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North Carolina in the 1770s


Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River
Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River

On April 18, 1775, the American Revolution began with the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. On May 31, 1775, the people of Mecklenburg County, at a meeting in Charlotte, adopted a new county government on the basis that the king had allegedly severed relations with the colonies. Also in May 1775, Governor Martin fled from the palace to Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River; in June he reached safety on a British ship. In August, North Carolina’s third provincial congress met at Hillsboro and provided for a new colonial government, with a congress to replace the assembly and a council to replace both the royal governor and his council.

In February 1776 Governor Martin devised a plan for combining British forces with Loyalists (locals loyal to the king) in Brunswick in order to capture all the Southern colonies. His plan failed, however, when 1,400 to 1,500 of the Loyalists, called Tories by their opponents, were defeated on the way to the rendezvous by North Carolina revolutionists, who called themselves Whigs, at Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. After that, no major engagements with the British occurred in North Carolina until 1781.

The fourth provincial congress met at Halifax in April 1776 and adopted the Halifax Resolves. These authorized North Carolina’s delegation to Congress to concur with the other delegations in declaring independence for the colonies.

The North Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, were William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, and John Penn.

A State Constitution


The fourth provincial congress rejected a proposal for a state constitution, preferring to govern through a continuously functioning council of safety. However, the fifth congress, meeting in Halifax in November 1776, adopted a constitution and a bill of rights. The constitution contained protections for the political and legal rights and personal liberties of the people. It also provided for a legislative branch, consisting of a bicameral legislature; an executive branch, consisting of a governor and a council of state; and a judicial branch, consisting of supreme courts of law and equity, judges of admiralty, and justices of the peace.

Cape Fear River
Cape Fear River

Both houses of the legislature, the senate and the house of commons, were elected by the people. The senate consisted of a small body of men owning 121 hectares (300 acres) of land, who were elected by freemen owning 20 hectares (50 acres). The house of commons was open to men owning 40 hectares (100 acres), who were elected by freemen who paid public taxes. Representation was based primarily on counties, rather than on population.

The governor had to own land and tenements valued at no less than 1,000 pounds, and he and the council of state were elected by the legislature for one-year terms. An official church was forbidden, but no person who denied the “Truth of the Protestant Religion” could hold public office. The legislature was required to establish a public school system and “one or more Universities.”

Legislative supremacy was the most striking characteristic of the new constitution. The dislike of a strong chief executive was reflected in his being elected by the legislature, his short term of office, and his restricted powers. The governor could recommend legislation, but had no veto power.

The fifth provincial congress launched the new government by electing a governor and a council of state, who took office in January 1777. Richard Caswell (1776-1780) was the new governor. The first legislature elected under the new constitution convened in April. "North Carolina" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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