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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XI - The Political Opinions of the Scotch Emigrants


THE Scotch, never, in the land of their fathers, or in the United States of America, have been inclined to radicalism, or the prostration of all law. In their warmest aspirations for the liberty of choosing their own rulers, or framing, or consenting to the laws, by which they should be governed, they always acknowledged the necessity of law and order; in fact, they never asked for anything else. The general run of Scottish history shows the nation to have been in favor of a government of sufficient strength to control its subjects in the exercise of their passions, and defend them from aggression and violence.

They have ever been strenuous that their rulers should govern according to some established law, well known and understood, to which reference should be had in cases of dispute among themselves, or with their rulers; and to the decision of this law, fairly interpreted, there should be no opposition while the law was unrepealed.

They contended that there is of necessity an agreement between the rulers and the people, the one, to govern by these fixed laws, and the other, to obey the directions given by the constituted authorities.

They ever contended that there is a conscience towards God, paramount to all human control; and for the government of their conscience in all matters of morality and religion, the Bible is the storehouse of information,—acknowledging no Lord of the conscience, but the Son of God, the head of the Church, Jesus Christ; and the Bible as his divine communication for the welfare and guide of mankind.

They have held that tyranny and usurpation may be set aside by force; that, in extreme cases, revolution by force is the natural right of man; not a revolution to throw down authority, and give license to passion, but a revolution to first principles, and to the unalienable rights of man.

On these principles, they formed their various Covenants. The first made in 1557, Dec. 3d, and the second on 31st of May, 1559; in both of which the leading men, and many others, bind themselves to maintain their religion against all opposition from any and every quarter. The first National Covenant of Scotland was drawn up by John Craig, and sometimes has been called Craig's Confession was publicly owned and signed by the king himself, his household, and the greater part of the nobility and gentry, throughout the kingdom, in 1581; the signing of it being greatly promoted through the country by the ministers of religion. The same covenant, with many additions, was publicly signed, with great solemnity, by the people in Edinburgh, Feb. 28th, 1638. By this, they all bound themselves to preserve, at all hazards, their religious rights and liberties against opposers. And finally, the SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT, drawn up by Alexander Henderson, and read by him in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, on the 17th of August, 1643, and was received and approved, with emotions of the deepest solemnity and awe, with whispered thanksgivings and prayers. It was then carried to the Convention of States, and by them unanimously ratified; subsequently, it was sent to London, where, on the 25th Sept. of the same year, it was accepted and subscribed by the English Parliament and the Assembly of Westminster Divines; and afterwards carried over to Ireland, and taken generally, by the congregations of Presbyterians, in Ulster province. The services attending the signing of this important instrument were solemn and protracted, not only in Scotland, but in England and in Ireland.

This Solemn League and Covenant, so generally taken, bound the United Kingdoms to endeavor the preservation of the Reformed Religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, discipline, and government,--and the Reformation of Religion in England and Ireland according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches,—the extirpation of Popery and Prelacy,—the defence of the King's person, authority, and honor,—and the preservation and defence of the true Religion and Liberties of the kingdom, in peace and quietness. Hetherington, a writer of note, in his History of the Church of Scotland, thus writes : "Perhaps no great international transaction has ever been so much misrepresented and maligned, as the Solemn League and Covenant. Even its defenders have often exposed it, and its authors, to severe censures, by their unwise mode of defence. There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent and thoughtful man, that on it mainly rests, under Providence, the noble structure of the British constitution. But for it, so far as man may judge, these kingdoms would have been placed beneath the deadening bondage of absolute despotism; and in the fate of Britain, the liberty and civilisation of the world would have sustained a fatal paralyzing shock. This consideration alone might be sufficient to induce the statesman to pause, before he ventures to condemn the Solemn League and Covenant. But to the Christian, we may suggest still loftier thoughts. The great principles of that sacred bond are those of the Bible itself. It may be that Britain was not then, and is not yet, in a fit state to receive them, and to make them her principles and rules of national government and law; but they are not, on that account, untrue, nor even impracticable: and the glorious predictions of the inspired Scriptures foretell a time when they will be more than realized, and when all the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdoms of Jehovah, and of his anointed, and all shall be united in one solemn league and covenant under the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And who may presume to say that the seemingly premature and ineffectual attempt to realize it by the heavenly-minded patriarchs of Scotland's second Reformation, was not the first faint struggling play-beam piercing the world's thick darkness, and revealing to the eye of faith an earnest of the rising of the Sun of Righteousness? A sacred principle was then infused into the heart of nations which cannot perish; a light then shone into the world's darkness which cannot be extinguished; and generations not remote may see that principle quickening and evolving in all its irresistible might, and that light bursting forth in its all-brightening glory."

"It has often been said the Covenanters were circumvented by-the English Parliament, and were drawn into a league with men who meant only to employ them for their own purposes, and then either cast them off; or subdue them beneath a sterner sway than that of Charles. Were it even so, it might prove the treachery of the English, but would expose the Covenanters to no heavier accusations than that of unsuspecting simplicity of mind. They ought to have first ascertained, men say, what form of church government England intended to adopt, before they had consented to the League. And yet the same accusers fiercely condemn the Scottish Covenanters for attempting to force their own Presbyterian forms upon the people of England. The former accusation manifestly destroys the latter. That the Covenanters did not attempt to force Presbyterianism upon England, is proved by the fact, that they entered into the league without any such specific stipulation, because it was contrary to their principles either to submit to force in matters of religion, or to attempt using force against other free Christian men. It argues, therefore, ignorance both of their principles and of their conduct, to bring against them an accusation so groundless and so base. They consented to lend their aid to England in her day of peril, in which peril they were themselves involved; but they left to England's assembled divines the grave and responsible task of reforming their own church; lending, merely, as they were requested, the assistance of some of their own most learned, pious, and experienced ministers, to promote the great and holy enterprise. For that they have been and will be blamed by witlings, Sciolists and Infidel philosophers; but what England's best and greatest men sought with earnest desire, and received with respect and gratitude, Scotland need never be ashamed that her venerable covenanted fathers (lid not decline to grant."

"And let it be carefully observed, that the difference between The conduct of the English Parliament in the great civil war, and of the Covenanters in their time of struggle, consisted in and was caused by this—that in England it was essentially a contest in defence, or for the assertion of civil liberty,--in Scotland for religious purity and freedom. England's fierce wars for civil liberty laid her and her unfortunate assistant prostrate beneath the feet of an iron-hearted usurper and despot. Scotland's calm and bloodless defence of religious purity and freedom secured to her those all-inestimable blessings, broke the chains of her powerful neighbor, revealed to mankind a principle of universal truth and might, and poured into her own crushed heart a stream of life, sacred, immortal, and divine."

The famous book Lex Rex, by Rev. Samuel Rutherford, was full of principles that lead to republican action, as the Scotch generally have understood republicanism,—to be governed by rulers chosen, and by laws framed according to the will of the people,—and religious liberty untouched.

These great principles the Scotch brought with them to America; they are still held by their descendants, who differ from their parent stock in insisting on and enjoying the form of government, which, while it protects the citizens, is elective, and is executed by the same persons but a short time in continuance. On the other side of the water, the Scotch enjoy but an implied choice in their hereditary monarch, and but in part that freedom of conscience, and that liberty from legislative interference in matters of religion, they aimed at in their National Covenant.

James I. had signed the first National Covenant, and Charles II., on his being crowned at Scone, by the Scotch, January 1st, 1651, heard the National Covenant and the solemn League and Covenant read, and solemnly swore to keep them both; and when the oath to defend the Church of Scotland w is administered to him, kneeling and holding up his right hand, he uttered the following awful vow: "By the Eternal and Almighty God, who liveth and reigneth for ever, I shall observe and keep all that is contained in this oath."

Now with men who had felt that it was right to bind a hereditary monarch by a solemn covenant, to which they bound themselves, and who, in emigrating to North Carolina, had come, some of them of their own free will, with the expectation of enjoying more liberty and acquiring more property, and some on compulsion, to save their lives after the rebellion of 1748, and loaded with a solemn oath of allegiance as part of the conditions of pardon; and in Carolina kept a part of them in ignorance of the real state of the country, and imposed upon by the representations of the Governor, in whom they trusted,—it is not at all strange there should be difference of opinion and action as the revolutionary struggle carne on. Some were ready to carry out their principles at once,-and were republicans, doing away at once all hereditary claims to the throne or chair of state. Others had not felt the evils complained of in Carolina to any great degree, and were not hasty to enter into a contest. Others felt themselves bound to obey the king, to whose Government and person they had taken the solemn oath of allegiance, as a condition of their spared lives. And some were so convinced that the king's forces could not be successfully resisted, and from what they knew or heard from their nation's experience, they had some cause to fear,—that it was better to bear the evils they endured, than to suffer greater after a crushed rebellion. One man, William Bourk, was heard to say in the winter of 1776, that "we should all be subdued by the month of May, by the king's troops; that General Gage ought to have let the Guards out to Bunker Hill, and it would have settled the dispute at that time;" and for this he was brought before the provincial council, March 2d, 1776, and acknowledged his words, and added,—"he wished the time would happen this instant, but was sure the Americans would be subdued by the month of August;" whereupon he was sent to Halifax and committed to close gaol till further orders.

Those that had come to the province of their own accord, previous to the great emigration, by authority, in 1746 and 1747; and many of those who emigrated afterwards, followed out their inclinations anal their principles in taking part in the revolution —and many, perhaps most of those who came in that emigration, took part for the king,— feeling themselves bound by their oath of allegiance, and their present position, to defend the rights and dominions of the crown. For a time, at least, the majority of the inhabitants of what was Cumberland were in favor of the crown, and even disposed to assist Governor Martin, who kept them informed of the preparations made by the crown for the subjugation of the colonies; and appealed to their sense of honor and religion and loyalty to rally around his standard, which, after his flight from Newbern on the night of April 24th, 1775, was raised at Fort Johnson, on the Cape Fear; and from that removed to an armed vessel until the arrival of forces enabled him to take again his position in safety on land.

The following; paper shows that those in Cumberland who felt free to act for the revolution were no less spirited than those in Mecklenburg or any other part of the State. After the Declaration made by the inhabitants of Mecklenburg, the different counties formed what were called associations; a paper being drawn up expressing their sentiments on the great questions agitating the public mind, they subscribed their names, pledging themselves to the defence of American Liberty. Within a month a paper was circulated in Cumberland county, of which the following is a copy.

"THE ASSOCIATION, JUNE 20TH, 1775.

The actual commencement of Hostilities against the Continent, by the British troops, in the bloody scene of the 19th of April last, near Boston, in the increase of arbitrary impositions from a wicked and despotic Ministry, and the dread of instigated insurrections in the colonies, are causes sufficient to drive an oppressed people to the use of arms. We, therefore, the subscribers, of Cumberland county, holding ourselves bound by the most sacred of all obligations, the duty of citizens towards an injured country, and thoroughly convinced that, under our distressed circumstances, we shall be justified in resisting force by force, do unite ourselves under every tie of religion and honor, and associate as a band in her defence against every foe, hereby solemnly engaging, that, whenever our continental or provincial councils shall decree it necessary, we will go forth and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure her freedom and safety. This obligation to continue in full force until a reconciliation shall take place between Great Britain and America, upon constitutional principles, an event we most ardently desire, and we will hold all those persons inimical to the liberty of the colonies, who shall refuse to subscribe to this association; and we will in all things follow the advice of our general committee respecting the purpose aforesaid, the preservation of peace and good order, and the safely of individual and private properly."

This paper was the composition of Robert Rowan, whose name stands first on a long list of subscribers; it is still in existence in Robeson County. The phrase, "instigated insurrections," in the above paper refers probably to charge made against Governor Martin, that he favored the effort that was made for an insurrection of the Slaves, planned by the captain of a coasting vessel.

The difference of opinion in Cumberland county led to much distress and trouble, not from the foreign foe, for the British forces never visited the county, except in the hasty retreat of Cornwallis to Wilmington, after the battle of Guilford; but from the inhabitants themselves. Some of the most ardent Whigs in the State were citizens of Cumberland county, who hesitated not to rive the Royalists much trouble. We shall not stop to dwell upon or recount the plunderings, the skirmishes, and battles, the personal rencounters between the two parties in Cumberland and the surrounding counties, though they afforded many thrilling scenes of courage and of suffering; and shall relate the circumstances of only one engagement between the Whigs and Tories in the lower part of the State, as the consequences were of importance to the country through the whole war.

Governor Martin had issued a Commission of Brigadier General to Donald M'Donald, a leading man among the Scotch, and perhaps the most influential among the Highlanders; and had sent him a proclamation without date, which the General might send forth at any time he should think it advisable, commanding all the king's subjects to rally around the General. On the 1st day of February, 1776, M'Donald erected the Royal Standard at Cross Creek, and issued his proclamation. In a short time fifteen hundred men were assembled under his command, well armed and provided with proper military stores for a march to join the Governor at the mouth of the river. The celebrated Flora M'Donald, whose history will fill another chapter, is said to have used her influence over her clansmen and neighbors to join the standard of the old veteran, who had held a commission in the army of the Pretender, Charles Edward, and taken part in the battle of CuIloden, in 1745, and had saved his life by the oath of allegiance and emigration to Carolina, and was now prepared to fight for his king as his only proper sovereign ruler. Her husband took a Captain's commission; and others of the name held commissions, and were in the camp, which was well supplied by contributions, and the king's money, a large amount of which was secured by the Whigs after the battle.

Colonel James Moore of New Hanover, who had been commissioned by the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, in 1775, and had a regiment under his command of five hundred men, four hundred of whom had been :stationed at Wilmington, marched, with his regiment, and a detachment of the New Hanover militia, towards Cross Creek, and fortified a camp on Rockfish River, about twelve miles south of M'Donald head-quarters; and by his scouts and spies broke up the regular communication between the General and the Governor. The first move of M'Donald was towards Moore. Halting a few miles from his camp, he sent a decided but friendly letter to the Colonel, urging him to prevent all bloodshed by joining the royal standard; and offering, in the name of the king, a free pardon and indemnification for past rebellion, "otherwise he should consider them as traitors to the constitution, and take the necessary steps to conquer and subdue them." Moore, after the delay of some clays, returned his answer—that he and his men were engaged in the most glorious cause in the world, the defence of the rights of mankind, and needed no pardon;—and urged the General to sign the test proposed by the Provincial Congress, —otherwise he might expect that treatment which he had threatened him and his followers.

McDonald having in the meantime received information that Sir Henry Clinton and Lord William Campbell had arrived at the headquarters of the Governor, determined, if possible, to avoid an engagement with Moore, and decamped at midnight, and commenced his march to join the Governor. By rapid marches and crossing the Cape Fear, he eluded the pursuit of Moore, and was bending his course to the sea shore, intending to leave Wilmington to the left, when, on the third (lay's march, crossing the South River from Bladen into Hanover, he comes to Moore's Creek, which runs from north to south, and empties into the South River about twenty miles above Wilmington, and finds the encampment of Cols. Alexander Lillington with the minute men of the Wilmington district, and Richard Caswell, with the minute men of New Berne district, who assembled their forces on hearing of McDonald's proclamation, and had united their regiments, and were in search of the army of the Tories.

McDonald's situation admitted of no delay; Moore was in rapid pursuit, and these Colonels in front; he determines upon an attack upon the forces in front. A certain individual, who claimed to be neutral, visited the camp of Lillington that night, and informed him that an attack would be made the next morning. The Colonel drawing up his men in a very advantageous position, to command both the road and the bridge, and removing the planks from the bridge, keeps his men under arms all night. About day, the 27th of February, the Scotch forces advance for battle, under the command of Colonel McLeod, the General himself being confined to his tent, too unwell to lead his forces. McLeod is speedily killed, and also Colonel Campbell; and the forces of Lillington and Caswell rushing on with great spirit, the forces of McDonald, deprived of their leaders, are thrown into confusion, and routed, and either taken prisoners or entirely dispersed. McDonald was found sitting on a stump near his tent, alone;—and as the victorious officers advanced towards him, waving the parchment scroll of his commission in the air, he delivers it into their hands. Colonel Moore arrived in camp a few hours after the battle was over, and his forces all carne up during the day.

By this battle the spirits of the loyalists were broken, and they never again were embodied in large companies till the fate of the war became doubtful by the movements of the army of Cornwallis.

The Provincial Congress determined to show kindness to the prisoners and their families, respecting their principles, though opposing their course; and on the 29th of April published a manifesto from which the following are extracts. "We have their security in contemplation, not to make them miserable. In our power, their errors claim our pity, their situation disarms our resentment. We shall hail their reformation with increasing pleasure, and receive them among us with open arms. Sincere contrition and repentance shall atone for their past conduct. Members of the same political body with ourselves, we feel the convulsion which such a severance occasions; and shall bless the (lay which shall restore them to us, friends of liberty, to the cause of America, the cause of God and mankind."

"We war not with helpless females, whom they have left behind them; we sympathize in their sorrow, and wish to pour the balm of pity into the wounds which a separation from husbands, fathers, and the dearest relations has made. They are the rightful pensioners upon the charity and bounty of those who have aught to spare from their own necessities, for the relief of their indigent fellow creatures; to such we recommend them."

May the humanity and compassion which mark the cause we are engaged in, influence them to such a conduct as may call forth our utmost tenderness to their friends, whom we have in our power. Much depends upon the future demeanor of the friends of the insurgents who are left among us, as to the treatment our prisoners may experience. Let them consider these as hostages for their own good behavior, and by their own merits make kind offices to their friends a tribute of duty as well as humanity from us, who have them in their power."

The Congress granted to General McDonald and his son, who held a colonel's commission, a liberal parole of honor; and complimented both these officers on their candor. Some time in the summer, the general and twenty-five of the officers taken prisoners in the battle at Widow Moore's Creek Bridge, were taken to Philadelphia, and held in confinement for the purpose of promoting an exchange of prisoners between the two armies.

We cannot but admire the integrity of these men, though we lament their course; we reverence their moral principles, while we deplore their mistake. We pass by their error, and glory in receiving and instructing others in the principles of religion and morality which governed these men. Their descendants are among the best citizens of the States. The great principles of their ancestors still reign among the descendants along the Cape Fear; and though divided on the party questions of the day, as might be expected in a nation of freemen, they are united on the great principles of republicanism.

The descendants of these men are altogether in favor of an enlightened ministry; and are patrons of efforts for the instruction of the rising generation. They are firm friends to the grand principles of the supremacy or law, and yield a cheerful obedience to the laws of the land enacted by the legislators, chosen by freemen from their own body. Not given to change either in their politics or their friendships, they support the government of their choice; and are divided only on the question respecting the powers of a republican government.

When once it was settled, by the surrender of Yorktown, that monarchical government was at an end in the colonies, those along the Cape Fear that had felt themselves bound to support the royal authority while that authority could be supported, joined heartily with their countrymen, who had all along been struggling for the independence of the colonies, in preparing and adopting and defending the constitution that guards our liberties. But it is to be remembered that the most earnest defenders of the rights of the crown, along Cape Fear, contemplated monarchy as hedged in and centralled by the principles of their Solemn League and Covenant, which in due time lead all men that adopt them, to struggle as for life, for the liberty of conscience and freedom of property and person. The free church of Scotland have struggled nobly for the first; one more step, and they are republicans of the American stamp. Martin, who knew the power of an oath over the Scotch on Cape Fear, used it skilfully to keep them to their allegiance. He saw its power in Orange and Mecklenburg, but knew not how to ingratiate himself with that peculiar race of people, in whose politics, as among the Scotch, a strong religious principle prevailed.


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