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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Charles Johnson to Thomas Burke
Johnson, Charles, d. 1802
August 11, 1781
Volume 15, Pages 600-602


Windsor, August 11th, 1781.


Agreeable to your Exccellency's desire, upon my arrival at Edenton, I made enquiry amongst the merchants & Traders, whether they would agree to furnish a portion of Tobacco to prevent the necessity of Impressing it. They all assured me, they would willingly have complied with your Excellcy's. Requisition, had the State left it in their Power; but that from the large Seizures of their Property, made by the public, they were totally incapacitated from granting any further supplies.

That they had but very little Tobacco on hand and scarce

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any Goods left to purchase more and that there was nothing wanting to Compleate their ruin, but the Seizure of that little they had left. Really, Sir, the losses at Sea, the Capture of Statia, Tobacco Conflagrations, the Depredations of the Enemy in the Country, the oppressive Seizures & Impressments of what they had spared, and the numberless Inconveniencies that necessarily arise from the vicinity of the Enemy have reduced Commerce almost to the last gasp; and if an immediate stop is not put to this predatory method of partially extorting supplies from the trading part of the Community, for the support of the State in general, She must sink under the oppression, or with what remains of Strength may be left her, fly to some other Country where She will meet with protection & support; for it is absolutely impossible for her to exist, under the Disadvantage & Hardships under which She labours here. In fact I understand that almost all the Vessels belonging to this District are ordered for other Ports, as the Merchs. cannot think of trusting their property in this State any longer.

I cannot place this matter in a clearer light to your Excellency than by stating my own Case. Since the losses which my House sustained at Petersburg, Halifax, &c., which were far from being inconsiderable; we have obtained Certificates to the Amount of £600 Specie, for Rum, Brandy, Wine, Sugar, Coffee, Tea, Osnab gs., &c., impressed from us which were almost the only remains of our before shattered Fortunes and which from appearances is likely to be as much loss to us, as those Articles, burnt, plundered or taken by the British. This Sum, Sir, is equal to Sixty hhds. of Tobacco, and the Articles impressed would have purchased more. Where is the Planter that has furnished half the Value in any Article, although there are some, of Fifty times our fortune, and besides these partial Impressments we are liable as the Planter & living in a Town perhaps more so, to have our other Property taken from us.

Ours, Sir, is nearly the Case of all the other Merchs. in Edenton, some may have suffered even more severely than we. Your Excellency will judge then whether they can justly be called upon for any further Aids, or whether it will be proper to lay them under any more Contributions. Commerce like a Camel laden beyond his Powers of Carriage, is already laid prostrate on the ground; and in place of adding, unless some of its burden is taken off, will never more be able, or attempt to rise.

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I cannot help observing to your Excellency that when the Bill for Impressing Tobacco was framed, it was rather expected, that it would be applied to heal the Wounds which Commerce had already received, than be made an Instrument to give fresh ones.

I do not, I assure your Excelly., dwell upon this Subject from interested motives for thanks to our Fortune & the late, mild equitable & impartial adminstration, we have scarce anything to apprehend from future Impressments, nor do I consider myself a Merchant but I am apprehensive that further oppressions of this usefull Branch of the Community may be sensibly felt by the State as should Trade quit this & seek an Asylum elsewhere it will be diffficult, if not impossible to procure the necessary Supplies for our Army. I hope you will excuse the length of this Letter & the freedom with which I have expressed my Sentiments, which I should not have ventured but at your Request. I shall be infinitely obliged, should your Excellency have leisure to be favored with a line expressive of what the Merchants here may expect. I am confident they will always meet with your Protection, but there are some who seem to have, or arrogate a right to Impress who are perhaps too fond of using it.

Report says a French & Spanish fleet has appeared off the Capes of Virginia & Drove back Gen. Leslie who, with 3,000 men, had embarked for N. York. The people of Edenton have taken, or rather retaken, another Galley. Should Mr. Iredell be at Halifax shall be much Obliged to Present him my Compliments & to let him know that his Family and Friends are all well.

I have the honor to be,
With the greatest Respect,
Sir, Your most obd. hbl. servt.,
His Excelly., Governor Burke.