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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Benjamin Hawkins and Hugh Williamson to Alexander Martin
Hawkins, Benjamin, 1754-1816; Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
September 26, 1783
Volume 16, Pages 882-889

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Princeton, Sept. 26th, 1783.


Near six months have expired since we had the pleasure of informing you that the preliminary articles of peace were signed and that hostilities had ceased with Great Britain. From that hour our Ministers have not been able to make any progress in their negotiations with the British Ministers. Perhaps you will be surprised when we

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say that we suffer under this misfortune by the sole conduct of our own Citizens. Great Britain having lost the subjection of the States was anxious beyond measure to prevent our trade from falling into the hands of the French and Dutch. She knew that by commanding our trade she would ever hold us in some kind of subservience, and would continue to reap the profits of our labour. She then courted our affections and offered to meet us on terms of perfect reciprocity. But the British Ministry who had formed the preliminaries of a general peace, were thrown out of place and two months had passed before a new administration was formed. In this interval the definitive treaty could not go on, and unfortunately during this time the cause of anxiety and fear on the part of the British was fully removed: Our ports were opened to every thing that was called British, and our vessels, regardless of treaties & despising seizures or forfeitures crowded into the British ports in a manner that was astonishing to all Europe. It would seem that such people had been humbled by such correction and that they loved Great Britain more than any other Nations, because she treated them worse than slaves or beasts of burthen, but no man willingly destroys his slave. The consequence was, that the terms first offered were refused & proclamations have been issued the Copy of which we enclose, No. 12. By these you see, that we are to have no trade with the West Indies, & very little with Great Britain itself than to import their goods.

During this interval Congress have had a very difficult part to act. While there was no definitive Treaty and the British forces held one of our chief Cities & Several posts in our Country, we could not possibly disband our whole Army and leave our Military stores in their Power; unable however to borrow money abroad and the States beginning to make more scanty remittances into the Treasury than the small sums they had formerly contributed it was impossible for us to feed our Army, much less continue to feed the British prisoners. We began therefore by giving up the prisoners on their giving up our people who were in their hands.

The Merchants of Philadelphia, through the Delegates of that State, urged us with indecent importunity, by some Act of Congress to countenance the opening of our ports. By a Law of Pennsylvania trade with Great Britain was interdicted during the War; and a declaration of Congress that the War had terminated would restore

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the trade. Whether it was that the Southern States having suffered more by British cruelty had less confidence in British faith, or whatever might be the cause, the measure was first opposed by these States and Congress have uniformly refused to use any other term in their public Acts than Cessation of hostilities. The Merchants however, getting no satisfactory answer from Congress applied to the Judges on whose opinion vessels were permitted to enter from and clear for any British port: other States found other excuses for opening their ports and the disease soon became general.

Our troops who had been enlisted during the War became uneasy under the same plea of War being at an end: that argument however, was got over with without much trouble but one argument remained which we could not answer. They must eat and we could not feed them: nor could they be discharged without money. This was a crisis truly alarming: in the address of Congress to the States you have an account of a dangerous sedition, and in our letter of the first of August, on the subject of the meeting at Philadelphia, we have explained some of the subsequent troubles. Congress could only give one month’s pay in money to the Army & three month’s pay in notes by anticipation. Had we kept the whole body a few weeks longer in the field we could not have given them a shilling & perhaps might have seen them demanding justice from their Countrymen at the point of the bayonet. They have been told that the faithful veterans who had fought and conquered in defence of their Country would find no reward for their valour nor even a scanty subsistence for their families, and that the glorious war they had supported would consign them to ruin. An attempt to disband them without some money, and no attempts to establish funds for after payment would have induced them to credit those assertions. The Troops enlisted for the War were furloughed to be discharged whenever the definitive Treaty should arrive. They will probably be discharged soon, whether it arrives or not. Thus we have reduced our force to little more than a garrison for West Point & have been obliged to sell ships, Blankets and sundry other articles provided for the Army in order to raise money to discharge the contingent expences.

Whenever the definitive treaty does arrive, there is not the least reason to believe that it will contain a single explanation or provision

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more than is contained in the preliminary Articles. If we have been obliged to reduce our Army while an armed force held possession of part of our Country it was because some of the States refused to agree to the 5p. cent impost and many of the States paid nothing or very little in the Treasury by active Taxation. If we have been prevented from making any Commercial stipulations with Great Britain it is because the Merchants without System or caution rushed into the British Ports and courted an intercourse with that Country. It is hardly necessary after this remark to point out a palpable defect in the Federal Government. Congress have the power of making Treaties, but have no power of restraining Commerce so as to cause those Treaties to be observed. Had they possessed the mere negative upon imports; Had they been able to check that intemperate desire of farthings by which the United States have lost five times as many pounds there would not have been a single British Soldier at this hour in the United States and we should have enjoyed an honorable and profitable Commerce. Situated as we are, a nation lately violently inimical to us enjoys all the advantages of our Commerce without any treaty, without its being advantageous to us and without our being able to check it. This matter we hope will be taken up by Congress and represented to the States with a plan for remedying it.

We have mentioned the address of Congress to the States which passed in April Last. We had forwarded several Copies of this address some months ago & the pamphlet being reprinted we have lately forwarded one hundred and forty more Copies for the use of the members of the General Assembly which we presume have come to hand. We flatter ourselves that no arguments in addition to those used by Congress will be needed to induce the General Assembly to adopt the measures therein recommended. The pride of every Citizen must be hurt when he looks over the accounts of payment No. 3 which have been made into the public Treasury for the support of the War and of Civil Government, and finds that North Carolina is one of the few States that has not contributed a farthing. If she had formerly refused to pay the 5 per cent duty, it would have been said that she not only paid nothing herself but was the means of defeating a system by which other States would have paid large sums. Happily this blame fell on Rhode Island though Georgia

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had not cleared herself of suspicions. The most weighty objections raised by Rhode Island were removed by the plan which is now proposed, but we have strong reasons for thinking that that State will invent new objections: because having little Territory and being a carrying State their desire is to convert the duties on imports to their own use. We observe that the Delegates from that State are very attentive to the conduct of the Legislatures of the other States in hopes we presume, that some of them may share with them the blame of effecting national bankruptcy or some other such calamity. Whatever force there may be in arguments drawn from the general good, which in our State have ever been listened to with great attention, we shall take the liberty of subjoining an argument drawn from the particular interest of the State.

It is not to be disputed that our State is in great danger of being impoverished and ruined unless a general impost, such as the one proposed should take place. For if we fail in the federal impost or a duty laid on for the general use and for the payment of the public debt, each State in the Union will immediately impose a duty for its own particular use. Massachusetts who imports for herself & New Hampshire would be pleased with the measure. The same argument applies to Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania and Deleware; and the measure would be ruinous to Connecticut, New Hampshire and New Jersey. It is hardly necessary to say that Virginia & South Carolina imports for near half of our State. Hence it will follow that all the goods we consume will be loaded with the addition of 5 per cent in their price, the whole of which must go towards paying the taxes of Virginia or South Carolina. We observe that neither of these States are very solicitous about the imposts becoming general. The reason is too plain. They know without it they can lay a duty for State purposes, and that we, having very little foreign trade, shall become their prey.

On the 25th of October, 1782, the Delegates had the honor of informing your Excellency that the old Continental money was become a subject of serious debate in Congress. Some States, Massachusetts in particular, have collected their full quota of that money and there are large sums still in the hands of their Citizens for which they desire to be credited at the rate of 40 for one. We are told that it would be difficult, perhaps impracticable, to collect taxes in that

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State, where there is a balance of 47 Millions of such dollars, unless the holders obtain a value for them. The Delegates uncertain what steps might be taken on that subject and fearing that theState of North Carolina might finally have to pay in some manner her quota of that money, requested that you would be so good as cause the different Treasurers account for the sums they have received of the old Continental Money in order that our State might be credited for the same. Certainly large sums of that money were collected by taxation in the beginning of the year 1782 but we do not learn that any account has ever been taken of the sum. When the Delegates are asked what the State has done on this head, we are obliged to answer, as in all other cases where we are interrogated concerning money matters or public accounts, that we are absolutely without information. Merely for the want of such information we have been obliged to negative every question that has been put on the subject of Continental Money.

Having mentioned public accounts, we have to entreat that all possible aid may be given the Comptroller to enable him to perfect them, and wipe off the reproach of our State on that subject. The reputation of the State & certainly its interest requires that all public accounts be settled as soon as possible, while facts are recent. While the exertions and suffering of North Carolina are remembered by all the States difficulties may be more easily solved and justice the more easily obtained.

Excepting the Law for opening the land office and emitting some money we are altogether uninformed respecting the Laws passed at the last Session of the General Assembly. We have not heard whether the Resolves of the Assembly or even the Laws have been printed nor do we hear that the art of printing is in the State unless for the purpose of making money: This we mention because applications have been made to us by several printers to recommend them to be employed to print for the State. One of them is an excellent workman & extremely diligent. He is willing to print anything for you as reasonable as it is done in Philadelphia where there are so many rivals underbidding one another. If the State had not a printer and has not any intention to reprint the Laws that are in force or even to print the future Laws and resolves correctly & punctually and wishes to employ a workman for that purpose: we can

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recommend one who is able & courts the honor of that service. You doubtless recollect that though the confederation was agreed to in Congress on the 15th November, 1777, it was not finally ratified by all the States before the 1st March, 1781, at which time Maryland ratified under a solemn protest. Her objections were that some States should claim and possess vast tracts of vacant unappropriated lands, protected and rescued from the Crown of Great Britain by the joint efforts of the United States which should become a fund for the payment of the national debt. In order to induceMaryland and other States who had no vacant Territory to accede to the confederation, Congress long since called on the States who claimed vacant lands, to make liberal cessions of the same to the United States. On the 29th February, 1780, the State of New York & on the 2d. January, 1781, the State of Virginia made a cession of part of their respective claims, neither of the cessions were very acceptable to the States who had no Western territory. However on the 29th October, 1782, Congress, pressed by the alarming state of public credit, accepted the cession of New York & on the 13th Instant they accepted the Virginia cession, under certain limitations (No. 4.) Few of the States are reconciled to the Virginia cession. They argue that she ought to have given more or she ought to have given it less encumbered, but necessity compelled an acceptance. Our Army is extremely impatient to obtain the lands that were promised them, and without the Virginia cession we had nothing to give, for tho’ New York claimed & ceded the greatest part of the lands between the River Ohio and the lakes as belonging, or having belonged, to the six nations or their Tributaries, the State of Virginia also claimed the whole of those lands under the shadow of some old Royal Grant. Congress being possessed of both claims may be enabled to pay off the army and perhaps a considerable part of the national debt.

The Eyes of every State to the Northward are now turned towards the Carolinas and Georgia & expecting from them liberal Cessions. The Delegates not informed whether your reserved lands were for your officers & Soldiers only or for the army at large or whether the office is now open for sale of all lands on this side the Mississippi as far South as the Southern boundary of the State, have not been able to give any satisfactory information respecting the matter. At present however laying aside the justness of their claims, and our refusal

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to make a cession of part of ours, we are necessitated to declare that, the blame lies on Congress for having so long neglected to take up and determine on the Virginia cession; as they thereby, impressed North Carolina firmly with a belief that their pretended earnest recommendations to the States to make liberal Cessions, was only meant to give time to the land-jobbers to engross all the unappropriated Western Territory; to prevent which and in justice to our numerous creditors, it became absolutely proper as well as politic for us to open our land office; and that it is probable our State may have gone so far as to put it out of their power, however well inclined they may be, to make a cession worth the acceptance of Congress.

You may readily imagine that we are not a little embarrassed; we have accepted the cessions of two States from which it is expected North Carolina will receive advantages equally with the other States, and altho we have an extensive Western territory we have not ceded any. Our State we believe is in width one degree and a half, the one degree belonged to the late Earl of Granville & it cannot be doubted we had a right to confiscate his property; This we may sell and the United States cannot claim it, as heirs to the King of Great Britain, (if we may so express it) nor can they desire us to give it up, more than we desire Pennsylvania or Maryland to give up the lands confiscated in those States that did belong to the proprietors or other subjects of Great Britain. As for the remaining half a degree, it may seem to be in the same condition with the vacant lands in other States and if North Carolina should reserve two hundred miles long of it, more or less, on the Western and Southern boundary to be ceded hereafter to the United States, on certain conditions, perhaps she might prevent many complaints and save more by the conditions than the land will ever bring her. We are not able to determine when the British forces will be withdrawn from the United States. The General in Canada has informed our General that he has not received any orders on this head; and from New York we had not any thing since our last.

We have the honor to be, &c., &c.,