Of the two Carolinas the northern was less favored with the attention and care of the mother country. The affection and gratitude felt by her people toward England was much slighter than that which bound South Carolina; and neglect bred in them a self-reliance and independence that brought confidence of success when they joined the Revolution. Moreover the Governor of North Carolina and the Assembly were in conflict just previous to the war, and the leaders of the latter at the first signals of general opposition broke away from the government, in relief at the prospect of having their own way, unhampered by the representative of the Crown. The ideas and principles of the Revolution found quick sympathy in North Carolina, and joined to their local troubles, won the people to the common cause. Provincial Congresses were called and in spite of the denunciations of the Governor, the administration passed into their hands.

Rendered powerless in his civil capacity, with no military protection, deprived even of the few cannon he had gathered for his defense, and feeling, with good reason, that his position was insecure, the Governor, in the summer of 1775, took refuge in the King’s sloop of war, the "Cruizer," that was anchored in the Cape Fear river. The Congress thereupon shifted the blame for the situation upon his helpless shoulders, declaring that he had refused to exercise the functions of his office and abandoned his Province without occasion. Having thus justified themselves, with reminiscence perhaps, of the British Parliament and James II., the Congress created a temporary executive of its own.

There already existed in the Province, town and county committees which had been in active operation since their appointment in the fall of 1774, as Committees of Inquiry and Correspondence. These committees regulated the affairs of their districts and treated harshly any who dared raise a voice in opposition. This system of committees was too well rooted and too useful to be abolished, but their excesses had displeased many of the moderate Whigs and it was decided to bring them, if possible, under greater control.

On September 9, 1775, a graded system of committees was established to serve as the Colony’s executive, in place of Governor Martin and the royal officials. A Provincial Council of thirteen members was elected by ballot in the Congress, two named by the members from each of the six districts and one by the Congress as a whole. This Council in the recess of the legislature was to issue to the officers their certificates of appointment, which were to take the place of commissions. The militia officers that were chosen by the people might be disallowed in the Council, to prevent the choice of unsuitable persons. Any vacancies among the officers were to be filled at the Council’s appointment. It was to have the direction, regulation arid maintenance of the army, and the whole military establishment, subject only to the control of the Congress. It might suspend any officer and order a court-martial whose sentence was to be final unless otherwise decided by the Congress. Finally, it was given discretionary power to do everything it judged necessary for the security and defense of the Province, provided this did not involve the alteration or suspension of any act of the legislature. To render its power effective it was authorized to draw on the treasury for any sum necessary for the public service. The members were to meet but once in three months, unless circumstances compelled more frequent sessions. Ten shillings a day were allowed them for expenses. Any vacancy in the Council in the recess of Congress was to be filled by vote of the Committee of Safety of the district in which the vacancy had occurred. The commission of this Board hears a close resemblance to that given by South Carolina to her Council of Safety in the previous June, and it seems probable that it may have been modelled upon it.

Below the Provincial Council came District Committees of Safety consisting of a President and twelve other members who were to sit quarterly in the chief towns in their respective districts. They were to be chosen by ballot in the Provincial Congress by the representatives of the different districts. Under the control of the Provincial Council they were to direct the militia and other forces of the Colony. They were to receive information and punish offenders both as a court of original jurisdiction and also as a court of appeal from the town and county committees. No person holding a military office except in the militia could act either as a member of the Provincial Council or of a Committee of Safety. Full power was given to both bodies to compel debtors, who were suspected of being about to leave the province with debts unpaid, to give security to their creditors, or in default of this to cause the person or property of the delinquent to be seized and held until the creditor received satisfaction. The same power was given to the county committees in cases of twenty pounds or under. The Committees of Safety were further authorized to call all persons liable for public money to account and compel payment by imprisonment and seizure of estates. The power of both Provincial Council and Committees of Safety was to last during the recess of Congress and until further order was taken in the matter by that body. Their proceedings were to be laid before it for inspection.

Finally came the Town and County Committees. In each county the freeholders were to elect yearly a committee of twenty-one as a County Committee. In the three largest towns in the province, Edenton, Newbern and Wilmington, Town Committees of fifteen were to be chosen. In the smaller towns, which had the right of representation in the Provincial Congress, committees of seven were to be chosen. Permission was given these Town and County Committees to act together if they saw fit. The Committees were to execute within their precincts all orders and resolutions of the Continental and Provincial Congresses and of their district Committees of Safety. Each Town and County Committee might make such regulations for its own section as it saw fit, save that no corporal punishment, except imprisonment, might be inflicted. It was thus hoped that the tarring and feathering that had disgraced the Colony might be made a thing of the past. No person was to be allowed to commence any lawsuit without leave from the County Committee, and no suit then pending could be continued without its consent. From each Town and County Committee a subcommittee of seven persons was to be chosen by the members to act as a Committee of Secrecy, Intelligence and Observation, which was to correspond with the Provincial Council, the Committees of Safety, and the other committees in North Carolina and neighboring colonies. They were to take up all suspected persons and if necessary send them to the Provincial Council or Committee of Safety.

This schedule, complete anti well organized as it seems, was in reality but a compromise and half-way measure. The importance of the local committees which had possession of the field made the Convention feel, whether rightly or not, that it was impossible to put at once a controlling central executive over the Province. A Council meeting but once in three months could not endanger the independence of the local committees. Moreover its duties, as far as specifically outlined related chiefly to the army. The function of the District Committees was similar, save that the duty of arresting and punishing delinquents was added. It was the Town and County Committees that were especially delegated to carry out the laws of the Colony, to control the courts, to govern and police the districts. The system differed from that adopted by other colonies, where the provincial Council of Safety, besides caring for and directing the army, was intrusted with the execution of the acts of the legislature, and the county committees were used as agents, by the central Council, to carry the plans of the government into effect in the localities.

The Provincial Council met for the first time October 17, 1775, a little more than a month after the adjournment of the Congress. It was in session but five days. It next came together in December and was content with a sitting of a week. Its third and last session began on February 28, 1776, and ended March 5. Meeting at such considerable intervals and so soon dispersing, it was unable not only to become the leading power in the Province but it could not give that close personal attention to the multifarious details of the military establishment which characterized many of the other provincial Councils. Many of its duties fell of necessity to the army officers and to the other committees, to the loss of a consistent and economic regulation of the whole. When neither Congress nor Council was in session there was no central government and the Province presented a condition of decentralization that boded ill if a strong attack should be made by the British.

The Council employed its short sessions in making some provision for the troops. All the flour and pork for sale in the Province was engaged by it, and the export of pork, bacon, rice and peas forbidden, unless salt, arms and ammunition were brought in return. Commissioners were appointed at the different ports to give permits for this limited trade. Certain of the Council chartered vessels and undertook the importation of ammunition, while three armed ships were fitted out to protect the trade. Friends of the cause were asked to buy all the powder, saltpetre and sulphur possible for public use and place it in the hands of the Town and County Committees. A large committee was appointed to purchase materials and engage workmen to make and mend guns. The gun carriages were repaired and the guns mounted. The Council also appointed commissaries and paymasters for the troops and supplied them with money.

Although general orders were issued by the Council to the two continental battalions to oppose the landing of any hostile force, the Board was not called upon during the time it was in session to deal with any attack. The attempt was made to isolate Governor Martin completely, that he might not stir up opposition to the new government among the loyalists. The Committees of Wilmington and Brunswick and the officer of the troops at Cape Fear were recommended to cut off personal communication from the shore to the "Cruizer" and to examine all letters to the Governor. The Wilmington District Committee was authorized to stop the supply of provisions to the ship, whenever it was found expedient. In a few cases the Council tried and punished Tories, but they were left generally to the discretion of the local committees. The Council recommended that all suspects should be disarmed and required to take oath to oppose neither the Continental nor Provincial Congress, nor to aid the British in any way. Little attempt was made to direct or regulate the local committees.

The District Committees of Safety were not active bodies. The Province was not large enough, nor its affairs complex enough to call for this additional machinery which the Congress had placed between the Council and the County Committees. They had no basis in necessity and answered no purpose which might not have been as well fulfilled by the central Council in giving directions and the county committees in co-operating to fulfill them. As six unrelated bodies the Committees of Safety could not take the direction of the Province while the Council was not in session. The Town and County Committees took charge of their localities with no need of outside assistance. The fact that the Council found it necessary to order some of these District Committees to meet is a sign they found no business ready to hand, that demanded their attention.

The Town and County Committees on the other hand were active and energetic. The Wilmington Committee collected all the guns in town, bought all the lead that the place afforded, to run into balls, employed a powder-maker, furnished him with saltpetre and sulphur and set another workman at the task of making cartridges. It saw that the inhabitants drilled in the militia, it protected the channel by sinking boats, and prohibited supplies from reaching the "Cruizer," before the Provincial Council took order in the matter. Orders were given for no ship to load or to clear from the port without its permission or that of a higher power. When danger threatened, its District Committee was asked for troops. It was dangerous to question its acts, for reflections on its proceedings or disobedience to its orders were punished with imprisonment, and release was granted only on bonds given for good behavior. Strict account was kept of those who refused to sign the test. Its consent was necessary to the prosecution of a law-suit, and a man who had been imprisoned by a creditor without the Committee’s permission was set free. In the other counties and towns work of a similar character went on, each putting its precinct into a position of defense, regulating the business of the courts and the affairs of the people.

When danger threatened from the Scotch Highlanders of the back districts, who, at the command of Governor Martin, had gathered to the King’s standard and started, on February 17, 1776, on their march to the coast, the Provincial Council was not in session. Neither did it see fit to summon its members to meet the crises, but left it to the local committees. The District Committees gave orders to their militia officers to march, the County Committees cooperated, and at the battle of Moore’s Creek, February 27, 1776, the force of the Highlanders was completely broken. The Provincial Council met the next day and participated in the affair only so far as to offer to the troops a vote of thanks.

The fourth Provincial Congress which met at the call of the Council in April, 1776, struggled to form a new constitution, but the conservatives and radicals differed so strongly over the provisions of the instrument that the matter was postponed until fall. The Congress contented itself with remedying the faults in the system already in existence. The District Committees of Safety were dropped. In place of the Provincial Council a Council of Safety was created of the same size and chosen in the same way as its predecessor. It was, however, to be a more permanent body, to sit from "day to day" from the adjournment of the present Congress to the meeting of the next. The members were allowed twenty shillings, "proclamation money, for their services. It was vested with full authority to do all acts necessary for the defense and protection of the Province, but this jurisdiction was carefully limited to exclude it from altering, suspending or abrogating any resolution of the legislature, from emitting bills of credit, from levying taxes or from laying duties on exports and imports, from giving orders on the Continental treasury (except on urgent necessity and then for no sums over 30,000), from erecting any offices, or courts, from judging any civil or criminal offense, except where a resolution of the Congress gave it special permission. It could, however, examine anti commit persons suspected of enmity to the cause and restrain any from leaving the Province by sea. Full power was given the Council to establish Courts of Admiralty at Edenton, Newbern, Bath and Wilmington and to appoint their judges. It was also to appoint commissioners at different ports to see that the continental and provincial restrictions on commerce were carried out. It was further enabled to compel all collectors of public money to account for the same, and to see that the proper amount was paid to the Treasurer. The Council was elected on May 11, 1776; and it was directed that its votes should be taken by districts. Any one considering himself aggrieved by an order or determination of the Council bad leave to appeal against it to the next Congress, while the Council served as final judge in complaints brought against the Town and County Committees.

The Council of Safety while not sitting without interruption, was in session the greater part of the time from June 6 to October 25. It had no fixed abode, but sat at intervals in different parts of the Province. The arrangement was advantageous in bringing the central government into view of the people, but must have hampered it in receiving information from outside the section in which it was, since no one knew exactly where it was to be found.

The Council’s work resembled that of its predecessor, but was much more effective. It acted as chief executive of the Province. Its greater permanence made it the true head of the State in the recess of the legislature and enabled its supervision to extend to matters of more detail. It also gave the localities greater oversight. It labored steadily to provide arms, ammunition and salt for the troops. Some supplies came in through trade, some were furnished by the Continental Congress on the Council’s application, but North Carolina relied largely upon manufacturing for herself what she needed. It was a great undertaking for a poor colony, entering upon a struggle with a rich and powerful nation, to establish and encourage manufactories of arms, powder, salt and saltpetre. The policy, however, was adopted by the Provincial Congress and faithfully carried on by the Council, which furnished the undertakers with money to start their business, encouraged them with bounties and sent even to the Northern States for workmen. The promotion of these industries bore heavily upon the people and we find the Council enumerating it among the causes which had involved the Province in a load of debt well-nigh insupportable.

Governor Martin did not again threaten the State with civil war or with British troops, and the forces of North Carolina only saw service during this period in assisting Virginia and South Carolina against the depredations of the enemy’s ships and in putting down an Indian rising on the western frontier. The Council issued orders to the officers to aid the neighboring colonies or to subdue the Indians, but did not seek to control their movements further or to direct the campaign.

In the fall of 1776, General Lee succeeded in antagonizing the Council by arbitrary interference with the North Carolina troops. Lee felt that the battalions of Georgia and South Carolina should be completed as soon as possible and therefore gave authority to their officers to enlist men for the purpose from the regiments of North Carolina and Virginia. This was done, and coming to the ears of the North Carolina Council aroused natural indignation and opposition. The Council was willing to send troops to aid its neighbors, but not to let them completely out of its control. A resolution was passed condemning Lee’s action, and General Howe was ordered to reclaim those soldiers of the State that had already enlisted and remand all North Carolina troops then in Georgia to their own State.

Privateering was popular in North Carolina and the Council issued letters of marque and reprisal to persons who would undertake it, while employing armed vessels for the State to cruise against English merchantmen.

The Council freely exercised its right to try and to punish Tories. Some were imprisoned, some paroled within a certain district; others were liberated on giving bonds for good behavior or simply taking the oath of allegiance. In spite of the prohibition of the Congress the Council assumed jurisdiction over certain criminal cases. Counterfeiters were abundant and were arrested and tried before the Council. That body also took charge of the case of a horse and slave thief and of a man accused of assault and battery. Although the Council stepped directly outside its legal bounds the Congress took no notice of the infringement. Probably the necessity of the time pled as excuse. In fact during the existence of both Provincial Council and Council of Safety the legislature did not review their acts, but accepted them without comment. The Council must have been generally satisfactory to the people, for there is no record of any appeal against it.

November 12, 1776, the fifth Provincial Congress came together and succeeded in framing a constitution which vested the executive in a Governor and Council of State, appointed by the legislature. The Council of Safety had come to an end when the Congress met. To provide therefore for the executive department until the first General Assembly, a Governor and Council were appointed by the Congress, by ordinance.

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