Monthly Archives: February 2016

Cape Fear and Second, and Third chances

No, this post is not about the Martin Scorsese film re-make from the 1990’s.

On the 26th day of February in 1766, His Excellency, the Royal Governor William Tryon signed a proclamation letting slip the dogs of wars upon His Majesty’s subjects in the colony of North Carolina.

By His Excellency William Tryon Esquire

Whereas a few days since a great number of Armed persons did tumultuously Assemble themselves together both at Wilmington and Brunswick to the Disturbances of the peace and good government of this Province, and in violation of the Laws of their Country by which they have subjected themselves to the severest penalties incurred by the several Laws to prevent Riotous and Seditious meetings—I have therefore thought proper By and with the advice and consent of His Majestys Council to issue this Proclamation strictly charging and commanding all officers both civil and Military to exert their Authority in suppressing all such illegal proceedings, as they shall answer the Contrary at their Peril.

Given under my hand and the Great Seal &c at Brunswick 26th day of February 1766 &c

Cracking down on subjects who disturb the peace and hinder good governance – what reasonable person could possibly be against that?
Armed persons! Tumultuous assemblage! Goodness, gracious! What could have instigated such an outrage? On a sliver of land between the west bank of the Cape Fear River and Orton Pond, in the middle of unincorporated nowhere-land, stands a little plaque which might give the gentle reader a bit of insight.
On the 10th of February 1766, this building, known as Tryon’s Palace, was surrounded by one hundred and fifty armed men of the Cape Fear, led by George Moore of Orton and Cornelius Harnett, who resisted for the first time on this continent the authority of their Sovereign Lord the King, by demanding from Gov. Tryon the person of Capt. Lobb, H.M.S. Viper, and the surrender of the odious emblems of the British Parliament’s Stamp Act committed to his care which had been brought to Brunswick by Capt. Phipps in H.M.S. Diligence. Subsequently, on the 21st day of February 1766, at 10 A.M. a body of five hundred Cape Fear men, in arms, under Cornelius Harnett and Col. James Moore, surrounded this house and demanded the surrender of H.M. Comptroller, Mr. Pennington, and required of him an oath that he would never issue any stamped paper in this Province of North Carolina.
On this day, Mr. Harnett and Col. Moore would be standing on the side of personal liberty little knowing that in a few short years they would be co-opted into the pay of the Royal Governor against pioneers in the western part of the colony who would be standing up for their freedom in the War of Regulation. For his efforts against the pioneers, the King’s coffers would kick out “thirty pieces of silver” (inflation-adjusted to 100 pounds Sterling, of course).

This house taking into consideration the account of Mr. Cornelius Harnett in the late expedition against the insurgents and fully convinced of the great service rendered his country by his zeal and activity therein.

“Resolved, That he be allowed one hundred pounds to defray the extraordinary expend he was at in that service.

The good Colonel would go on to command an artillery regiment at the Battle of Almance that would become the turning point in the War of Regulation. Fate occasionally grant’s a person a second, or even third chance. Such would be the case for both Colonel Moore and Mr. Harnett during the War for Independence. Both would find themselves fighting on the side for liberty once again.

The same could not be said for Royal Governor Tryon. Following his decree, Capt. Lobb’s would strike out against the local community with the power of the Sovereign behind him – using Royal Marines to destroy the community’s privately held artillery pieces (not unlike these.)

Three days later boats from both Viper and Diligence combined in a nighttime amphibious operation to secretly infiltrate Fort Johnston that overlooked the harbor and to spike all of the colonial cannon found ther. With the ship’s guns run out of their ports the next morning, Lobb and Phipps released the three merchant vessels thereby diffusing further unrest in the colony.

Governor Tryon is alternately described in history books as either an honest, thoughtful, and efficient manager of his King’s subjects or as a thoroughly ruthless oppressor wielding his King’s power. The Governor would eventually leave North Carolina and find himself as a wartime Governor in the colony of New York. It is unsurprising that New York would ultimately be the last bastion of Tory support in the American colonies. Even Mayor Matthews would find himself following in the long lines of footsteps of other New York City mayors, being completely beholden to power and the maintenance of the status quo. The Governor, with the Mayor’s help, would eventually undertake an audacious operation against General Washington.

Those warnings aside, Tryon continued to successfully recruit from the lower classes, as well as at least one member from the elite, none other than David Matthews (c.1739-1800), the mayor of New York City. Unfortunately for Matthews, the Committee of Safety was on to him and on June 21, as the plotters designs were becoming known, it sought and received approval from Washington for his immediate arrest.

Targeting the head of a military operation is a legitimate wartime stratagem, especially in a civil war which the War for Independence truly was. Even when unsuccessful, such an operation can throw the opposition’s high command into chaos. The plot against General Eisenhower illustrates how in modern times even the risk of such an operation can tie up resources and interrupt timetables. While the German Commando Otto Skorzeny never admitted to directing such an action against the general, the effects of the mere rumors were enough.

Franklin’s Testimony Before the House of Commons concerning the Stamp Act – February 13, 1766

On March 22, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed without debate. This legislative act was not unique. Indeed, the colonies had suffered for decades under various pieces of inked parchment which favored the interests of mercantilists in the Isles at the expense of colonials. The Hat Act of 1732, the Molasses Act of 1733, the Iron Act of 1750, the Navigation Acts of 1763, etc.

In the name of all that was “fair”, the revenues collected by the levy would remain in the North American colonies to pay for the King’s troops who were there merely to preserve the security of his loyal subjects. Even the collectors of the tax would be by the hands of the colonials themselves. These tax collectors would, of course, have a royal appointment as stamp agents. Given the magnanimity of the King in these terms it was surprising, to those in the halls of power in London, that there had been such a fuss of late in “sail past country”. It is therefore fortunate that Dr. Franklin happened to be available to provide some perspective. I do hope that someone treated him to a bottle of Cheval Blanc afterwards!

Thus is was that Dr. Franklin found himself under examination by the House of Commons that March day.

Q. Are not the colonies, from their circumstances, very able to pay the stamp duty?

— In my opinion, there is not gold and silver enough in the colonies to pay the stamp duty for one year.

Q. Don’t you know that the money arising from the stamps was all to be laid out in America?

— I know it is appropriated by the act to the American service; but it will be spent in the conquered colonies, where the soldiers are, not in the colonies that pay it.

For clarification, the “conquered colonies” would be those areas lost by France and brought into the Empire following the Seven Years War.

Q. Do not you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp duty, if it was moderated?

— No, never, unless compelled by force of arms.

No mincing words there.

Q. And have they not still the same respect for parliament?

— No; it is greatly lessened.

Q. To what cause is that owing?

— To a concurrence of causes; the restraints lately laid on their trade, by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into the colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper money among themselves; and then demand a new and heavy tax by stamps; taking away at the same, trials by juries, and refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions.

Q. Don’t you think they would submit to the Stamp Act, if it was modified, the obnoxious parts taken out, and the duty reduced to some particulars, of small moment?

— No; they will never submit to it.

Repeat the same question asked previously, but reword it slightly. I guess that legalese is the same going back to Sumerian times. Dr. Franklin performed a great service for the colonies with his testimony. The robed and wigged authority figures were just in no particular mood to listen. Go through the motions. Investigate. This too shall pass.

It was business in London as usual.



Sestercentennial. Two hundred and fifty year anniversary. This same period can also be expressed as quarter-millennial. A length of time that spans roughly ten familial generations. It also happens to be about twice as long as the generally recognized period of Imperial Rome (at least the Western Empire.) Five hundred years encompassing the period from when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon until the assassination of Valentinian III. By the time Flavius wrote his Epitoma Rei Militaris, Imperial Rome was well past her peak and his call to a return to ‘first principles’ fell upon ears the were generations removed from Peak Glory.

The American Revolution is currently going through its sestercentennial now as well. What, you say! Everyone knows the Revolution started with the Boston Massacre, or the Tea Party, or on Lexington Green. Who cares, right? The Revolution was about a bunch of greedy old white slavers trying to avoid the King’s rightful taxation, and who decided to revolt at the drop of a hat.

Well, not so much. School curriculums and internet encyclopedias make for lazy thinking. Spoon fed pablum and push button insipidity. Easy answers are seductive. Questioning is good, but avoid those who provide pat answers like the plague, or at least recognize that you are being manipulated. As the KOG said to Edward R. Murrow “The trouble with you is that you want easy answers, but you don’t know the proper questions,”

Embrace the warts and ride the chaos. Check your presentistic views and prejudices at the dust cover (virtual or otherwise.) With a more thorough understanding of the past, the “proper questions” become clear and the simplistic answers become glaringly obvious when offered in response.