Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Long Celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on the Anniversary on MecDec Day

This will be a little repetitive, but I want to indicate how I learned about the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and to demonstrate that there is still more to be learned.

from this blog, Friday, July 4, 2014
The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
For several weeks I have been working a piece about the Tryon Resolves, initially because several of my uncles and cousins signed that "Association" on August 14, 1775. I have had to study the controversy over the Mecklenburg Declaration, since starting in 1818 and going all through the 19th and far into the 20th century it took almost all attention away from the resolves at Liberty Point, Tryon County, and Halifax. I have been using for-pay newspaper archives to compile dozens of pdfs in different folders.

I don't like to be in the minority on any argument, never have, but I find myself asking why James Jack got on a horse and rode from Charlotte to Philadelphia to give the North Carolina delegates to the second Continental Congress a routine resolution and why the contents of the resolution caused such a furor when he stopped to rest his horse at Salisbury. I understand why the North Carolina delegates did not want to show his document to the whole Congress: there were delegates who would have gotten on their horses or in a stagecoach and fled back to their own colony rather than be associated with a truly radical declaration of independence.

Jack was not one of my uncles, but his cousin Joseph Jack was married to my Aunt Margaret Ewart, daughter of Robert Ewart (the Committee of Safety man) and sister-in-law of the Tryon signer Jonathan Price. If you read the aged James Jack's affidavit--well, as I read it I believe him, now. Maybe I had better stop working on my Tryon piece and post James Jack's certificate here, someway.

This paragraph is Endnote #14 to my article in the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION last year, “The Tryon County Patriots of 1775 and their “Association.”
              Anyone studying the contexts of “Tryon Resolves” has to spend days reading 18th, 19th and 20th century newspaper stories on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The removal of Governor Martin’s Cape Fear Mercury from the British archives on August 15, 1837, by Andrew Stevenson, the American Minister, and its subsequent disappearance! Peter Force’s discovery in 1839! George Bancroft’s new discovery in 1848! Big 1875 centennial articles in the New York Herald and the New York Tribune! The discovery in 1904 of Traugott Bagge’s contemporary diary, written in German! Dozens of articles and chapters of books celebrating or denouncing the “Mec Dec.” A hardnosed, skeptical Melville scholar, I accept that the declaration as produced in 1819 (or late 1818, it seems) was a reconstruction, not a piece of paper preserved from 1775. Nevertheless, I am convinced, not least by Bagge’s diary, that there was a Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. I believe the affidavits of eye-witnesses mustered in the 1820s and 1830s. I do not believe that James Jack rode to Philadelphia carrying anything less than a Mecklenburg declaration of independence, and I see every reason to believe that the North Carolina delegates at the Continental Congress absolutely did not want it discussed openly for fear that timid delegates from other colonies would pack up and go home. Jack would not have lied in his affidavit. Most of the eye-witnesses were upstanding Presbyterians—a fact that oddly has been used to suggest that they banded together in deceit. At work, still, is the prejudiced ignorance of historians of the Revolution who write as if everything happened in the mid-Atlantic and North. Representative is Gordon S. Wood, who in The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1992) makes breathtakingly ignorant comments on North Carolina, but only a few. “Tryon,” man or county, is not in his index. The North Carolina patriots of 1775 risked their fortunes and lives in support of their “Brethren near Boston” after news of April 19th reached them, whether or not it was the arrival of that news that triggered the declaration.

                [Because I was pushing the allowable limits of the article, I omitted from that endnote a remarkably convincing article I had found by “Florian,” whom I in my ignorance did not recognize at once as Archibald D. Murphey, a great citizen who planned a history of North Carolina but did not live to finish it. I did not realize that researchers had hunted for it and thought it was lost, as I explain below, in what I quote from my Amazon review of Scott Syfert’s quite wonderful book. I have continued to look around occasionally and recently called attention to neglected items.]

My Amazon post:

A few weeks ago while working on the Tryon County "Association" of August 14, 1775, I had to take a week off to dig into the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence adopted in Charlotte in May 1775, more than a year before the national Declaration. I needed to study the Mecklenburg story because the news of its declaration and the controversy on it, beginning about 1819, sucked almost all attention away from the three documents known on the Internet as the Tryon Resolves (which I wanted to write about), the Liberty Point Resolves, and the Halifax Resolves.
As usual, I started from scratch, compiling dozens of pdfs of historians' accounts and newspaper articles starting in the 1700s and going through the 19th and 20th centuries. I traced the excitement over the announcement of the declaration, the angry denunciation of it by Thomas Jefferson, the defense in the form of affidavits from surviving participants, and the quite astonishing reversals as Peter Force, George Bancroft, and others weighed in with evidence through the 19th century, with the culmination early in the 20th century--the discovery of an 18th century diary in German, written and preserved in one of "the Moravian towns." In the latter part of the 20th century North Carolina politicians caved under the onslaught of skepticism and the state of North Carolina gave up celebrating May 20 as an official holiday. The great thing about retiring as a mere youth is that, when you want to, you can spend a week ploughing day and into the night on a limited if enormous project and emerge with a good sense of the controversy over, say, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. I emerged as a believer, not that the declaration survives in an 18th century piece of paper but that it existed and that many fine people approved it and some of them were around to testify about it decades later.

I'm just as happy I started from scratch, but a more efficient student might have discovered at the outset that Scott Syfert had recently published a book on THE FIRST AMERICAN DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. In the webzine JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION Jim Piecuch on May 28, 2014 reviewed this book, concluding this way: "Syfert has marshaled all of the corroborating evidence available to support the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration, and his clear and well balanced presentation, giving full attention to opposing arguments, makes a strong case. Unfortunately, it is not conclusive and probably can never be unless new evidence is found. Yet, having begun reading The First American Declaration of Independence as a solid skeptic, by the time I finished the book I found myself accepting the possibility that the document may indeed have existed, and that the citizens of Mecklenburg might actually have declared independence from Great Britain in May 1775." I am happy to see that Piecuch shares that review here on Amazon, one way that serious reviewers can help make Amazon a great honest democratic reviewing organ at a time when the mainstream media is often corrupt as well as incompetent.
Piecuch says he began "as a solid skeptic." I was more open minded for personal reasons, having spent months tracing hundreds of North Carolina patriots through the astounding ongoing gift of Will Graves and C. Leon Harris, the transcriptions of pension applications under the law of 1832 in the Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements and Rosters. If anyone ever deserved the Medal of Freedom! Among other works I already knew pretty well Cyrus Hunter's SKETCHES OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA (1877), so I felt acquainted with many of the participants in the Mecklenburg (that is, Charlotte) meetings late in May 1775. These were momentous men.
History, still, is written by the North, and anyone who thinks that historians give the South due attention should look at the treatment of North Carolina by Gordon S. Wood in THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Now, here is Scott Syfert, reasonable, methodical, judicious, and a really eloquent writer. He demonstrates vast knowledge and relies on no special pleading in these pages. In 5 parts, "Life in the Carolina Backcountry (1663-1775)," "High Treason (1775-1781)," "Opening Arguments (1817-1829)," "The Mecklenburg Controversy (1829-2012)," and "Clues and Explanations," Syfert traces the whole story. He divides up the parts into highly focused chapters, such as one devoted to the ride of Captain James Jack to Philadelphia carrying the declaration. Every chapter is fact-filled and every chapter has a driving narrative. This man knows what he is talking about, and knows that he has a terrific story to tell. I warn you, this book may keep you up most of the night, as it did me--it's that compelling. What is Syfert's own history? How does a "corporate attorney" become such a fine historian and fine writer? My hat is off to you, Scott Syfert!

P.S. I hesitate to add this here because it may detract from my praise. I have tried to contact Syfert to say something about his fn 9, Ch. 22, p. 236. He says that a copy no longer exists of Archibald Murphey's article in the Hillsborough RECORDER of March 1821. In fact, I have it in a 3 July 1821 reprint. It is extremely long and extremely important, and Syfert is the man to write an article about it. Any writer feels chagrin at missing an important document. I hated in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE when a friend just would NOT publish an exciting document and I could not mention it in the book lest I scoop him! The 1821 article is signed with a pseudonym. It took me several hours early in July to figure out that it was Murphey, but there is no doubt about it. I did not know then that the article was not known--I was just blazing ahead as I tend to do, assembling basic materials without consulting books on the subject. Always more to be done, but Syfert's book is terrific, as I said. He just needs to write a little supplement. Oh, dear, good news and bad news, but a really important book!

P.P.S. Scott Syfert called a while ago. He did not in fact know about Florian, the pseudonym of Archibald Murphey, so I am emailing him several pieces Murphey wrote as "Florian." One way or another, Scott will write this up. I hope that Jim Piecuch, who reviewed him here on Amazon, above, will invite him to write it up for the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. I have not yet checked out the "May 20th Society" but will do so right away. Syfert and other Charlotte historians have been looking afresh at the evidence about the MecDec for several years. More power to them! What a really wonderful book he wrote, and now he has an additional piece to write. J.D. Lewis, the heroic author of the 3 majestic volumes on the NC Patriots, has put up a link at the end of his Mecklenburg Declaration page:

What fine researchers are at work on North Carolina (and South Carolina) Revolutionary history!
Here is a blog piece:
Friday, August 1, 2014
A Tidbit from a Long Piece that Scott Syfert thought Was Lost Forever

I have not heard from Scott Syfert yet in response to a telephone message, but this is a tiny portion of the exceedingly long article Archibald Murphey published in the Hillsborough RECORDER in 1821. I am eager to show the whole article to Syfert, who on p. 236 of his THE FIRST AMERICAN DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE? says that it "no longer exists." I found it a few weeks ago when I was working intensively on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence in order to be sensible in what I had to say about the Tryon "Association." It's a parable, almost, of my career. I worked for days on a topic meant to produce nothing new, just an understanding on my part. I did not seek out recent books. Instead, as always, I started from scratch, assembling material I could learn to think with. Not until I received and read Syfert's really admirable book did I realize that not everyone knew the item. I had been baffled by it because it was signed with what was obviously a pen name. It took me hours to run down the name of the writer, which I learned, back then, was Archibald Murphey, of whom I had never heard. Why did I waste hours running down the real name of the writer of a document I would never use in any article or book? Why do I live, except to learn? Anyhow, I can't wait to send this to Syfert, so here is a taste of it. 

Friday, April 3, 2015
The Search for the 1809 Minerva--- Raleigh Farmer & Mechanic 6 February 1906

Friday, April 3, 2015
Can this be the earliest evidence that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is Genuine?

(2004), p. 146 and p. 172. This was known by a later quotation, but not from the actual 1809 MINERVA. Now, the 5 May 1875 Raleigh Weekly News refers to this 1809 item. Will having the full 1809 MINERVA text available change any obdurate minds? I worked for almost a week last year on the MecDec because I could not finish the Tryon "Association" article without understanding why Charlotte took all the 19th century attention from Tryon and particularly Halifax. I emerged a believer in the MecDec--this before I knew of Scott Syfert's marvelous new book.

            To understand the hostility toward the MecDec you need to understand Jefferson’s fury against someone stealing his thunder but you also need to understand that Revolutionary history has until very recently been written by Northerners who really don’t think that anything of note happened south of Yorktown. If you don’t believe this, look at Gordon Wood’s book. The more these early (1809!) documents emerge, the more you realize that people knew but did not bother to record what happened before the actual fighting began and continued until late 1782 and sometimes even later. There were no newspapers in North Carolina for several of these years, and after the war there was a world to repair and not time to sit down and write a history of the war. The more I learn about the circumstances of life in the Carolinas after the war and the more I learn about the men who vouched for the Declaration, the more a believer I become. Sometimes Northern historians sneer at the affidavits as being almost all by Presbyterians, as if that meant they would join in a grand false story. These were remarkable men. Listen to the Moravian. Listen to what the 1809 Minerva article says and implies. Look at dozens of pieces of evidence, including the nefarious visit to the British library in 1837 by a minion of the American Minister, the Virginian Andrew Stevenson, in which a document was removed and never returned.

            I did not set out as a believer, but I looked at something like a hundred documents in 19th century newspapers and histories in that week when I had to understand what happened in Charlotte that took all the attention away from Tryon County and even from Halifax, which definitely had a declaration of independence the next year. I am a believer now.

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