MECKLENBURG COUNTY in the American Revolution History Facts
Excerpts from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical by C.L. Hunter
The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence--A brief account of the Mecklenburg Centennial--The Grand Procession--Exercises at the Fair Grounds--James Belk, A Veteran Invited Guest--Signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence--Origin of the Alexander Families of Mecklenburg county--Jack Family--Captain Charles Polk's "Muster Roll,"--President James K. Polk--General William Davidson, General George Graham--William Richardson Davie--battle of the hanging Rock--General Michael McLeary--Major Thomas Alexander--Captain William Alexander--Elijah Alexander--Captain Charles Alexander--Joseph Kerr, "The Cripple Spy"--Robert Kerr--Henry Hunter--James Orr--Skirmish at Charlotte; or, First attack of the "Hornets"--Surprise at McIntire's, or, the "Hornets" at work--Judge Samuel Lowrie--The Ladies of the Revolutionary Period--Mrs. Eleanor Wilson--Queen's Museum
Mecklenburg county was formed in 1762 from Anson county, and named in honor of the native place of the new Queen, Princess Charlotte, of Mecklenburg, one of the smaller German States.
This North Carolina county has a peculiar historical interest. It is the birth-place of liberty on American soil. No portion of the State presents a more glowing page of unflinching patriotic valor than Mecklenburg, always taking an active part in every political movement, at home or abroad, leading to independence.
The temper and character of the people were early shown. In 1766, George A. Selwyn, having obtained, by some means, large grants of lands from the British Crown, proceeded to have them surveyed, through his agent, Henry E. McCullock, and located. On some of these grants, the first settlers had made considerable improvements by their own stalwart arms, and persevering industry. For this reason, and not putting much faith in the validity of Selwyn's claims, they seized John Frohock, the surveyor, and compelled him to desist from his work, or _fare worse_. Here was manifested the early _buzzing_ of the "Hornets' Nest." which, in less than ten years, was destined to _sting_ royalty itself in these American colonies. The little village of Charlotte, the seat of justice for Mecklenburg county, was in 1775, the theater of one of the most memorable events in the political annals of the United States. Situated on the beautiful and fertile Champaign, between the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers, and on the general route of the Southern travel, and among the earliest settlements in the Carolinas and Georgia, it soon became the centre of an enterprising and prosperous population. The fertility of the soil, the healthfulness of the climate, and abundance of cheap and unappropriated lands, were powerful inducements in drawing a large influx of emigrants from the Northern colonies, and from the Old World. These natural features of middle and western Carolina; in particular, were strongly attractive, and pointed out, under well-directed energy, the sure road to prospective wealth and prosperity.
The face of the country was then overspread with wild "pea vines," and luxuriant herbage; the water courses bristled with cane brakes; and the forest abounded with a rich variety and abundance of food-producing game. The original conveyance for the tract of land, upon which the city of Charlotte now stands, contained 360 acres, and was made on the 15th day of January. 1767, by Henry E. McCullock, agent for George A. Selwyn, to "Abraham Alexander, Thomas Polk, and John Frohock as Trustees and Directors, of the town of Charlotte, and their successors." The consideration was "ninety pounds, lawful money." The conveyance was witnessed by Matthew McLure and Joseph Sample.
A few words of explanation, as to one of the Trustees, may be here appropriate. The Frohock family resided in Rowan county, and, before the American Revolution, exerted a considerable influence, holding places of profit and trust. William Frohock was Captain of a military company, and at one time, (1771) Deputy Sheriff under General Rutherford. Thomas Frohock was Clerk of the Superior Court, in Rowan, and Senator to the State Legislature from the town of Salisbury, in 1785 and 1786. John Frohock, named in the conveyance, was, for several years, Clerk of the County Court, an active Surveyor, and resided, during much of his time in Mecklenburg, employed in the duties of his profession.
Soon after the town of Charlotte was laid out, a log building was erected at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, and in the centre of the space now known as "Independence Square." This building was placed upon substantial brick pillars, ten or twelve feet high, with a stairway on the outside, leading to the court room. The lower part, in conformity with primitive economy and convenience, was used as a Market House; and the upper part as a Court House, and frequently for church, and other public meetings. Although the original building has long since passed away, yet it has historic associations connected with its colonial and revolutionary existence, which can never cease to command the admiration of every true patriot.
In May, 1775, its walls resounded with the _tones of earnest debate and independence_, proclaimed from the court house steps. In September, 1780, its walls resounded with the _tones of the musket_, by the same people, who "knew their rights, and knowing, dared maintain."
At this period, there was no printing press in the upper country of Carolina, and as no regular post traversed this region, a newspaper was seldom seen among the people. Important information was transmitted from one colony to another by express messengers on horse-back, as was done by Captain Jack in bearing the Mecklenburg Declaration to Philadelphia. The people were accustomed to assemble at stated places to listen to the reading of printed hand-bills from abroad, or to obtain verbal intelligence of passing events.
Charlotte early became the central point in Mecklenburg county for these assemblages, and there the leading men often met at Queen's Museum or College, to discuss the exciting topics of the day. These meetings were at first irregular, and without system. It was finally agreed that Thomas Polk, Colonel of the militia, long a surveyor in the province, frequently a member of the Colonial Assembly, and a man of great excellence of character should be authorized to call a convention of the Representatives of the people whenever circumstances seemed to require it. It was also agreed that such Representatives should consist of two delegates from each Captain's Company, chosen by the people of the several militia districts, and that their decisions, when thus legally convened, should be binding upon the whole county.
When it became known that Governor Martin had attempted, by his proclamation, issued on the 1st of March, 1775, to prevent the Assembling of a Provincial Congress at Newbern, on the 3d of April following; and when it was recollected that, by his arbitrary authority, he had dissolved the last Provincial Assembly, after a session of only four days, and before any important business had been transacted, the public excitement became intense, and the people were clamorous for some decisive action, and a redress of their grievances. A large majority of the people were willing to incur the dangers incident to revolution, for the sake of themselves, their posterity, and the sacred cause of liberty.
In this State of the public mind, Col. Polk issued his notice to the committee-men, two from each Captain's district, as previously agreed upon, to assemble in Charlotte on the 19th of May, 1775, to consult for the common good, and inaugurate such measures as would conduce to that desirable end. The notice of the appointed meeting spread rapidly through the county, and all classes of citizens, intuitively, as it were, partook of the general enthusiasm, and felt the importance of the approaching convention. On the appointed day, an immense concourse of people, consisting of gray-haired sires, and vigorous youths from all parts of the county, assembled in the town of Charlotte, then containing about twenty-five houses, all anxious to know the result of that ever-memorable occasion. After assembling in the court house, Abraham Alexander, a venerable citizen and magistrate of the county, and former member of the Legislature was made chairman; and John McKnitt Alexander, assisted by Dr. Ephraim Brevard, Secretaries, all men of business habits, and of great popularity. A full, free and animated discussion upon the exciting topics of the day then ensued, in which Dr. Ephraim Brevard, a finished scholar; Col. William Kennon, an eminent lawyer of Salisbury, and Rev. Hezekiah J. Balch, a distinguished Presbyterian preacher, were the chief speakers. During the session of the convention, an express messenger arrived, bearing the news of the wanton and cruel shedding of blood at Lexington on the 19th of April, just one month proceeding. This intelligence served to increase the general patriotic ardor, and the assembly, as with one voice, cried out, "Let us be independent. Let us declare our independence, and defend it with our lives and fortunes." The speakers said, his Majesty's proclamation had declared them out of the protection of the British Crown, and they ought, therefore, to declare themselves out of his protection, and be independent of his government. A committee consisting of Dr. Brevard, Col. Kennon, and the Rev. Mr. Balch, was then appointed to prepare resolutions suitable to the occasion. The excitement of the people continued to increase, and the deliberations of the convention, including the framing of by-laws, and regulations by which it should be governed, as a standing committee, were not completed until after midnight, showing the great interest which every one felt, and that a solemn crisis had arrived which demanded firm and united action for the common defence. Upon the return of the committee, the chairman proceeded to submit the resolutions of independence to the vote of the convention. All was silence and stillness around (_intentique ora tenebant_). The question was then put, "Are you all agreed." The response was one universal "aye," not one dissenting voice in that immense assemblage. It was then agreed that the proceedings should be read to the whole multitude. Accordingly at noon, on the 20th of May, 1775, Colonel Thomas Polk ascended the steps of the old court house, and read, in clear and distinct tones, the following patriotic resolutions, constituting,
"_Resolved_, 1. That whoever directly or indirectly abetted, or in any way, form or manner, countenanced the unchartered and dangerous invasion of our rights, as claimed by Great Britain, is an enemy to this country, to America, and to the inherent, and inalienable rights of man.
"_Resolved_, 2. That we, the citizens of Mecklenburg county, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the mother country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown and abjure all political connection, contract, or association with that nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties, and inhumanly shed the blood of American patriots at Lexington.
"_Resolved_, 3. That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people; are, and of right ought to be a sovereign, and self-governing association, under the control of no power, other than that of our God, and the general government of the congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.
"_Resolved_, 4. That, as we acknowledge the existence and control of no law, or legal officer, civil or military, within this county, we do hereby ordain and adopt, as a rule of life, all, each, and every one of our former laws; wherein, nevertheless, the crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.
"_Resolved_, 5 That, it is also further decreed that all, each, and every military officer in this county is hereby retained in his former command and authority, he acting conformably to these regulations. And that every member present of this delegation shall henceforth be a civil officer, viz.: a justice of the peace, in the character of a committeeman, to issue process, hear and determine all matters of controversy, according to said adopted laws; and to preserve peace, union and harmony in said county; and to use every exertion to spread the love of country, and fire of freedom throughout America, until a more general and organized government be established in this province."
After the reading of these resolutions, a voice from the crowd called out for "three cheers," and soon the welkin rang with corresponding shouts of applause. The resolutions were read again and again during the day to different parties, desirous of retaining in their memories sentiments of patriotism so congenial to their feelings.
A copy of the proceedings of the convention was then drawn off, and sent by express to the members of congress from North Carolina, at that time in session at Philadelphia. Captain James Jack, a worthy and intelligent citizen of Charlotte, was chosen as the bearer; and in a few days afterward, set out _on horse-back_ in the performance of his patriotic mission. Of his journeyings, and _perilous adventures_ through a country, much of it infested with Tories, we know but little. Having faithfully performed the duties of his important trust, by delivering the resolutions into the hands of the North Carolina Delegation at Philadelphia (Caswell, Hooper and Hews,) he returned to his home in Charlotte. He reported that our own Delegation, and several members of Congress, manifested their entire approbation of the earnest zeal and patriotism of the Mecklenburg citizens, but deemed it premature to lay their resolutions before their body, as they still entertained some hopes of reconciliation with the mother country.
A copy of the foregoing resolutions were also transmitted to the Provincial Congress, at Hillsboro, and laid before that body on the 25th of August, 1775, but for the same prudential reasons as just stated, they declined taking any immediate action.
It has been deemed proper to present this summarized statement of the circumstances leading to the Mecklenburg Convention of the 19th and 20th of May, 1775, as a source of reference for those who have no other history of the transaction before them. For a more extended account of its proceedings, the reader is referred to the pamphlet published by State authority in 1831, and to the exhaustive treatise of the late Ex-Governor Graham on the authenticity of the Mecklenburg resolutions, with notices of the principal actors and witnesses on that ever-memorable occasion.
Since the publication of Governor Graham's pamphlet shortly before the Centennial Celebration in Charlotte another copy of the Mecklenburg resolutions of the 20th of May, 1775, has been found in the possession of a grandson of Adam Brevard, now residing in Indiana. This copy has all the outward appearances of age, has been sacredly kept in the family, and is in a good state of preservation. Adam Brevard was a younger brother of Dr. Ephraim Brevard, the reputed author of these resolutions, frequently performed his brother's writing during the active discharge of his professional duties, and was himself, a man of cultivated intellect, and Christian integrity. He kept a copy of these patriotic resolutions, mainly with the view of preserving a memento of his brother's hand writing, and vigor of composition--not supposing for a moment, their authenticity would ever be called into question. This venerable patriot, in a manuscript account of a celebration in Iredell county on the 4th of July, 1824, in discoursing on a variety of revolutionary matters, says among other things, he was in Salisbury in June 1775, attending to his professional duties as a lawyer, and that during the sessions of the General Court in that place, the bearer of the Mecklenburg Declaration arrived on his way to Philadelphia. When the object of his mission became known, and the Mecklenburg resolutions of independence were read in open court, at the request of Col. Kennon, several Tories who were present said they were treasonable, and that the framers of them were "rushing headlong into an abyss where Congress had not dared to pass. Their intemperance, however, was suddenly arrested by a gentleman from the same county, who had entered with all his powers into the impending contest and offered to rest the propriety and justness of the proceedings, both of Mecklenburg and the Delegate, upon a decision by the _arm of flesh_ with any one inclinable to abide the result. Matters, which threatened a conflict of arms were soon hushed up by this direct argument _ad hominem_, the Delegate retired to rest for the night, and, on the next morning, resumed his journey to Philadelphia."
He also states, in the same manuscript, that in the autumn of the year 1776, he was one of the number who composed the College of Queen's Museum, and lived with his brother, Dr. Ephraim Brevard, and that in ransacking a number of his brother's papers thrown aside as useless, he came across the fragments of a Declaration of Independence by the people of Mecklenburg. Upon inquiry, his brother informed him they were the rudiments out of which a short time before, he had framed the instrument dispatched to Congress. The same authority states that he was in Philadelphia in the latter part of the year 1778, and until May of the year 1779. During that time, William Sharp. Esq., of Rowan county, arrived in Philadelphia, as a Delegate to Congress from North Carolina. Amidst a variety of topics introduced for discussion was that of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Hon. John Penn, of North Carolina, said in presence of several members of Congress, that he was "highly pleased with the bold and distinguished spirit with which so enlightened a county of the State he had the honor to represent had _exhibited to the world_, and, furthermore, that the bearer of the instrument to Congress had conducted himself very judiciously on the occasion by previously opening his business to the Delegates of his own State, who assured him that the other States would soon act in the same patriotic manner as Mecklenburg had done."
This important and additional testimony, here slightly condensed, but facts not changed, is extracted from a communication in the _Southern Home_, by Dr. J.M. Davidson, of Florida, a gentleman of great moral worth and Christian integrity, and grandson of Adam Brevard, a brother of Dr. Ephraim Brevard, the reputed author of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
A brief extract from Governor Martin's dispatch to the British Secretary of State, dated 30th of June, 1775, as found in Wheeler's "Historical Sketches," will now be given, which cannot be viewed in any other light than that of disinterested evidence. The Governor proceeds by saying, "the situation in which I find myself at present is indeed, my Lord, most despicable and mortifying. ... I live, alas! ingloriously, only to deplore it. ... The resolves of the Committee of Mecklenburg, which your Lordship will find in the enclosed newspaper, surpass all the horrid and treasonable publications that the inflammatory spirits of the continent have yet produced; and your Lordship may depend, its authors and abettors will not escape, when my hands are sufficiently strengthened to attempt the recovery of the lost authority of the Government. A copy of these resolves was sent off, I am informed, by express, to the Congress at Philadelphia, as soon as they were passed in the committee."
The reader will mark, in particular, the closing sentence of this extract, as confirmatory of what actually took place on the 20th of May, 1775. Captain James Jack, then of Charlotte, a worthy and patriotic citizen, did set out a few days after the Convention adjourned, on _horse back_, as the "express" to Congress at Philadelphia, and faithfully executed the object of his mission. (For further particulars, see sketch of the Jack Family.)
The resolutions passed by the county committee of safety on the 31st of May following, and which some have erroneously confounded with those of the 20th of May, were a necessary consequence, embracing simply "rules and regulations" for the internal government of the county, and hence needed no "express" to Congress.
The preceding testimony, conjoined with that of Gen. Joseph Graham, Rev. Humphrey Hunter, Captain James Jack, the hearer of the Mecklenburg Declaration to Congress, Rev. Francis Cummins, Major John Davidson, Isaac Alexander and others, previously referred to in the State pamphlet of 1831, and the exhaustive "Memoir" of the late Ex-Governor Graham--all men of exalted worth and Christian integrity, ought to be "sufficient to satisfy incredulity itself," as to the genuineness of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and of its promulgation to the world on the 20th of May, 1775. And yet, in the face of this strong phalanx of unimpeachable testimony, there are a few who have attempted to rob North Carolina of this brightest gem in the crown of her early political history, and tarnish, by base and insidious cavils the fair name and reputation of a band of Revolutionary patriots, whose memories and heroic deeds the present generation and posterity will ever delight to honor.
Mecklenburg sent as a Delegate to the first Provincial Congress direct from the people, which met at Newbern on the 25th of August, 1774, Benjamin Patton.
To the meeting at Hillsboro', on the 21st of August, 1775, Thomas Polk, John Phifer, Waightstill Avery, John McKnitt Alexander, James Houston, and Samuel Martin.
To the meeting at Halifax on the 4th of April, 1776, John Phifer, Robert Irwin and John McKnitt Alexander.
To the meeting at Halifax, on the 12th of November, 1776 (which formed the first State Constitution) John Phifer, Robert Irwin, Waighstill Avery, Hezekiah Alexander and Zaccheus Wilson.
All of these Delegates were unwavering patriots, and nearly all were signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Not only were the patriotic sons of Mecklenburg county active and vigilant in those trying times, but no portion of our State was more constantly the theater of stirring events during the drama of the American Revolution. "Its inhabitants," says Tarleton in his campaigns, "were more hostile to England than any others in America."