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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XV - Hopewell and the Records of the Convention


TEN miles west from Davidson College, and two east from the Catawba River, in Mecklenburg county, stands Hopewell church-Entering near the northwest corner, on the north side of the burying ground which lies a little south of the church, and going diagonally to the middle of the yard, you will find a low gravestone, on the top of which are sculptured two drawn swords, and beneath them the motto, Arma Libertatis. The inscription is

In
Memory
of
FRANCIS BRADLEY,
A friend of his country,
and privately slain
by the enemies of his
country, Nov. 14th,
1780, aged 37 years.

Tradition says that this man was the largest and stoutest man in the country—hated by the few tories—and much desired as a prisoner by the British officers, for the activity and energy with which he harassed their scouts and foraging parties, and the fatal aim of his gun in taking off their sentries, particularly while the army lay at Charlotte.

On the day of his death, seeing four tories Iurking near his house, he took his gun and went to capture them, or drive them from his neighborhood. A scuffle ensued, in which one of the tories succeeded in wresting his gun from his hand, and with it gave him a fatal wound.

Near by this stone you may observe a brick wall about six feet long, and two feet high, without any inscription: that is upon the grave of GENERAL DAVIDSON, who fell by the rifle-shot of a tory, at Cowan's Ferry, a few miles distant from this place, as he was resisting the crossing of the British army, in 1781, when Morgan and Green were conveying the prisoners, taken at the Cowpens, to Virginia, for safe keeping. After the army of the enemy had passed on, his friend Captain Wilson, whose grave is near by, found him plundered and stripped of every garment; laying him across his horse, he brought him hastily by night to this place of sepulture.

Congress voted a monument to this man—most beloved in his county—a sacrifice to the public welfare. But the resolution has slept on the records of the Congress,—and the grave of the general is without an inscription.

The college, patronized by his children and friends, bears his name, and is rising in usefulness and reputation.

By the east wail is a row of marble slabs, all bearing the name of Alexander. On one is this short inscription :—

John McKnitt Alexander,
who departed this life July 10th, 1817.
Aged 84.

This is -upon the grave of the Secretary of the Convention in Charlotte, in 1775. By his side rests his Wife, JANE BANE.

At a little distance southwardly is the grave of the late pastor of this congregation, JOHN WILLIAMSON.

Ephraim Brevard, the penman of the Declaration, and Hezekiah Alexander, the clearest-headed magistrate of the county, sleep in this yard in unknown graves.

Hopewell and Sugar Creek are cotemporaries in point of settlement, though, in church organization, Sugar Creek has the preeminence. The families were from the same original stock in the North of Ireland; some were born in Pennsylvania, and some only sojourned there for a time; they were connected by affinity and consanguinity; and more closely united by mutual exposures in the wilderness, and the ordinances of the gospel, which were highly prized.

Scattered settlements were made along the Catawba, from Beattie's to Mason's Ford, some time before the country became the object of emigration to any considerable extent, probably about the year 1740. As the extent and fertility of the beautiful prairies became known, the Scotch-Irish, seeking for settlements, began to follow the traders' path, and join the adventurers in this southern and western frontier. By 1745, the settlements, in what is now Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties, were numerous; and about 1750, and onward for a few years, the settlements grew dense for a frontier, and were uniting themselves into congregations, for the purpose of enjoying the ministrations of the gospel in the Presbyterial form. The foundations for Sugar Creek, Hopewell, Steel Creek, New Providence, Poplar Tent, Rocky River Centre, and Thyatira, were laid almost simultaneously: Rocky River was most successful in obtaining a settled pastor. The others received the church organization and bounds during the visit of Rev. Messrs. McWhorter and Spencer, sent by the Synod of Philadelphia for that purpose, in the year 1764. Missionaries bean to traverse the country very early, sent out by the Synod of Philadelphia, and the different Presbyteries of New Brunswick, New Castle, and Donegal.

The enterprising settlers, inured to toil, were hardy and long lived. The constitutions that grew up in Ireland and Pennsylvania seemed to gather strength and suppleness from the warm climate and fertile soil of their new abodes. Most of the settlers lived long enough to witness the dawning of that prosperity that awaited their children. They sought the union of liberty, and property, and religious privilege for their posterity. Year after year were "supplications" sent to Pennsylvania and Jersey for ministers, or missionaries, and effort after effort was made to retain these visitors as settled pastors, but all in vain, previously to 1736; when the troubles from the Indian war, called Braddock's war, united with the wishes of the people, and three Presbyterian ministers were settled in Carolina in that year, or preparations were made for their settlement—Craighead, and M'Aden, and Campbell. Those were days of log cabins and plain fare, when carriages were unknown, and the sight of wheels was an era in the settlements. "'That man was the first that crossed the Yadkin with wheels," designated the man in whose house the first court in Mecklenburg was held.

"Times are greatly altered," said old Mr. Alexander some thirty years ago, on a summer evening, to the Rev. Alexander Flinn, D.D., of Charleston, South Carolina, who came to visit his venerated benefactor, in his carriage, with his wife and servants, "times are greatly altered, Andy, since you went to college in your tow cloth pantaloons," said the old man, with a welcome of gladness mingled with fear, lest the simplicity of his youth had been perverted in that flourishing city.

And times were greatly altered with both, since their youth, when the one came to Mecklenburg just "out of his time," and the other left his widowed mother under the patronage of his friend, to enter upon a college life. Both commenced life in honorable poverty,—both were enterprising in a young country,—and both were eminently successful in that course of life in which choice, and providential circumstances, had led them to put forth their strength.

John McKnitt Alexander, descended from Scotch-Irish ancestors, was born in Pennsylvania, near the Maryland line, in 1733. Having served his apprenticeship to the tailor's trade, he followed the tide of his kinsmen and countrymen, who were then seeking an abode beyond the Yadkin, in the pastures of the deer and buffalo. The emigrants, a church-going and church-loving people in the "green isle," carried to their new home all the habits and manners of their mother, the wild and strange residence in Carolina permitted. A church-going people are a dress-loving people. The sanctity and decorum of the house of God are inseparably associated with a decent exterior; and the spiritual, heavenly exercises of the inner mail are incompatible with a defiled and tattered, or slovenly mein. All regular Christian assemblies cultivate a taste for dress, and none more so than the hardy pioneer settlers of Upper Carolina, and the valley and mountains of Virginia. In their approach to the King of Kings, in company with their neighbors, the men, resting from their labors, washed their hands and shaved their faces, and put on their best and carefully preserved dress. Their wives and daughters, attired in their best, as they assembled at the place of worship, were the more lovely in the sight of their friends. The privations of the new settlement were for a time forgotten; and the greetings at the place of assemblage, from Sabbath to Sabbath, or whenever they could assemble to hear the gospel, spoke the commingled feelings of friendship and religion.

The young tailor knew the spirit of his countrymen, and came to seek his fortune with the poor, but spirited and enterprising people. Few of them had much money, and many of them had none. In paying for their lands, the skins of the deer and buffalo that had fed them, were taken on pack-horses to Charleston and Philadelphia, as the most ready means of obtaining the necessary funds. Years necessarily passed before the cattle and horses they took with them to the wild pastures were multiplied sufficiently for home consumption or for traffic; about the time of the Revolutionary war, they constituted the available means, the wealth of the country, as cotton has been in years past.

The young man brought his ready made clothes, and cloths to be made to order, and trafficked with his countrymen, transporting his peltry on horseback to the city, and returning with a fresh supply of goods, till the droves of cattle and horses taken to the markets, supplied the inhabitants with silver and gold for their necessary uses. In about five years, in the year 1759, he married JANE BANE, from Pennsylvania, of the same race with himself, and settled in Hopewell congregation. His permanent abode has been known by the name of Alexandriana. Prospered in his business, he soon became wealthy, and an extensive landholder, and rising in the estimation of his fellow citizens, was promoted to the magistracy, and the eldership of the Presbyterian church, the only church between the two rivers. Shrewd, enterprising, and successful, a roan of principle and inspiring respect,—in less than twenty years from his first crossing the Yadkin, he was agitating with his fellow citizens of Mecklenburg, the rights of persons, of property, and conscience,—and resisting the encroachments of the king, through his unprincipled and tyrannical officers, that oppressed, without fear and without restraint, the inhabitants of Upper North Carolina.

In less than one quarter of a century after the first permanent settlement was formed in Mecklenburg, men tallied of defending their rights, not against the Indians, but the officers of the crown and took those measures that eventuated in the CONVENTION of May 20th, 1775, to deliberate on the crisis of their affairs. Of the persons chosen to meet in that assembly, one was a Presbyterian minister, Hezekiah James Balch, of Poplar Tent; seven were known to be Elders of the Church—Abraham Alexander, of Sugar Creek, John Mcknitt Alexander and Hezekiah Alexander, of Hopewell, David Reese, of Poplar Tent, Adam Alexander and Robert Queary, of Rocky River (now in the bounds of Philadelphia), and Robert Irwin, of Steel Creek; two others were elders, but in the deficiency of church records, their names not known with certainty, but the report of tradition is, without aviation, that nine of the members were elders, and the other two are supposed to have been Ephraim Brevard and John Pfifer. Thus ten out of the twenty-seven were office-bearers in the church; and all were connected with the congregations of the Presbyteries in Mecklenburg.

The Declaration issued by this Contention is the admiration of the present generation, and will be of generations to the end of tire,—THE FIRST DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE IN NORTH AMERICA. At a hasty view, this declaration made by a colony on the western frontier of an American province, may seem rash and unreasonable; but when the race and the creed of the people, and their habits, are taken into consideration, we wonder at their forbearance; this classic declaration expressed a deep settled purpose, which the ravages of the British army, in succeeding years, could not shake.

Neither the Congress of the United Provinces, then in session, nor the Congress of the Province of North Carolina, which assembled in August of the same year, were prepared to second the declaration of ,Mecklenburg; though the latter appointed committees of safety in all the counties, similar to the committee in Mecklenburg. The papers of the Convention were preserved by the secretary, John McKnitt Alexander, till the year 1800, when they were destroyed, with his dwelling, by fire. But the Rev. Humphrey Hunter and General Graham, who both had heard the Declaration read on the 20th of May, 1775, had obtained copies, which have been preserved, and Mr. Alexander gave one himself to General Davie some time previously to the fire.

Judge Cameron, of Raleigh, President of the State Bank, who was for many years a practising lawyer in the Salisbury District, and afterwards a judge, says that he was well acquainted with Mr. Alexander, who was frequently brought to court as a witness in land cases, having been for many years a crown surveyor in Mecklenburg. There was little regularity in taking up lands; and claims were found to clash, and frequent lawsuits were the consequence, and Mr. Alexander was appealed to for bounds and lines. Being a sensible and social, dignified man, an acquaintance commenced which was ended only by the death of Mr. Alexander. The Judge says that the matters of a revolutionary nature were frequently the subject of conversation; and among others, the circumstances of the Declaration. Some time after the fire that consumed Mr. Alexander's dwelling and many of his valuable papers, he met the old man in Salisbury. Referring to the fire, Mr. Alexaiidcr lamented the loss of the original copy of that document, but consoled himself by saying, that he had himself given a copy to General Davie some time before, which he knew to be correct so, says he, "The document is safe." That copy is in the hands of the present governor of North Carolina; and is in part the authority for the copy given in the first chapter of this work. The copies of Hunter and Graham rest upon the honor of those two unimpeachable men. Happily, they entirely agree with the copy given to General Davit, as far as that has been preserved.

The last interview the Judge had with Mr. Alexander was in Salisbury. Nearly blind with age and infirm, he was brought down to the court as an evidence in a land case. The venerable old man sat in the bar-room, listening to the voices of the company, as they came in. "is that you, Cameron?" said he, as the sound of his voice fell upon his ear, "I know that voice, though I cannot well see the man." Infirm, he was dignified: with white hair and almost sightless eyes, his mental powers remained. The past and the future were to him more than the present; in the one he had acted his part well, in the other he had hope; but the present had lost its beauty. He recounted, in the course of the interviews he had with the Judge, during the intervals of court, the events of the Revolution, particularly those in which Mecklenburg took the lead, and referred to the copy of the Declaration he had given to Davie as being certainly correct.

Mr. Alexander, as an elder in the Presbyterian church, was frequently appointed by the Synod of the Carolinas, during the twenty-four years the two States were associated ecclesiastically, on important business for the Synod, and for a number of years was its treasurer. Of undoubted honesty, and unquestioned religion, he finished his earthly existence at the advanced age of fourscore and one years.

The reason for the obscurity in which the proceedings of the Convention in Charlotte were for a time buried may be found in the facts,—first, the county in which they took place was far removed from any large seaport, or trading city; was a frontier, rich in soil, and productions, and men, but poor in money,—with no person that had attracted public notice, like the Lees and Henry, of Virginia, for eloquence,—or like Ashe, of their own distant seaboard, for bravery,—or like Hancock, of Massachusetts, for dignity in a public assembly,—or Jefferson, for political acumen: and, second, the National Declaration in 1776, with the war that followed, so completely absorbed the minds of the whole nation, that efforts of the few, however patriotic, were cast into the shade. in the joy of National Independence, the particular part any man, or body of men, may have acted, was overlooked; and in the bright scenes spread out before a young Republic, the Colonial politics shared the fate of the soldiers and officers that bore the fatigues and endured the miseries of the seven years' wear. Men were too eager to enjoy Liberty, and push their speculations to become rich, to estimate the worth of those patriots, whose history will be better known by the next generation, and whose honors will be duly appreciated.

Some publications were made on this subject in the Raleigh Register in 1819, and for a time public attention was drawn to the subject in different parts of the country. About the year 1830, some publications were made, calling in question the authenticity of the document, as being neither a true paper, nor a paper of a true convention. Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander, inheriting the residence, and much of the spirit of his father, the secretary, felt himself moved to defend the honor of his parent, and the noble men that were associated in the county of Mecklenburg. Letters were addressed to different individuals who either had taken a part in the spirited transactions of 1775, or had been spectators of those scenes that far outstripped in patriotic daring the State at large, or even the Congress assembled. in Philadelphia. the attention of all the survivors of Revolutionary times was awaked; their feelings were aroused; and they came on all sides to the rescue of those men who had pledged "their lives, their fortunes, and their most sacred honor."

The Rev. Humphrey Hunter, who had preached in Steel Creek many years, within a few miles of Charlotte, and for a number of years in Unity and Goshen, in Lincoln, a short distance from the residence of Mr. Alexander, sent to the son a copy of the Declaration, together with a History of the Convention, of which he was an eye-witness. General Graham, who had grown up near Charlotte, had been high-sheriff of the county, and was an actor in the Revolution, and an eye-witness of the Convention, did the same. From their accounts, the historical relation in the first chapter of this volume was taken. Captain Jack, who carried the declaration to Philadelphia, gave his solemn asservation of the facts, as an eye-witness of the Convention, and as its messenger to Congress. John Davidson, a member of the Convention, gave his solemn testimony, writing from memory, and not presenting any copy of the doings, but asserting the facts and general principles of the Convention. The Rev. Dr. Cummins, who had been educated at Queen's Museum, in Charlotte, and was a student at the time of the Convention, affirmed, that repeated meetings were held in the hall of Queen's Museum, by the leading men in Mecklenburg, discussing the business to be brought before the convention when assembled. Colonel Polk, of Raleigh, who was a youth at the time, and who repeatedly read over the paper to different circles on that interesting occasion, affirmed and defended the doings of his father, at whose call, by unanimous consent, the delegates assembled. Many, less known to the public, sent their recollections of the events of 19th and 20th of May. A file of New York papers, published during the Revolution, gives the declaration and doings of May 30th, in which independence is asserted in language as strong as in the paper of the 20th, and the civil government of Mecklenburg was arraigned, a government that was paramount till after the meeting of the first North Carolina Provincial Congress. A file of Massachusetts papers, printed at the same time, gives the same documents. Relying on these affirmations and documents, the son rested securely for his father's honor, and the honest fame of his compeers. By the order of the legislature of North Carolina, these facts and assertions were made a public document. There remains not a man at this day, who saw the assembly of delegates in Mecklenburg. Happily, the son collected the evidences of his father's political honor, before the witnesses had all passed to the land where the truth needs no such evidence, and had joined the band of inunortal patriots.

The names of the persons composing the convention, as given in the State documents collected by Dr. J. McIinitt Alexander, are as follows

In searching his father's papers that escaped the fire, he came across another document of exceeding value, in the handwriting of Ephraim Brevard, the draughtsman of the Declaration, giving, under the name of Instructions to the Members of the Provincial Congress in 1773, the ideas of civil and religious liberty held by these patriotic men. This paper is given in full in the third chapter, and gives an opportunity of judging whether the views of liberty held by these have or have not had the sanction of the people of the United States.

A friend that knew the son, gives the following obituary notice Died, on the 17th ultimo (Nov., 1841), at Alexandria, the time-honored seat of his ancestors, in Mecklenburg county, N. C., Dr. J. MCKNITT ALEXANDER, in the 67th year of his age.

"Dr. Alexander was an alumnus of Princeton College in its palmiest days. He had early developed indications of not only genius and talents, but the highest attributes of intellect, sound judgment and profound thinking. One of the usages of the enlightened, estimable, and Christian community in which he was reared, was, that each family should educate one son and devote him to the service of the Church. In accordance with this excellent usage, it was determined by his parents that the natural endowments of Joseph should receive the culture and finish of a thorough collegiate education, and the school at Princeton was selected for the purpose. Here erudition and science matured the germs of usefulness and distinction, which had in his boyhood given such high promise of a fruitful harvest. IIe graduated with eclat, and returned to his native home—riot, as had been fondly hoped by his pious parents, to engage in the study of divinity, and to consecrate himself to the holy ministry. This, their cherished expectation, to their bitter disappointment, was never realized. He studied medicine under a distinguished preceptor, and after becoming thoroughly indoctrinated in the "Ęsculappian mysteries," engaged in the practice of physic, from which he acquired not only professional reputation but wealth and even affluence. The pure duties of humanity imposed upon him by his profession, were ever performed with punctuality and cheerfulness, and throughout his long life, no citizen had a more enviable character for integrity, public spirit, and private virtue. He was distinguished for his practical judgment and plain common sense—a trait the more remarkable as it was accompanied in him with the scintillations of genius and the sprightliness of a vigorous imagination. fie thought quick, yet deep and accurately. What others found by pains-taking, search and tedious investigation, he obtained intuitively. To look at a subject at all, was to penetrate it with an eagle's glance, to touch was to dissect, to handle was to unravel. He wrote well, yet his productions possessed few of the embellishments of art and none of the ornaments of style, though l always enlivened and brilliant from the flashes of a true and inflate eloquence."

"Doctor Alexander, though a child of the church, and the son of the most exemplary and pious parents, had passed the meridian of life before he became a professor of religion. Does the pride of intellect or the glitter of human learning lead us to doubt the truth of divine revelation? The avalanche of infidelity, put in motion about the period of the Doctor's maturity by Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alemhert, Buffon, and Rousseau, threatened to extinguish the best hopes of man, and deluge our sin ruined world with a cold and cheerless scepticism. The infection of this poison may have temporarily obliterated the lessons of his youth, or weakened their influence upon his principles; it was never able, however, to seduce him from the paths of virtue. His purity, his probity, his honor remained unscathed by the lightning of the French philosophy. It may for a time have diverted his attention from spiritual things, but when ambition became chastened by age, in the maturity of his intellect, and at a period of life most favorable for a calm and deliberate examination of the. great truths of the Christian's Bible, and the Christian's faith, and the Christian's hope, he believed that Bible, he exercised that faith, he was animated by that hope. He became a worshipper of the God of his fathers, connected himself with the Presbyterian church, and continued through life, until the infirmities of old age prevented, to be active in the promotion of its interests, in alleviating and ameliorating the condition of men."

Beyond the flight of time,
Beyond the vale of death,
There surely is some blessed clime
Where life is not a breath."

After its organization, in 1765, Hopewell was for a time associated with Centre in maintaining the ordinances of the gospel. But at the time that Rev. S. C. Caldwell was called to the church and congregation of Sugar Creek, this church united in the call, and afterwards engaged the pastoral services of that faithful man, till 1805, when he removed from their bounds, and gave up the care of the church.

During the time of Mr. Caldwell's ministry, the two sessions of the churches under his care, feeling the pressure that was upon them, formed a union for mutual help. The following paper reveals the spirit.

"May 13th, 1793. The Sessions of Sugar Creek and Hopewell had a fall meeting on the central ground, at Mr. Mons. Robinson's, and entered into a number of resolutions, as laws for the government of both churches."

"NORTH CAROLINA, MECKLENBERG COUNTY,
May 5th, 1793.

"We, the Sessions of Sugar Creek and Hopewell congregations, having two separate and distinct churches, sessions and other officers for the peace, convenience, and well-ordering of each society, and all happily united under their present pastor, Samuel C. Caldwell, yet need much mutual help from each other in regard of our own weakness and mutual dependence, and also in regard to our enemies from without. Therefore, in order to make our union the more permanent, and to strengthen each other's hands in the bonds of unity and Christian friendship, have, this 13th day of May, 1793, met in a social manner, at the house of Mons. Robinson. Present, Robert Robinson, Sen., Hezekiah Alexander, Wm. Alexander, James Robinson, Isaac Alexander, Thomas Alexander, and Elijah Alexander, elders in Sugar Creek. John M'Knitt Alexander, Robert Crocket, James Meek, James Henry, Wm. Henderson, and Ezekiel Alexander, elders in Ilopewell, who, after discussing generally several topics, proceeded to choose Hezekiah Alexander chairman, and J. M'Knitt Alexander, clerk, and do agree to the following resolves and rules, which we, each for himself, promise to observe." (Then follow five resolutions respecting the management of the congregations, as it regards the support of their ministers, inculcating punctuality and precision; and also respecting a division of the Presbytery of Orange into two Presbyteries.)

Then follow eight permanent laws and general rules for each Session. Tile 1st concerns the manner of bringing charges against a member of the church, that it "shall be written and signed by the complainant," and that previous to trial, all mild means shall be used to settle the matter.

"2d. As a church judicature we will not intermeddlc with what belongs to the civil magistrate, either as an officer of State, or a minister of justice among the citizens. The line between the church and state being so fine, we know not how to draw it, therefore we leave it to Christian prudence and longer experience to determine."

The other resolutions are all found in the Confession of Faith, in their spirit, in the rules given for the management of a single session, With this exception, that it was determined that iii this joint session, "A quorum to do business shall not be less than a Moderator and three Elders;" and that in matters of discipline there shall be "no non liquet votes permitted."

This union of the sessions was productive of most happy consequences to the two congregations, particularly during the struggle With French infidelity, and had the effect to preserve the spirit of Presbyterianism, and of sound principles, and free religion.

The elders were jealous of any intermingling of Church and State, even in the proceedings of sessions, and endeavored to keep both civil and religious freedom, entirely separating political and ecclesiastical proceedings as completely as possible. All the difficulty probably arose from the fact that some of the elders were magistrates, and they feared lest, in the public estimation, or their own actions, the two offices might be blended in their exercise.


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