The American Revolution in North Carolina

NC Government During the American Revolution - 1777

This last Provincial Congress, in December of 1776, also passed a series of ordinances providing for the government of the state until the first planned meeting of the new General Assembly. Foremost was the creation of a new body politic - the Council of State. Richard Caswell was sworn in as the first governor on January 16, 1777 at Tryon Palace in New Bern, which now served temporarily as the state capitol.

On February 6th, the Council of State directed Brigadier General James Moore to fill the ranks of all his regiments by transfers from all the others and to march them northward. The recently-promoted Brigadier General Francis Nash was directed to the western part of the state to hurry up the recruiting in that location.

On March 15th, Brigadier Generals Moore and Nash were then ordered to take six regiments northward, no matter the numbers. The ranking BG James Moore ordered BG Francis Nash to join him in Wilmington. There, unhappily, early in April, James Moore died. BG Nash took command and soon had his rag-tag army headed north.

The first legislature met at New Bern on April 7th, 1777 and organized itself with Samuel Ashe as Speaker of the Senate and Abner Nash as Speaker of the House of Commons. On April 18th, this General Assembly re-elected Richard Caswell and the other appointed officials (from the Fifth Provincial Congress of December 1776), but judges were not designated until December when Samuel Ashe, Samuel Spencer, and James Iredell were appointed to the superior court. Also in December, Waightstill Avery became the State's first Attorney General.

The 1777 General Assembly met twice - 4/7 thru 5/9, and 11/15 thru 12/24.

Since all of the ordinances of the previous Provincial Congress would expire at the end of this legislature's session, it fell to the General Assembly to enact all of the legislation necessary to put the new government into full operation. The first Act was a bill to establish a State Militia, self-preservation certainly high on its priority list. Other Acts provided for the collection of import duties, a general property assessment, and the levying of an ad valorem tax on land, slaves, and other property.

Under the provisions of the simple Constitution, the government resembled that of the colonial period - a governor, a two-house legislature, and courts. But, while similar in form, the new government was quite different in spirit. The strong Royal Governor had made an adverse impression, so henceforth the state's governor would be weak. Elected by the legislature for a one-year term, he would not have the power to veto legislative acts. If he maintained good relations with the General Assembly he might be elected to two additional terms, but could serve no more than three out of six successive years. The governor actually had very little power at all, as he was required to seek the advice and consent of his Council of State regarding any matter of importance.

Each county was authorized to elect two members of the House of Commons and one senator. Free men who paid taxes, and this included blacks, could vote for members of the lower house, but only those who owned at least fifty acres of land could vote for senators. To serve in the House of Commons one had to own at least one hundred acres of land, while a senator had to own a minimum of three hundred acres. Governors were required to own land and property worth a least £1,000.

This first General Assembly authorized a tenth and final regiment of North Carolina Continentals to be placed upon the line as soon as practical. They commissioned all officers of this - the 10th NC Regiment - on April 17th. However, with a definite lack of funding and the resulting poor organization, this regiment would not start marching northward until November 1st, and would not reach its destination until well into 1778. It never amounted to much and was soon thereafter disbanded - permanently.

Finally, this first General Assembly authorized the creation and establishment of six new counties - Burke, Camden, and Caswell in May; Nash, Washington (now in Tennessee, to replace the previously-created Washington District), and Wilkes in December. Bills were introduced in December to divide Bute County and to divide Anson County, but these were rejected at this point in time (to resurface in 1779).

Just because the newly-created state was in the middle of a Revolution did not mean that progress was at a standstill. People were moving into the western sections of North Carolina hoping to be as far away from any military action as possible.

The General Assembly finished business for the year on December 24th, having passed 48 bills, many of them of great consequence - a bill establishing courts of law, a bill for opening the land office, and a bill granting the vacant lands of the state. The two houses adjourned until the first Monday of April in 1778, to convene again in New Bern.

During the final session of 1777, the General Assembly decided to re-assign Martin County out of the Edenton District and into the Halifax District.

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