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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Alexander Martin to Archibald Maclaine
Martin, Alexander, 1740-1807
October 1782
Volume 16, Pages 416-419

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Guilford, October . ., 1782.


I am favoured with yours by Mr. Lennard in which you are pleased to inform me Judge Ashe is of opinion General Lillington can not

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carry his orders into effect when the party is in the hands of Civil power. Inter arma silent Leges. Will Judge Ashe or any Lawyer insist that Military operations and transactions must be carried on strictly agreeable to Coke on Littleton and the Statute Book; must not our Municipal Laws sleep for a moment when National advantages are to be derived from persons not bound by our Laws. The Assembly from motives of humanity and true policy (which I wish had always actuated their Councils) recommended to, and invested the Governor with powers to make such of our revolted people prisoners of War and subject to exchange, who had been guilty of Military offences only, that our fellow citizens languishing in prison Ships with the Enemy might be released.

Our prisoners are not yet released in Charlestown, however pacific may be the designs of the Enemy, and they are daily exchanging for such persons of the above description whom I have lately sent to them from the Jails of Salisbury and Hillsborough Districts. Tho’ the making of these persons British subjects at present may be against their will, is their ease and convenience alone to be consulted when they have basely deserted us in the hour of danger to join the Enemy, and would have done us every injury in their power, thereby justly forfeiting their lives? Must these persons be indulged to return to the State, go at large at the pleasure of a Justice of the Peace without any meritorious Act to entitle them to the favour of the State while our poor friends are dying by piecemeal in stinking holds of Vessels, with hunger, nakedness and every kind of wretchedness? Only three weeks ago this was the case of upwards of thirty poor North Carolinians at Charlestown and upwards of 150 other Americans.

Captain Hawkins, of Orange, whom I got exchanged with great difficulty, gives me a shocking account of British inhumanity there. Can any advocate for the admission of the persons hesitate a moment, but that I pursue my late measures to liberate our friends, and that on the sanction of a Resolve of the General Assembly whether the Persons proposed to be exchanged be in the hands of the Civil power or not—but, the answer is, the Treason Law is done away. I wish no small Character to be the object of the Treason Law, but men of influence, and those who have been guilty of murder, robbery, house-burning and offences out of the Military line. To small

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Characters the Majesty of the Treason Law should never look down, but the Executive to make most of them in whatever situation we should happen to be and in the manner judged the most Salutary for public good.

If these persons choose not to submit to be exchanged, and insist for trials as Citizens, they then must be tried, many of whom, in all probability, will be condemned; they will have no alternative, but rely on the Government for mercy; they may depend upon this, I shall pardon few, who have refused these easy offers.

Major Maclaine informs me he has orders from General Leslie to make application to me for such of the people at Charlestown who were formerly Inhabitants of this Country to be permitted to return to the same.

I can transact no business on verbal Messages with General Leslie, and he surely could not think seriously that he would be permitted to land a number of British subjects in this State while hostilities still continue between Britain and America.

Major Maclaine’s Flag Vessel appears not to be the subject of seizure, but if merchandise is Imported and traffic thereof made which is business Foreign to Flags, the merchandise becomes immediately liable to seizure and not the vessel; such have been the decisions of the Courts of Admiralty. I shall order Major Maclaine to have his vessel restored and leave Wilmington immediately with all the Flag Gentlemen Imported by him without they are Citizens, and will not agree to the first proposals and the orders to General Lillington. With regard to the Commissioners of confiscated property of New Hanover County I made pro tempore appointments until the County Court should appoint, under the Constitution which has invested the Governor with the power of filling up all vacant offices until they can be filled agreeable to Law, as there appeared a necessity, and this business being Foreign to the Sheriff’s Office which is entrusted in some cases with the same in the last but not in the first Law.

Your Letter by Mr. Lind I have never received respecting the riot at Bladen.

I am sorry the Civil power is so feeble in Wilmington District that it has no coercion over offenders that strike at its very existence. I wish to know the facts, and if necessary, I shall order a

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part of the Military of each County into that District under some proper Officer to aid the Sheriff in the support of the Court.

I am, Sir, &c.,