington and has procured copies of all matter to be found there which is fitted for this work. The writer also wishes to express his acknowledgment for advice and assistance to Capt. Sam'l A. Ashe, of Raleigh, whose scholarship and patriotism are an inheritance from ancestors who have been conspicuous in our State's annals from the earliest dawn of its history.

The General Assembly of 1895, (Chapter 464,) extended the period which these archives are to embrace down to January 1790 and authorized an Index of the entire work to be prepared. For the lack of an index the volumes already published have so far

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been of slight service. The literary board have selected for this important task Dr. Stephen B. Weeks, Ph. D., whose experience, application and scholarly attainments are a guarantee of the efficiency of his work. The index will cover the entire series, including both the “Colonial” and “State” Records, from the beginning to 1790, in one volume.

The title of the volumes now being prepared is necessarily changed to State Records, but for convenience, especially in indexing, the first volume of the new series will be entitled State Records, Vol. XI., the ten preceding volumes being entitled, Colonial Records, 1-10.

Walter Clark

Raleigh, N. C., December, 1895.