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Rambles about Town: Tryon's Palace, continued

[From: The Daily Journal, December 10, 1882; also The Weekly Journal, December 14, 1882]

The battle of Alamance fought, the effort to resist English laws stopped, Tryon on the 24th of June returned and on the 30th, 1771, left Newbern forever. It is admitted that the Regulators were guilty of excesses—that our citizens of the intelligence and prominence of Caswell and Leech must have so thought or they would not have marched with Tryon against them with such alacrity, or they may have believed it is better

“Bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of.”

Moreover, Herman Husbands, the leader of the Regulators, was not in favor with the officers of the King’s troops, and was known to be captious and rebellious. Many of his followers, however, were worthy men, irritated by the manner in which they were required to comply with laws objectionable to them and oppressive and unjust; undoubtedly their motives were good. Governor Martin acknowledged in 1772 “that notwithstanding evidences of the most gross and criminal violences on the part of this wretched people, yet they had been grievously [sic] oppressed by the Sheriffs, Clerks and other subordinate officers of Government.” Unquestionably therefore, if the Regulators had succeeded at Alamance the pages of history would be glittering all over with burning words extolling their valor and patriotism, and a shaft now, perhaps, would lift high its head above the battlefield with the names of the dead heroes in the stone deeply cut, that future generations might know who fell in the first fight—who shed the first blood in the United States in resistance to exactions of English rulers. But the time had not quite come for freedom, for the success of reason and principle over power and interest. The manliness and spirit of the Regulators did not prevail. Force was put down by greater force or by organization and discipline and by larger guns, if fewer of them. Humanity must submit yet awhile however to the rule of Kings—to the power of Kings. The prudent and cautious were yet unwilling to come to the front. Those willing to risk were compelled to yield to power. Disappointed and for a time passive but still unconquered in feeling. The fire of liberty smothered but not obliterated in their breast ready with the earliest glimpses of possible success, to burst out and drive them again to assert their rights—to proclaim their independence openly and boldly to the world. Then in this day should we not with hearts brim full of gratitude recollect and keep before us the memory of those citizens who were first on the battlefield and there and on the gallows to suffer for the principle of justice—to resist oppression even regardless of an ignominious death.

Has full justice ever been done the Regulators? Was it not the first spark thrown by them that is now a glorious light, blazing and dazzling and guiding the oppressed of every nation to the shores of our free and happy country? Then

“Go call thy sons instruct them what a debt
They owe their ancestors, and make them swear,
To pay it, by transmitting down entire
The sacred rights to which themselves were born.”

James Hasel, one of the Council, after the departure of Gov. Tryon qualified and acted as Governor for a brief period in 1771. Josiah Martin receiving a commission from the Crown, arrived in Newbern on the 11th of August and assumed the reins of government. Governor Martin at the date of his appointment was a Major in the English army and like Tryon a soldier by profession. The Royal government, besides the executive officer and the Assembly comprised a Council, the members of which were recommended by the Governor, and appointed by the King.” They constituted the Upper House of the Legislature and were dignified with the title of “The Honorable, The Council.” The President of the Council was also the first named in the King’s instructions and was, in the absence of a Lieutenant Governor, the second officer of the government.” I would here state William Dry, for whom Dryboro was called, now part of the town of Newbern, was at this time one of the Council so, also, was Samuel Cornell for whom the wharf on the Trent was called from which Dr. Alexander Gaston and Col. Green were shot in the Revolutionary war. It was long known as Slover’s wharf and is now the pier of the Old Dominion steamship Company. We have previously referred to it.

Governor Martin seems to have made the effort in the beginning to govern our people without unusual stringency and harshness. But the storm was gathering and thickening every day and soon, no doubt, he discovered that nothing, save absolute independence, would satisfy them. The example and effort of the Regulators were before them and Tryon’s old officers and soldiers were now nearly to a man against the King. Martin 1776 had no troops and only a few faithful supporters. In this situation he was of course uneasy and preparing for defense or retreat. The attempt was made by him to fortify the Palace and to raise a military force; cannon were put in position there. The people of Newbern now became anxious and uneasy and the alarm of the timid was increased when they learned His Excellency was making the effort to raise a military bodyguard. It was also learned he was endeavoring to obtain from General Gage, at Boston, a supply of arms and ammunition. A letter on the subject had been intercepted by the Whigs. Thus between him and the people, there was an open rupture on the 14th of April. Jones Slates, Alexander Gaston, Richard Cogdell and other leading Whigs on that day interposed, and while the Governor and Council were in session, in the Chamber of the Palace, forcibly seized and carried off the artillery which had been planted for its defense.” Our old citizens corroborate this statement. The last session of the Council is given as follows:

“At a Council held at New Berne, the 24th day of April, 1775, Present, his Excellency the Governor.
The Hon. James Hasel, Martin Howard, Samuel Strudwick, Samuel Cornell Esquires.
Ordered, a new Commissioner of peace for the county of Pitt, wherein the names of John Simpson, Robert Salter, Robert Lanier, Daniel Charles Formes Saxon Bearce, and Peter Reeves are to [be] omitted.”—Council Journal.

So, abruptly ends the Royal record of the government of North Carolina, the last proceedings in the Palace is thus cut off, Martin at once fled and reached Fort Johnson on the banks of the Cape Fear. The country there getting too warm for him he went on board a war ship. Afterwards he went to Charleston and was with Lord Cornwallis at the battle of Guilford in March, 1781.

A woman was the cause of the Trojan war.

“What dire offence from trifling causes spring,
What mighty contests rise from little things.”

And if women were the cause of Tryon’s greatest troubles in Newbern (we allude to Lady Tryon’s and Esther Wake’s effort for the heavy appropriation for the Palace) we have yet to learn if they led Governor Martin also astray and into difficulties with our fathers. After Tryon and the delightful and very beautiful ladies of his household took their leave of our people we hear no more traditionally or historically of princely dinners and grand and costly balls. Martin, we suspect, was a bachelor. But it is no more creditable to our father Adam to eat of the fruit offered, to follow women over the precipice and then to try and dodge the consequences of the fall. That was not manly, not generous, not gallant. It was mean, it was very mean in Adam, and it was likewise mean, very mean, in our fathers. Why, it is as much as we could expect from their sons, since they have had the benefits of the improvement and civilization of more than half a century.

It can be called to mind that sixty years after Tryon was in North Carolina, the stern and unbending old hero of New Orleans was not exempt from the influence and annoyance of “apron strings.” The slightest pretensions of a Minister’s wife occasioned the overthrow of President Jackson’s cabinet. The President would attend her parties; this offended other Ministerial dames, and from jealousy and dislike it involved all in a quarrel, and the Ministers had to be dismissed or the business of the government neglected.

Martin gone, the last of the royal governors of North Carolina, Richard Caswell, by an ordinance of Congress, was elected governor and remained in the office several years. He refused compensation for his services. He was also, as is known, the first governor under our constitution. Abner Nash, of the county of Craven and of Pembrooke, succeeded him, though Caswell was again governor in 1784. Taking the entire time he filled the executive chair, we think it will be found longer than any governor, except Governor Jarvis, if he continues in office to the end of his term.

Gov. Tryon has been much abused, and the ladies of his household censured, through a hundred years of more, for the manner in which they obtained from the Assembly the second appropriation for the Palace. Now we wish to show that a plan precisely similar was adopted to twist out of the legislators of North Carolina, seventy years after the erection of the Palace in Newbern, sums sufficient to enable the construction of the costly building in Raleigh. If we mistake not the first appropriation for the State House we have at present was $75,000. This was in 1835, that amount was exhausted and the granite blocks could scarcely be seen above the earth. Of course then other appropriations had to follow, or the work stopped and what was expended on it thrown away. Thus trapped, many of the members of the Legislature became alarmed and a committee was appointed by the Senate to enquire into the practicality of diminishing the cost of this, now, grand building, who reported that it could not be done without destroying its beauty and symmetry, and the work had progressed too far according to the original plan to change it and adopt another. The commissioners for rebuilding the capitol were Gen. S.F. Patterson, the treasurer, Duncan Cameron, Alfred Jones, Charles Manly, Esqrs., and Gen. Beverly Daniel. It is stated that it cost $350,000. Upwards of forty years can testify to its secure foundation, its workmanship, though it is well known it does not now nor never did possess sufficient room for the purpose it was intended. The capitol has always been deficient both in offices and committee rooms, and in omitting, in its construction, the basement a most unaccountable and serious blunder was committed. The main object of the architect, in his plans, seems to have been to present a beautiful and harmonious exterior, and in that he was eminently successful. It is indeed a handsome pile of granite, and worthy still of our great State, out of whose bowels we can dig everything necessary to build, beautify and adorn, not only a great house but a great city. It is simple grandeur that strikes the beholder with admiration, and it is a fit and appropriate representative of the public men of the time of its erection. The two chambers, House and Senate, will yet compare favorably with many more modern and costly ones for acoustics and in appearance. But the great drawback to them is as before stated, they have none of the conveniences and advantages of committee rooms surrounding them, which is an important auxiliary to legislation. The library, too, is hid away in the garret of the building, as well, also, as was the room designated for the Supreme Court therefore the former is comparatively rarely visited to what it would be if situated more conveniently for the public and members of the Assembly, the trial to reach it being greater than a long walk. Long since the Supreme Court, for the same reason, deserted their room for rooms on the first floor. However, those who advocated and voted appropriations of money with such liberality, and those who superintended its construction with such faithfulness in those days, deserve the thanks of this generation, if not of many to come, and they should have their names inscribed high upon its walls, as it showed an enlightenment and public spirit far in advance of the States around us, and was the example for the building of the capitols of other States, that would give credit to any country in any age. Nothing, it is known, exalts and enlightens a country or people more than architecture. It lifts them from ignorance to intelligence, from barbarism to civilization,--yes, often even to the Christian religion. The plainest man in North Carolina has always been proud of the capitol, and the greatest demagogue could never make anything out of opposing its construction. We have said this or something like it elsewhere before. Doesn’t every one know that if most of the members of the Legislature who voted for the first appropriation of $75,000 had have dreamed the cost of the capitol would reach $350,000, the stone for it would still be in the quarry. Tryon left his footmarks, and they were followed in our day and generation. We are of the opinion that the best thing the English Governor did for us was to build the Palace, even as magnificently as he did, and there to live in royal splendor. Undoubtedly it went far to refine and elevate our people, which they much needed, as we shall show hereafter, and the effects of it is seen and felt even to this day in Newbern, if not over the State. So also will those improvements in and about the capitol, in which Governor Jarvis takes such an active interest, have to a certain degree similar influences over those visiting Raleigh and to come after us, and we trust he may be able to overcome the parsimony of the Legislature and have that body join him in his efforts for Supreme Court room, Library room, Agricultural room, etc.

With regard to Washington’s visit to Newbern and the Palace, we quote:
“Through the kindness of Mr. James G. Stanly, one of the most esteemed and intelligent citizens of our town, in whose possession is the original, we are enabled to lay before our readers the following letter from the Father of his Country, to the inhabitants of the town of Newbern. This letter was presented to Mr. Stanly in the year 1810, if we mistake not, by Judge F.X. Martin, on the evening previous to his departure for Louisiana, where he was going to take upon himself the duties of District Judge of that Territory. Mr. Stanly has presented it, without stain or blemish, and being himself a most ardent and affectionate admirer of Geo. Washington, he prizes it beyond value. The circumstances connected with this letter are briefly these:

A Convention had been assembled in North Carolina to act on the Constitution of the United States. That Convention rejected the Constitution. After its rejection, Gen. Washington was persuaded by many, who were anxious to see North Carolina adopted into the family of States, to visit the State, and lend his personal influence to the attainment of that object. He did so and came to Newbern. Immediately on his arrival in the town, the citizens addressed him a letter, and the one which we publish is his reply. It has never been in print before, that we are aware of.

During the short stay in Newbern, Gen. Washington staid at the house now the residence of Mr. John Blackwell, who is, as we abundantly willing to testify, a fiery [sic] worthy owner of so honored a place. He visited the Palace, at the foot of George street, where he was cordially taken by the hand by the citizens of the town. The grandfather of the writer, who was at that time, a youth of 17 or 18 years, had the pleasure of seeing this great and good man on this occasion and represents him as being very tall, of commanding appearance, and, in fact, just what one would naturally suppose George Washington to have been. Gen. Washington remained in Newbern but two or three days, and during his short stay he received every demonstration of affection and gratitude, which the people were capable in one who had made them free and independent. But we must find the letter.

To the inhabitants of the town of Newbern.
GENTLEMEN:--I express with real pleasure the grateful sentiments which your address inspires. I am much indebted, in ever personal regard, to the polite attentions of the inhabitants of Newbern, nor am I less gratified by the patriotic declarations on the situation of our common country. Pleasing indeed is the comparison which a retrospect of past scenes affords with our present happy condition—and equally so is the anticipation of what we may still attain, and long continue to enjoy. A bountiful Providence has blest us with all the means of national and domestic happiness; to our own virtue and wisdom we are referred their improvement and realization.
That the town of Newbern may eminently participate in the general prosperity, and its inhabitants be individually happy is my sincere wish.

The above appeared in the columns of the Atlantic, October 5th, 1853, a weekly paper edited and published by C.C. Clark Esq. quite early in his life. We regret we have but the one copy, which was preserved in consequence of its containing the Washington letter. The Atlantic was not designed to be permanent and Mr. Clark, as he expected, after a year or more gave it up to engage in the practice of law. However, it is very evident if he had continued its publication with like practice and experience his pen would have become as fluent as has his tongue, and his writing would have been as eloquent, chaste and forcible as has been his oratory.

To continue the subject now would make the communication too long for your columns; we will conclude it some other time.

We are aware there was an error in date respecting the burning of the McKenley mansion. It should have been 1845. We intend to speak of this house again.           D.

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