Tidbits from the CSR

For those of you who haven’t heard, the North Carolina Collection and Documenting the American South are digitizing the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, a thirty-volume set of transcribed documents covering the history of North Carolina from the 1600s to 1790. Now, before you start searching Google for the electronic versions of this wonderful resource, let me warn you…we’re still at least two years from being finished with the project! However, I occasionally run into interesting tidbits that simply have to be “published,” and I think the North Carolina Collection’s blog is the perfect outlet. I can’t promise weekly postings, but I’ve already seen index entries for “Beer, lack of” and “Girls and Soldiers,” so I can’t imagine they’ll be far between.

The first tidbit involves Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, an influential pamphlet published in Philadelphia in January 1776. On February 14 of that year, John Penn, one of North Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress, wrote from Philadelphia to Thomas Person in North Carolina concerning military matters and troop requisitions. With the letter, Penn enclosed a copy of Common Sense and in the postscript stated, “I send you a pamphlet called ‘Common Sense,’ published here abt. a month ago.” Is this the first copy of Paine’s pamphlet to find its way into North Carolina? I can’t say, but it is most definitely one of the earliest.

Committee of Secrecy

Insurgents, secret subpoenas and hearings? When you hear these topics, you probably think of current events, right? Well, that may be the case, but North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress, called and led by patriot leaders from April to May 1776, dealt with these issues as well. The congress created a “Committee of Secrecy, Intelligence, and Observation” and gave it the power to compel the attendance of suspected loyalist insurgents and witnesses at hearings. In an effort to quell dissent, the committee could also remove insurgents from their homes and force them to reside in remote locations where they could not “influence” their friends and neighbors. The Committee of Secrecy could even withhold information from the Provincial Congress if they felt it would “tend to defeat the purpose of [the committee’s] appointment.”