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Chapter 26

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.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter 27

Except for the activities of Fanning, who did not leave the State until May, 1782, the departure of Craige brought the war to a close in North Carolina, although a year was to elapse before peace was declared and the independence of the colonies acknowledged. Six years of war had wrought ruin and disaster in many sections of the State. Conditions in North Carolina at the close of the struggle have nowhere been better described than by Ashe.​1 "The contest had been doubtful," he says. "It brought many vicissitudes and much suffering. The state as well as the continental currency had ceased to have value. Many families had been utterly impoverished. Misery and desolation were diffused through innumerable households. Civil war and carnage had raged from Surry to Brunswick. Murder and pillage had stalked through a large section of the State, and families expelled from their homes had sought asylums in distant parts, and were too impoverished to return. Many mothers and children were bereft of their last support, their sacrifices in the cause of independence being irreparable. In the desolated region of the Cape Fear even the wealthiest of the patriots were ruined by the ravages of the war. They had cheerfully laid their all on the altar of their country. Hard had been the conflict, but in the darkest hours the brave hearts of the North Carolina patriots became still more courageous, and in their adversity they bore their sufferings with resolution and fortitude. At length the storm-clouds passed away, the sky was no longer obscured, and hope gave place to assurance. The ardent longing became a joyful realization."

The people of North Carolina, however, lost no time in mourning over their losses or rejoicing over their victories. The tasks of repairing the wastes of war, of providing for the wants of the soldiers, and of solving the problems of  p496 independence were too immediate and pressing to be postponed. The General Assembly met at Hillsboro, April 15, 1782. In an able address Governor Burke reviewed conditions in the State and pointed out some of the problems which called for immediate solution. He reminded the Assembly that the war was not yet over, that British garrisons still held Charleston and Savannah, and that "the Enemy have still larger forces in our Country" than the Americans themselves, and urged therefore the importance of keeping up the military establishment. "Though we have gained great advantages," he said, "that is not enough, those advantages are to be secured and ought to be improved into compleat and indispensable success. Victory gives strength and energy. Defeat imposes weakness and dismay. While our Arms are prevailing is therefore the precise season for such actions as remain to put us in possession of peace and prosperity." He strongly emphasized the State's "indispensable duty to support her Quota of force, of expense and of Council" in continental affairs. Her military laws needed strengthening. Penalties should be imposed upon officers for failure to make proper returns of drafts for recruiting the Continental Line, the number of causes for exemption from militia service ought to be reduced, and provisions made for better discipline of both militia officers and soldiers. Point was given to this last recommendation by the conduct of Rutherford's men upon their entering Wilmington after Craige's retirement, which was still fresh in everybody's recollection; "they seemed to regard the place as one carried by storm, a fair theatre for plunder and the display of the worst passions of our nature."2

Among the important matters which Burke urged upon the attention of the Assembly was that it should support not only the State's quota of force and expense, but also "of Council" in continental affairs. It was a timely recommendation. Following the Declaration of Independence Congress had taken up the problem of a closer and more permanent union of the thirteen states. Its discussion resulted in the Articles of Confederation. When the final vote was taken on this plan of union North Carolina was represented in Congress by Thomas Burke, John Penn, and Cornelius Harnett. Burke who was absent in North Carolina at the time was opposed to the plan  p497 which he laughed at "as a Chimerical Project." Penn and Harnett favored it. "I think," wrote the latter, "that unless the States confederate a door will be left open for Continental Contention and Bloodshed, and that very soon after we are at peace with Europe." The Articles were adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. "The child Congress has been big with these two years past," wrote Harnett to Burke, "is at last brought forth — (Confederation). I fear it will by several Legislatures be thought a little deformed; — you will think it a Monster." He thought it "the most difficult piece of Business that ever was undertaken by any public Body," and regarded it as "the best Confederacy that could be formed especially when we consider the number of states, their different Interests, [and] Customs." Harnett of course was solicitous as to the fate of the Articles in North Carolina, but apparently without cause. They were laid before the Assembly April 24, 1778, and promptly ratified.

The Articles of Confederation required each State to be represented in the Continental Congress by not more than seven nor less than two delegates. But this obligation the states failed to meet. After 1776 the Continental Congress rapidly lost its early prestige. Most of the eminent leaders who had given it distinction and influence had retired from its halls to the councils of their own states, to foreign courts, and to the battlefields. These now offered greater opportunities for fame and service than Congress. Still there was important work for Congress to do. The army was to be maintained. The navy was to be created, organized and manned. Congress alone represented the United States in foreign affairs. In its name American ministers were received at foreign courts. By its authority they negotiated treaties. Upon its credit they borrowed money. It alone could ratify the treaty which acknowledged the independence of the thirteen states. Yet at home its authority had become merely nominal. The states no longer treated its decrees with respect, or its re­quisitions with obedience; and they became increasingly more and more indifferent to maintaining their delegations in it.

North Carolina had been among the worst offenders in this matter. Her delegation had generally been composed of her ablest and most distinguished leaders — among them Caswell, Hooper, Hewes, Penn, Harnett, Burke, Johnston, Hugh Williamson, and Benjamin Hawkins. One of them, Samuel Johnston,  p498 had been elected president of the Congress, but had declined to serve. After 1780, however, the State was seldom represented in Congress by a full delegation and at times even was not represented at all. From July 21 to September 21, 1781, William Sharpe alone represented the State. Then followed an interval when no delegate from the State was present. On October 4, 1781, Benjamin Hawkins took his seat and alone represented the State until March 19, 1782, when he departed, leaving the State again unrepresented until July 19 when Hugh Williamson appeared and took his seat. Accordingly when the Assembly next met Governor Burke pointed out its duty of "the appointing of Delegates to represent the State in Congress and providing for their decent support while employed in that high and important service." His recommendation, however, seems to have had but little effect. The State's delegates continued to attend only spasmodically. Nor did the other states show any greater interest. In a Congress entitled to ninety-one members, only twenty-three were present, January 14, 1784, to vote for the ratification of the treaty of peace which acknowledged their independence. Representing North Carolina on that occasion were Hugh Williamson and Richard Dobbs Spaight.º

In his message Governor Burke pointed out the necessity for important reforms in the civil affairs of the State. He called attention to the negligence and corruption that prevailed among the specific tax collectors, commissaries and quartermasters; the "disorder of the public accounts;" the "insufficiency of the provisions for the Judges and Attorney-General" which "has much embarrassed the Judiciary Department of the Government and threatens to leave the State altogether without Courts of Justice." One of the most forcible passages in his address deals with the evils of arbitrary impressments for public purposes, which he had set himself "absolutely to restrain and hoped finally to render them unnecessary." Perceiving "that rendering the merchant's property precarious, and depriving him of the means of carrying on his trade by seizing without payment his stock, must infallibly ruin our Importations and exportations, and leave us without foreign supplies," he recommended "to the patronage of the General Assembly this important source of wealth, strength and population." The message itself, in style, in spirit and in content was a strong document; the circumstances under which it was delivered made it all the more impressive. All realized  p499 that it was the last act of a distinguished public career, which had begun with brilliance and was closing under a dark cloud of adversity.

The Assembly hastened to carry many of the governor's recommendations into effect. It passed an act to complete the State's continental battalions and imposed a penalty of £50 upon any officer who failed to make proper returns. Another act required specific tax collectors, commissaries, and quartermasters to make settlements of their accounts. The war had produced unsettled business conditions. Titles to property had become insecure because many persons in the State "through the confusion of the times," had not been able to prove and register deeds and other conveyances as required by law, and because others had not completed buildings on town lots "within the time limited by law" on account of the "impossibility of procuring necessary materials for building * * * occasioned by the present war with Great Britain." The Assembly accordingly passed several acts designed to give necessary relief from such conditions, and to stabilize business. With the same purpose in view it established a scale of depreciation for paper currency. An important reform was made in the judiciary by granting equity jurisdiction to the superior court judges. Several acts were passed granting relief to towns from conditions produced by the war. Illustrative of this kind of legislation is an act relating to the election of commissioners for the town of Edenton. By an act of 1745 the General Assembly named the commissioners and conferred upon them the power of self-perpetuation; this act was now declared inconsistent with the spirit of our present Constitution," and the commissioners were made elective by the freeholders of the town. Other acts resulting from the war provided for the re-opening of the land office; for the sale of confiscated property; and for the relief of the officers and soldiers of the Continental Line.

One of the first problems to which the Assembly turned its attention was to provide for the men whose sacrifices, endurance and courage had brought the struggle to its triumphant close. An act was passed to make good to the officers and soldiers of the Continental Line the losses they had sustained by reason of the depreciation of the currency, and a commission consisting of John Hawks, James Coor, and William Blount was appointed to carry it into effect. In 1780, it will be recalled, the Assembly reserved an immense tract  p500 of the State's western lands to be used as bounties for her soldiers. At the April session, 1782, therefore, declaring that it was "proper that some effectual and permanent reward should be rendered for the signal bravery and persevering zeal of the Continental officers and soldiers in the service of the State," the Assembly passed an act providing for the distribution of this land, allotting to each private soldier, 640 acres; to each non-commissioned officer, 1,000 acres; to each subaltern, 2,560 acres; to each captain 3,840 acres; to each major, 4,800 acres; to each lieutenant-colonel, 5,760 acres; to each colonel, 7,200 acres; to each brigadier-general, 12,000 acres; to each surgeon, 4,800 acres; and to each surgeon's mate, 2,560 acres. Similar allotments were made to the heirs of those who had been killed in the service. To General Greene, "as a mark of the high sense this State entertains of the extraordinary services of that brave and gallant officer," the General Assembly granted 25,000 acres. Absalom Tatum, Isaac Shelby, and Anthony Bledsoe were appointed commissioners to lay off these claims.

The Assembly also turned its attention to those citizens of the State who were prisoners in the hands of the British. Every war has its story of prison brutalities and horrors, and the war of the American Revolution was no exception. Each side freely charged the other with intentional mistreatment of its prisoners, and unfortunately each was able to cite incidents which seem to sustain its charges. But even if we dismiss from consideration all accusations of intentional mistreatment by either side, there remains a story of terrible privations and sufferings. The British perhaps were more blameable than the Americans since their resources and means of alleviating suffering were greater. Stories of British prison-ships of the American Revolution find their parallel in the story of Andersonville and Fort Delaware during the Civil War. After the fall of Charleston the soldiers of the North Carolina Continental Line who became prisoners of war were placed on prison-ships in Charleston harbor; many others were sent thither after Camden. Close confinement, improper food, and ill-usage proved fatal to scores of them. Others were sent to the West Indies where under heavy pressure, amounting practically to compulsion, they entered the British service against Spain. But many were still in captivity when the Assembly met in 1782. The General Assembly accordingly adopted a resolution requesting  p501 the governor to open negotiations with General Leslie, the British commander at Charleston, for an exchange of these captives for "such of our disaffected Inhabitants [who were] guilty of Military offences only." Governor Martin complied with this resolution with such success, through the mediation of General Greene, that when the Assembly met April 18, 1783, he was able to report that the exchanges had been effected "and our late suffering people restored to their friends and families."

Having provided rewards for its soldiers, and secured the release of those in prison, the Assembly next sought to adopt a policy that would tend to allay the bitterness which the war had aroused. When the Assembly met, April 18, 1783, Governor Martin announced that the king had acknowledged the independence of the United States, adding that to the General Assembly "belongs the Task, that in sheathing the Sword, you soften the horrors [of war] and repair those ravages which war has made with a skillful hand, and thereby heal the wounds of your bleeding Country. Our late revolted Citizens who, through ignorance and delusion, have forfeited their lives but are endeavouring to expiate their crimes by new proofs of fidelity, have fresh claims to your Clemency on this happy occasion." Following this advice and declaring it to be the policy, "of all wise states on the termination of civil wars, to grant an act of pardon and oblivion for past offenses," the Assembly passed an act providing that all treasons, misprision of treason, felonies, and misdemeanors, committed since July 4, 1776, by any person or persons, should be "pardoned, released, and put in total oblivion," but from the benefits of the amnesty it excepted five classes of persons. They were: (1), citizens of the State who had accepted commissions as officers and acted as such under the king; (2), those who were named in the confiscation acts; (3), those who had left the State with the British armies and should fail to return within twelve months after the passage of this law; (4), Peter Mallette, Samuel Andrews, and David Fanning; and (5), persons guilty of deliberate and wilful house-burning, murder, and rape. But in spite of legislative leniency, the people of North Carolina never really pardoned or forgave the men whose voices and hands had been raised against them in their struggle for independence. Many of the Loyalists returned expecting to resume their old places in their communities, only to find themselves under a ban socially and politically, and unable to bear the frowns  p502 and contempt of their former friends and neighbors, finally abandoned North Carolina to seek new homes in Canada, Florida, or in the new regions to the south and west. A few went to England where they spent the remaining years of their lives in begging from an ungrateful government compensation for the losses which they had sustained in its behalf in America.

Its "Act of Pardon and Oblivion" the Assembly wished to be accepted as evidence of its "earnest desire to observe the articles of peace." These articles, containing the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States, the governor laid before "the representatives of this free, Sovereign and Independent State" on April 19, 1783, — the eighth anniversary of the battle of Lexington, — saying: "With impatience I hasten to communicate the most important intelligence that has yet arrived in the American Continent. His Britannic Majesty having acknowledged the United States of America free, Sovereign and Independent, * * * for this most happy and auspicious event, which involves in it a most precious inheritance for ages and all the blessings that can flow from Independent Empire, with the most lively, fervent and heart-felt joy, I congratulate you and through you all my fellow-citizens of the State of North Carolina. * * * Nothing now remains but to enjoy the fruits of uninterrupted Constitutional Freedom, the more sweet and precious as the tree was planted by [the] virtue, raised by the Toil, and nurtured by the blood of Heroes."

The Author's Notes:

1 History of North Carolina, Vol. I, p722.

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2 McRee, G. J.: Life and Correspondence of James Iredell, Vol. I, p562.

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