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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Report concerning complaints by British merchants against state laws
No Author
Volume 18, Pages 561-566

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[From Executive Letter Book.]


State of the Grievances complained of by Merchants and other British subjects having estates, property & debts due to them in the several States of America.


By an Act of this State, passed the 9th of November, 1784, the Justices of the Courts of Judicature, were directed severally to suspend rendering Judgment, for any Interest that might have accrued between the 19th of April and the 20th January, 1783, on Debts due to British Subjects. This Act is peculiarly severe on the British Subjects against whom it is expressly pointed; the demand of the Interest is called inequitable and unjust, and the Legislature of this State conceive it to be repugnant to the Spirit and Intention of the Fourth Article of the Treaty of Peace which they say provides only for bona fide debts. The Act states that the Legislature have taken Measures to obtain the Sense of Congress upon this Article, but the Committee have not heard that any Opinion has been given thereon.


By an Act passed in this State the 12th of July, 1782, British Creditors are precluded from the Interest on all debts contracted before the first of January, 1776, until after the first of January, 1783, and executions for the principal of those debts are forbidden to be levied till the Expiration of Three Years after the Evacuation of New York. By another Act passed the 17th March, 1783, and confirmed by others in 1784 and 1785, those Americans who had Abandoned their Possessions in New York upon its Capture by the British troops and resided without the lines during the War, are enabled to bring Actions of Trespass, for rents, &c., during their absence against the persons who had occupied their premises, whether under the Authority or permission of the British Commander, or otherwise, and who, by this Act are precluded from pleading any Military Order whatsoever in Justification of their occupancy; it also authorizes the Sequestration of the Estates of British Subjects lying in that Country for their Conduct during the war.

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By virtue of this Law, Actions for Claims to an enormous amount were immediately instituted against the British Subjects, who relying implicitly on the treaty of peace, and the Faith of Nations were encouraged to remain in New York upon its Evacuation, for the purposes of collecting their Debts and settling or extending their Commercial Affairs, and in Cases where those who had occupied the premises were not to be found the Demands were made on the Lodger, the late Servant, or the Agent of those Occupiers. These Suits have been prosecuted with the utmost severity, and being determinable by Juries of Interested men, as well as Conformable to the above Mentioned Statute, it is no wonder that Verdicts for exorbitant rents and damages have in every instance been found against the Defendants.


This State has violated the 4th Article of the definitive treaty by passing a Law soon after the peace to restrain the Recovery of old Debts for a given Period. The British Merchants were in consequence thereof, set at defiance, and few instances exist of payment having been made for any Debts Contracted before the war. This Law was limited to September, 1784, but whether it has been further extended by a new Act, or whether it expired at that, the Committee are not certain. This Law operating with the fears and prejudices of some of the Inhabitants, has produced effects of the most Mischievous Consequence to the British Merchants, for not only an uniform opposition has been made against the payment of Interest, but the Lawyers dreading the resentment of some of the most violent among their Countrymen have refused to engage in a recovery of these unpopular demands, and the Committee are well assured that not one Action for the payment of an Old British debt has been prosecuted in this State.


The Merchants interested in the Trade of these States, having already by their chairman, presented their case and Memorial to the Right Honorable the Marquis of Caermarthen, respecting their Situation as to debts due to them, previous to the late war, and the hardships they experience from the Infractions of the 4th Article of

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the definitive Treaty the Committee beg leave to refer to the annexed extract.

Vide extract of Memorial, Page II.


After Congress had ratified the definitive treaty of Peace they recommended a due observance thereof to the different States and the Assembly of South Carolina Resolved to carry the said Treaty into execution, sincerely, strictly and completely, but regardless of these resolutions and in contravention of the treaty the Legislature passed an Ordinance the 25th of March, 1784, declaring among other things that no suit should be instituted for any debt contracted by any citizen of the United States, previous to the 26th of February, 1782, until the 1st January, 1785, when the Interest only which had accrued since January, 1780, might be recovered.

And on the 1st January, 1786, one fourth part of the principal and all such other Interest as might be then due.

On the 1st of January, 1787, one other fourth part of the principal and the Interest which shall have accrued.

On the 1st of January, 1788, one other fourth part of the principal and the Interest accrued thereon, and on the 1st January, 1789, the balance which may be. By this Ordinance debtors are Judicially protected from Suits brought at the Instance of their Creditors, who are Chiefly British Merchants, and so Great and General are the Obstructions to recovery of debts, that in several districts remote from Charleston, the Courts have been prevented by tumultous and riotous proceedings from determining Actions for Debt. By the delay thus occasioned the property of the British Merchant becomes every day more precarious, his Credit and Fortune are Materially injured and in many cases totally destroyed.

To prevent the operation of the Act before mentioned, in cases where it empowers Creditors to sue for one fourth part of the principal of a Debt on the 1st of January, 1786, an Act was passed by this Legislature the 12th October, 1785, entitled, an Act for regulating Sales under Execution and for other purposes therein mentioned, whereby a debtor during any period of a Suit that has been or may be commenced is allowed to tender Land in payment of his Debt, such land to be appraised by three Citizens of the County or

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Parish where it lies who are authorized to value it as if sold at a Credit of six Months; the Creditor is then obliged to take the land at three fourths of the Value at which it is so appraised.

By the same law it is further enacted, that no Creditor shall bring any Suit for Debt until he make application in writing from himself to his Debtors for payment. This Act seems calculated to cut off all Possibility of non-resident British Creditors commencing a suit. The proviso that he must write himself to his debtor, is considered as an insurmountable obstacle in his proceedings as he must meet with innumerable difficulties in proving the delivery of his Letter to a debtor, who may reside in the interior part of the State; where this difficulty does not exist the Creditor must either drop his action or run the risk of having property of little or no value bordering perhaps on the Indian Country, forced upon him, which if sold for Cash would not produce one tenth part of its appraised Value. Another Instance of the Violation of the 4th Article of the Treaty which provides that Creditors on either Side shall meet with no Lawful impediment to the recovery of the full Value in Sterling Money of all bona fide Debts heretofore contracted arises from the payment of debts to British Subjects, in depreciated paper currency, which was forced into circulation during the war, and made a legal Tender according to its Nominal Value by the then Government, the depreciation became so great that debtors by such unjust Tenders did not pay one Shilling in the pound, and where they plead those payments or Tenders in Bar to the demands of their British Creditors, such Creditors are proportionately defrauded of their Property.

The fifth Article of the Treaty Stipulates, that Persons of certain descriptions shall have free liberty, to go to any part of the United States to obtain the restitution of their rights and properties. This article has been grossly violated in this State, for though such persons were permitted to go thither, yet the purposes for which they went were frustrated by a suspension of the course of Justice, for they were compelled to depart by a public Notification from the Governor, and to Abandon their property, under the Aggravating reflection of having been at considerable expence, both of time and Money in a delusive pursuit and having also experienced great Personal Insult and abuse during their continuance in the State.

Several British Merchants who have sold goods in Charleston,

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while in possession of his Majesty's Troops were obliged to accept houses and lands in payment of debts. After its evacuation an Act of confiscation was enforced, which though not passed till the 26th February, 1782, had retrospect to the fourth of July, 1776, houses and lands then the property of persons in purview of the Act, but which had undergone many changes, and actually belonged to British Merchants when the Act was passed were sold by the Commissioners of Confiscated Estates in June, 1784, without any regard to their claims founded upon the 5th & 6th Articles of the Treaty of Peace. The property was sold at a Credit of five years and State indents were to be received in payment in case the State of South Carolina should comply with the 5th Article of the treaty. It has been suggested that the Claimants will be paid in State Indents, which are already depreciated 50 per Cent. and it is apprehended that at the end of five years will be so reduced in value, that Creditors of this description will not receive one Shilling in the pound of their demands.

It is also, necessary to observe that the decisions of the Board of Police, established under the King's Government in Charleston, however equitable, have been set aside since the Peace. British Subjects have been deprived of their property purchased under its process and cast in excessive damages and cost, for no other cause, than having brought Action therein for the recovery of Debts, even where the defendant had confessed Judgment and both plaintiff and defendant were British Subjects.


Laws and regulations similar to those which have been passed in South Carolina, exist in this State with degrees of peculiar and manifest Aggravation. The Judges from the bench having declared that no Suit shall be proceeded on if brought by a British Subject while on the contrary they allow British Subjects to be sued by their Creditors.

According to the present Regulations in both Countries:

An American is protected in his property by our Laws, all our Courts are and always have been open to him for recovery of any debt as well Interest as principal.

A British Merchant is in some States positively, in others virtually, prohibited by their Legislatures from recovering his property

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which is a Violation of the fourth Article of the Treaty of Peace. In several States Judgment for Interest for more than Seven years is Actually suspended by Law, whilst in others although the Courts appear to be open, the Lawyers are afraid to prosecute for British debts. Those Creditors are deemed fortunate who upon giving up all Claim to Interest (which is equal to thirty and in some Instances to forty per Cent.) can obtain Security for the payment of the principal.