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Chapter 7

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 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter 8
Problems of Reconstruction

The peace which followed the Tuscarora War was not the peace of despair, or of sloth and inaction, nor yet of indifference to the public welfare. The defeat of Cary's revolt against Hyde, the separation of the government of North Carolina from that of South Carolina, and the experiences of Indian war, all tended to strengthen the government and to discredit the revival of special factions; the days for such adventurers as Culpepper and Miller, "Governor Gibbs" and Thomas Cary, were gone forever. Never again in its long history, except during the dark days of Reconstruction, was a chief executive of North Carolina to hold his office by a disputed title. The disgraceful quarrels of Everard and Burrington were yet to come, but they involved only the narrow circles of the personal friends of the disputants; the great body of the people stood aloof looking on with amusement or disgust. Issues more important than the ambitions and passions of individual leaders gradually arose, which grew out of conflicting views of the theories and principles of government and formed the basis for logical and healthy political divisions among the people. Although there were no elaborate organizations, or formal declarations of principles and policies, such as characterize modern political parties, nevertheless these divisions were distinct enough in personnel and in opinions for us to think of them as political parties.

First, there was the party which, for lack of a better name, we may call the government party. Its cardinal principle was belief in the necessity for a strong executive. In the administration of the government, it looked for guidance to instructions from the Lords Proprietors — after 1731 from the king — which, however inconsistent they might be with the charter, the Fundamental Constitutions, or even with the principles of the British Constitution itself, it regarded as binding upon all  p112 colonial officials. This party found its chief support among members of the Council and other officials who owed their positions to the Lords Proprietors, or to the Crown; among those who hoped to promote their financial or social interests through official influence; and among those who sincerely believed that the best interests of the colony would be served by a government as independent of the people as possible. The governor himself was regarded as its leader, although not infrequently some prominent colonist, by reason of his superior abilities or character, as in the case of Thomas Pollock, so overshadowed the governor as to become the real if not the nominal party leader.

Over against this government party was the party which the historians of North Carolina like to call the popular party. The name expresses its political philosophy. Its fundamental principle was that the will of the people should be supreme in the government and that the people's will found expression through their representatives in the General Assembly. "This lawless people," wrote Urmstone in 1717, "will allow of no power or authority in either Church or state save what is derived from them." "The Assembly of this Province," testified Burrington in 1731, "have allways usurped more power than they ought to have." "All the Governours that were ever in this Province," he wrote at another time, "lived in fear of the People * * * and Dreaded their Assemblys. * * * They insist that no Public money can or ought to be paid but by a claim given to and allowed by the House of Burgesses." The people having no voice in the choice of their governor, the highest office within their gift was the speaker­ship of the General Assembly; to that office, therefore, the ambitious politician aspired and to it the leader of the popular party was generally chosen. As the Council was the voice of the government party, so the Assembly was the voice or popular party, and most of the political history of the colony revolves around the struggles of these two forces for supremacy.

The earliest statement extant of the principles of the two parties is found in the records of the second year of Governor Eden's administration. Its origin is somewhat obscure, but it appears to have grown out of the action of the governor and Council in impressing men and property for military service against the Indians without specific authority from the Assembly. For this action, the Assembly severely criticised the executive department. When this criticism was brought to the attention  p113 of the Council, that body unanimously resolved that it "tends very much to ye Infringement of ye Authorityes and powers of ye Government for that it is undoubtedly prerogative to imppressº and provide such necessaryes as they shall see fitting on any present Invasion, Insurrection or other pressing Emergencies or unforseen necessaties." Thus the government party, emphasizing the "prerogative" of the executive, in reply to the popular party, which had laid emphasis on the "Authority of Assembly." The views of the latter had been expressed in a resolution, drawn, it is thought, by Edward Moseley, speaker, and for nearly forty years the undisputed leader of the popular party, and unanimously adopted by the Assembly. It declared "that the Impressing the Inhabitants of this Governmt or their Effects under pretence of its being for ye Publick Service without Authority of Assembly is unwarrantable [and] A Great Infringmt of the Liberty of ye Subjects." The popular party thus took its stand in support of the principles upon which the American Revolution was afterwards fought, and from that position it never receded. It is the fact that most of the contests during our colonial history between the executive and the Assembly, i.e., between the government party and the popular party, involved this vital principle that lifts them above the level of petty colonial politics and clothes them with undying interest and significance.

From the bitter experiences through which North Carolina had passed, certain lessons were deducible which were not lost upon the people, and these lessons found expression in the legislation of the time. It was apparent that many of the colony's troubles were traceable to the weakness of government, inefficient and often corrupt administration of public affairs, and the general confusion arising from the uncertainty as to what laws were in force in the province. To remedy these evils, the General Assembly in 1714 determined upon a careful revision of "the ancient standing laws of this Government," and this revision was made by the Assembly in 1715. Its work forms a landmark in the history of North Carolina. When the student of our constitutional development, says Dr. Bassett, comes to this "Revisal of 1715," he experiences a feeling of relief, for here he leaves behind all the confusion and difficulties arising from a dubious system and meager data, and stands at last on solid ground. Doubt gives place to certainty, for now, in well preserved and authentic records, he has before  p114 him a clear outline of the government.​1 He has, indeed, much more than that, for in these revised statutes, sixty-nine in number, covering nearly a half-century of our history, we find a picture of the life of the people, a record of their struggles and achievements, and an expression of their ideals and aspirations.

To strengthen the government, an act "for the more effectual observing of the Queen's Peace, and Establishing a good and lasting Foundation of Government in North Carolina," originally passed in 1711, was brought forward in its entirety. The preamble is historically interesting. After attributing the "several Revolutions" that had occurred in the colony, and the ruin and suffering resulting from them, to "the late unhappy Dissentions" among the people, it asserts that "it has pleased God in a great Measure to influence us with a deep Concern for our Calamities, and put into our Hands a Power and Resolution of removing these threatening Evils and Dangers, and for the future to procure a happy Restoration of Peace and Tranquility amongst us, by making such courageous and wholesome Laws whereby Religion and virtue may flourish, our Duty to our Prince and Governors be put in practice and maintained, our Laws, Liberties and Estates preserved and kept inviolated, and Justice and Trade encouraged." To secure these results severe punishment "by fine, imprisonment, pillory, or otherwise at the discretion of the court," was provided for persons found guilty of seditious words or conduct, of spreading "false News" or "scurrilous Libels" against government, and of participating in conspiracies, riots, or rebellions. As a still further discouragement to future Culpeppers, Gibbses, and Carys, the act also declared that any person indulging in such pastimes should be incapable of holding any office in the province for three years. "And because it has always happened," continues this interesting statute, "that upon vacancy of the Government, seditious and Evil-minded Persons have taken Occasion to dispute the Authority of the succeeding governor or President, however Elected or Qualified, for want of certain Rules being laid down and approved of by the Lords Proprietors," the Assembly imposed the duty of filling such a vacancy upon the Council and specifically directed how it should perform that duty.

Careful attention was also given to problems relating to the administration of public affairs. Acts were passed providing  p115 for the appointment and defining the duties of certain precinct officials; fixing the fees of all officials from the governor down; requiring every officer, unless appointed by the Lords Proprietors, to give bond "for the faithful discharge of his Office"; regulating court proceedings; declaring the methods of probating wills and granting letters of administration; providing for the care of orphans; fixing the age at which a person should be considered a tithable, and directing how lists of tithables should be taken in the several precincts. One important act put into effect that clause of the Fundamental Constitutions guaranteeing biennial sessions of the General Assembly. It fixed the date and places of elections, directed how elections should be held; defined the qualifications for members and for voters; allotted five members each to the precincts of Albemarle County and two each to all other precincts; and declared that "the Quorum of the House of Burgesses for voting & passing of Bills shall not be less than one full half of the House."

This act was a favorite measure of the popular party, but when put to the test it was found to contain defects which nullified its purpose. In September, 1725, in accordance with its provisions, representatives were elected to meet in Assembly in November; but in October, Governor Everard, acting upon the advice of his Council, prorogued the session until April 1, 1726. His action aroused the indignation of the popular party, and in defiance of his proclamation the representatives-elect met at the appointed time and undertook to organize a house. The governor, of course, refused to recognize them as a legal body, and declined to send to them the election returns of members, or to receive their speaker. The representatives thereupon adopted a protest against this "Pretended Prorogation" as "being Contrary to the Laws of this Province, an Infringement of their Liberty & Breach of the Priviledges of the People." Then, having resolved that they would "Proceed to no business until their Lawful Priviledges which they now claim are Confirm'd unto them by the Governor & Council," they adjourned to the date set by the governor's proclamation. However, they were forced to recede from their position because technically they were in the wrong. The act to which they appealed called for biennial sessions, "Provided allways & nevertheless that the Powers granted to the Lords Proprietors from the Crown of Calling, proroguing & dissolving Assemblys are not hereby meant or intended to be invaded, limited or restrained." This provision, of course, placed sessions  p116 of the Assembly completely at the mercy of the governors, who did not fail to make full use of it. Another defect in the law was the unequal distribution of representatives among the precincts. This inequality of representation later caused a division in the popular party itself, which their opponents, under the leader­ship of Governor Johnston, skillfully turned to their advantage. The government party also objected to the provision that fixed upon a majority as a quorum, and to the assumption that the General Assembly had power to erect precincts and grant them representation; these two features gave rise to bitter controversies, and finally, in 1737, led to the repeal of the act by the king in Council.

As there was no printing-press in the colony, the laws were to be had only in manuscript form, copies were scarce and often inaccessible, and public officials in whose custody they were placed were not careful to keep them properly revised. So confused had they become that even officials and attorneys could not say, without long and inconvenient searching of the scattered records, what laws were in force. To clear up this uncertainty the Assembly declared that all laws passed prior to 1715, unless expressly excepted by title, were repealed and that the statutes contained in the revision of 1715 should "be of full force & shall be hence forward deemed, taken & adjudged as the body of the laws of this Government & no other heretofore made." At the same time, inasmuch as North Carolina was "annexed to and declared to be a Member of the Crown of England," and its laws were required by the charter to be in harmony with the laws of England, the Assembly declared that it was manifest "that the Laws of England are the Laws of this Government, as far as they are compatable with our Way of Living and Trade." For the information of the people, court officials were required to see that a copy of the laws be "constantly laid open upon the Court table during the sitting of the Court," and each precinct clerk was to read them aloud once a year, "publickly & in open Court."

Among the laws of England expressly declared to be in force in North Carolina were "all such laws made for the establishment of the Church and the laws made for granting indulgences to the Protestant Dissenters." Not only was the legal status of the Church of England thus recognized, it was further declared to be "the only Established Church to have publick encouragement" in North Carolina. A vestry act was therefore passed which divided the province into nine parishes, named vestrymen in each, prescribed their duties, and empowered  p117 them "to raise and levy money by the poll" for support of the Establishment. It was the last vestry act passed under the proprietary government, and remained in force until 1741.

Ministers were supplied to the colony by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Its first missionary to North Carolina was John Blair, who arrived in January, 1704. Blair found in the colony three small churches. He remained here only six months, but by travelling "one day with another, Sundays only excepted, about thirty miles per diem," and often sleeping in the woods at night, he succeeded in covering the parishes of Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank. In them he organized vestries, instructed them in their duties, preached twice every Sunday and often on week-days, and baptized about one hundred children. "There are a great many still to be baptized," he reported, "whose parents would not condescend to have them baptized with god-fathers and god-mothers." At the end of six months he returned to England to present the needs of the colony to the society.

Four years passed after Blair's departure before the arrival of William Gordon and James Adams, the next missionaries of the Church in North Carolina. Gordon took up his work in Chowan and Perquimans, Adams in Pasquotank and Currituck. In Chowan, Gordon found the church badly in need of repair; in Perquimans, he found a compact little church, "built with more care and expense, and better contrived than that in Chowan," but still unfinished. Adams found no church in either of his parishes, but his presence stimulated the people to resolve to build a church and two chapels of ease." Although Gordon remained in the colony only four months, and Adams but little more than a year, both of these earnest men made a deep impression upon the people. Their exemplary characters, their genuine interest in the welfare of their parishioners, and the sincerity of their faith and piety did much to silence the enemies and stimulate the friends of the Establishment.

Following Gordon and Adams came first John Urmstone and then Giles Rainsford. The latter arrived in June, 1712, and remained about two years. At his first service he found the people interested, but "perfect strangers to the Method of the Worship of our Church." When he preached in "a small Chapel near an Old Indian Town" a "vast Crowd" came to hear him, but "exprest very little or rather no devotion in time of the divine Service." On  p118 another occasion the crowd was so great that he was obliged to hold the service out-of‑doors "under a large mulberry tree"; here the people were devout and "very ready in their responses as in their method of singing praises to God." Rainsford was a narrow Churchman and immoderate in his arraignment of Quakers and "Quakerism," but he was sincere and upright and displayed intelligent zeal in his labors. The Indians particularly excited his sympathetic interest. He lived five months with the Chowanocs, made himself "almost a Master at their Language," and tried to teach them the principles of Christianity.

In 1717 Ebenezer Taylor came as a missionary to Bath County. He was "aged and very infirm," but neither age nor infirmity could dampen his ardor. For four years he labored zealously and finally, in 1720, met his death from exposure and cold "after having been ten days and nights in an open boat" in the dead of winter. Taylor's successor in Bath was Thomas Bailey, who came about 1725; Bailey's colleague in Albemarle was John Blacknall. Of Bailey and Blacknall, their work and character, it is impossible to speak with certainty. They left no records of their own, and so completely were they involved in the quarrels of Governor Everard and George Burrington that the testimony of their contemporaries is worthless as a basis of judgment. Bailey, whom the vestry of St. Thomas Parish at Bath characterized as "our Pious & Exemplary Minister," was denounced by Governor Everard as "a scandalous drunken man;" while Blacknall, according to the same authority, was "a very good Preacher, a Gentm perfectly sober, belov'd by all but Mr. Burrington's Party."

Finally, there was the notorious John Urmstone. No difficulty in reaching a correct judgment confronts us here. With his own hand, in numerous letters to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Urmstone revealed his own character both as a man and as a minister, and in neither capacity does he show a single redeeming quality. Quarrelsome, dishonest, self-seeking and avaricious, false in word and faithless in conduct, he was utterly lacking in genuine piety or Christian charity and devoid of the slightest sense of his duty as a minister of the Church. Both the Church and the colony were gainers when, in March, 1721, without notice or explanation, he suddenly deserted his post and sailed for England. His desertion, says Governor Eden, left "nine parishes consisting  p120 of upwards of 2,500 white souls entirely destitute of any assistance in religious affairs."


[image ALT: A small rectangular brick building, with a ground floor and a shingle roof pitched at nearly 45 degrees. We see the front — a small door, bits of decorative brickwork — and the left side, with four tall rectangular windows, closely spaced. Close to the building and parallel to its long side, a wooden picket fence about 1 m high, and on this side of it, on the left edge of the photograph, a young deciduous tree. It is an early-20c photograph of St. Thomas' Church at Bath, NC.]

St. Thomas' Church at Bath

The Oldest Church in North Carolina

Historians are agreed that the Establishment was a hindrance to the development of religious life in North Carolina, but they attribute this result to different causes. One traces it chiefly to the character of the colonial clergy, another to the insuperable physical difficulties incident to a frontier community. "The wickedness and carelessness of the people," in the opinion of Dr. Weeks, "was induced in part, no doubt, by the badness of the missionaries. * * * the chief fruit [of their labors] was civil dissension and bloodshed, culminating in foistering on the colony an Establishment which was to be a constant source of annoyance and which is directly responsible for a large share of the backwardness of the State."​2 Bishop Cheshire, on the other hand, sees in the several vestry acts passed from 1701 to 1715 "evidence of a reviving interest in religion" among the people generally. "In almost all parts of the colony," he says, "the people desired the ministrations of the Church but they were mostly living upon isolated plantations. No missionary could reach and serve a sufficient number of people to form any effective organization. The legal establishment, with its power to levy taxes for the support of the Church, was a real disadvantage, because it provided no adequate support while it took off the sense of obligation from the most zealous members of the Church. Clergymen and missionaries came and labored for a while and then disappeared; some good, some indifferent, others weak and unworthy; and very few of them, even the best, able to deal effectively with the strange conditions of the new and poor settlement."​3 The historian and the Churchman are both partially right, but neither sees the whole truth. The missionaries, as a rule, were better men than the prejudices of the historian will allow; nevertheless, had they been as zealous as their calling and task demanded, they would have overcome most of the difficulties which the Churchman pleads in extenuation of their failure. During the proprietary period of our history a majority of the people of North Carolina undoubtedly adhered to the teachings and preferred the liturgy of the Church of England, and would have been glad to see that Church strong and flourishing in the colony; but even then many of the ablest Churchmen  p121 seemed to have had an instinctive feeling that an Established Church was an anomaly in the New World and out of harmony with the spirit of the civilization which they were developing here. Their instinct was right, and that is why the Establishment in North Carolina was a failure.

It cannot be said that the Dissenters were ever reconciled to the Establishment; still, after 1715, they made little or no organized opposition to it. They probably felt that such resistance would be futile and result only in arousing the church party to action. As it was, Churchmen generally displayed but little interest in the Establishment; enforcement of the law was always lax, and its burdens more imaginary than real. But perhaps the chief reason for the lack of organized opposition was the act of 1715, which gave Dissenters a legal status and threw around them the protection of the law. The same act which declared that all laws of England "made for the Establishment of the Church" were the laws of North Carolina also declared to be of equal force in the colony all "laws made for granting indulgences to Protestant Dissenters." The position of Protestant Dissenters in England had been defined in the Toleration Act of 1689, which granted to them the privilege of attending their own places of worship and guaranteed them freedom from disturbance upon condition that they took the oath of allegiance and subscribed the declaration against transsubstantiation. In line with this policy, the North Carolina Assembly, immediately after passing the vestry act of 1715, passed "An Act for Liberty of Conscience," which declared "that all Protestant Dissenters within the Government shall have their Meetings for the exercise of their Religion without Molestation." It also granted to Quakers the right to affirm, but forbade them "by virtue of this Act" to serve as jurors, to testify in criminal cases, or to hold office. Although many irritating and unjustifiable restrictions were still imposed upon Dissenters yet this act was recognized as a great step forward, and, as Dr. Weeks says, "From that time the Dissenters, in characteristic English fashion, submitted to the will of the majority and began to fight their battle along legal and technical lines. During the next sixty-two years North Carolina was not without discussion and agitation on ecclesiastical matters, and this dissension, culminating in the Mecklenburg instructions of 1775 and 1776, and crystallizing in the Constitution adopted at Halifax in December, 1776, put North Carolina close to Virginia, the first political organization to  p122 solve the problem of a free church in a free state, each independent of the other."4

Politics and religion shared the attention of the Assembly of 1715 with immigration and industry. The statutes of 1669 relating to trade, landholding, and foreign debts, which were designed to attract immigration, were re-enacted; while one of the purposes of the act providing for biennial sessions of the Assembly, it was expressly stated, was to secure to the colony through "the frequent sitting of Assembly [which] is a principal safeguard of the People's privileges" such "privileges & immunities" as would attract immigrants and "thereby enlarge the Settlement." Several statutes were passed relating to trade, commerce, and transportation. "For establishing a Certainty in Trade," a legal rating was given to certain commodities at which all persons were required to receive them in payment of debts unless their contracts specifically called for payment in sterling money. To promote facility in trading, as well as to prevent fraud, standards of weights and measures were fixed and entrusted to the care of the vestries, who were required to keep them accessible for testing. Every cooper, for instance, was required to stamp his barrels with his "proper Brand Mark," which must have been previously registered in the office of the precinct clerk, and heavy penalties were imposed for failure to come up to the specifications required by law. Attempts to pass off commodities "not good or Merchantable," or packed in unlawful casks, were punishable by heavy fines. One of the most serious obstacles to the prosperity of the colony had been the absence of grist-mills. Mill sites were scarce and more than fifty years passed after the settlement of North Carolina before a mill was erected in the colony. As late as 1710 De Graffenried states that "there was in the whole province only one wretched water mill." Poor people pounded their grain in wooden mortars, while the wealthy used hand mills, or else imported flour and meal from New England. The Assembly of 1715 sought a remedy for this situation in an act which permitted mill sites to be condemned, but mills erected on such condemned sites were to be "Publick Mills," required by law to grind all grain offered to them at a fixed legal toll. Looking to the improvement of inland transportation and commerce, the Assembly adopted a comprehensive plan for the laying out of roads, the building of bridges, and the establishment of ferries, and for their maintenance; while for the encouragement of inter-colonial  p123 and foreign commerce it made provision for keeping pilots at Roanoke and Ocracoke inlets who were required "constantly and diligently to make it their business to search & find out the most convenient channels," keep them properly staked out, and to pilot vessels safely over the bars.

Recognizing the importance of towns as centers of trade and commerce, the Assembly for the "Encouragement of the Town of Bath and all other Towns now or hereafter Built within this Government," conferred upon them whenever they should have at least sixty families the privilege of representation in the General Assembly. At this time Bath, Edenton and New Bern were the only towns in North Carolina. Of Bath, the oldest of these towns, William Gordon wrote in 1709 that it "consists of about twelve houses and is the only town in the province. * * * I must own it is not the unpleasantest part of the country — nay, in all probability it will be the center of a trade, as having the advantage of a better inlet for shipping, and surrounded with the most pleasant of savannahs, very useful for stocks of cattle." The Tuscarora War struck Bath a hard blow from which it never recovered. "We expect to hear," wrote Urmstone in 1714, "that famous city of Bath, consisting of nine houses, or rather cottages, once styled the metropolis and seat of this Government, will be totally deserted." In an effort to revive it the Lords Proprietors in 1716 made Bath a port of entry, but to no purpose; fifteen years later Governor Burrington reported that Bath was "a town where little improvements have been made." A better fortune awaited de Graffenried's "townlet" on the Neuse. The act of 1715 granting representation to towns with sixty families conferred this privilege upon New Bern "altho' there should not be Sixty families Inhabiting in the said Town." In 1723, having recovered somewhat from the disasters of the Indian war, New Bern was incorporated and its boundaries greatly enlarged. It enjoyed an advantageous situation for trade and soon became the largest town, and eventually the capital of the province. For many years New Bern's only rival, as a political and commercial center, was the "Towne on Queen Anne's Creek," which, in 1722 was incorporated under the name of Edenton in honor of Governor Eden whose home was there. From 1720 to 1738, the Assembly held its sessions at Edenton which was accordingly looked upon as the seat of government. Though never counting in colonial times a population of more than four or five hundred, Edenton retained its importance as the political, social and commercial center of the colony until after the Revolution.

The Author's Notes:

1 The Constitutional Beginnings of North Carolina, p60.

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2 Church and State in North Carolina, p22 (J. H. U. Studies, 11th Series, Nos. V‑VI).

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3 "How Our Church Came to North Carolina," in The Spirit of Missions, Vol. LXXXIII, No. 5, p349.

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4 Church and State in North Carolina, p11.

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Page updated: 18 Oct 11