What better way to start off a vacation than a...boring history lesson? I must have gotten my wires crossed somewhere. I was really excited about this a few minutes ago...oh well, I've started this thing, so I have to finish it, or I'll toss and turn all night.
Over the years that the Continental Congress met and hashed out the details that became our Constitution, North Carolina sent several delegates to be our voice. But I decided (for now) to focus on the three who were in attendance on our first birthday and were signatories of the Declaration Of Independence, namely Joseph Hewes, William Hooper and John Penn.
Joseph Hewes was a Princeton-schooled Quaker, but he was also a revolutionary at heart. And although he was a rather successful merchant, his friends and neighbors chose him to represent them because of his strength of character and sense of what is right, not because he had some coins jingling in his pocket. Such was their confidence in Hewes and the other two delegates that:
No delegates to this congress carried with them credentials of a bolder stamp, than those from North Carolina. They were invested with such powers as might "make any acts done by them, or consent given in behalf of this province, obligatory in honor upon any inhabitant thereof, who is not an alien to his country's good, and an apostate to the liberties of America."
Many of the delegates from the various states had in mind that reconciliation with Britain was the best course of action. Hewes knew better, and had been advocating for a break from the crown for a few years before he was sent to Philadelphia. As he was a Quaker itching for a fight, he was somewhat scorned by many of the other delegates. But his kind of spirit is exactly what we as a country needed back then, and he fit in well with those other troublemakers who, against all odds, gave us the freedoms we now enjoy.
Here's a letter from Hewes to James Iredell in May of 1776:
Dear Sir Philadelphia 17th May 1776
This being a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer (or in Vulgar language Congress Sunday) (1) I mean to steal as much time from my private devotions as will serve to acknowledge the receipt of your agreeable favour of the 29th ultimo (2) which has just reached me. Complaints of distresses made to our friends it is said is some alleviation of them- I cannot say the observation is true, however I must complain a little, an obstinate ague & Fever or rather an intermitting Fever persecutes me continually. I have no way to remove it unless I retire from Congress and from public business, this I am determined not to do till No. Carolina sends a further delegation provided I am able to crawl to the Congress Chamber. So much for self, a little politicks and I have done. Much of our time is employed in raising Men, making Cannon, Muskets & money, finding out ways & means of supplying our Troops with Cloaths, provisions & amunition. We appear to have everything we want. We resolve to raise regiments, resolve to make Cannon, resolve to make & import muskets, powder and Cloathing, but it is a melancholly truth that near half of our men, Cannon, muskets, powder, Clothe &c is to be found no where but on paper. We are not discouraged at this, if our Situation was ten times worse I would not agree to give up our cause. To the whole force of Great Britain has been added near half of Germany, 25,000 Hessians, Waldeckers and others have been expected for some time past, indeed the report of this day is, that a large detachment of them with the Commissioners are arived at Halifax in Nova Scotia. The latter, it is said are coming here to treat with Congress, in the mean time the former are to wait the event of the Treaty; if it succeeds not, they are to spread the horror and devastations of War from one end of the Continent to the other. Whither this be true or only the lye of the day I know not. It is too true that a great number of those Germans are taken into British pay. I have not heard any thing from your Congress at Halifax since the 22d of April. I am anxious to know how they go on in forming a Constitution, and more Anxious to know how they defend their Country, for I expect a formal attack has been made on it before this day. This you will receive by Mr Louther to whom I must refer you, he is just from head quarters and will be able to give you some acco. of our army. My Compliments to Mrs. Iredell & Mrs Blair. You and they have always the best wishes of, Dear Sir, your much obliged, & very huml Servt, Joseph Hewes
:) You gotta love that, "So much for self, a little politicks and I have done." Hewes was also the very first Secretary of the Navy.
William Hooper had a lot in common with many of the other delegates, in that he was a somewhat reluctant revolutionary. He was an active member of the colonial government under Tryon, and even accompanied the colonial forces when they defeated the Regulators here in Alamance, so he must have felt out of place being chosen as a delegate.
But he eventually came to realize the inevitability of war with Britain, although he accepted it with a dour fatalism. From a letter to Iredell:
My dear Friend Philadelphia January 6th 1776
So great has been my proportion of scribbling publick letters, that I have not had an opportunity to pay that respect to my private connections to which they have so just a Claim, to you to whom I owe it as a duty, as well as a testimony of Sincere reciprocal esteem.
That day, I hope, is not at a great distance, when retired from the bustle of publick life, I shall enjoy all the sweets of domestick retirement & private friendship. I am weary of politicks, it is a study that corrupts the human heart, degrades the Idea of human nature, and drives men to expedients that morality must condemn. Deep stratagems, dark disguise, Fiction, falsehood, are but the fair side of the picture of a perfect, politician-a Machiavel-a Hobbs-a Richlieu-a North. No, my Friend, the Science of politicks is not to be learned in the principles of the laws of nature and Nations, it is wrote only in the recesses of the mind of princes, and Vice assumes another name, when it ministers to the strength and importance of the state. The black part of the Character is ascribed to this and Virtues if any there are, are the personal property of the prince. Hide the picture ! 'tis a horrid one.
We have met with nothing of much importance lately from the Continental Armies. A scarcity of Gunpowder has for some time past kept them inactive, that Want is now plentifully supplied, and I suppose e'er long we shall hear of the happy effects. To what are we reduced, that we can hear of bloodshed without remorse; and amidst the horror of this unnatural War derive consolation from a conquest sealed with the blood of our fellow subjects. Yes, Britain, It is the Criterion of thy existence; thy greatness totters. Luxury & Wealth with every vice in their train, are hurrying thee down the precipice, & liberty shuddering at thy fate is seeking an Asylum westward. Oh Heaven still check her approaching Ruin, restore her to reason, restore her to the Affection of her American Subjects. May she long flourish the guardian of freedom and when that Change comes and come it must, that America must become the seat of Empire, may Britain gently verge down the decline of life, and sink away in the Arms of her American Sons. A Fleet is begun here at the Continental Expense, Should it's success be great it will much exceed my expectations. It has a formidable power to cope with, the luxury of Britain has not yet enervated its seamen. However if this War continues, which God forbid, A Navy we must have. That of the United Provinces was trifling in its commencement, its increase and importance shewed the propriety of it. Some small armed Vessels about Boston have made some valuable acquisitions.
This City scarce feels the interruption of trade. The Manufacturers, Mechanicks & Seamen find employment in the publick works. And the Merchants find means to dispose of their Commodities which are necessary to procure the means of Offence e defence. The Eastern Colonies furnish Soldiers and the necessaries for subsisting them, so that much of the Continental money will center with them. Their poor are employed and none left for clamor. The Southern Colonies will feel it first.
Possibly because he had been such a strong supporter of the colonial regime, the British attempted to capture Hooper numerous times, and eventually burned to the ground all of his property in the Wilmington area. I can't help but feel some sympathy for his plight. But I've also walked the Battleground here in Alamance on more than one occasion, and I know that justice often finds its own way in this world, regardless of what we do to help or hinder it.
John Penn was a distant relative of William Penn, and was a delegate from what is now Vance County. He was pretty much a self-taught lawyer, and developed a strong reputation in the courtroom.
In this letter to Samuel Johnston, he discusses the plot to kill Washington and implicates Tryon:
Dear Sir Philada. June 28th. 1776 I arrived here several days ago in good health & found Mr. Hewes well. I am truly sorry to inform you that our affairs are in a bad situation in Canada. I fear by the time you receive this our army will have left that Country. Unfortunately for us the small pox has gone through our Troops there, which has in some measure occasioned our misfortunes. I expect we shall be able to make a stand at the lakes. General Burgoin with a very considerable force arrived in Canada some time ago. He lately made Prisoners Brigad General Thompson and several other officers tho' we had but few men killed or taken at the time. A dangerious plot has lately been discovered at New York. The design was to blow up the Magazine and kill General Washington, a large number are under confinement some of note. Governor Tryon is at the bottom, several of the General's Guard were bribed, it seems when the whole is made known we shall be much surprised. The famous Rogers that was so active last war is one of the number & now confined.
The first day of July will be made remarcable; then the question relative to Independance will be ajitated and there is no doubt but a total seperation from Britain will take place. This Province is for it; indeed so are all except Maryland & her people are coming over fast, I shall be much obliged to you to give the inclosed letters passes and when you have an opportunity to let me know what is doing in the busie world your way. I am with great respect, Dear Sir, Your mo. obt. Servt. John Penn
And I leave you with a letter written some five years later to the worried wife of a hero:
Dear Madam. Philadelphia 27th March 1781. I have been honored with your very agreable Letter of ; but have it not about me. Should you pursue your Intention of going to the Southward, I shall be peculiarly happy in seeing you on the Way. We have not Accounts of late from General Greene, but a Letter received Yesterday from Governor Jefferson of Virginia, gives us the following Intelligence.(1) "That on the fifteenth of this Month a General Action was fought between the two Armies, wch. continued incessant for an hour and a Quarter; That General Greene then retired in good Order, unpursued, one Mile and an half, with the Loss of four Pieces of Canon and between two & three hundred killed and wounded. The Enemies Loss between five and six hundred: That General Greene intended a second Attack the day following, but was prevented by Rain; That every Circumstance indicated a new Engagement." This Acct. the Governor received from a Capt. of Artillery who was in Action. I now know what the Sensations of your Breast will be upon reading so far; But lest your Cheeks should become too crimson, I shall not mention them; For you are sensible I can never command my own Countenance When that of a Lady is agitated. However, This, to me, & most People who think cooly, is very good Intelligence. For Considering the small Number of our Continental Troops, and the irregular Nature of the Southern Militia, we might have expected a total Defeat, instead of a Conflict so equally maintained. To convince the Militia that they can fight is half making them Veterans; And We may safely pronounce General Greene's Strength after the Battle, a Quarter greater than before. So true it is that all the Benefits of a long Experience may be gained in an Hour. I have not felt so firm a Persuasion of Success from the Beginning as at present. Perhaps you may think me too anxious on the Side of Friendship, and too much interested in your Felicity to indulge different Reflections; But I give you the Account exactly as we have received it; & shall repeat my Information as soon as more authentic Intelligence shall be obtained. I love Sincerity for its own sake as well as for the Relation it bears to social Connection, And I declare upon my Honor, America ought, and doubtless will record this Event as much in her Favor. It would perhaps be indelicate to suggest in this Way, my own, or the Opinion of others upon the military Conduct of General Greene, during this most critical, distressing and important Command in the Southern Department. Human Tenderness however demands one Tribute; His military Character is universally admired. Be pleased to make my best Respects to our good Friends, and accept the best Wishes of your very obedient & most humble Servt. J.M. Varnum
Happy Independence Day, my friends. :)