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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Robert Williams to the North Carolina Provincial Council
Williams, Robert
May 27, 1776
Volume 22, Pages 739-742


New Bern, May 27th, 1776.

To Cornelius Harnet, President, and the rest of Council for North Carolina, at Wilmington:

I have viewed with serious attention the situation of this province for a great while, and considered what it must suffer this winter, without a quantity of salt can be made with the utmost expedition, and abundance of men employed about making salt marshes, after the manner of France, Portugal and Spain. The season will be

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over in August. I have been long in possession of Browning upon Salt, and have made it my study for many years, and have made it my business when in Portugal to go and view their salt marshes in Lisbon. I was going to Halifax some time since to propose it to the Congress there, but our William Thompson told me that Avery and Blackledge were appointed, and only £600 allowed to carry on the work, but did not tell me he was one of the commissioners himself; nor after my appointment would he consult me or say a word about it, and was unwilling to sign along with me a letter I was going to send, and since delivered myself to James Coor, which letter I also showed to our other delegate, Solomon Shepard, who also took no notice of it, and seemed quite unconcerned. Must leave others to judge from whence this backwardness proceeds. When I found I was appointed a fourth commissioner, considering the common consequence, the need of dispatch, the season advancing, and our suitable situation, I was in my own mind so sure of the propriety, thinking Thompson would join and encourage, that I had engaged men to make wheels and hand-barrows. Was going to raft a large quantity of fine timber John Raston had ready, and was willing to risk the pay; was going to risk a considerable quantity of plank I had myself, set smiths to work and procure spades and hoes to make a rough shed to cook and eat under, some places under locks to keep utensils and provisions when we get them.

The salt may be preserved in conical heaps, as I have seen that done in Portugal, until it is carried away, and it will not receive any injury from the weather, although exposed to the open air for three years.

One mask or marsh must be finished first, and will, including the banks, be about 240 feet long and 150 feet large; then finish another as fast as possible, etc., and continue at it as long as the season promises any advantage from additional works. Must refer to some other observations in the draught of the letter delivered James Coor.

If the Council think well to employ me and make me the acting superintendent upon pay, and allow the whole county of 4d per bushel to myself, delivering all accounts upon affirmation, appoint paymasters to deliver money as materials are procured and work faithfully done, they may depend on the vigorous and steady exertion of my faculties; will give up my time for the purpose. Have hitherto fatigued myself, spent money and time, traveled upon the occasion

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above 140 miles at different time already, without any view of superior advantage above the rest of the commissioners; but, as some pull back and others do not appear, I will not be pack-horse for others to share the profits.

I cannot tell, nor anybody else form a right judgment how long we shall be in getting the materials and making the first division or marsh of 18 salt beds, but would be in hopes that after we got in the way we should make another every succeeding week.

We have reason to expect that every salt marsh of 18 salt beds will make between 25 and 40 bushels a day in hot, dry weather.

All workmen to be employed as cheap as possible. Would suppose the daily expenses may be guessed at nearly thus, including provisions, which, however, must be provided separate:

8 Best workmen, at 9s 8d
8 inferior ones, at 5s 4d
30 laborers, at 3s 8d
Daily expenses
For 60 days, makes
Sundry materials, suppose

I wish that and much more might be laid out for the public good, and that more laborers might be employed with propriety, as every day now is of the utmost consequence. Many marshes ought to be now finished, and more carrying on.

If there is no salt made it will require but little force to subdue and starve the province, which next spring must and will fall of course, and tumble down of itself, like an old house in a calm.

If what I have offered is worthy of Acceptance in receiving orders I shall be ready at an hour’s warning, and some money must be lodged immediately in a safe hand that may be confided in in New Bern.

Would recommend John Easton, an honest man, to provide provision and to be pay master at Core Sound.

If the formality of bonds from them be thought requisite ’tis best

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not to retard the work but do that part as Soon as may be after ’tis going on.

I am with due regard the Councils assured & Affectionate friend,

Quere: Is one company of Soldiers sufficietnt to guard old Topsail Inlet, the Town of Beaufort and the Salt Works?

May not General Clinton after securing his Landing at Cape Fear, send a number of men in Transports to Core Sound in 24 hours, destroy the town of Beaufort and the Salt Works, then march up and secure New Bern and without opposition secure the Numerous herds of Cattle on the Sea Coast while all the provincial Troops are kept at bay and doing of nothing at Cape Fear?

As it is evident to me and may be proved to a demonstration that people are going continually about as Spies on idle pretences, carrying intelligence much faster than our continental post. Ought not the imperious busy body be removed and all others not employed by the public, be ordered to stay at home and mind their corn fields. And none be allowed to depart from any place under any specious pretence whatsoever?