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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume I by
R. D. W. Connor

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 10

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
p124
Chapter 9
The Passing of the Proprietary

The removal of the constant menace presented by the presence of the Tuscarora, the displacing of personal factions as the mainspring of politics by real political parties, and the strengthening of the authority of government prepared the way for a period of growth and progress in North Carolina for which the legislation of 1715 laid the foundation. Under the stimulus peace and the resultant feeling of security, the colony was able to repay its debt to South Carolina for her aid in the Tuscarora War; to revive its trade; to free itself from the disgrace of piracy; to increase its population and expand its frontiers; to settle peacefully its long-standing boundary dispute with Virginia; and, finally, to undergo a profound change in its government without a jar.

On May 28, 1714, Charles Eden took the oath of office as governor. He was a man of fair ability and amiable disposition, and except for suspicions of improper dealings with "Blackbeard," the pirate, was generally held in high esteem in the colony.a The "peace and quietness" which he found upon his arrival continuing throughout his administration, were favorable to the revival of trade and commerce. Internal trade conditions were improved by a stricter enforcement of the road law. At a single session of the General Court in 1720 three road overseers were indicted and subsequently fined for neglect of their duty in the "making, mending, & Repairing of Roads & Highways." Many new roads were cut through the wilderness. Especially important was the road laid out by Governor Burrington "from Nuse to Cape Fear River about one hundred miles in length," which was a realization in part of the long-cherished plan of the Lords Proprietors to establish a land route between their two provinces. This road not only stimulated trade; it also served as a highway for settlers who were seeking new homes on the Cape Fear. Intercolonial trade which had been practically destroyed by the Cary Rebellion and the Indian wars also showed signs of revival and p125New England skippers piloted through the channels of Ocracoke and Roanoke inlets, now marked out in accordance with the pilotage law of 1715, once more cast their anchors at the wharves of the hospitable planters. The erection of a number of saw mills greatly increased the output of lumber as an article of commerce; while during the decade following 1715, tar, pitch, and turpentine, commodities for which North Carolina afterwards became so famous, began to appear in the lists of the colony's exports. "Of late," says a report written in 1720, "they [the planters] made abt 6000 barrells of pitch and tarre which the New England sloops carry first to New England and then to Great Brittain." Efforts were made to keep this reviving trade in legitimate channels by appropriating part of the duty on imports "to Beacon out the Channels from Roanoke to Ocracoke Inlets," and by establishing collection districts at Currituck, at Edenton on the Roanoke, at Bath on the Pamlico, at Beaufort at Topsail Inlet, and later at Brunswick on the Cape Fear; but these measures served chiefly to stimulate smuggling which increased more rapidly than legitimate trade.

Most of this smuggling was done by traders who had purchased their cargoes honestly and became violators of the law only when they evaded the payment of the duties, but much of it was the work of out-and‑out pirates. Piracy had long been one of the chief obstacles to the development of the commerce of the Carolinas, the natural dangers that repelled legitimate traders making the Carolina coast a favorite resort for buccaneers. Behind the bars and shifting sands that obstruct the entrances to the Carolina waters scores of pirates rested secure from interference, leisurely repaired damages, and kept a sharp lookout for prey. But nature was not their only ally. The corruption of many of the colonial officials, the weakness of the proprietary government, the willingness of the people to shelter violators of the navigation laws without enquiring too strictly into the nature of their enterprises, all combined with the character of the coast to stimulate smuggling and piracy. The period from 1650 to the close of the first decade of the eighteenth century, John Fiske has aptly called "the golden age of pirates." It was during this period that Carolina was settled and for the reasons just mentioned became a retreat for freebooters. As early as 1683, the Board of Trade complained of the "harbouring and encouraging of Pirates in Carolina and other Governments p126and Proprietys," but it was not until 1718 that effective measures were taken to destroy the evil.

It would be easy to attach too much significance to these facts and to draw from them conclusions which they do not warrant as to the comparative morality of the people of the Carolinas. In none of the colonies, during the seventeenth century, was there that condemnation of smuggling and that horror of piracy characteristic of more highly organized communities and of more enlightened ages, and the freebooter with rich cargo for sale knew well enough that neither in Boston nor in New York, in Philadelphia nor in Baltimore, need he fear too close a scrutiny into his title to his property if he were liberal enough with his presents and his rum, and if his prices were satisfactory.b Besides, the extent to which piracy flourished in Carolina and in the other proprietary colonies was greatly exaggerated. Most of the reports on the subject came from crown officials, or from officials of crown colonies, who made but little distinction between smugglers and pirates; their reports moreover were part of the propaganda carried on for many years for the purpose of discrediting the proprietary colonies in order to pave the way for their seizure by the Crown.

Nevertheless the evil was serious enough and efforts to induce the colonial authorities to exterminate it proved unavailing. Too many of the officials were hand in glove with the robbers. In South Carolina, Robert Quarry, secretary of the colony, was dismissed from office "for harbouring pirates and other misdemeanors"; his successor, Joseph Morton, was charged with permitting pirates openly to use Charleston harbor for securing their prizes; and John Boone was expelled from the Council for correspondence with the freebooters. In North Carolina, it was charged that Seth Sothel actually issued commissions "to Pyrates for rewards"; that John Archdale sheltered pirates "for which favour he was well paid by them"; that Governor Eden and Tobias Knight, the latter secretary of the colony and acting chief-justice, actually shared the pirates' ill-gotten gains. Perhaps some of these accusations were groundless, but that so many officials fell under suspicion indicates a low state of official morality. Finally, near the close of the seventeenth century, the king, despairing of accomplishing anything through colonial officials, determined to take a hand himself in the matter, and by a judicious mixture of executive clemency and extreme severity soon drove the enemy out of all their strongholds except p127New Providence and Cape Fear. In 1718, an English fleet captured New Providence. "One of its immediate effects, however," as Fiske observes, "was to turn the whole remnant of the scoundrels over to the North Carolina coast, where they took their final stand."

Among the noted pirates who had made their headquarters at New Providence were Edward Teach, or Thatch, better known as "Blackbeard," and Major Stede Bonnet. The former was merely a pirate, — a swaggering, merciless brute without even that picturesqueness of personality which has clothed so many of his kind with romantic interest and robbed their careers of the horrors which the naked truth would inspire; the latter was a gentleman of birth, wealth and education, who had already won distinction and rank as a soldier when, catching the contagion of the times, in a spirit of adventure, he turned his back upon all and joined "Blackbeard" in his career of crime. After being driven from New Providence, "Blackbeard" made his headquarters at Bath, Bonnet at Cape Fear, and together they harried the coast from Maine to Florida. But the day had passed when it was considered respectable to hold dealings with pirates, and the evil repute which their wild deeds brought upon North Carolina together with the lethargy of the officials in dealing with them, aroused the indignation of such men as Edward Moseley and Maurice Moore. They could effect nothing, however, because, as it was currently believed and afterwards proved, some of the highest officials, including certainly the secretary of the colony, and possibly the governor, were beneficiaries of the pirates, and refused to move against them.

The blows which destroyed piracy in North Carolina waters, therefore, came from South Carolina and Virginia. Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina had suffered a deep official and personal humiliation at the hands of "Blackbeard" and was eager to wipe out the disgrace. When, therefore, he learned in the summer of 1718, that a pirate was successfully operating off the coast of the Carolinas, he promptly fitted out an expedition under Col. William Rhett, a daring and experienced seaman, and sent him in search of the pirate. Rhett found his enemy lurking behind the bars at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and after a desperate battle of five hours captured him. He proved to be none other than the notorious Bonnet. Carried at once to Charleston, Bonnet was tried, convicted, and hanged. A few weeks later, Governor Spotswood of Virginia receiving information that p128Teach was in Carolina waters with a prize, secretly fitted out two sloops manned with crews from British men-of‑war then stationed in the James River, placed them in command of Lieut. Robert Maynard of the royal navy, and sent them in search of the freebooter. Maynard found Teach near Ocracoke Inlet and on November 22, 1718, attacked him. The battle long hung in doubt. Fortune finally seemed to favor the pirates when Teach at the head of a strong attacking party boarded Maynard's sloop. Maynard, however, had adopted a stratagem to bring about this very movement, and his men who had been hiding below, now rushed on deck, and in a desperate hand-to‑hand conflict killed "Blackbeard" and overpowered his followers. Of "Blackbeard's" crew of eighteen men, one-half had been killed outright; the other half were made prisoners, carried to Virginia, tried and convicted of piracy. The victories over Bonnet and Teach were decisive blows to piracy along the Carolina coast, and after a few more years the black flags of the buccaneers disappeared from our seas.

High public officials had been for some time under suspicion of complicity with the pirates and this suspicion became a certainty when a friendly letter of recent date from Secretary Knight and a memorandum of goods deposited with him by the pirate were found upon the person of the dead "Blackbeard." Knight wrote: "My ffriend, If this finds you yet in harbour I would have you make the best of your way up as soon as possible. * * * I have something more to say to you than at present I can write. * * * I expect the Governor this month or tomorrow who I believe would be likewise glad to see you before you goe. * * * Your real ffriend and Servant, T. Knight." Knight however strenuously denied having received any goods from "Blackbeard," but a search made by Spotswood's officers, accompanied by Edward Moseley and Maurice Moore, revealed the articles concealed in his barn. In spite of this evidence, the governor and Council publicly exonerated Knight, denounced the charges against him as false and malicious, and declared him innocent of wrong-doing; but the evidence was conclusive of Knight's guilt, and the governor's anxiety to prevent his prosecution seemed to many persons to confirm the suspicions attaching to his own relations with the pirate.

These suspicions Moseley and Moore undertook to probe to the bottom. For that purpose they sought to examine the records of Knight's office which, according to the instructions p129of the Lords Proprietors, were subject to public inspection. Denied this right, with some of their followers they broke into a private house in which the records were deposited, and seized and examined them. For this offense, the governor promptly issued a warrant for their arrest and ordered out a strong armed posse to execute it. Moseley denounced his conduct in vigorous language, declaring that the governor "could easily procure armed men to come and disturb quiet & honest men, but could not (tho' such a Number would have done) raise them to destroy Thack." "It is like the commands of a German Prince!" he exclaimed indignantly. For these and other "seditious words" he was indicted under the statute of 1715 "for the more effectual observing of the King's Peace, and Establishing a good and lasting Foundation of Government in North Carolina," to which his own name, curiously enough, is signed as speaker of the Assembly. The case aroused great public interest. Moseley was the acknowledged leader of the popular party, and his contest with the governor assumed a political importance which lifted it above an ordinary criminal prosecution. Popular sympathy was with Moseley; even the jurors, bound as they were by their oath, seem to have done their best to find a loophole through which they might extricate the popular champion, for while they could not deny that he had uttered the words with which he was charged, they returned as their verdict that "if the Law be for our Sovereign Lord and King, then we find him the sd Edward Moseley Guilty, but if the Law be for the sd Moseley then we find him not Guilty." The court decided that the law was against Moseley, imposed upon him a fine of £100, and declared him incapable of holding any office or place of trust in the colony for three years. Thus Eden triumphed, his rival was silenced, and his dealings with the pirates shielded from further investigation, for before Moseley's disabilities were removed, Eden's death had put an end to their controversy.

Eden's successor was George Burrington, a native of that county of Devon, which gave to England so many of those great navigators and adventurers to whom she owed her American empire, the home of Gilbert, Hawkins, Grenville, Drake, and Raleigh. Burrington himself was not without the high spirit and ability which distinguished these men, but he had serious defects of character which rendered it impossible for him to rival their achievements. He had the aggressive spirit and dauntless courage that qualify men for leadership, p130but he was governed by a violent, uncontrollable temper that invariably drove high-spirited men from the ranks of his followers. He had the restless energy and boundless ambition which inspire men to great enterprises, but he was possessed of an overweening egotism that made him incapable of sinking his personal interests in the interest of a cause. He had the keen insight into current conditions and the resourcefulness of intellect which fit men for the tasks of statesmanship, but he was controlled by a spirit of blind partisanship which destroyed his usefulness for the highest forms of public service.

Burrington was a bundle of contradictions. As governor he was zealous for the good of the province, but he was domineering and tyrannical in his conduct; he was fertile in ideas for its development, but tactless in presenting them to the consideration of others and intolerant of opposition; he was energetic in carrying his plans into execution, but ruthless and unscrupulous in his methods. His zeal for the public welfare was never unmixed with his personal interests for he had staked for himself vast estates in the province and did not scruple to use his official position to enhance their value. In his relations with other men, he acknowledged no neutrals. There were only friends and enemies. But both his friendships and his enmities were as often dictated by genuine interest in the affairs of the province as by personal feelings; and to advance the one or indulge the other, he was as ready to sacrifice his friends as to crush his enemies, and he did both with equal efficiency. Dissimulation was utterly foreign to his character; he was open and frank in friendship and in enmity, and gave no man cause to doubt where he would stand in any controversy; but with his friends he was selfish and exacting, domineering and, if his interests so dictated, faithless; while with his enemies he was quarrelsome and relentless, vengeful and brutal. His official papers show an intimate knowledge of the country and the measures best adapted to promote its development and considered alone, unconnected with his quarrels, present him as an active, intelligent and efficient official; but they cannot be considered alone, and they reveal him, therefore, as a man of ability, indeed, but utterly disqualified by character for the position he occupied.

Burrington was appointed governor in February, 1723, but he did not arrive in North Carolina until January, 1724. It was characteristic of him that he should align himself with the popular party. Moseley, who was of his Council, received p132from him numerous marks of confidence. When about to set out upon a journey to South Carolina, Burrington designated Moseley as acting-governor in his absence. He associated himself with Moseley, Moore and other leaders of the popular party in planting settlements on the Cape Fear. The Assembly, too, found him responsive to its wishes. At its request he ordered the Carolina land office, which had been closed by order of the Lords Proprietors, to be re-opened; and although the Lords Proprietors had forbidden the sale of any land within twenty miles of Cape Fear, again at the instance of the Assembly he ordered this instruction to be disregarded. The government party, which considered the governor as its natural head, keenly resented Burrington's desertion. Chief Justice Gale now became its leader, and early came into hostile conflict with Burrington who threatened to slit Gale's nose, crop his ears, "lay him in irons," and blow up his house with gun-powder. Unable to make headway against the governor and the Assembly, Gale finally carried his case to the Lords Proprietors. He charged that Burrington had violently broken up the sittings of the General Court, thereby rendering the chief justice incapable of executing his office; that Burrington had made murderous assaults upon him forcing him "in bodily fear of his life" to flee the province; that Burrington had been guilty of malpractices in office whereby he had prevented the king's customs officers from performing their duties. These charges, which the Assembly denounced as "malicious," the Lords Proprietors, who were accustomed to such violent controversies in their province, might have been willing to overlook in view of the material prosperity which the colony was enjoying under Burrington's energetic administration; but a fourth count against him, hinted at rather than openly charged, was a more serious matter. It was suggested that Burrington "intended a Revolution in this Government as was some years ago in South Carolina." The Reference of course was to the Revolution of 1719 in which the South Carolinians overthrew the proprietary government and invited the Crown to assume direct control of their affairs. Burrington's efforts to ingratiate himself with the popular party, his close association with Moseley and with Moore, whose brother had been a prominent leader in the South Carolina Revolution, his repudiation of the instructions of the Lords Proprietors, his zeal in opening the Cape Fear to settlements, and his visits to South Carolina, all gave color to the suggestion, and alarmed the Lords Proprietors, who in great haste p133removed him after he had been but a year in office, and appointed to succeed him Sir Richard Everard, who qualified at Edenton, July 19, 1725.

(p131)

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Christopher Gale

First Chief Justice
of North Carolina

Neither the Proprietors nor the colony reaped any benefit from the change. It resulted, for the former, in hastening the transfer of their property to the Crown; for the latter, in six years of bad government. Everard had all the vices and none of the virtues of Burrington. His intellect was mean, his character contemptible. As a man he was vain, selfish and cowardly; as governor he practiced nepotism, tyrannized over his colleagues, and accepted bribes. Besides these disqualifications for his place he was strongly suspected of Jacobitism. Upon the death of George I, it is said, he exclaimed with an air of exultation: "Now adieu to the Hanover family; we have done with them!" He had administered the government but a few months before Chief Justice Gale, Thomas Pollock, and other leaders who had hailed his appointment as a great party triumph, were clamoring for his removal. Because of his "great Incapacity and Weakness," they declared, the government had "grown so weak and Feeble" that but for its transfer to the Crown "it could not have subsisted much longer, but must have Dwindled and sunk into the utmost Confusion and Disorder." Everard was the last of the proprietary governors. During his administration the Lords Proprietors surrendered their charter to the Crown, — a step which, though inevitable sooner or later, was doubtless hastened by the utter breakdown of the proprietary government under Everard's direction.

The period covered by the administrations of Eden, Burrington, and Everard, in spite of bad government, was a period of growth and improvement. Immigration increased rapidly, settlements expanded to the west and south, and four new precincts were erected for the convenience of the new settlers. By 1720 settlements had ceased to hug the coast. Now and then some adventurer, more daring than the rest, with axe in one hand and rifle in the other, had dared to turn his back upon the older communities and plunge into the great unexplored forests to the westward. Along the bank of some stream he would select a fertile spot, clear away the trees, and build his rude cabin. Scores of such cabins were soon scattered throughout the interior. North of Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River, such settlers early pushed across the broad placid waters of Chowan River into the wilderness beyond. In 1722, the Assembly found that "that part of Albemarle p134County lying on the West side of Chowan River, being part of Chowan Precinct, is now inhabited almost to the utmost of the said County Westward" and that the inhabitants were daily "growing very numerous"; for their convenience, therefore, it erected that region into the precinct of Bertie. Settlers were also pushing southward. The overthrow of the Tuscarora along the Neuse had removed the most serious obstacle to the expansion of the province in that direction, and during the decade from 1713 to 1723, a few scattered adventurers cut their way through the wilderness as far south as White Oak and New rivers in what is now Onslow County. In 1724‑25, more than 1,000 families came into the province, most of whom pushed on across the Albemarle Sound into Bath County which filled up so rapidly that before 1730 three new precincts — Tyrrell (1729) at the extreme north end of the county, Carteret (1722) at the extreme east, and New Hanover (1729) embracing the infant settlement on the Cape Fear River, in the extreme south — were found necessary for the accommodation of the people.

About the same time that the opening of the Cape Fear added that fertile region to the province in the South, an important addition was made in the North by the settlement of the long-standing boundary-line dispute with Virginia. Credit for this result was due chiefly to Governor Eden, who in 1716, in a spirit of compromise, reached an agreement with Governor Spotswood of Virginia, which made the settlement possible. It will be remembered that the charter of 1665 called for the line to be run from "the north end of Currituck river or inlet" in a direct westerly direction "to Wyonoak Creek" in 36 degrees, 30 minutes, north latitude. The question in dispute was the location of Weyanoke Creek, Virginia maintaining its identity with Wicocon Creek, North Carolina with Nottoway River. Since this question could never be settled with absolute certainty, the interests of both colonies suggested a compromise. Eden and Spotswood, therefore, agreed upon one of three courses, viz.: beginning at the north shore of Currituck Inlet the line should run due west to Chowan River; if it cut the Chowan between the mouths of Nottoway River and Wicocon Creek, it should continue in the same course to the mountains; if it cut the Chowan south of its conjunction with Wicocon Creek, it should run from that point up the river to the creek, thence west; if it cut Blackwater River north of Nottoway River, it should run down the Blackwater to the Nottoway, thence west. This agreement was signed by p135both governors and transmitted by Eden to the Lords Proprietors, by Spotswood to the Crown for ratification. Spotswood urged ratification upon the Crown, saying that the compromise contained "the only Overture which has been made from ye beginning, wherein both Governments could be brought to acquiesce"; that while both sides adhered to their original claims, "it was not easy to foresee an end to this contest, though the Inconveniencysº to both Governments by the continuance of this dispute isº very obvious, and likely still to increase, many people settling themselves in those controverted Lands who own obedience to ye laws of neither Province." Both the king and the Lords Proprietors ratified the agreement and directed the line to be run accordingly. These directions were not given, however, until after the death of Eden and the removal of Spotswood from office.

The line was run in 1728. On the part of North Carolina the commissioners were Christopher Gale, John Lovick, William Little, and Edward Moseley; on the part of Virginia, William Byrd, Richard Fitz-Williams, and William Dandridge. The Virginians, desiring to turn their arduous enterprise into a triumphant pageant through the wilderness, made elaborate preparations in keeping with the dignity of the great province they represented. That the Carolina commissioners might come similarly prepared, they took pains to notify them of their plans. Besides themselves and their retinue of personal servants, they said, their party would embrace a chaplain, scientists and mathematicians, Indian traders, expert woodsmen, and a company of soldiers. "We shall have with us a Tent and Marques for the convenience of ourselves and our Servants. We bring as much wine and rum as will enable us and our men to drink every night to the good Success of the following day. And because we understand there are many Gentiles on the frontier who never had oppertunity of being Baptized we shall have a Chaplain with us to make them Christians." The Carolina commissioners, who had not considered any pomp and ceremony as necessary in connection with their undertaking, were astonished by this announcement and somewhat perplexed as to the course they should adopt. Their hard common sense, however, came to their rescue. "We are at a Loss, Gentlemen," they wrote, "whether to thank you for the particulars you give us of your Tent Stores and the manner you design to meet us. Had you been silent about it we had not wanted an Excuse for not meeting you in the same manner but now you force us to Expose the nakedness p136of our Country and to tell you we cant possibly meet you in the manner our great respect to you would make us glad to do whom we are not Emulous of outdoing unless in Care & Dilligence in the affair we come to meet you about. So all we can answer to that article is that we will Endeavour to provide as well as the Circumstances of things will admit us and what we may want in necessaries we hope will be made up in the Spiritual Comfort we expect from your Chaplain of whom we shall give notice as you desire to all Lovers of Novelty and doubt not of a great many Boundary Christians." "That keen thrust under the guard," comments George Davis, "delivered too with all the glowing courtesy of knighthood, is exquisite. * * * If the Virginians were as familiar with sweet Will as they undoubtedly were with the value of tent stores, they must have had an uncomfortable remembrance of Sir Andrew Aguecheek — 'An I thought he had been so cunning in fence, I'd have seen him damned ere I'd have challenged him.' "

The commissioners began their work at Currituck Inlet, March 6, 1728, and having ascertained the exact location of 36 degrees, 30 minutes, north latitude, they drove a cedar post in the seashore at that point to mark the beginning of the line. They then began their westward course. It is not necessary to follow them in their long and difficult task as they cut their way through the tangled wilderness, plunged through noxious swamps, and ferried deep and sluggish rivers. The experience of the surveyors in the Great Dismal Swamp, was full of adventure, hardships and dangers that called for a high degree of intelligence, endurance, and dauntless courage. They were the first white men to pass through that vast wilderness of water and network of trees and vines, through which even the rays of the sun could not penetrate. The survey brought to light many interesting facts and revealed situations full of surprises not only to the commissioners but to the inhabitants along the line. The line, for instance, "cut through William Speight's Plantation, taking the Tobacco House into Carolina and leaving the Dwelling House in Virginia." Several other planters had similar experiences. The intersection of the line with Blackwater River was found to be a half-mile north of Nottoway River "which agreed to half a minute with the observation made formerly by Mr. Lawson." Proceeding according to instructions down the Blackwater to the Nottoway, the commissioners ran the line due west from their confluence. Having thus settled the most acute phase of the p137dispute, the commissioners, on April 5, "considering the great fatigue already undergone, and the danger of Rattle snakes in this advanced season, determined to proceed no further with the Line till the Fall." On September 25th, they resumed their work. Upon reaching the Hycootee River, a tributary of the Roanoke, in what is now Person County, 168 miles from the starting point at Currituck Inlet, the Carolina commissioners resolved to proceed no farther saying that as the line then extended fifty miles beyond the remotest settlement and that many years would elapse before settlers would penetrate so far into the interior, it would involve needless trouble and expense to continue it. The Virginians protested against this step and announced their determination to proceed alone until they should reach the foot of the mountains. This course the Carolina commissioners declared would be "irregular and invalid," contending that a line so run "would be no Boundary." Nevertheless the Virginians, showing more wisdom than their opponents, carried the line farther westward about seventy-two miles into the present county of Stokes. In all they ran it 241 miles from the beginning.

On the whole the settlement was favorable to North Carolina. It vindicated her commissioners of 1709 from the severe strictures cast upon them by their Virginian colleagues, and showed that the Virginia commissioners of that year had been in error 21½ miles. "To the great surprise of all who had read the report of former [Virginia] Commissioners," wrote Lieutenant-Governor William Gooch of Virginia, announcing the result to the Board of Trade, "it is now found that instead of gaining a large Tract of Land from North Carolina, the line comes rather than nearer to Virginia than that which Carolina has always allowed to be our bounds." The Carolina commissioners reported that "there was taken by the Line into Carolina a very great Quantity of Lands and Number of Families that before had been under Verginia of which the time would not admit to take an Exact account but computed to be above One hundred Thousand acres and above Three hundred Tythables," i.e., above 1,200 inhabitants. The great gain to both provinces was in the removal of a cause of controversy, the quieting of titles to property, and the establishment of the authority of government over a large number of persons who had taken advantage of the dispute to settle in a strip of territory "where the laws of neither Province could reach them."

The result of the survey was reported not to the Lords Proprietors p138but to officials of the Crown for when the survey was completed North Carolina had ceased to be a proprietary colony. This result had long been a foregone conclusion. For more than forty years crown officials and agents had carried on a propaganda against the proprietary colonies with the design of bringing them under the direct government of the Crown. The chief reason assigned for this policy was the failure of the proprietary governments to enforce the navigation laws, but other reasons were also given. It was charged that they had failed to accomplish "the chief design" for which they were established; that they enacted statutes "contrary and repugnant to the Laws of England and directly prejudicial to Trade;" that they denied appeals from their courts to the king in Council; that they harbored smugglers and pirates; that they debased their currency and by offering immigrants exemption from taxation, drew people from the crown colonies, thus "undermining the Trade and Welfare of the other Plantations;" that they promoted manufactures which were proper only to England; that they neglected their defenses against attack by Indians and foreign enemies "which is every day more and more to be apprehended, considering how the French power encreases in those parts;" and, finally, that all these evils arose from their misuse of the powers granted in their charters "and the Independency which they pretend to." Accordingly the Board of Trade recommended as the remedy for these evils that "the Charters of the severall Proprietors and others intitling them to absolute Government be reassumed by the Crown and these Colonies be put into the same State and dependency as those of your Majesties other Plantations."

Such a result, however, could not be brought by summary proceedings; the consent of the Proprietors was necessary, but since the Proprietors did not seem inclined to give their consent voluntarily, the Crown determined upon a line of policy designed to compel compliance. Step by step it proceeded, always in the same direction, to loosen the hold of the Proprietors upon their possessions. As early as 1686 quo warranto proceedings were ordered to be instituted against them with the purpose of having their charter forfeited to Crown. These proceedings failing, the Privy Council, in 1689, recommended action by Parliament to bring the proprietary colony "under a nearer dependence on the Crown." In line with this recommendation Parliament, in 1696, passed an act requiring that the nominees of the Proprietors for p139governors of their colonies be approved by the Crown before assuming their duties, and, further, that they give bond to the Crown for the enforcement of the navigation and customs laws. To assure the punishment of violators of these laws, the Crown also proposed to appoint the attorneys-general of the proprietary colonies and to establish in them admiralty courts whose officials were to be appointed by the king. In 1701, upon the recommendation of the Board of Trade, a bill was introduced in Parliament "for remitting to the Crown the Government of several [proprietary] colonies and Plantations in America;" and the surveyor-general of His Majesty's customs, Edmund Randolph, who had been the Crown's most active agent in securing data against the proprietaries, was instructed to appear at the Bar of the House of Lords in support of the measure. But "by reason of the shortness of time and multiplicity of other business" before Parliament, the bill failed of passage; the Board of Trade, however, announced that it would "again come under consideration the next Session of Parliament," and applied to Governor Nicholson of Virginia for information "relating to the conduct of Proprietary Governours and Governments, * * * more especially in relation to Carolina and the Bahama Islands," which could be used in support of the bill. For some reason the bill was not pressed. In 1714, it was proposed to require the laws passed by the proprietary governments to be submitted to the Crown for approval, but an inspection of their charters quickly convinced the king's advisers that this could not be done without an act of Parliament. Besides these official attacks, officials and agents of the Crown and of crown colonies poured forth a constantly flowing stream of abuse and misrepresentation of the proprietary colonies, all with the single purpose of wearing out the patience of the Proprietors and inducing them to surrender their charters.

For nearly half a century the Lords Proprietors of Carolina resisted these encroachments of the Crown upon their chartered rights. When quo warranto proceedings were begun in 1686, Shaftesbury wrote: "I shall bee as unwilling to dispute his Ma[jes]ties pleasure as any man but this being a Publique Concerne tis not in any perticular man's power to dispose of it." The Lords Proprietors complained that they were given "no oppertunity to rectifie or clear some misinformations" about their colonies laid before the king by Randolph and the Board of Trade, upon which the bills for p140forfeiting their charter had been based; and they protested against the appointment of the attorney-general and the erection of admiralty courts by the Crown as violations of the terms of their charter. As time passed, however, they realized that they were waging a losing battle. In 1719 came the Revolution in South Carolina, and the ease with which the people overthrew their authority and the eagerness with which the Crown recognized the rebel government revealed the slight hold they had on their provinces. When they considered, too, "the number of the Proprietors, their disunion, the frequency of minorities amongst them, their Inability to procure to themselves Justice from South Carolina with respect to their Quit Rents and their Want of Power to correct the great Abuses committed by the settlement about the Paper Money and other publick acts to the Prejudice of the British Commerce and an apprehension that in Case of an Invasion the Colony would be lost to the great detriment of the Publick as well as to themselves," they realized the wisdom of yielding to the inevitable. In January, 1728, accordingly, they united in a memorial to the Crown offering to surrender their charter. Negotiations were accordingly opened which resulted in all of the Lords Proprietors agreeing to surrender their political rights, and in seven of them agreeing to sell their property interests for £2,500 each.1 In addition to the purchase price, the king consented to allow them £5000 for arrears of quit rents due them. The agreement was submitted to Parliament which promptly passed an act embodying the terms of the sale. The conveyance was duly executed on July 25, 1729, the colony passed under the direct authority of the Crown, and the rule of the Lords Proprietors came to an end.

The people of the colony heard the announcement of the transfer with great satisfaction. The Council at once prepared a memorial to the king in which they declared that it p141was "with the greatest Pleasure we Received the Notice of your Majesty's having taken this Government under your Immediate direction." Throughout the colony the change was celebrated with great rejoicings. At Edenton, wrote Governor Everard, "the utmost demonstrationsº of joy wasº shewn by all people in generall and the night concluded wth a Compleat illumination and Boon Fires and drinking his Majtys health and all the Royall Familys long life."

The people had cause for their joy. Crippled by the commercial policy of their powerful northern neighbor, neglected by the Lords Proprietors, antagonized by the Crown, what those early Carolinians had obtained they got through their own unassisted exertions and without favor from anybody. None of the English colonies had passed through a more desperate struggle for existence. The geographical position of North Carolina was such as placed its commerce at the mercy of Virginia, and there was then, as Saunders observes, no Federal Constitution to prevent unneighborly legislation. The inefficient government of the Proprietors was unable to preserve either order or safety in the province, and was just strong enough to be a source of constant irritation. The Culpepper Rebellion, the Cary Rebellion, the Indian wars and the struggle with piracy severely tested the character and the capabilities of the people. Their situation, for instance, at the close of the Indian wars was almost desperate. Most of the people have "scarcely corn to last them until wheat time, many not having any at all;" "the community miserably reduced by Indian cruelty," and "the inhabitants brought to so low an ebb" that large numbers fled the province; "our intestine broils and contentions, to which all the misfortunes which have since attended us are owing;" "a country preserved which everybody that was but the least acquainted with our circumstances gave over for lost" — these are typical expressions with which the correspondence of the period abounds. That the colony survived these conditions is better evidence of the character and spirit of the people than the sneers and jibes of hostile critics, either contemporary or modern. Had the greater part of the population of North Carolina, or even a considerable minority of it, been composed of "the shiftless people who could not make a place for themselves in Virginia society," as William Byrd and John Fiske would have us believe, all the aristocracy of Virginia and South Carolina combined could not have saved the colony from anarchy and ruin. Yet between the years 1663 and 1728 p142somebody laid here in North Carolina the foundations of a great state. The foundation upon which great states are built is the character of their people, and the "mean whites" of Virginia are not now, nor were they then, the sort of people who found and build states. No colony composed to any extent of such a people could have rallied from such disasters as those from which North Carolina rallied between 1718 and 1728. Those years were years of growth and expansion. The population increased threefold, the Cape Fear was opened to settlers, new plantations were cleared, better methods of husbandry introduced, mills erected, roads surveyed, ferries established, trade was increased, towns were incorporated, better houses built, better furniture installed, parishes created, churches erected, ministers supplied, the schoolmaster found his way thither, and the colony was fairly started on that course of development which brought it, by the outbreak of the Revolution, to the rank of fourth in population and importance among the thirteen English-speaking colonies in America.


The Author's Note:

1 The shares were then held as follows: Clarendon's share by James Bertie of Middlesex; Albemarle's by Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, and his minor brother Noell Somerset; Craven's by William Lord Craven; Lord Berkeley's by Joseph Blake of South Carolina; Ashley's by John Cotton, a minor, of the Middle Temple, London; Colleton's by Sir John Colleton of Devonshire; Sir William Berkeley's by Henry Bertie of Buck's County, or Mary Danson of Middlesex, or Elizabeth Moore of London, the title being in litigation; and Carteret's by John Lord Carteret, Baron of Hawes, afterwards Earl of Granville. Carteret though surrendering all his rights of political control, refused to sell his share; accordingly, one-eighth of the original grant was reserved from the purchase and in 1744 was laid off for him wholly within North Carolina.


Thayer's Notes:

a For the whole subject of piracy, see Hugh F. Rankin's 72‑page monograph, The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina. Blackbeard and Governor Eden's dealings with him are detailed in chapter 5.

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b Our author's list might have included any number of other colonies: in Louisiana for example see Gayarré, II.115 (by the English), III.442 (by the French and Spanish), IV.228‑229 (by the new Americans).


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