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.

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