eBooksRead.com books search new books
William Henry Hoyt.

The Mecklenburg declaration of independence; a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam Henry HoytThe Mecklenburg declaration of independence; a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I!



| in



LVf



j#J7RSJTY OF CALIFORNIA
DAVIS



COPY OF MECKLENBURG DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, SIGNED MAY 20. 1715.




^^



V&W-J^ ^ S^.fi-ts^k^-'f ' ^ - iiX -" A^^*^ ^-**-0, <*.^> ^ ^t-tt****^ jfrjtLouc^***^

7**L*~~^^ite* ^^%, -^. r*- tr^. c r^ ^



t ,-.-.y ,* ^f^,^ty f^-^f" -*^. ^" JL,<^ < - <J ^-(t*^**^ ^S57.M...i A^C^-^MK'T ^^ * :

//^^A >*5X /^ x-A r^~^ JJ& At^^ /^^^^^^^^^'^^
l^tt, <*- ^ c^^f^^cs,^ C^>. f^,'~^^> ^ V , .-< ... ^*^f /t ^-^^



^SXx-t^

'<,y




A SOUVENIR
OF THE 1ITTH ANNIVERSARY, CELEBRATED AT CHARLOTTE, N. C,, MAY 18, 19, 20, 1892.

A fraudulent facsimile lithograph of the alleged original Declaration.



A Study of Evidence Showing rh*< the Alleged Early
Declaration of Independent..? ^ vf - -. kv'u-jfg;

County, North Ciin.'h"rv,i t ^i ,'vt^'- :*h,

1775, |S >;U ; ;-'Mi"



a BidmuUO Io f .i1 .v^IIr,?- A -iM v



JUD w ns bos



lo



G. P. PUTNAM'S SON

NEW YORK AND LUN'iK>



UNIVERSITY OF CAJ.IFGRJ



m DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENT SIGNED M 20, 177



A fraudulent facsimile lithograph of the alleged original

declaration.

(Kindly loaned by Mr A.S. Saliey,Jr.,of Cojumbia, S.C. )
The declaration was written in imitation of Ephraim

Brevard's handwriting, and the signatures were cut from the

court records of Mecklenburg County.









ATED AT CHARLOTTE, M



:i'Kf\ original Declafftliot



A Study of Evidence Showing that the Alleged Early

Declaration of Independence by Mecklenburg

County, North Carolina, on May 2Oth,

1775, is Spurious



BY

William Henry Hoyt, A, M.



G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

NEW YORK AND LONDON

Gbe "Knickerbocker press

1907



LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA



COPYRIGHT, 1907

BY
WILLIAM KENRY HOYT



PREFACE

SINCE it was first brought to the attention of the
general public in the year 1819, the declaration of
independence which is alleged to have been issued
on May 20, 1775, by a convention held in Charlotte*
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, has been the
subject of the most mooted question and acrimo
nious controversy of the history of the Ameri
can Revolution. Evidences dating from 1775 and
onward of a document of this nature, copies of
doubtful origin of the document in question, a copy
written from memory in 1800, testimony of reliable
persons who stated between 1819 and 1 830 that they
had been spectators and participants at a meeting
which adopted it, and traditions are cited to prove
the genuineness and authenticity of the Mecklen
burg Declaration of Independence. In 1830, after
the publication of the trenchant letter of Thomas
Jefferson expressing his belief that the paper was a
fabrication, the Legislature of North Carolina took
up the matter, and afHrmed the Mecklenburg Dec
laration to be genuine and authentic. To-day, in
North Carolina, it is engrafted upon the statute
books, the date it bears is emblazoned upon the
great seal of the State, and the anniversary of its

iii



iv Preface

alleged promulgation is observed by legislative en
actment. The consensus of opinion of critical
students of American history is opposed to its
authenticity ; but from the beginning of the con
troversy there have been two hostile camps, each
fortified by what are regarded as unanswerable
arguments. If this verdict be reversed, we must
conclude, contrary to long-accepted views, and with
the older British historians, that before May, 1775,
there was a conscious movement in the colonies hav
ing independence as its aim, and we must admit
that some of the most striking expressions of Jef
ferson's immortal document of thirteen months
later were borrowed from the Mecklenburg mani
festo. Herein lies the chief historical importance
of the question.

Because of the absence of new evidence of im
portance there has been comparatively little discus
sion of the perplexing problem since the centennial
celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration at
Charlotte in 1875. Renewed interest was awakened
by the publication in July, 1905, of a facsimile of
the disputed document as it appeared in what pur
ported to be a long-lost copy of the Cape-Fear
Mercitry, a colonial newspaper in which it is said to
have been printed. The paper was soon shown to be
a forgery by the advocates as well as by the oppo
nents of the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declar
ation. Interest has been accentuated and general
acceptance of the declaration rendered seemingly
imminent by Dr. George W. Graham's elaborate
presentation of the arguments for its authenticity



Preface v

and by new light of much significance which late
researches by those who uphold the claims of Meck
lenburg have brought to bear upon the subject.

The purpose of this monograph is to show that
all the evidence, new and old, which is cited in sup
port of the genuineness and authenticity of the
Mecklenburg Declaration, should be understood as
relating to a series of resolves of similar import,
which were adopted in Mecklenburg County May
31, 1775, an d that the several versions of the sup
posititious paper of May 20, 1775, trace their origin
to rough notes written from memory in 1800 by
John McKnitt Alexander, who believed those re
solves to be a declaration of independence and at
tempted to set forth their substance. In preparing
the work I have gone to original sources of infor
mation wherever it has been possible. Hitherto
inaccessible manuscripts are adduced to demon
strate the origin of the famous resolutions of
May 20, 1775, and the successive stages of their
construction.

Unfortunately for the cause of historic truth, the
enthusiasm of local pride and patriotism in North
Carolina, where the Mecklenburg Declaration,
vouched for, as it is, by the personal testimony of
North Carolina patriots of the Revolution, has been
regarded with peculiar veneration for close upon a
hundred years ; the charges of plagiarism against
Thomas Jefferson and of forgery against John Mc
Knitt Alexander ; the disappearance of the Cape-
Fear Mercury from the British State Paper Office
in 1837 under circumstances which would seem



vi Preface

to indicate that Jefferson's defenders destroyed
evidence of the Mecklenburg Declaration ; and,
finally, the fact that the reputed signers of this
declaration were all, or nearly all, members of
one religious denomination, have each added fuel
to the fires of controversy and contributed to pro
duce an intolerant spirit which has been a bane
to sober discussion. As it was in 1853 and in 1873,
when Charles Phillips and Daniel R. Goodloe were
the first North Carolinians since an unknown gladia
tor of 1830 who ventured to dispute the authenticity
of the paper of May 20, 1775, it is inevitable to-day
that a publication which discredits the proudest
page in the history of North Carolina should en
gender in some quarters an unkindly feeling for its
author. In discharging my ungrateful office, I
write simply as a student of history, inspired with a
special love for the history of the " Old North
State," and with a profound veneration for the
Mecklenburg patriots of 1775. I came to my sub
ject before Dr. George W. Graham's book was an
nounced with the intention of writing a defence of
the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration,
but the irresistible logic of facts drove me to my
present position.

For the first incentive to undertake this work and
for advice and encouragement during its prepara
tion, I am under an obligation to Prof. Samuel F.
Emerson, of the University of Vermont, which it is
a pleasure to acknowledge here. Some of the ma
terials which I have used were unearthed by Mr. A.
S. Salley, Jr., Secretary of the Historical Commission



Preface vii

of South Carolina, and published during the past
year in a series of articles contributed by him to the
Charleston News and Courier. For courtesies ex
tended to me while collecting materials my ac
knowledgments are due to Messrs. B. F. Stevens
and Brown, of London, the Earl of Dartmouth, Dr.
William C. Lane, Librarian of Harvard University,
Dr. Kemp P. Battle, of the University of North
Carolina, Dr. Reuben G. Thwaites, of the State His
torical Society of Wisconsin, Dr. Stephen B. Weeks,
of San Carlos, Arizona, Mr. Edward P. Moses, of
Raleigh, N. C., Mr. Waldo G. Leland, of the Car
negie Institution, Mr. Victor H. Paltsitts, of the
New York Public Library, and Mrs. C. S. Coles,
of Washington, D. C. I have also to thank Mr.
Salley for reading the proofs of the book and for
many valuable suggestions.

W. H. H.
BURLINGTON, VT.,
September 2, 1906.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

PAGE

HISTORY OF THE CONTROVERSY.

Causes that led to the exhuming of the Mecklenburg
Declaration (1817-19). Jefferson and Adams believe it
to be spurious (1819). The incredulous are silenced by
surviving witnesses. Jefferson's opinion becomes known
(1829) and the Legislature of North Carolina publishes
testimony (1830-31). Contemporaneous evidence of
such a document discovered (1833). Jefferson openly
accused of plagiarism (1837). May 3ist resolves found
(1838) after all survivors had passed away and said to
be the ones they remembered. Dr. Hawks testifies
(1852) that the Martin copy was obtained before 1800.
It is learned (1853) that the Da vie copy was written
from memory in 1800. The fact long ignored. Dr.
Graham argues (1895, 1905) that the May 3ist resolves
were never adopted 1-21

CHAPTER II



Genuineness and authenticity of the May 3ist resolves
proved by their publication in Charleston and New-Bern
newspapers. In effect, a declaration of independence,
and might have been remembered as such . . .22-31

CHAPTER III

THE RIVAL DECLARATIONS COMPARED.

Both papers, if authentic, were adopted by the Committee
of the County of Mecklenburg. The May 3ist resolves
ignored, annulled, and effected in a milder way all that



x Contents

PAGE

is alleged to have been done and unanimously approved
eleven days earlier. Survivors remembered only one
such document, which was not suppressed or superseded. 3240

CHAPTER IV

THE LOST "CAPE-FEAR MERCURY."

Gov. Martin's statements, the only records of 1775 that
support the Declaration. Though well informed his
proclamation of June 16, 1775, shows no knowledge of
it. Ignorance of Whig leaders on June 2ist and their
loyalty revealed by the Wilmington "Association",
and reply to his proclamation. On June 3oth he dis
patched to England a newspaper containing Mecklen
burg resolutions and the reply to his proclamation.
Fallacious arguments to prove that Jefferson's defenders
stole it in 183 7. The May 3 ist resolves sent in the dupli
cate dispatch instead of the newspaper. Which was
the Cape-Fear Mercury of June 23, 1775. The resolves
positively identified and the Governor's ignorance of
others ascertained by his subsequent statements. Tories
of Mecklenburg protest against the May 3ist resolves
alone. Gov. Wright, Cogdell, and Johnston each leave
records of the May 31 st resolves alone .... 41-62

CHAPTER V

CAPTAIN JACK'S MISSION TO PHILADELPHIA.

Conflicting testimony of the witnesses and Gov. Martin
as to which resolves were sent to Philadelphia. Gov.
Martin sustained by the Salisbury records. Inconsist
ency of the answers of the Continental Congress and
North Carolina delegates, if made to the Declaration,
with their professions of allegiance. Impossibility of its
concealment by the delegates, and Adams's and Jeffer
son's testimony. True story of Capt. Jack's mission
disclosed by the important relation of the May 3ist re
solves to the political situation in the colonies. And by
their suppression in Philadelphia 6382

CHAPTER VI

THE SALISBURY RECORDS.

The Declaration not known in Salisbury eleven days



Contents xi

PAGE

after its alleged promulgation. Other circumstances
that can be explained only by connecting its story with
the May 3ist resolves 83-87

CHAPTER VII



Subsequent conduct of reputed "signers": Kennon
practises in the King's courts; Avery appointed Attor
ney for the Crown; Abraham, Hezekiah, and Adam
Alexander, Irwin, Barry and Foard administer justice
for Mecklenburg in the King's name; Polk, John Mc-
Knitt Alexander, Phifer, Avery, and Kennon formally
acknowledge allegiance in the Hillsboro Congress ; every
"true friend to liberty" does so in Mecklenburg. Argu
ments answered : reconciliation the aim of the Hillsboro
Congress ; membership in it not improper for the authors
of the May 3 ist resolves ; Whigs and Tories deny that the
idea of independence took root in North Carolina before
1776. Summary of facts established by contempo
raneous records 88-103



CHAPTER VIII



ORIGIN OF THE MYTH.



Independent spirit of the May 3ist resolves. Called a
declaration of independence by many writers. Like
measures looked upon before July 4, 1776, as equivalent
to independence. How their provisional character was
forgotten. Early evidence of the myth: "A Modern
Poem" (1777) the Swain copy probably fraudulent;
the Moravian record (1783); Charlotte deeds which date
independence from 1775 uncertainty of their signifi
cance. Date of May 20, 1775, not part of the myth be
fore 1800 104-124



CHAPTER IX



THE DAVIE COPY.



Bancroft obtained reproductions of two papers certified
by "J. McKnitt" to be those from which he copied in
1819. Their internal evidence shows that Alexander's
notes were written from memory in 1800 or soon after
wards, and were the rudiments of the second paper.



xii Contents

PAGB

"J. McKnitt'- certified the latter to be the same as the
Da vie copy, and Alexander certified the Davie copy to
have been written from memory in 1800. Comparison
of his notes with the May 3ist resolves proves that he
tried to write their substance. The Davie prototype
partly, if not wholly, the work of the unknown writer.
Answers to Prof. Phillips's charges of fraud against " J.
McKnitt." Alexander told his story to many persons
after 1800, and the date which he recollected thus be
came known 125-173

CHAPTER X

THE MARTIN AND GARDEN COPIES.

Martin a voluminous writer, an unreliable historian, and
in his dotage when he told Dr. Hawks that he obtained
his copy prior to 1800. Internal evidence of his book
shows that the resolutions and accompanying narrative
were inserted after its completion. Col. Polk wrote for
Judge Murphey in 1819 a narrative containing reso
lutions procured from "J. McKnitt." Its publication
by Murphey in amended form proved by the MS. and
his correspondence. Its republication by Martin
proved by comparing his narrative and resolutions with
Polk's. The fact confirmed by the Garden, Murphey,
and "Guilford" narratives. And by allusions to Mur
phey in Martin's preface 174-201

CHAPTER XI

THE TESTIMONY OF WITNESSES.

Probable cause of the suppression of the certificate to the
Davie paper. Difficulties and prepossessions under
which the witnesses testified. Yet the majority remem
bered terms peculiar to the May 3ist resolves. Their
testimony to the date of May 20, 1775, of no value.
They contradict Alexander's recollection as to who sum
moned the meeting and who acted as secretary. Un
warrantable alteration of the Alexander MSS. caused
thereby. Story of the signing of the Declaration prob
ably unfounded 202-221



Contents xiii

APPENDIX

PAGE

A. COLONEL FOLK'S TRANSCRIPT OF THE DOCUMENT PRE

PARED BY "J. McKNITT" FROM HIS FATHER'S PAPERS
AND PUBLISHED WITH EMENDATIONS IN THE Raleigh

Register, APRIL 30, 1819 225-229

B. THE STATE PAMPHLET 230-270

C. THE MECKLENBURG RESOLVES AS PRINTED IN THE North-

Carolina Gazette OF JUNE 16, 1775, NO. 323 . . 271-275

D. TRANSCRIPT OF THE MECKLENBURG RESOLVES IN THE

Cape-Fear Mercury OF JUNE 23, 1775, SENT IN GOVER
NOR MARTIN'S DUPLICATE LETTER OF JUNE 30, 1775 276-280

E. COLONEL WILLIAM FOLK'S ACCOUNT OF FIRST REVOLU

TIONARY MOVEMENTS IN NORTH CAROLINA . . 281-284



ILLUSTRATIONS

A fraudulent facsimile lithograph of the alleged original

declaration ........ Frontispiece

(Kindly lent by Mr. A. S. Salley, Jr.)

The spurious Cape-Fear Mercury, Friday, June 3rd,

1775 . .... . facing^

(By permission of the Macmillan Co.)

Bancroft's copy of the " torn half sheet " in John McKnitt
Alexander's handwriting from which the Mecklenburg
Declaration was constructed (6 plates) facing 1 26, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131

The Bancroft copyist's description of the " sheet" in an
"unknown handwriting " from which the publication
of 1819 was copied (3 plates) .... facing 132, 133, 134

Copy of the certificate attached by Dr. Joseph McKnitt
Alexander to the anonymous manuscript and his
father's (2 plates) facing 135, 136



The Mecklenburg
Declaration of Independence

CHAPTER I

HISTORY OF THE CONTROVERSY

THE publication of William Wirt's Life of Pat
rick Henry in 1817, in which Wirt claimed that
Patrick Henry " gave the first impulse to the ball
of the Revolution," was followed by a discussion
as to whether the earliest movements that led to
American independence took place in Virginia or
in Massachusetts. During the winter of 1818-19,
when the subject was a topic of conversation
at Washington among members of Congress, the
assertion was there made that the people of
Mecklenburg county, in North Carolina, formally
declared themselves independent of Great Britain
before the 4th of July, I7/6. 1 The statement was

1 C. Tait to Gen. P. Jack, January 25, 1819, in The Address of the Hon.
Wm. A. Graham on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, delivered
at Charlotte, February 4, 1875 (cited hereafter as Gov. Graham's Address),
113-114 ; and correspondence of John Adams ( Works, x.) and of Thomas
Jefferson ( Writings , Ford ed., x.) during the year 1818.

I



2 The Mecklenburg Declaration

apparently received with incredulity. For satis
factory information relative to the matter two of
the North Carolina members, Senator Nathaniel
Macon and William Davidson, the representative
from the Mecklenburg district, wrote to persons
in that section of the country. Davidson, who had
probably brought forward the claim for Mecklen
burg, applied to Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander,
and received from him a full account of the dis
puted event, which he said he had copied from
papers left by his father, John McKnitt Alexander.
Macon directed his inquiry to General Joseph
Graham, who forwarded the letter to Dr. Alexan
der's brother, William B. Alexander, with a request
that he furnish Macon with all information that his
father's papers could supply. William B. Alexan
der wrote Macon on February 7, 1819, that his
brother had furnished William Davidson with all
that could be found. " Nearly all of my father's
papers," he said, "were burned in the spring of
1800, which destroyed the papers now wanted, as
I believe he acted as secretary to the committee
that declared independence for this county in

1775."

Macon endeavored to procure information to
verify statements in the document received by
Davidson, which had been placed in his hands
a month or more before William B. Alexander's
letter reached him, but was unsuccessful. He
appears not to have doubted its trustworthiness,
however, and he sent it with an old proclamation
that William B. Alexander had found among his



History of the Controversy 3

father's papers to the editor of the Raleigh Register
and North Carolina Gazette, published in Raleigh,
North Carolina. 1 It appears in the issue of
Friday, April 30, 1819 (Vol. xx., No. 1023), as
follows : 2

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

It is not probably known to many of our readers, that the
citizens of Mecklenburg County, in this State made a Declara
tion of Independence more than a year before Congress made
theirs. The following Document on the subject has lately
come to the hands of the Editor from unquestionable author
ity, and is published that it may go down to posterity.



NORTH-CAROLINA, Mecklenburg County,

May 20, 1775

In the spring of 1775, the leading characters of Mecklen
burg county, stimulated by that enthusiastic patriotism which
elevates the mind above considerations of individual aggran
disement, and scorning to shelter themselves from the impend
ing storm by submission to lawless power, &c. &c. held several
detached meetings, in each of which the individual sentiments
were " that the cause of Boston was' the cause of all ; that
their destinies were indissolubly connected with those of
their Eastern fellow-citizens and that they must either
submit to all the impositions which an unprincipled, and to
them an unrepresented parliament might impose or support
their brethren who were doomed to sustain the first shock

1 Raleigh Register editorial, August 6, 1819 (reprinted in Niles : Prin
ciples and Acts of the Revolution, 135-136) ; and C. Tait to P. Jack,
in Gov. Graham's Address , 113-114.

2 From the file in the Library of Congress. A proclamation of Gov.
Martin of North Carolina, dated Charlotte-Town, October 3, 1780, was
printed in the same issue, " as a curiosity." A copy of the original MS.,
sent by Dr. J. McKnitt Alexander to Wm. Davidson, made by Col. Wm.
Polk in 1819, and now in the New York Public Library, will be found in
the Appendix.



4 The Mecklenburg Declaration

of that power, which, if successful there, would ultimately
overwhelm all in the common calamity. Conformably to
these principles, Col. Adam Alexander, through solicitation,
issued an order to each Captain's Company in the county of
Mecklenburg, (then comprising the present county of Cabar-
rus) directing each militia company to elect two persons, and
delegate to them ample power to devise ways and means
to aid and assist their suffering brethren in Boston, and
also generally to adopt measures to extricate themselves from
the impending storm, & to secure unimpaired their inalienable
rights, privileges and liberties from the dominant grasp of
British imposition and tyranny.

In conforming to said Order, on the ipth of May, 1775, the
said delegation met in Charlotte, vested with unlimited
powers ; at which time official news, by express, arrived of the
Battle of Lexington on that day of the preceding month.
Every delegate felt the value & importance of the prize, &
the awful & solemn crisis which had arrived every bosom
swelled with indignation at the malice, inveteracy and insati
able revenge developed in the late attack at Lexington. The
universal sentiment was: let us not flatter ourselves that pop
ular harangues or resolves ; that popular vapor will avert the
storm, or vanquish our common enemy let us deliberate let
us calculate the issue the probable result ; and then let us
act with energy as brethren leagued to preserve our property
our lives, and what is still more endearing, the liberties of
America. Abraham Alexander was then elected Chairman,
and John M'Knitt Alexander, Clerk. After a free and full
discussion of the various objects for which the delegation had
been convened, it was unanimously Ordained

1. Resolved, That whosoever 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
inherant and inalienable rights of man.

2. Resolved, 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



History of the Controversy 5

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 in
humanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at
Lexington.

3. Resolved, 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 cooperation, our
lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.

4. Resolved^ That as we now 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 of our former laws, wherein, nevertheless, the
Crown of Great-Britain never can be considered as holding
rights, privileges, immunities or authority therein.

5. Resolved, That it is also further decreed, that all, each
and every military officer in this county is hereby reinstated to
his former command and authority, he acting conformably to


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam Henry HoytThe Mecklenburg declaration of independence; a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious → online text (page 1 of 21)
Using the text of ebook The Mecklenburg declaration of independence; a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious by William Henry Hoyt active link like:
read the ebook The Mecklenburg declaration of independence; a study of evidence showing that the alleged early declaration of independence by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 20th, 1775, is spurious is obligatory.

Leave us your feedback | Links exchange | RSS feed 

Online library ebooksread.com © 2007-2014