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The French the Bostonians and the North Carolinians

The French, the Bostonians, and the North Carolinians

French explorer Samuel de Champlain first came to North America in 1603 and began laying the groundwork for French occupation of much of what is now Canada and the Mississippi River valley of the United States. At about the same time, the English began colonizing the Atlantic coast from what is now eastern Canada to Spanish territory in Florida.

For years the French and English colonists shared the vast North American continent with the French primarily west of the Appalachian Mountains and the English to the east. But by the early 1700s as the population grew with more settlers wanting more land, there began to be conflicts. By the mid-1700s English hunters and settlers were encroaching into land that the French considered their territory and French traders began attempting to keep the large Indian tribes, such as the Cherokee, economic and political allies. The conflicts were not only territorial but economic in nature.

A major source of income for both French and English was the fur trade with the various Indian tribes from Canada to the southern Appalachian Mountains. Both nations sought Indian loyalty and monopoly trade. By the 1750s the competition for land and Indian trade had become intense enough that war ensued.

From 1754 until 1763 battles were fought between French forces and their Indian allies against English forces and their Indian allies. Both the French and the English built forts, such as the English Fort Loudon in what is now Tennessee, and The French Fort Duquesne in western Pennsylvania to protect their territory and trading routes.

By that time, however, the English population was much larger than that of the French, and the English army and colonists prevailed in what became known as the French and Indian War. As a result, the English-Americans acquired a great deal of land in what is now the Appalachian and mid-west sections of the United States and opened it up for settlement. The next few years saw a rise the number of treaties and frontier Indian wars as white settlers moved westward.

But the war had been expensive for England. Building frontier forts and transporting and equipping troops strained the English finances. Many in the English government felt that since it was the American colonists who had benefited the most from the war, they should help pay for it.

The English authorities in London decided there were two ways for them to get reimbursed by the colonists. One was through controlling all imports and exports in and out of the colonies and the other was through taxing goods sold in the colonies.

By the late 1700s, Americans, like the English, had acquired a taste for tea and were buying quite a bit of it. So, the English government decided that tea would be a good product to tax. Another taxable item was English cloth, especially nice cloth that ladies used to make dresses.

But from the American point of view there were two problems. First, of course, the colonists did not like the taxes which caused the price of tea and cloth to go up, and secondly the English had not allowed the colonists to have representatives in the English parliament to voice their concerns. Thus, many colonists took up the cause of “taxation without representation” and began to refuse to drink tea imported by the English or buy English cloth.

The tea crisis grew to the point that on the night of December 16, 1773, a group of colonists who called themselves The Sons of Liberty sneaked aboard some English ships containing tea that were anchored in Boston Harbor and tossed the boxes of tea overboard. It became known as the Boston Tea Party and news of the rebellious action spread rapidly through the thirteen American colonies.

Various forms of protest followed the Boston example. One of the most interesting was what came to be known as the Edenton Tea Party. It was organized in Edenton, North Carolina by Penelope Barker, who on October 25, 1774 signed a petition along with 50 other Edenton ladies in which they formally refused to buy any more English tea or English cloth until the taxes on these products were removed. The petition read in part:

We the Ladyes of Edenton, do hereby solemnly engage not to conform to ye pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, or that we, the aforesaid Ladyes, will not promote ye wear of any manufacture from England, until such time that all Acts which tend to enslave this our Native Country shall be repealed.

Although more symbolic than militant, the protest, the first political action by women in Colonial America, stirred emotions throughout North Carolina. Soon several patriot groups began meeting at various places around the state such as New Bern and Halifax. One of the most influential of them was a group calling itself the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety which met in Charlotte in May 1775.

Spurred on by the Edenton Tea Party and the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, the group drew up two resolutions declaring Mecklenburg County independent from Britain. The author credited with writing both documents was a 31-year-old physician and teacher named Ephriam Brevard.

Although its authenticity is disputed by some historians, the date the first Declaration was signed, May 20, 1775 and this important date is printed on the North Carolina state flag and the state seal. The second document, a somewhat toned-down version of the May 20 Declaration, known as the Mecklenburg Resolves, was signed a few days later on May 31, 1775 and its authenticity is not disputed. Both documents were written over a year before the US Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.

Even though the Declaration of May 20 has not been definitely authenticated, the two documents expressed the determination of the delegates to break away from England and form their own government several months before the other 12 American colonies did so.

The introduction to the Resolves of May 31 stated that:

Whereas by an Address presented to his Majesty by both Houses of Parliament in February last, the American Colonies are declared to be in a State of actual Rebellion, we conceive that all Laws and Commissions confirmed by, and derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated, and the former civil Constitution of these Colonies wholly suspended.

The first of the 20 Resolves starts out by saying: “That all Commissions, civil and military, heretofore granted by the Crown, to be exercised in the Colonies, are null and void.” Thus, by this document, Ephraim Brevard and the Mecklenburg Committee left no doubt of their desire to be free and independent citizens no longer bound by the laws of Britain.

A few months later at a meeting held in Hillsborough, North Carolina in August 1775, the North Carolina Provincial Congress, drew up documents that historian J.G.M. Ramsey said, “substituted a regular government, resting entirely on popular authority, for that of the royal government, and annihilated every vestige of the power of Josiah Martin.” By this time, Josiah Martin, who was the last royal governor of North Carolina, had fled his home and was staying aboard the English sloop-of-war HMS Cruizer anchored in the Cape Fear River. The phrase “a regular government resting entirely on popular authority” was a bold and uncommon step toward democracy in a world of kings and dictatorial leaders.

Another date that is on the North Carolina flag and state seal is April 12, 1776. On that date 83 delegates meeting in the town of Halifax, NC wrote the Halifax Resolves and became the first authorities in the 13 colonies to explicitly instruct the three delegates they sent to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to take action that would lead to the complete separation of the colonies from Britain. Their work helped influence others in the Continental Congress to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

North Carolinians are justly proud of the efforts of their pioneer citizens such as Ephraim Brevard in leading the charge in establishing the United States government. The phrase “First in Freedom” and the dates May 20, 1775 and April 12, 1776 are on many state license plates to remind its citizens of their influential past.

An example of another North Carolina first was that a few months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, on December 18, 1776, North Carolina became one of the first states to adopt a constitution which set up a state government completely independent of Britain.

Thus, in a number of ways, such as the petition of the Edenton ladies and the work Ephraim Brevard did in May 1775 with the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety in writing both the Mecklenburg Declaration and the Resolves, the people of North Carolina were instrumental in leading the 13 colonies to evolve into the new United States of America.

Ephraim Brevard was born in Maryland in 1744 but at age 3 moved with his family to Iredell County, North Carolina north of Charlotte. He was a bright student, and after receiving a degree from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, he studied medicine in Philadelphia. He later moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where he became one of the town’s first physicians as well as an instructor at Queen’s College, which in 1777 was named Liberty Hall to reflect the attitude of independence that was prevalent at the time.

In Charlotte, Brevard married Martha Polk, daughter of Captain Thomas Polk who was president of the Mecklenburg Committee. The couple had one daughter before Martha died at an early age.

In late 1779 when it was learned that British General Sir Henry Clinton was heading south from New York with thousands of troops, Ephraim volunteered to go to Charlestown, South Carolina as an army surgeon. (The name Charlestown was shortened to Charleston after the war.) Given the rank of colonel, Brevard joined with Major General Benjamin Lincoln to help defend the city. By the end of April 1780, Clinton had over 10,000 troops on land near Charlestown and another 5,000 in a fleet of ships offshore and laid siege to the city.

The city was completely surrounded. Since the Continental Army was not able to send reinforcements to Charlestown, Lincoln and his troops had no way out. On May 12, 1780 he was forced to surrender. Ephraim Brevard was among the 5,466 American soldiers captured and put in prison.

As a doctor, Ephraim tended to the needs of his fellow prisoners, but the living conditions for many of them was not good. In the summer of 1781, he succumbed to illness and inadequate nutrition. In very poor health, he was released from prison and allowed to return home. On his way to is mother’s home in Iredell County he stopped to rest at the home of his friend and fellow Mecklenburg Committee member John McKnitt Alexander near Charlotte and could go no further. He died there at the age of 37.

Dr. Ephraim Brevard is remembered today in at least two ways. A long street in Charlotte is named in his honor. Also, a town founded in the western part of North Carolina in the 1860s is named Brevard after him.

The fact that the town was named long after Brevard’s death shows that people still remembered him and respected the work he did. It was said that he made a favorable impression on the people of Charlotte when he moved there after finishing his medical studies in Philadelphia. One of his contemporaries wrote that he “took a prominent position and exerted a large influence among the Mecklenburg people.” One historian commenting about the quality of Brevard’s work in the Resolves for the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety wrote that “their beauty, their diction, their elegant precision, the wide scope of statesmanship which they exhibit, prove incontestably that the man who put them forth was worthy of their high trust at the difficult crisis.” A colleague of Brevard’s wrote that, “He was a man of undoubted genius and talent.”

The area that is now Brevard and Transylvania County was first settled by Scotch-Irish immigrants in the early 1800s who followed hunters and Indian traders coming from the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other areas in the east. Just a few miles west of the site that became the town of Brevard was Cherokee territory which had been infiltrated by French traders who were coming from Canada and the Mississippi Valley.

A river that runs through Brevard is called the French Broad River. This unusual name came about when hunters first saw that the river was flowing west to east out of French trading territory. They named it the French Broad River to distinguish it from the Broad River that runs through South Carolina. Believed to be at least 260 million years old, the river is geologically one of the oldest in the world. It flows west to east down the slopes of the Appalachia Mountains then after several miles, makes a turn and flows east to west into the Tennessee River, then on to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, Brevard, North Carolina is a bustling town of about 8,000 permanent residents and expands by several more thousand during tourist season. It is a hub of music, art, and outdoor activities. And its location on the geological escarpment between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic coastal plain make it an excellent area to visit several waterfalls.

Brevard Street in Charlotte and the little city nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina are fitting tributes to an outstanding physician, teacher, and patriot who used his literary and medical skills to help his state and his nation to become free and independent. Without freedom seeking North Carolinians like Penelope Barker, Ephriam Brevard and Brevard’s fellow Mecklenburg Committee members, there might not be a United States of America where “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is the rule we live by.

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