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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Article from the Boston Gazette concerning opposition to taxes and fees for public officials in North Carolina
No Author
August 12, 1771
Volume 08, Pages 635-639

[From the Boston Gazette of 12th August 1771, 853, 2, 3.]

Extract of a letter from a gentleman in North-Carolina to his correspondent in this city, dated July 3d 1771.

“I wrote you some time past by Capt. Dyra, and mentioned your friend being in confinement at Hillsborough, to have his tryal at the Court of Oyer & Terminer, held there, (to which place, being 80 miles distant from his home he was dragged; his desk broken open, and papers all taken out) but upon inquiry it was found there

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would not be sufficient cause to indict him, nor admit him to pass an examination (the court being then open) or give bail for his appearance at any future one, but ordered him down to Wilmington in custody of the detachment that was returning home, and yesterday he gave security for his appearance to the next Superior Court, and set out for his family at Cross Creeks.

“Never was there a poor man so tyrannically treated: the accusation, or suspicion, was founded on the most trifling circumstances: The affidavit against him, in the opinion of almost every person that has heard it, is false. Yet such has been the effects of malice, or despotism, the Inquisition itself could scarcely persecute a man with more severity. During his confinement (under guard in irons) at Hillsborough, there were six men hanged, and six more condemned who were reprieved under the gallows: He was paraded under guard to the gallows, and from there back again, like the criminals, only not tied: He was three weeks kept in confinement and harrassed in this manner, notwithstanding indisputable security was offered for him, and then hurried down 200 miles more to Wilmington, to be delivered to a magistrate, and none else allowed to take his recognizance.”

Extract of a letter from a person in Carolina to his friend in Pennsylvania, dated May 17th, 1771.

“I am sorry I have to inform you that our country and the Governor have come to open war. The justness of the cause on the side of the country, during a contest for a year or two past, has gained them such a majority of the inhabitants all over this province, that it was in vain the Governor and Officers tried to raise the militia before the last sitting of our Assembly, when a law passed under the title of a Riot Act, whereby they say the Governor is invested with as arbitrary power as the King of France. However that may be, it is a fact, he collected out of the meaner sort, an army of 1,500 or 2,000 men, by way of enlisting for bounty money and high wages; and promise of an equal share of plunder. With which army he is passing through the country, destroying houses, fields of wheat, corn and orchards, and taking from the inhabitants all manner of provisions. This usage (unheard of in America before) suddenly raised the country, who first surrounded a party of about 4 or 500, commanded by Col. Waddle and prevailed on him to retreat, convincing him and his Officers there was no occasion for such hostile proceedings. And a few days after met the Governor,

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hoping to prevail with him in the same manner. But he soon fired on them in a treacherous manner with cannon and small arms, in less than 15 minutes after they had his promise of an hour to consider of his terms. The country who had not the least order or discipline, for every man had ran together, as it were, to quench devouring flames, the most part without arms or ammunition, fled at the first fire. About 300 stood and returned the fire for three quarters of an hour, in which time the Governor struck his colours twice, hoisted a white flag, and beat a parley; but the country, being quite ignorant of any signals or terms of war, kept a constant firing, as long as their ammunition lasted, and then left the ground. There was seven killed on the spot, and two fell after running some distance: Eight more are since dead of their wounds, and two or three are not yet out of danger. The number of slain on the Governor's side is uncertain, as he keeps it, as much as possible a secret; but by the best accounts, it amounted to 57 on the spot, with a proportionate number of wounded. The Governor took 20 or 30 prisoners, one of whom he hanged the next day. The slain on the side of the country lay unburied, except two, who were stolen away by their families. The Governor makes all the advantage he can of this affair, and it is supposed, aims to have all their lands forfeited. The consequence of this affair is yet unknown; numbers are coming in and submitting to certain terms, &c. Others are standing out and collecting in bodies; and it is thought that most of the inhabitants will leave this province, before they will live under the intolerable oppression and slavery that naturally must attend a conquest made by men of such principles.

“There never was a people abused by authority more than this country has been, which would be too tedious to relate in a letter, but in a very short way. The main substance of the difference was in the Sheriffs1 in most of the counties not having settled their accounts for 8 or 10 years past; nor the Treasurers having settled accompts with the Public for upwards of 20 years past: So that by computation, they were on the whole 80 or 100,000 pounds behind. The honest Party in the administration appeared to the country too weak to bring these overgrown members to an account; therefore to strengthen their hands, a great part of the country stopped

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payment of any taxes, but what were agreeable to law, and this of consequence could not be known, until these public accompts were settled.

Next to this, the Officers had extorted unlawful fees in an unreasonable manner; and when the country prosecuted them, could get no redress or any kind of fair tryal; but, contrarily, the prosecutors were likely to be ruined by suits commenced against them by Officers for damages, scandal, &c., and by the means of packed juries, composed of the Officers themselves, who were indicted, and liable to indictments, so that a general Court Writ against ever so innocent a man, became as dangerous and dreadful as a pistol clapt to his breast by a robber, for nothing would satisfy but the surrender of all you possessed; this caused riots, tumults, &c. In the assembly it was proposed to send a committee of enquiry into the counties where these tumults happened, but it was strenuously opposed by the court party, and put aside; But in a private conference, amongst the members, Mr. Knox and Mr. Lewis were appointed, and they rode up to the next General Court to be held in Rowan County for the district of Salisbury, when the whole body of Officers of that district, (conscious of their guilt and convinced of the upright and good intentions of the country,) came to an amicable and firm agreement, under hand and seal, to refund all they had extorted and taken contrary to law, which was to be divided by arbitrators, unanimously chosen by either side; both officers and people were heartily sincere in this agreement; but the Governor and Officers, in the five other districts of the Province, resented it in the highest degree, and immediately entered into an association to prevent its taking place, by rushing up into the settlements of the Insurgents, as they call them, with an armed force, and restoring peace on constitutional principals, as the Governor termed it in a letter to Col. Frohawk, wherein he told him, he should answer for entering into that agreement at the tribunal of his country. It is matter of fact, that the Officers of this district were inclined to comply, and make the country restitution, above a year before this, but were deterred by the Officers of the other five districts: no doubt but from a fear they must come to do the same justice.

“Husband, who was a principal man in prosecuting every lawful method for justice and redress, has been accused as principal in acts of riots, &c.; he has been made a prisoner and stood trials three times on that account, and cleared each time by proclamation. The

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court party, despairing of finding him guilty in the ordinary course of proceedings, and according to the English laws, makes a particular law for that purpose, to continue one year; by which law, without any precept or his knowledge, and unheard, finds a bill against him for riot, assault, &c., for which they came with the aforesaid army, and destroyed his house, plantation and goods; from which, I suppose, it is to be granted now, that he is guilty in the eye of that particular law, though he is really clear, and quite innocent of the charge. Many others, as well as he, have shared the same fate; some 40 miles distant from the place at the time the crimes laid to their charge were committed.”

If the foregoing Letter contains the Truth of Facts, what a Pity it is that Benevolus in his Harrangue in the Massachusetts Gazette last Thursday, has been so impolitic as to couple Tryon and H—n or rather that his glorious Triumvirate should consist of Bernard, H—n and Tryon.

By accounts from North-Carolina we are informed, that Captain Benjamin Merrill, who was lately executed for high Treason in opposing the Career of Governor Tryon, died in the most heroic Manner, his Children being around him and animating him at the Place of his Execution. He declared that he died in Peace with his Maker, and in the Cause of his oppressed Countrymen; and that he would not exchange Conditions with even the Governor himself.

Governor Tryon has been addressed in New York, with all the expressions of Court Sincerity.


1 Sheriffs in North Carolina collect the provincial and county taxes, and other public dues.