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The Revolutionaries

Book 1, Chapter 3
Hornets' Nest
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MILLIONS of words, often impassioned and frequently more resonant than reasoned, have been spoken and countless tens of thousands have been written in letters, books, historical journals, magazines, and newspapers on the subject of the Mecklenburg declaration of indepenence. It has been one of the nation's liveliest historical controversies, a continuing debate that has engaged the interest of historians from time to time in many sections of the nation. A vast preponderance of these spoken and written words has supported the claim that citizens of Mecklenburg County on May 20, 1775, assembled in convention in tiny Charlottetown, did in fact adopt and promulgate a declaration of independence from Great Britain. But for almost a century and a half there have been persons who honestly doubted the authenticity of the purported declaration, some who quite militantly sought to disprove it, and even a few who though palpably uniformed and refusing stubbornly to examine all evidence available, have claimed professional omniscience and, looking down their smug noses, continue solemnly to pronounce it the Mecklenburg myth.

What then are the facts? On what basis do those who scoff at the declaration deny its authenticity? And what evidence can its defenders offer in support of their contention that the declaration actually was adopted as Mecklenburgers have long held? How does the controversy stand on the eve of the two-hundredth anniversary of this county's formation in 1762?

In any one-volume recital of this county's two-century history, an adequate discussion of the Mecklenburg declaration controversy manifestly would be impossible. Such a treatment would require many pages; in fact, a large volume embracing newly discovered evidence could be done - and demands to be done - in elaboration of this intriguing subject. As the May 1775 convention recedes farther and farther into the mists of history and tradition, fewer persons know and are concerned with the facts of this important story and the issues upon which the controversy about it have been kept alive. Many of the most enthusiastic and vocal supporters of the declaration actually have little information upon which to base that support. In the main, these persons contend that a Mecklenburg declaration was promulgated on May 20, 1775, for little more reason than that as loyal Mecklenburgers they wish to defend their county's honor against those they consider its detractors. In the same way, on the other hand, few of those who deny the authenticity of the declaration can offer valid reason for their position; they seem to feel that skepticism and the challenging of traditionally accepted viewpoints and positions are evidences of intellectual freedom. Few who deny the authenticity of the May 20 document offer positive evidence in support of their negative stand.

The preponderance of the evidence, if one looks carefully, intelligently, and objectively into the subject, supports overwhelmingly the contention that the delegates meeting in Charlottetown - it was variously called Charlottetown, Charlotte, and Charlottesburg - on Friday, May 19, 1775, actually framed a clearcut declaration of independence which in the early morning hours of the next day was enacted as the first such document to be promulgated in the colonies. Significantly, not until forty-four years after these Mecklenburg patriots had convened in the little court house had anyone challenged the authenticity of the May 20 declaration. Until then not a voice is recorded as having been raised or a word having been written in denial of the declaration story. And then the challenge did not come from anyone in the vicinity of Mecklenburg or any of the participants in the lively events of May 1775, but from far-off Monticello in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson in a letter written July 9, 1819, to John Adams expressed the opinion that "the paper from Mecklenburg County, of North Carolina" was spurious.

But why was the author of the national declaration of July 4, 1776, at this late date attacking the Mecklenburg document? Had he never heard of it before? Jefferson was replying to a letter from Adams, who had read in the June 5, 1819 issue of the Essex Register of Salem, Massachusetts, an article reprinted from the Raleigh (N. C.) Register of April 30, 1819. This article, prepared from material provided by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander, son of John McKnitt Alexander, secretary of the Mecklenburg convention of May 19-20, 1775, dealt with that convention and the declaration adopted by it.

But why, critics might reasonably ask, had these Mecklenburgers waited forty-four years to publish the declaration? They insist that, as far as has been ascertained, the document was not published before that date. The reason seems plain. The action of the Mecklenburg patriots were considered premature and was not publicized in 1775 in accordance with the counsel of the North Carolina delegates to the Continental Congress. The colonists were still seeking conciliation with England and announcement that a county in North Carolina had revolted would have so inflamed the already precarious situation, the delegates feared, that further efforts at conciliation would have been futile.

Certain early historians of the declaration controversy argue that the declaration was published, however, contemporaneously with its promulgation. Reverend Francis L. Hawks, writing in 1837, and George W. Graham, M.D., in his The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, May 20, 1775, and the Lives of Its Signers, try to show that Governor Josiah Martin in his letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, written June 30, 1775, in which he said he had seen in a newspaper which he was sending him a document surpassing "all the horrid and treasonable publications that the inflammatory spirits of this Continent have yet produced," was referring to the Mecklenburg declaration. In a contemporary proclamation the Governor declared he had seen "a most infamous publication in the Cape Fear Mercury, importing to be Resolves of a set of people styling themselves a committee for the county of Mecklenburg, most traitorously declaring the entire dissolution of the laws, government, and constitution of this country."

But intermittent searching through a century and a quarter since the Reverend Mr. Hawks offered this argument has failed to produce any issue of the Cape Fear Mercury hidden away in government archives in London with a copy of the declaration in it, and historians generally believe that Governor Martin was referring to the May 31 Resolves and not to the declaration. Today's strongest supporters of the declaration's authenticity believe that publication of the paper in 1775 was purposely withheld.

This was the view of one of the staunchest defenders of the declaration whose exhaustive study of the controversy antedated publication of Reverend Mr. Hawks' argument. This student of the early history of North Carolina was Governor David L. Swain. It was he who wrote the preface to the State Pamphlet of 1831, issued by the General Assembly of North Carolina, titled The Declaration of Independence by the Citizens of Mecklenburg County, on the Twentieth of May, 1775, with Accompanying Documents Published by the Governor, under the Authority and Direction of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina. It was Governor Swain's conclusion that "there was no contemporaneous publication of the proceedings of the 19th and 20th of May."

That this Cape Fear Mercury did not contain the declaration text, as Governor Swain believed, supports the theory that promulgation of the declaration purposely was not publicized in those early days of the fight for independence. But why?

"We were premature," wrote John McKnitt Alexander in rough notes left among his papers. Mecklenburgers, having declared themselves free of the mother country, were standing alone in all America in defiance of King George's government. And even North Carolina's leaders, to repeat for emphasis, were counseling caution, moderation, and patience in the hope that reconciliation might be achieved. Publication of such a bold document would be highly inflammatory, they reasoned. In Philadelphia, where the Congress was sitting, the preponderant effort was exerted on the side of reconciliation with Great Britain, and very naturally attempts would be made to prevent publication of all articles that might further agitate the already grave situation. Supporting this contention is the fact that Philadelphia newspapers of that day, as far as diligent search has been able to reveal, did not publish even the May 31 Resolves, even though they were not the positive and challenging paper that the declaration was.

And certainly the Resolves were published in newspapers beyond the Carolinas, copied perhaps from the Cape Fear Mercury of Wilmington or the New Bern North Carolina Gazette, the two newpapers of the province, or the Charleston South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In fact, it was the discovery by Peter Force, able American historian, in 1838 in the Massachusetts Spy or American Oracle of Liberty of July 12, 1775, of an incomplete series of these resolves, and later the finding of a complete set, that gave those who deny the declaration a strong basis for their contention that the May 31 Resolves were the "true declaration" and that the traditionally accepted May 20 declaration was only imagined, that John McKnitt Alexander and those others who had testified to the genuineness of the May 20 document had been confused and in reality were thinking of the May 31 paper.

It is this theory that present day challengers of the May 20 document's authenticity support, though since the publication in 1907 of William Henry Hoyt's volume attacking the declaration, little has been published in attempts to gain adherents for that view. Critics now seem content to say they will not believe the May 20 paper authentic until adequate - to their satisfaction - contemporaneous supporting documentation is produced. And these disbelievers are unreasonable in their demands, declare supporters of the declaration, for while they accept many far less proved contentions of history as factual, they refuse to accept this, or even to weigh the mass of evidence, some of it startling and recently discovered, supporting it.

The controversy hardly will be settled, both supporters and attackers perhaps will agree, until one side or the other produces what both sides will consider incontrovertible evidence of a contemporaneous nature showing that the May 20 declaration was promulgated or that there was no such document. Will some long lost paper some day come to light to settle the argument?

But if the text of the declaration was not published contemporaneously with its adoption, why then, it might reasonably be asked, was it published in the Raleigh Register forty-four years after the May 1775 convention? The reason in this case, too, is clear.

In 1817 William Wirt, in his Life of Patrick Henry, asserted that Henry "gave the first impulse to the ball of the Revolution." North Carolinians, noticing this claim, were unwilling to let it go unchallenged. Mecklenburg County, they had understood, actually had proclaimed itself independent of Great Britain some fourteen months before the colonial convention in Philadelphia had promulgated the July 4, 1776 delcaration. In Washington Representative William Davidson of the Congressional district embracing Mecklenburg and his colleague in the Senate, Nathaniel Macon, set about obtaining evidence to support the Mecklenburg claim. Who could better provide such material than Mecklenburgers themselves, a number of whom, still living, had been participants in the May 1775 proceedings?

One of the results of their efforts was to procure certain important documentary mateial from Dr. Alexander, whose father had died the same year the Wirt book was published. This material supplied the information from which the Raleigh paper's article was prepared, and this article was reprinted in the Essex Register some five weeks later, where it was seen by Mr. Adams.

The retired second President thereupon wrote Mr. Jefferson that, in his opinion, in this quoted Mecklenburg document "The genuine sense of America at that moment was never expressed so well before, or since," and he sent along with his letter the copy of the Massachusetts paper. This praise of the Mecklenburg paper, particularly Mr. Adams' addition of "or since," might well have piqued the author of the national declartion, which had been promulgated not as the colonies' first declaration, but more than a year after Mecklenburg's, if there really had been a Mecklenburg declaration.

But even then, critics of Mr. Jefferson in his attack on the Mecklenburg paper point out in fairness to the Virginian, he did not deny the authenticity of the paper; he merely expressed a very strong doubt of its authenticity. "But what has attracted my peculiar notice," Mr. Jefferson wrote, after having thanked Mr. Adams for three recent letters from him, "is the paper from Mecklenburg County, of North Carolina, published in the Essex Register, which you were so kind to enclose in your last, of June the 22nd. And you seem to think it genuine. I believe it spurious." He then goes on to question whether Dr. Alexander was a real man or "as fictitious as the paper itself about which the article had been written," and sharply to castigate North Carolina's delegates to the Continental Congress. "Now, you remember as well as I do, that we had not a greater Tory in Congress than Hooper; that Hewes was very wavering, sometimes firm, sometimes feeble, according as the day was clear or coudy; that Caswell, indeed, was a good Whig and kept these gentlemen to the notch, while he was present; but he left us soon and their line of conduct became then uncertain until Penn came, who fixed Hewes and the vote of the State." But, Jefferson went on, in milder tone, "I must not be understood as suggesting any doubtfulness in the State of North Carolina. No State was more fixed or forward. Nor do I affirm positively that this paper is a fabrication, because the proof of a negative can only be presumptive. But I shall believe it such until positive and solemn proof of its authenticity shall be produced. And if the name of McKnitt be real, and not part of the fabrication, it needs a vindication by the production of such proof . . ." Dr. Alexander customarily signed his name "J. McKnitt" and this is the way he had signed the article in the newspapers. Of course, despite Jefferson's suggestions, the name KcKnitt was no fabrication.

The author of the national declaration doubtless would have been provoked to stronger words had he seen the letter written six days later, on July 15, 1819, to Reverend William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, in which Adams hinted - in fact, virtually charged - that Mr. Jefferson had used the Mecklenburg document in writing his own national declaration. He "was struck with so much astonishment on reading this document," Mr. Adams declared in his letter to the minister, "that I could not help inclosing it immediately to Mr. Jefferson, who must have seen it, in the time of it, for he has copied the spirit, the sense, and the expressions of it, verbatim, into his declaration of the 4th of July, 1776."

But after his letter to Reverend Mr. Bentley was dispatched, Mr. Adams received Thomas Jefferson's reply, for on July 21, eleven days after the third President had written to express the opinion that the Mecklenburg paper was spurious, Mr. Adams wrote that the letter from his Virginia contemporary "has entirely convinced me that the Mecklenburg resolutions are a fiction," and he wondered "Who can be the Demon to invent such a machine after five and forty years, and what could be his motive - was it to bring a Charge of Plagiarism against the Congress of '76, or against you, the undoubted acknowledged draughtsman of the Declaration of Independence?"

Mr. Adams' words, of course, are as reckless as Mr. Jefferson's. Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander was no more a "Demon to invent such a machine after five and forty years" than he was a fictitious character and "a part of the fabrication." No other challenger of the Mecklenburg document's authenticity seriously has contended that any "Demon" or anyone else invented "such a machine," but some do contend that John McKnitt Alexander, innocently but because of advancing senility, in preparing years afterward "from memory" a copy of the declaration and a report of other May 1775 actions for his friend General William R. Davie, had confused the declaration with the subsequently enacted set of resolves. This contention, bolstered by the fact that supporters of the declaration have been unable to produce the original copy of the document or one that the critics will admit is contemporaneous with it, appears to be the principle basis of the argument that no declaration ever was promulgated.

This charge of senility was made against Mr. Alexander despite the fact that in 1800, when he made the Davie copy, he was but sixty-seven years old; he would live, still in good mind to the end of his life, seventeen years longer. And other participants in that stirring convention who left their testimony to the authenticity of the declaration were younger than he.

There have been some who have professed to agree with John Adams in his observation to Reverend Mr. Bentley that Mr. Jefferson "must have seen it, in the time of it." To support their contention, they point to the fact that Captain James Jack of Charlottetown, whose father Patrick Jack operated Jack's Tavern of Revolutionary fame, some time after the May convention, likely in early June and by the convention's appointment, carried certain Mecklenburg papers, presumably both the declaration and the May 31 Resolves, to the Continental Congress then in session at Philadelphia. These papers, Jack reported, were presented to North Carolina's delegates. Did Thomas Jefferson likewise see them, and did he use them in writing his national declaration?

Serious students of the controversy give little credence to the theory that Jefferson used the Mecklenburg paper, and then forty-four years later sought to cover his tracks by calling it a fabrication. But they likewise declare with vehemence that neither John McKnitt Alexander nor his son, Dr. Alexander, invented the declaration. The Alexanders were men of the highest character and reputation. And so were others of the period who either had taken part in the deliberations of the convention or were present as witnesses, or who on numerous occasions had heard from their elders accounts of those lively days in little Charlottetown.

Actually, neither Jefferson nor the Mecklenburgers were plagiarizing or inventing. Both the framers of the Mecklenburg document, themselves Princeton graduates and on a par culturally and intellectually with members of the Continental Congress, and of the national declaration, were merely writing into the two documents phrases, for instance, such as "are, and of right ought to be," that were current methods of expression. Such language was contained in the first resolution offered the Congress by Virginia's Richard Henry Lee: "Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." Certainly no one charges that Lee used phrases form the Mecklenburg paper.

Captain Jack in reporting on his return home from Philadelphia that he had presented the papers, as he had been instructed to do, to the North Carolina delegates did not mention Jefferson or any other except the North Carolinians. In a certificate signed December 7, 1819, however, in Elbert County, Georgia, where he was then living, Captain Jack declared that "I then proceeded on to Philadelphia, and delivered the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence of May, 1775, to Richard Caswell and William Hooper, the Delegates to Congress from the State of North Carolina."

Captain Jack on returning home had reported also that in Philadelphia he had found the members of the Continental Congress still hopeful of reconciliation with Great Britain. Though the North Carolina delegates had appreciated the bold action of the Mecklenburg patriots, they had cautioned against publication of such a document as the declaration since that would further inflame the tense situation. Very probably the North Carolinians showed the Mecklenburg papers to certain of their colleagues in Philadelphia, but the documents were not given consideration by the Congress. Certainly Hooper and Hewes in the summer of 1775, judging by Jefferson's own description of them in his letter to John Adams, were among the more conservative delegates. It was only natural then that they should advise Mecklenburg to say little about this revolutionary step its citizens had taken.

Though no contemporary publication of the declaration text has been discovered, very strong evidence supports the contention that material for a book published shortly after Jefferson's attack was being collected long before 1819. This was Francis Xavier Martin's history of North Carolina, which strongly supports the Mecklenburg declaration. Although the book did not come out until 1819, it was written in the form in which it was published some twenty years before, certainly not later than 1809, ten years before Jefferson had questioned the authenticity of the document. Martin, according to convincing supporting evidence, was assembling his material and working on his history from 1791 to 1809.

Another volume, published a year before Martin's history and written without collaboration in any way with Martin, also supports the declaration. It is Alexander Garden's Anecdotes of the American Revolution. Major Garden, a Charlestonian, served during the Revolutionary War with a number of soldiers from Mecklenburg. Both he and Martin were contemporaries of the early movement for independence and drew heavily upon their association with these men in preparing their books. Major Garden, for example, had been an aide to General Greene and an associate of Colonel Thomas Polk on the general's staff. He was also a friend of Dr. William Read of Charleston, who in 1781 was appointed hospital physician for the South with headquarters in Charlotte. In Charlotte he was frequently associated with Dr. Ephraim Brevard, John McKnitt Alexander, and others who had taken leading roles in the May 1775 convention. Is it not entirely probable, supporters of the declaration ask, that Major Garden learned from these men the stirring story of the convention and the declaration it promulgated?

The evidence in support of the declaration is extensive, therefore, and it goes back to the early years of Mecklenburg's independence.

But there are also certain natural supports of contemporary dating. One of the strongest of these was Major John Davidson's dubbing his son Benjamin Wilson Davidson "my independence boy" and the boy's being called "Independence Ben." Major Davidson was one of the signers.

Why such a nickname?

The reason becomes quite evident when it is revealed that he was born on May 20 in the year 1787. (He was not born on May 31, the day skeptics contend the only revolutionary action was taken - the passage of the May 31 Resolves.)

Benjamin Wilson Davidson's headstone in old Hopewell Church graveyard records his birth on May 20, 1787. Would John Davidson, a member of the convention, a signer of the declaration, only twelve years after the convention have forgot the date on which the delcaration was promulgated? Would he have confused a set of resolves setting up a system of government to replace the overthrow royal authority with a declaration of independence? Could he have thought, just twelve years afterwards, that Mecklenburg delegates, of whom he himself had been a leading one, had on May 20 declared their country's independence when actually eleven days later they had merely enacted a set of twenty resolutions, rather than six, making arrangements for the continuation of a government that had been displaced?

Here is one bit of evidence that no person denying the declaration has ever been able successfully to refute or even reasonably reconcile with his theory of what happened during that memorable May in Mecklenburg. One effort to explain it suggested that Major Davidson named his baby "my independence boy" and the neighbors and members of the family began calling the child "Independence Ben" after Mr. Jefferson challenged the declaration and did it to bolster Mecklenburg's claim. This is hardly possible when one realizes that Major Davidson's little boy was thirty-two years old when the authenticity of the document was first challenged. And his "senile" father was fifty-two when his last child was born, this same "Independence Ben."

Ten years before any controversy arose, a young fellow named James Wallis made a speech at the closing exercises on June 1, 1809, of the Sugaw Creek Academy. This speech was printed on August 10, that year, in the Raleigh Minerva and a portion of the speech was carried years later in the Catawba Journal of July 11, 1826. Here is a part of the youth's speech:

"On May 19, 1775, a day sacredly exulting to every Mecklenburg bosom, two delegates, duly authorized from each militia company in the county, met in Charlotte. After a cool and deliberate investigation of the causes and extend of our differences with Great Britain, and taking a review of probable results, pledging their all in support of their rights and liberties, they solemnly entered into and published a full and determined Declaration of Independence, renouncing forever all allegiance, dependences or connection with Great Britain - dissolved all judicial and military establishments emanating from the British crown and established others on principles corresponding with their declaration which went into immediate operation, all of which was transmitted to Congress by express and probably expedited the general Declaration of Independence."

Where did young James Wallis get his facts?

It would be many years before either Martin's history or Garden's Anecdotes of the American Revolution would be published. But there were then many participants in the convention sill living and vigorous. Too, and this is significant, the head of Sugaw Creek Academy was the Reverend Samuel C. Caldwell. And who was Caldwell? He was the son-in-law of John McKnitt Alexander, the husband of Alexander's daughter Abigail Bain. He lived in the Hopewell community near his father-in-law until 1805, when he gave up the pastorate of Hopewell Church and became pastor of Sugaw Creek Church, in whose nearby Academy four years later young Wallis made his speech about the Mecklenburg declaration. And who was James Wallis? He was the son of John McKnitt Alexander's daughter, Jean Bain, the wife of the Reverend James Wallis. Where, indeed, did young Wallis get the information?

Governor Swain and other students of the declaration controversy believed that enactment of the set of twenty resolutions on May 31, eleven days after the promulgation of the declaration answers several questions.

The May 20 declaration positively asserts Mecklenburg's freedom from Great Britain. The language is blunt, almost angry . . . "Resolved, That we, the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bonds which have connected us with the mother country, and absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British crown, abjuring all political connections with a nation that has wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed innocent blood of Americans at Lexington. . . . Resolved, That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people . . . a sovereign and self-governing people under the power of God and the General Congress . . ."

There was no equivocation about this May 20 document. The British rule in Mecklenburg was ended, not conditionally ended. At the passage of the document Mecklenburg had no laws and no legally constituted officers.

So, in Resolution IV and Resolution V on May 31, the delegates, in order to provide a government to fill the vacuum, decreed "That we do hereby ordain and adopt as rules of conduct all and each of our former laws, and that the crown of Great Britain can not be considered hereafter as holding any rights, privileges, or immunities amongst us," and "That all officers, both civil and military, in this county, be entitled to exercise the same powers and authorities as heretofore; that every member of this delegation shall henceforth be a civil officer and exercise the powers of a justice of the peace, issue process, hear and determine controversies according to law, preserve peace, union and harmony in the county, and use every exertion to spread the love of liberty and of country until a more general and better organized system of government be established."

Highly important among the John McKnitt Alexander documentary materials that escaped the disastrous fire at Alexandriana, his home nine miles north of Charlotte, on April 6, 1800, is the half sheet of foolscap containing notes in the old secretary's handwriting. Some of the paper is torn and no longer are many of the words legible, but enough has survived to give strong support to the declaration. Writes Mr. Alexander:

On the 19th May 1775, pursuant to the Order of Col. Tho. Polk to each Captain of Militia in his regiment of Mecklenburg County, to elect nominate and appoint 2 persons of their Militia company, cloathed with ample powers to devise ways & means to extricate themselves and ward off the dreadfull impending storm bursting on them by the British Nation &c. &c.

Therefore on sd. 19th. May the sd. Committee met in Charlottetown (2 men from each company) Vested with all powers these their constituents had or conceived they had &c.

After a short conference about their suffering brethren beseiged and suffering every hardship in Boston and the American Blood running in Lexington &c. the Electrical fire flew into every breast and to preserve order Choose Abraham Alex. Esquire chairman & J.McK.A. Secretary. After a few Hour free discussion in order to give relief to suffering America and protect our Just & natural right

1st. We (the County) by a Solemn and awfull vote, Dissolved/adjured our allegiance to King George and British Nation.

2nd. Declare our selves a free & independent people, having a right and capable to govern ourselves (as a part of North Carolina)

3rd. In order to have laws as a rule of life - for our future Government We formed a Code of laws, by adopting our former wholesome laws.

4th. And as there was then no officers civil or Military in our County We Decreed that every Militia officer in sd. County should hold and occupy his former commission and Grade.

A comparison of these notes by the convention secretary, made before the fire at Alexandriana, shows that they parallel the declaration rather than the May 31 Resolves, even in the order of recital.

But Mr. Alexander continues, and this notation is highly significant:

But in a few days (after cooling) a considerable part of sd. Committee Men conveened and employeed Captn. James Jack (of Charlotte) to go express to Congress (then in Philadelphia) with a copy of all resolutions and 

sd. Laws & a letter to our 3 members there, Richd. Caswell, Wm. Hooper & Joseph Hughes in order to get Congress to sanction or approve them &c. &c.

Captn. Jack returned with a long, full, complasent letter from sd. 3 members, recommending our zeal perserverance order & forebearance &c. - (We were premature) Congress never had our sd. laws on their table for discussion, though sd. Copy was left with them by Captn. Jack.

And further along in the notes Alexander observes:

N.B. allowing the 19th. May to be a rash Act [Here the original is torn] effects in binding all the middle & west [torn] firm whigs - no torys but [torn]

After discussing events in Mecklenburg following the convention and during Cornwallis' invasion, he asserts: [torn] "& foregoing extracted from the old minutes &c. J. MK. Alexander." 

Still clearly in the convention secretary's handwriting, the notes refer again to the indignation in Mecklenburg that flared into anger and resulted in the "rash act" that was the May 20 declaration:

[torn, probably Su]ch were the feeling and sympathetick sensations of the Mecklenburgers, when they knew their brethren of Boston were beseiged by General Gage & in a state of Starvation, that in each Captn. Militia company a subscription was signed for their relief - many subscribed one Bullock - other 2 joined for one Bullock - and none was suffered to sign but what the officers and leading men admitted, & for whom they were responsible, &c. And had there been a plan for government for their driving to Boston, 100 would have been given in the county in one week - the next news we heard - Boston had got relief - We were thanked for our goodwill -

And soon afterwards we smelt and felt the Blood & carnage of Lexington which raised all the passions into fury - and revenge which was the immediate cause of abjuring Great britain on May 19 1775.

April 19. 1775 wa[s] the battle at Lexington.

Could these notes, made by one of the principal participants in Mecklenburg's pre-Revolutionary history, have referred to a set of resolved that did not declare independence, did not mention the battle at Lexington, evidence no outburst of emotion at the assault upon citizens inMassachusetts, but calmly set up a system for governing a county already free of Great Britain?

Honest, yes; men of good character, yes; say critics of Alexander and Major John Davidson and Captain Jack, General Joe Graham, and the others; but senile, forgetful and confused, unable to remember the nature of a document that literally they ventured their lives in signing, unable to remember when they adopted it.

This indictment of senility is farcical. And it was never made until long after every participant in the events of May 1775 in Mecklenburg was dead. Almost two-thirds of a century had gone by before this explanation of the "myth" was ever suggested. And some years later a notation by Alexander himself, wrongly read, was advanced in support of the contention that the convention secretary twenty-five years after the convention was in his dotage. It was not until Peter Force's discovery in 1838 of the May 31 Resolves in the Massachusetts paper that this novel explanation of senility, confusion, and forgetfulness was advanced.

Doubtless a large proportion of Mecklenburg's male population was present at that convention, and certainly the delegates were the picked men of the section, the most forceful leaders, the most intelligent. Could the whole group, every man and boy inside or about the little court house on that memorable day when the express rider brought the inflammable news from Lexington, have been confused about what happened and when it took place?

The May 20 declaration, to reiterate, refers angrily to "a nation that had wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed innocent blood of Americans at Lexington."

Was it not natural then that Mecklenburgers, already deeply aggrieved over the trend of affairs in the Carolinas, should be enraged at the news of Lexington?

But the May 31 Resolves have no mention of Lexington. They are a calm set of resolutions aligning Mecklenburg with the colonies under the "direction of the Great Continental Congress" but, in view of "the exigencies of this county," which had just declared itself free and independent of Great Britain, setting up "certain rules and regulations for the Internal Government of this county, until such laws shall be provided for us by the Congress."

Why did the May 31 Resolves make no reference to the battle at Lexington, the news of which when received in Mecklenburg had provoked a veritable storm of invective against Great Britain? The very logical answer is that no mention of this battle was made in the Resolves because that battle had been referred to in the more heated declaration of eleven days earlier.

And why is the May 31 document comparatively restrained and judicial? Because, says John McKnitt Alexander, it was drafted "in a few days (after cooling)" and in the realization that the May 20 action, in which Mecklenburg had stepped forth alone of all the communities in the colonies to defy Great Britain, had been, indeed, "a rash Act."

And why, ask proponents of the declaration's authenticity, would the May 31 resolves have been enacted to supersede laws of a government that no longer existed if that government had not been overthrown? It had been overthrown, they insist. The declaration had done that. The May 31 Resolves followed as a necessary action, namely, the establishing of a government to take the place of one no longer in existence.

But then, why the preamble to the Resolves declaring that:

"Whereas, By an address presented to His Majesty by both Houses of Parliament in February last, the American colonies are declared to be in a state of actual rebellion, we conceive that all laws and commissions confirmed by or derived from the authority of the King and Parliament are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies for the present wholly suspended. To provide in some degree for the exigencies of this county in the present alarming period, we deem it proper and necessary to pass the following resolves, viz:-"

The Mecklenburgers by May 31, had cooled considerably, as Mr. Alexander wrote in his notes, and realizing that they stood alone in all America in rebellion against the British government, were now, in a paper they were expecting to send to the Continental Congress aligning themselves with the rest of the colonies. But the other colonies had not rebelled formally. So Mecklenburg in the May 31 Resolves preamble declared that this county conceived all the others actually to be in a state of rebellion through action of King George in his address to Parliament declaring them in rebellion.

We have ourselves revolted, Mecklenburg is saying in substance, but you are also in rebellion by declaration of the King; we stand together in that our laws and commissions are null and void, and in Mecklenburg "to provide in some degree for the exigencies of this county in the present alarming period" we are establishing a new government to take the place of the one dissolved.

In other words, Mecklenburg, standing alone since May 20 by her own action, joins the colonies also in rebellion, as Mecklenburg conceived it, according to the King's declaration.

Those who contend that the May 20 declaration was authentic and that "the true declaration" was not the May 31 Resolves insist, therefore, that a study of the alleged declaration and the established twenty Resolves will impel the researcher to reach the conclusion that passage of the May 31 resolutions was an action supplemental to the declaration and made necessary by its adoption.

That was the conclusion of the committee of the North Carolina General Assembly that prepared and published the State Pamphlet in 1831.


Blythe, LeGette and Brockmann, Charles Raven. Hornets' Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961.