Arthur Dobbs

Royal Governor of North Carolina Province 1754 to 1765



Arthur Dobbs was born in Ireland on April 2, 1689 and he died at Town Creek, NC on March 28, 1765. He had been a member of the Irish parliament, and was known for his attempt to discover the Northwest Passage. He became Royal Governor of North Carolina on November 1, 1754, and retained the office until his death on March 28, 1765. He adopted conciliatory measures toward the Indians, but his administration was a continued contest with the legislature.

The representatives of the people, who did not hesitate to leave the government expenses unprovided for when the governor insisted upon unpopular measures, thwarted his zeal in behalf of the royal prerogative. When he attempted to improve the Anglican Church within North Carolina, they were ready to welcome it, so long as their own vestries were permitted to choose their ministers, and when he wished to collect quit-rents from the people, who were nearly all tenants of the king, they deferred, from time to time, the adjustment of the rent roll.

Governor Arthur Dobbs was the author of "Trade and Improvement of Ireland" (Dublin, 1729); "Captain Middleton's Defense" (1744); and "An Account of the Countries Adjoining to Hudson's Bay" (London, 1748).

In 1754, Governor Arthur Dobbs called on the North Carolina House of Burgesses to implement and support defensive measures for the province in advance of the inevitable French and Indian War (1756-1763). He concluded his address with an appeal to hold on to the spirit of liberty and civil rights and "hand them down to our posterity." Govrernor Dobbs persuaded the 1755 legislature to fund “a Barrack and Fort for the Company on the Western Frontier” to protect settlers, colonial land investments and the imperial ambitions of the English crown. One year later, Fort Dobbs was built to protect settlers of the Carolina Piedmont and their Native American allies on the westernmost frontier of North Carolina.

In 1756, Fort Dobbs was constructed by a company of provincial rangers. The new fort was located in the Piedmont region near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was named for Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs. Fort Dobbs served as the official Colonial North Carolina frontier headquarters until the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775.

Arthur Dobbs, 1689–1765, Royal Governor of North Carolina (1754–65), b. County Antrim, Ireland. A member of the Irish House of Commons (1727–30) and Surveyor General of Ireland (1730), he wrote "An Essay on the Trade and Improvement of Ireland" (1729), in which he advocated certain land reforms. He also became interested in the search for a Northwest Passage and was largely responsible for the expedition (1741–42) under Christopher Middleton. He was appointed governor of North Carolina in 1753, arriving at the colony a year and a half later. His administration was marked by conflicts with the Assembly arising out of his frequent arbitrary assertions of power. A capable administrator, he attempted to serve the interests of both the Crown and the colonists and consequently drew the heavy criticism of both.
Arthur Dobbs (2 April 1689 - 28 March 1765) was a Northern Irishman from a politically and socially prominent family seated at Castle Dobbs, County Antrim. After brief service in the military he became High Sheriff of County Antrim, Mayor of Carrickfergus, Surveyor General of Ireland, and a member of the Irish House of Commons. He was also an amateur scientist of note, publishing papers on an eclipse of the moon and other topics, and writing the first known account of the Venus flytrap after he came to North Carolina.

His wide-ranging curiosity extended to matters such as coinage, imperial trade, military strategy, and the search for a northwest passage. In the mid-1740s, Arthur Dobbs and an associate purchased 400,000 acres in western North Carolina (the present counties of Mecklenburg and Cabarrus), and the future governor induced numbers of Scots-Irish to settle in North Carolina. He also became one of the shareholders in the Ohio Company of Virginia.

Dobbs secured the appointment as Royal Governor of North Carolina after the death of Gabriel Johnston in 1752. When Dobbs arrived in the colony in 1754 the French and Indian War was just getting underway. He exerted himself to the utmost to ensure that the Assembly would provide the necessary funds for North Carolina to play a significant role in the Great War for Empire, an endeavor that met with only partial success. He did, however, build a number of forts along the coast and on the western frontier.

The long-standing boundary dispute with South Carolina was addressed by him and the governor of South Carolina, but without resolution. He also, as a zealous churchman, attempted to improve the position of the Anglican establishment in the colony, with indifferent results. He repeatedly urged the Assembly to provide schools for the colony's youth, again without notable success. As a representative of royal prerogative at a time when the mood of independence was increasing, Governor Dobbs on numerous occasions came into conflict with the House of Burgesses. In addition, his personal relations with several important officials in the province grew steadily worse, further diminishing his chances of accomplishing his goals. He died at Russelborough, his home near Brunswick, in March of 1765.


Powell, William S., ed. DICTIONARY OF NORTH CAROLINA BIOGRAPHY. Vol. 2. [minor edits]

Arthur Dobbs, later governor of North Carolina, wrote Matthew Rowan in April of 1751: "This I hope will be delivered to you by Mr. Robert Milhouse, who with Mr. Samuel Wyly and their families and several other of my tenants, neighbours and friends, go to settle in North Carolina and have freighted a ship from Dublin to land them in Cape Fear River at Brunswick. To them. . . I have disposed of one of the 12,800-acre tracts. . . I want you to befriend them and assist them in their settlement and advise them for the best. (The South Carolina Historical Magazine)
It is then that written records can first be found, as the earliest deeds for Cabarrus County land are recorded in the old courthouse at Wadesboro. Otherwise, there is little knowledge or notice taken of our pioneers until Governor Arthur Dobbs visited our area in 1755 to survey his extensive land holdings.

In 1745, Arthur Dobbs and Colonel John Selwyn purchased a tract of 400,000 acres located in present Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties from Henry McCulloch of London.

We are indebted to his Report to the Board of Trade for the first glimpse of our county where he found 75 families living. He found an "industrious people," with five to ten children in most families, raising horses, cows, a few sheep, and hogs. In addition, they raised crops of Indian Corn, wheat, barley, rye and indigo.

Their trade was primarily with Charles Town, as there was already a two hundred-mile road to the South Carolina seaport and trade with eastern North Carolina was hampered by the rivers which cut across the land.

In 1754, Governor Arthur Dobbs received a report from a Bladen County agent of 50 Indian families living along Drowning Creek (present-day Lumber River). The communication also reports the shooting of a surveyor who entered the area "to view vacant lands." It is the first written account of the tribe from whom the Lumbee descended.
Cape Lookout Bight has long been recognized as one of the finest harbors on the North Carolina coast. According to David Stick, a leading authority on the history of the Outer Banks, Spanish privateers used the bight as a hiding place in the 1740s. When Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs visited the cape in 1755, he described it as "the best, altho small, of any harbor from Boston to Georgia."
The deed for Salisbury is dated February 11, 1755. The court center, called prior to this time Rowan County Court House, was a bustling little village of seven or eight log cabins, the court house and a jail and pillory, according to Governor Arthur Dobbs who visited here in late 1755.
On September 25, 1755, Governor Arthur Dobbs called an extemporaneous meeting of North Carolina’s upper and lower houses to request immediate action in preparation for war with France. The French, he warned, had quietly dispatched troops to the colonies and planned not only to surround the colonies “by a Chain of Forts,” but also to gain “all the Indians into their alliance and intimidat[e] those who were in Alliance with us.” According to the governor, the French had promised the Indians “Premiums” to get them “to murder, massacre, scalp, and carry away Captive all our settlers wherever they can surprize them.”
Arthur Dobbs, the Royal Governor of North Carolina, visited what is now Mecklenburg County in 1755. He observed that the great majority of the inhabitants were impoverished. Most families had six to ten children, all "going barefooted," and the mothers were barely clothed.
Unanswered raids by the Amerindians, adjunct to the French and Indian War, proved that the colony's militia was unprepared. On March 15, 1756, Arthur Dobbs, the Royal Governor of North Carolina, reported that the militia law had failed in the colony in his charge. He reported that "not half of the Militia are armed as no supply of Arms can be got although they would willingly purchase them . . . ."

During the French and Indian War the North Carolina militia became a reservoir on which the British command drew for enlistments for the Canadian campaign. In November of 1756, Loudoun reported to Cumberland that "I had great hopes of the North Carolina Regiments . . . [but] the Carolina Troops would not Submit to be turned over [to English command] without force; which I thought better avoided . . . [recently] I have got a good many of them enlisted in [the Royal] Americans." In 1756, British assigned a quota of 1,000 men to be raised in North Carolina as a part of 30,000 man force the English hoped to raise in the colonies to join with the British troops in an invasion of Canada.

In 1759, the war with the Cherokee Indian nation spilled over into the colony. The militia, sensing danger at home, refused to march outside the colony's borders, arguing that the North Carolina militia was suitable only for home defense. Governor Arthur Dobbs reported that 420 of 500 militiamen sent against the Cherokee had deserted. Many militiamen and officers interpreted the law as being permissive, but not compelling. They chose to not leave the province. The Militia Act of 1759 increased fines for desertion and insubordination and allowed the Governor, with the consent of the legislature, to send the militia to the aid of South Carolina and Virginia to fight against the Cherokees.

In 1760, the legislature passed an Act which provided that it would pay bounties on Indian scalps in order to encourage enlistment and participation in the militia.

Governor Arthur Dobbs used the French and Indian threat as an excuse to wrest greater local autonomy from mother England. The time had come, Governor Dobbs argued, for North Carolina to assume more control over colonial matters, including orphan protection. He asked the legislators to revise the colony’s laws in order to meet the demands of war.

Governor Dobbs urged the House of Burgesses to pass statutes that expanded colonial power at the expense of the British Empire. He asked for laws to strengthen paper currency, regulate exports, erect “County or Parish Schools for the education of your youth in the knowledge of religion and moral duties,” and to strengthen the mutiny bill and the “Jayls,” which he argued “are so weak without any Jaylor or person to guard them that no criminal can be secured.”

Fearing that the war would cause tremendous scarcity of goods, Governor Dobbs requested a more expansive apprenticeship law, one that reached beyond the orphan poor and forced “Planters who have small Properties to bring up their children to industry, or to bind out their children to necessary trades many of whom breed up their children to sloth and idleness.” Once properly trained, North Carolina’s yeoman sons would produce “the necessaries of life cheaper the excessive price of which at present is a great discouragement to the Improvement of the Province.” The General Assembly, Dobbs anxiously implored, must increase its control not only over the colony’s finances but also over its youth in order to defeat the French.

In a historical letter dated January 24, 1760, Arthur Dobbs, then Governor of North Carolina -- who appears to be the first discoverer of the plant [Venus Flytrap], at least as far as historical records go -- wrote, " ...But the great wonder of the vegetable kingdom is a very curious unknown species of sensitive; it is a dwarf plant; the leaves are like a narrow segment of a sphere, consisting of two parts, like the cap of a spring purse, the concave part outward, each of which falls back with indented edges (like an iron spring fox trap); upon anything touching the leaves, or falling between them, they instantly close like a spring trap, and confine any insect or anything that falls between them; it bears a white flower; to this surprising plant I have given the name of Fly Trap Sensitive."
In 1761, Governor Arthur Dobbs wrote that for seven years there had been very little immigration, first because of the Indian war to the north, and then because of the war with the Cherokees in North Carolina.
Settlers in the back country (Piedmont) felt particularly oppressed by the laws drawn up by an Assembly largely composed of eastern landowners. "Local" officials in many counties, particularly in the western segment of the backcountry were not local men at all, but friends of the royal governor, William Tryon. These so-called "friends" often collected higher fees than authorized by the law while obtaining tax money or divided a single service into many services and charged fees for each. Lawyers who followed the judges around the colony also fell into the same habit.

The citizens of Anson, Orange, and Granville counties were the first to make themselves heard. In 1764, this band of citizens, referred to as the "mob," created a number of local disturbances until Governor Arthur Dobbs passed a proclomation forbidding the collection of illegal fees, the practice that the people complained of the most. Their protests were calmed only temporarily. However, the efects of the new law wore off soon enough and sheriffs and other county officers returned to their old dishonest practices. Citizens complained largely in part because money was so scarce; local trading was almost limited to barter. Often, property was seized and resold, and citizens felt that their property was being sold to a friend of an official for much less than its true value.

The body of North Carolina's Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs is reputed to have been interred at St. Philip's Church, as he requested, but it has never been identified.

After St. James Episcopal Church left Brunswick Town in favor of the rival port of Wilmington, the Anglican parish of St. Philip's was formed in 1741. In 1754, it began building a brick church at Brunswick Town, the seat of royal government earlier in the colony. After struggling with finances and a destructive hurricane, the church was finally completed in 1768, only to be burned by the British in 1776 (the colony's first armed resistance to the Stamp Act occurred nearby at the royal governor's residence).

Today, all that remains of St. Philip's church, the only colonial church in southeastern North Carolina, is a rectangular shell -- 25-foot-high walls, 3 feet thick -- plus several colonial-era graves (some of which are resurfacing with time). The ruin's round-arched window ports are intact and suggest Georgian detailing, but little solid evidence exists about the building's original appearance beyond some glazing on the brick. Three entrances exist, in the west, north and south walls, and three, triptych-style windows open the east wall.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor Arthur Dobbs.
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