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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from James Iredell to John Williams
Iredell, James, 1751-1799
December 14, 1781
Volume 19, Pages 890-892


Edenton, Dec. 14th, 1781.

Dear Sir:

I should have wrote to you long since but for a considerable time after my coming down here my health was very bad, so much so that I could not go to New Bern, and it is but lately I have been quite well. I now enclose the certificates of your attendance at Halifax and hope you will excuse my not doing it sooner.

Tho’ the affair of Lord Cornwallis is of an old standing, you will permit me to rejoice with you upon it. We shall long, I am sure, feel most happy effects from it.

I have had great uneasiness about the affair of Willison ever since the Court. The trial now stands perfectly unguarded. A subpœna will signify nothing, from the lowness of the forfeit, and is in all respects a very inadequate process in criminal cases, and in this

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perhaps nugatory where the party is a Minor. I submit to you therefore a method I have digested upon great consideration. It is that you should issue a Precept stating the circumstances of the case, and ordering her to be carried before some justice of the peace for the purpose of her giving security. This I imagine perfectly consistent, a Justice of the Peace only, where a Witness is examined before him, may commit him till he provides Security or enters into Recognizance as the case may require. If such a power did not exist whether a Man should be ever tried or no would be in the option of the State Witnesses. The power cannot be less competent in a judge when it appears on the very face of the proceedings that a particular Witness is an indispensable one, and that upon her evidence a Bill for a capital crime is found. I take the liberty to inclose a form I have prepared. You will observe I have waived, in conformity to your opinion, any mention of any contempt and have stated her age to be under the usual age of discretion, which may account for the omission of it, for as to the extraordinary denial of any contempt being incurred by such Witnesses absconding (provided they are of age) I have found among my books since I came home Cases where attachments issued for not attending on a Subpoena in a civil action. They are to be found, I Strange 510, 2 Stra. 810, 1054, 1050. And in these cases, they had also forfeited a Penalty (which is constantly mentioned in a Subpœna), in one it is expressly said £100. After this, I suppose, there could be no doubt whether State Witnesses may incur a contempt even if there was no express authority for it.

You will, I am sure, excuse my troubling you on this occasion, for I see no other possible method by which the trial of Willison can ever be secured.

I have heard of no news lately. I should be happy in receiving a letter from you sometimes, and shall have great pleasure in writing to you when I have anything worth communicating. I have lately suffered so much, both in pocket and health, by my office, that I have wrote to the Governor desiring him to lay before the Assembly my desire of resignation. It is undoubtedly now much more valuable than formerly, but I have yet reaped little of the fruit of it, and the fatigue and incessant application it requires is too much for me. I wish you could think of a successor to whom the office

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might be agreeable, and if you had an opportunity suggest it. I know it is of importance to the judges to have somebody in the office they are not averse to, and hope you will have reason to be pleased with the appointment. The Salary is £20 specie a Court, and each bill found 20s. Specie, not found 13s; Pecuniary inducements not despicable. If the Assembly do not meet before the Spring and the Governor could find an agreeable choice I should wish him to nominate before the new circuit begins.

You will be so good as to mention me to Mrs. Williams with all possible respect, and assure I ever bear in most grateful remembrance her extreme kindness to me. I beg you also to believe I am most sensible of yours. And pray do me the favour to present my particular respects to my obliging friends Mr. & Mrs. Burton, Mr. & Mrs. & Miss Henderson, and your other agreeable connexions, believing me to be,

With great trust and respect, Dear Sir,
Your obliged and obedient servant,