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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Preface to Volume 17 of the State Records of North Carolina
Clark, Walter, 1846-1924
Volume 17

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This volume of State Records deals with questions of Federal or National importance rather than with those of local or State interest. With the end of the war and the acknowledgment of the Independence of the States by the Mother Country new subjects came up for discussion and settlement.

The Legislature met at Hillsboro on the 19th of April, 1784, and Gov. Alexander Martin, who wielded an influence, second only to that of Gov. Caswell, commended to its consideration measures calculated to cure many of the deficiencies that were observed in the loose Union of the States. The want of power in the general Congress with respect to many subjects of common concern had now become plainly evident and thoughtful men, who realized the situation were seeking to extend the jurisdiction of Congress as a remedy for the evils. Besides there were well grounded fears lest Great Britain who had been defeated in her effort to subjugate our people by force of arms, would seek by diplomacy and policy to bring our American States at least into commercial bondage, and again establish their commercial dependency upon her. And those apprehensions were strengthened when by her Orders in Council, it was decreed that all trade with her West Indies Islands should be carried on in British bottoms. This trade was of great importance to all the American posts and these new regulations aroused feelings of resentment from Boston to Charleston. Retaliatory Acts were adopted by some States, but it was apparent that the whole subject of Commerce, together with the power of laying import duties, should be committed to the Congress instead of being under the jurisdiction of the several States, acting independently of each other.

As some reflex of the thought prevailing among our public men at that juncture of affairs, the following extracts from Gov. Martin's message to the legislature may be interesting:

“Let me call your attention,” said he, “to the education of our youth: May seminaries of learning be revived, and encouraged, where the understanding may be enlightened, the heart amended and genius cherished, whence the State may draw forth men of abilities to direct her Councils and support her government.

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“Religion and virtue claim your particular care. Legislators in all ages and nations have interwoven these essential materials; to preserve the morals of the people is to preserve the State; may men of piety and exemplary life who conduct affairs of religion, meet your countenance and receive support not incompatible with the principles of the Constitution. At this auspicious period of our affairs when the noise of arms and war are no longer heard, a glorious opportunity presents of cultivating the arts of Peace and good government on principles of the soundest policy, by which nations have been conducted to greatness and become the envy and admiration of the world.

“You have before you the wisdom and experience of Ages, sources from whence what is good and great may be drawn, which added to your own treasures of political knowledge, may be wisely applied in bringing the State in some degree towards perfection.

“I need not mention that you are building for futurity, and that your wisdom and caution will hand down only proper materials as monuments of your transactions. For centuries to come the infant annals of these times no doubt will be traced back with eagerness by inquisitive posterity for precedents, for maxims to which the future government may still conform. Let them not be disappointed. Now is the important moment to establish on your part the Continental power on its firmest basis, by which the people of these States rose and are to be continued a Nation. Now, it behooves you to render permanent the security and the honor of the State: to form such laws that public virtue may be encouraged to diffuse its spirit through all ranks, and be pleased with the government which it hath erected, that the guilty may be punished and the just rewarded: that every citizen may enjoy those equal rights promised him by the Constituion and which God and nature have given him. By these you will discover to the world the Excellency of an American Republic and evince that the Government of Kings is not always necessary to make the people happy.”

While the Assembly contained several men of considerable influence, its leading spirit was doubtless Gov. Caswell. And it would seem that he cordially sympathised with the views of Gov. Martin. The session was protracted to June 3,—being the longest session since the Revolution began.

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This Assembly fixed the time of holding elections in August and consolidating all the Treasury Districts it elected only one Public Treasurer, Memucan Hunt being the first incumbent; and besides much other State legislation of importance, it passed seven acts that had been recommended by the Congress, most of them being in connection with financial matters.

The non-attendance of delegates to the Congress was the cause of great trouble in that often important legislation was delayed and sometimes defeated, because the States were not properly represented. While the position was a highly honorable one, the compensation in the depreciated currency of the times was entirely insufficient. Efforts were made to secure attendance, by appointing five or six delegates for the term of one year, and these were to go to the seat of government in rotation—taking turns—instead of remaining through the entire session.

In September, 1785, Gov. Caswell wrote to Hon. Timothy Blood-worth, “As I have been requested by Congress to prevail on the delegates of this State to attend in their places which have been unfilled for several months, &c., &c., I conceive it to be my duty earnestly to recommend that you or one of the delegates will attend, &c. Please to let me know as soon as practicable whether it will be convenient for you to go to Congress.”

Mr. Bloodworth's reply throws some light on the situation: “I received yours, and not being fully satisfied with respect to the time of my attendance thought proper to wait on your Excellency for an explanation. Agreeable to Resolve at Hillsboro, the Delegates are to attend in rotation as they stand in number on the roll.

“According to this regulation, my attendance will not be required until the Spring, as Mr. Blount, Mr. Sitgreaves, and Mr. Johnston were first in number. If it be your desire that I should give immediate attendance, I shall be under the necessity to request warrants on the holders of public moneys for the amount of my wages during the time of my attendance, being at present quite unprepared to support myself.”

The Governor sent him the warrants: The other gentlemen all having refused to take their turns first.

Congress was particularly anxious that the terms of the treaty of Peace in regard to restoring the property and the rights of refugees,

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loyalists who had fled from their homes rather than aid in establishing the Independence of their country, should be carried out in good faith by the States. But in this one respect the legislature was not complacent. There was a great deal of feeling manifested on both sides for there were some disposed to be merciful to the unfortunate loyalist but the legislature drew the line there—and would not legislate in favor of that obnoxious class.

Some of the States to the Northward for the purpose of aiding Congress to establish a fund that would relieve its financial embarrassment, had ceded or agreed to cede to the Congress territories that they claimed in the Western Wilderness, as yet unoccupied by any settlers.

North Carolina actuated by the same public spirit passed an act ceding all that portion of the State beyond the mountains, although a considerable population had long been settled there and it was an important section of the State. The Act of Cession authorized our delegates to execute the grant or conveyance to Congress. But before the conveyance was executed, or Congress had accepted the territory proposed to be ceded, the people resident there met together, formed a government, and established the State of Franklin.

They elected John Sevier their Governor and their Assembly passed Acts and undertook to make treaties with the Indian Nations within their territory. At the next meeting of the North Carolina Assembly the Act of Cession was repealed, and in April, 1785, Gov. Martin issued his proclamation warning the people across the Mountains that they were in revolt, and would be forced to submit to the authority of the State by force of arms if necessary. At the following session Gov. Caswell was elected Governor and he was able to restore the authority of the State and the State of Franklin passed away.


The Appendix. The Editor congratulates himself that he has been able to print as an appendix to this volume the Journal of the Legislature of 1781, and other interesting matter, which he was unable to obtain in time to insert in Volume XV, where they more properly belong. The January Session of the Legislature was held at Halifax. During the sitting of the legislature Cornwallis invaded the State, and the Legislature resolved that it would defend the

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State to the last extremity. Gen. Caswell was on Feb. 7th, appointed by the legislature to be Major General of the entire Militia of the State, and he was directed to raise a regiment of Light Horse from the Districts of Wilmington and New Bern, and Gen. Butler was directed to raise a volunteer Regiment of Light Horse from the Hilsboro District. Col. Malmedy was appointed to the command of the latter and James Williams and Pleasant Henderson were appointed its majors. General Jones was directed to embody the militia of Halifax and march them to the front. Gen. Caswell, Gov. Alex. Martin and Gen. Allen Jones were elected members of the Council Extraordinary, to succeed the Board of War.

The legislature adjourned on Feb. 14, having resolved that the new Assembly then to be elected should meet at New Bern.

But events now followed rapidly. Cornwallis soon took post at Hillsboro, and after the battle of Guilford C. H. he retired to Wilmington and thence went Northward to Virginia, leaving Major Craig at Wilmington, while Tory bands became active in the interior of the State.

The new Assembly could not with safety meet at New Bern on April 1st, and on June 23d, it convened at Wake Court House.

Gov. Nash's term had now expired. He did not stand for a reelection and Thomas Burke was chosen Governor.

The Legislature felt a sense of insecurity and troops of Light Horse and detachments of militia were embodied in the vicinity of Wake C. H. for its protection. A regiment of State Troops was directed to be raised and Benjamin Williams was chosen Lieut. Commander, Joel Lewis, First Major and Baron de Globeck, Major of Horse.

Under the Confiscation Acts, the property of many who had been disaffected had been seized. A resolution was passed, as follows:

“Whereas, numbers of the Inhabitants of the several Counties in this State who have heretofore joined and attached themselves to the enemies thereof, having come to a proper sense of their duty and being duly penitent wish again to be admitted to the privileges of citizenship, many of whom are now in the Continental service and others have voluntarily enlisted with Brig. Genl. Sumner for the space of ten months, and many of the families of such persons are reduced to poverty in consequence of the Confiscation Acts,

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“Resolved, That the property of such persons be restored to them, &c.”

The depreciation of the currency is illustrated by the compensation which the Assembly voted themselves. They resolved that the allowance of the members be five hundred dollars per day for going to attend and returning from the Session that was to have been held at New Bern April 1st, and Five Hundred Dollars for coming to and returning from the present session, and two hundred and fifty dollars a day for per diem.

They allowed Robert Bignal 14.754 pounds for attending on the late Council Board. And Joel Lane was allowed the sum of Fifteen thousand pounds as a compensation in full for house rent, pasturage, &c., for the present Assembly. The house occupied by the Assembly was the residence, yet standing on Boylan Avenue, in the City of Raleigh, until recently occupied by the Misses Boylan.

Mr. Macon, from the Committee appointed to take under consideration the Memorial of Vincent Vass, reported as follows: “That it is the opinion of this Committee that the said Mr. Vass be allowed for Candles, Fowls, &c., which he purchased for the use of this Assembly One thousand eight hundred dollars.”

“It is further the opinion of the Committee that the said Vass was justifiable in the agreement he made with several persons for superintending the cooking, &c., and that Nicholas Atkins be exempted from two tours of Militia duty, and that Joshua Sugg, Kemp Goodloe, &c., &c., &c., be also exempted from a tour of Militia duty, and that the said Vass be allowed for his trouble, expences and losses, for things borrowed and hired, the sum of thirtyfive thousand pounds.” The value of a horse, it appears was about Twelve thousand pounds.

On the 14th day of July the Assembly adjourned to meet at Salem on the first Monday in November.


The Editor has also been able to put in this Appendix extracts from the correspondence of Lord Cornwallis covering the period of his invasion of North Carolina until his departure for Virginia.

This correspondence will be found to be of particular interest. Reading between the lines, one realizes how terribly the British suffered at Guilford C. H. and it is apparent that although Greene left

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the enemy in possession of the field, that day's battle destroyed Cornwallis' army. On arriving at Wilmington Cornwallis determined to proceed to Virginia and join Gen. Phillips who had a very fine army at Petersburg.

After speaking of his great apprehensions from the movement of Gen. Greene towards Camden, he wrote on April 23d to Sir Henry Clinton: “Neither my cavalry or infantry are in readiness to move: the former are in want of everything. The latter of every necessary, but shoes, of which we have received an ample supply. I must however, begin my march to-morrow. ∗ ∗ My present undertaking sits heavy on my mind. I have experienced the distresses and dangers of marching some hundreds of miles, in a country, chiefly hostile, without one active or useful friend: without intelligence and without communication with any part of the country. The situation in which I leave South Carolina adds much to my anxiety: Yet I am under the necessity of adopting this hazardous enterprise hastily and with the appearance of precipitation; and find there is no prospect of speedy reinforcement from Europe and that the return of Gen. Greene to North Carolina, either with or without success, would put a junction with Gen. Phillips out of my power.”

On the next day, April 24th, he wrote to Gen. Phillips: “My situation here is very distressing Greene took advantage of my being obliged to come to this place, and has marched to South Carolina. My expresses to Lord Rawdon on my leaving Cross Creek, warning him of the possibility of such a movement, have all failed. Mountaineers and Militia have passed into the back part of that province, and I much fear that Lord Rawdon's posts will be so distant from each other, and his troops so scattered, as to put him in the greatest danger of being beaten in detail. ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“By a direct move towards Camden, I cannot get there time enough to relieve Lord Rawdon, and should he have fallen back, my army would be exposed to the utmost danger from the great rivers I should have to pass, the exhausted state of the country, the numerous Militia, the almost universal spirit of revolt which prevails in South Carolina, and the strength of Greene's army, whose continentals alone are as numerous as I am.

“I shall therefore march immediately up the country by Duplin Court House, pointing towards Hillsboro, in hopes to withdraw

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Greene. If that should not succeed, I should be much tempted to try to form a junction with you. The attempt is exceedingly hazardous, and many unforeseen difficulties may render it wholly impracticable, so that you must not take any steps that may expose your army to the danger of being ruined.”

In his letter to Lord Geo. Germain, of April 18th, some ten days after his arrival at Wilmington, he said: “The principal reasons for undertaking the winter's campaign, were the difficulty of a defensive war in South Carolina, and the hope that our friends in North Carolina, who were said to be very numerous, would make good their promises of assembling and taking an active part with us, in endeavoring to establish his Majesty's government. Our experience has shown that their numbers are not so great as had been represented, and that their friendship was only passive, for we have received little assistance from them since our arrival in the province; and although I gave the strongest and most public assurances that after refitting and disposing of our sick and wounded, I should return to the upper country, not above two hundred have been prevailed upon to follow us either as Provincials or Militia. This being the case, the immense extent of this country, cut with numberless creeks and rivers, and the total want of internal navigation, which renders it impossible for our army to remain long in the heart of the country, will make it very difficult to reduce this province to obedience by a direct attack upon it.” He therefore suggested a campaign in Virginia. Baffled, disappointed, defeated and distressed, he pressed on to Virginia, only to meet there a worse fate—the surrender of his entire army.

Walter Clark