North Carolina Colony Governor Tryon history facts

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On the 3d of April, 1765, William Tryon qualified as Commander in-chief, and Captain-General of the Province of North Carolina. The administration of Governor Tryon embraces an important period in the history of the State. He was a soldier by profession, and being trained to arms, looked upon the sword as the true scepter of government. "He knew when to flatter, and when to threaten. He knew when 'discretion was the better part of valor,' and when to use such force and cruelty as achieved for him from the Cherokee Indians, the bloody title of the ' great Wolf of North Carolina.'

Tryon could use courtesy towards the Assembly when he desired large appropriations for his magnificent palace; and knew how to bring to bear the blandishments of the female society of his family, and all the appliances of generous hospitality."[D]

Governor Tryon first met the Assembly in the town of Wilmington on the 3d of May 1765. "In his address, he opposed all religious intolerance, and, although he recommended provision for the clergy out of the public treasury, yet he advised the members of the Church of England of the folly of attempting to establish it by legal enactment. Under such recommendations, a law was passed legalizing the marriages (which before were denounced as illegal) performed by Presbyterian ministers, and authorizing them and other dissenting clergymen to perform that rite."[E]

On the 22nd of March, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed. This act produced great excitement throughout the whole country, and no where was it more violently denounced than in North Carolina. The Legislature was then in session, and so intense and wide-spread was the opposition to this odious measure, that Governor Tryon, apprehending the passage of denunciatory resolutions, prorogued that body after a session of fifteen days. The speaker of the House, John Ashe, informed Governor Tryon that this law "would be resisted to blood and death."

Early in the year 1766, the sloop-of-war, Diligence, arrived in the Cape Fear River, having on board stamp paper for the use of the province. The first appearance and approach of the vessel had been closely watched, and when it anchored before the town of Brunswick, on the Cape Fear, Col. John Ashe, of the county of New Hanover, and Col. Hugh Waddell, of the county of Brunswick, marched at the head of the brave sons of these counties to Brunswick, and notified the captain of their determination to resist the landing of the stamps. They seized one of the boats of the sloop, hoisted it on a cart, fixed a mast in her, mounted a flag, and marched in triumph to Wilmington. The inhabitants all joined in the procession, and at night the town was illuminated. On the next day, Col. Ashe, at the head of a great concourse of people, proceeded to the Governor's house and demanded of him to desist from all attempts to execute the Stamp Act, and to produce to them James Houston, a member of the Council, who had been appointed Stamp Master for the Province.

The Governor at first refused to comply with a demand so sternly made. But the haughty representative of kingly power had to yield before the power of an incensed people, who began to make preparations to set fire to his house. The Governor then reluctantly produced Houston, who was seized by the people, carried to the market house, and there compelled to take a solemn oath never to perform the duties of his office. After this he was released and conducted by a delighted crowd, to the Governor's Palace. The people gave three cheers and quietly dispersed. Here we have recorded an act far more daring in its performance than that of the famous Tea Party of Boston, which has been celebrated by every writer of our national history, and "Pealed and chimed on every tongue of fame."

It is an act of the sons of the "Old North State," not committed on the crew of a vessel, so disguised as to escape identity; but on royalty itself, occupying a palace, and in open day, by men of well known person and reputation.

Another event of great historic importance occurred during the administration of Governor Tryon. On the 16th of May, 1771, the battle of Alamance was fought. It is here deemed unnecessary to enter into a detail of the circumstances leading to this unfortunate conflict. Suffice it to say the Regulators, as they were called, suffered greatly by heavy exactions, by way of taxes, from the Governor to the lowest subordinate officer. They rose to arms--were beaten, but theirs was the _first blood shed_ for freedom in the American Colonies. Many true patriots, who did not comprehend the magnitude of their grievances, fought against them. But the principles of right and justice for which they contended could never die. In less than four years, all the Colonies were found battling for the same principles, and borne along in the rushing tide of revolution! The men on the seaboard of Carolina, with Cols. Ashe and Waddell at their head, had nobly opposed the Stamp Act in 1765, and prevented its execution; and in their patriotic movements the people of Orange sustained them, and called them the "Sons of Liberty." Col. Ashe, in 1766, had led the excited populace in Wilmington, against the wishes and even the hospitality of the governor. The assembled patriots had thrown the Governor's roasted ox, provided for a barbecue feast, untasted, into the river. Now, these patriotic leaders are found marching with this very Governor to subdue the _disciples of liberty_ in the west. The eastern men looked for evils from across the waters, and were prepared to resist oppression on their shores before it should reach the soil of their State. The western men were seeking redress for grievances that oppressed them at home, under the misrule of the officers of the province, evils scarcely known in the eastern counties, and misunderstood when reported there. Had Ashe, and Waddell, and Caswell understood all the circumstances of the case, they would have acted like Thomas Person, of Granville. and favored the distressed, even though they might have felt under obligations to maintain the peace of the province, and due subordination to the laws. Herman Husbands, the head of the Regulators, has been denounced by a late writer, as a "turbulent and seditious character." If such he was, then John Ashe and Hugh Waddell, for opposing the stamp law, were equally turbulent and seditious. Time, that unerring test of principles and truth, has proved that the spirit of liberty which animated the Regulators, was the true spirit which subsequently led to our freedom from foreign oppression.

On the 24th of May, Tryon, after committing acts of revenge, cruelty and barbarity succeeding the Alamance battle, returned to his palace at Newbern, and on the 30th took shipping for New York, over which State he had been appointed Governor. Josiah Martin was appointed by the crown, Tryon's successor as Governor of North Carolina. He met the Legislature, for the first time, in the town of Newbern, in November, 1771. Had he lived in less troublesome times, his administration might have been peaceful and prosperous. Governor Martin had the misfortune to differ very soon with the lower House of the Assembly; and during the whole of his administration, these difficulties continued and grew in magnitude, helping, at last, to accelerate the downfall of the royal government. In this Assembly we find the names of a host of distinguished patriots, as John Ashe, Cornelius Harnett, "the Samuel Adams of North Carolina," Samuel Johnson, Willie Jones, Joseph Hews, Abner Nash, John Harvey, Thomas Person, Griffith Rutherford, Abraham Alexander, Thomas Polk, and many others, showing that, at that early date, the Whig party had the complete control of the popular House of the Assembly, in accordance with the recommendation of Governor Martin, the veil of oblivion was drawn over the past unhappy troubles, and all the animosities and distinctions which they created. The year 1772 passed by without a meeting of the Assembly; and the only political event of any great importance, which occurred in the Province, was the election of members to the popular House. Such was the triumph of the Whig party, that in many of the counties there was no opposition to the election of the old leaders, nor could the Governor be said to have a party sufficiently powerful to effect an election before the people, or the passage of a bill before the Assembly. The Assembly, however, in consequence of two dissolutions by the Governor, did not convene in Newbern until the 25th of January, 1773, and the popular House illustrated its political character by the election of John Harvey to the office of Speaker. To this new Assembly many of the leading members of the House in 1771, were returned. Thomas Polk and Abraham Alexander were not members; the former having been employed in the service of the Governor, as surveyor, in running the dividing line between North and South Carolina, and the latter not having solicited the suffrages of the people. The county of Mecklenburg was, in the Assembly, represented by Martin Pheifer and John Davidson.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Harvey, laid before that body resolutions of the House of Burgess of Virginia (1773) of the 12th of March last; also, letters from the Speakers of the lower houses of several other provinces, requesting that a committee be appointed to inquire into the encroachments of England upon the rights and liberties of America. The House passed a resolution that "such example was worthy of imitation, by which means communication and concert would be established among the colonies; and that they will at all times be ready to exert their efforts to preserve and defend their rights." John Harvey, (Speaker) Robert Howe, Cornelius Harnet, William Hooper, Richard Caswell, Edward Vail, John Ashe, Joseph Hewes and Samuel Johnston were this committee. This is the first record of a legislative character which led to the Revolution.

During the summer of 1774 the people in all parts of the province manifested their approbation of the proposed plan of calling a Congress or Assembly, to consult upon common grievances; and in nearly all the counties and principal towns meetings were held, and delegates appointed to meet in the town of Newbern on the 25th of August, 1774.