Robeson County, NC 1840 Petition Regarding “Free Colored”

Hat tip to Phyllis for this important document.  Thank you so much.  I had heard rumors of this document for years, but was never able to nail down a source, until now.

The people of Robeson County, North Carolina petitioned the North Carolina legislature in 1840 regarding the “free colored population.”  This document is critically important because it tells us the location where the “free colored” came from.  I have transcribed this document along with a second document which replies to the original, below.  There are 4 words that I was not able to translate, but they don’t appear to be critical to the understanding of the document.  They are noted with an underscore and a question mark.

I scanned the page in question with the words I had problems with and inserted it after the transcribed verbiage.  If anyone can figure out what those words actually say please let me know.

Transcription begins below:

Robeson County.  Nov 28, 1840.  To the Honorable the General Assembly of the State of NC.

The memorial of the undersigned respectfully represents the County of Robeson is cursed with a free-colored population that migrated originally from the districts round about the Roanoke and the Neuse rivers.  They are generally in indolent, roguish, improvident and dissipated.  Having no regard for character, they are under no restraint but what the law imposses. 

They are great topers? (or tossers?), as long as they can procure the exhilarating draught some to forget entirely the comfort of their families.  All that has been written against the use of ardent spirits will apply with all its force to them.  In our section the sentiment is current that the less of it is used, the better for the community.  In fact, it may with truth be said that this opinion has put down the grogshops? amidst the white population, the same cannot be said of the colored.  All the evils accompanying the use of it affects that population.  We think that a law restricting them in the sale of that oucteche? would benefit them and the community at large and hence the undersigned cannot too strongly recommend to the legislature that propriety of such a restraint and they are duty bound  November 18, 1840

John Gilcrest

W.H. Brown

Arch. Smith

Arch. McCallum

Edward McCallum

James Alford

Warren Acton Sr.?

Archibald McLean

John McCallum Jr.

William D. McCallum

Duncan McCallum

Warren Alford Jr.

Oleander McLea

John McCallum Sr

Lion Alford

James J. Alford

Duncan McCormick

Null C. McCormick

Washington A. McCain

Neill Baker

Angus McCallum

Wiley Alford

Duncan McNair

Paccom? Purcell

John Purcell Jr.

Britain Drake

Archibald Purcell

Joseph Bell Calum


Theophulus Thompson

Dugal McCallum

Alexander McPhael

John Little

Archibald Rogert Jr.

Archibald Baker

Daniel W. Callum

The committee on propositions and grievances to which was referred the memorial of sundry citizens of Robeson County praying that some law be enacted by the legislature restricting the sale of aren’t spirits to free persons of color have had the same under consideration and beg lave to report:

That they regard all traffic in ardent spirits as a great and dangerous evil; tending as it does to the encouragement of intemperance.  The pernicious consequences of which on society and on individuals on public and private morals on public and private prosperity on public and private happiness are too evident to require argument.  And while your committee deeply lament the fatal effects of intemperance they regret to say they fear and believe there is no remedy to be hoped for in legislating particularly such as would meet the views of your memorialists.  Would you pass a law which is to effect the innocent as well as the guilty?  This would be pronounced unjust if not unwise.  And if such a law be desire who and what tribunal will be clothed with such discriminating power?  In proof of the utter inability to meet and cure the evils of intemperance by any general law we would name the 15 gallon law as it has been called of Massachusetts a state famous for its intelligence, and steady habits for its moral and religious devotion.  Yet in such a community as this, as will be remembered this has produced such incitement and apposition as to effect a most complete political revolution. 

Again in South Carolina and Georgia a violent and general incitement and opposition was manifested at the mere effort to circulate and procure subscribers to memorials to the legislatures of these states suggesting legislative enactments with a view to suppress ordinary traffic in ardent spirits. Is such have been the effect of positive incitements and the men attempt at positive legislation on this subject in these states, all must perceive the difficulty and admit the questionable character of the policy. 

Your committee are not however, inclined to support hope nor effort on this subject.  They believe however that the true policy is a strict observance of the laws now in force on this subject and a proper example and inention? on the part of the men reflecting and patriotic to encourage a praiseworthy feelings on this subject.  In this way they believe much may be done towards the suppression of this vice.  And they are not prepared to say that the law as now in force might be so amended or enlarged as to effect much good, but certainly the advanced period of the session and the mass of business now to be acted on in so short a time does not admit at this time of such a course. 

All of which is respectfully submitted. 

Matt? Moore Chairman

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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4 Responses to Robeson County, NC 1840 Petition Regarding “Free Colored”

  1. Jack R. Templeton says:

    Roberta, Several suggestions” * At the end of the 1st paragraph. it should read “. . .what the law “imposes.” rather than impasses * The “p” in topers could be the colonial symbol for “ss” making it tossers. Not sure if that helps * Sutean should be “section” * grayships looks like “grogshops” * oucteche looks like “article” I’ve enjoyed your articles ever since you posted info on Rush Roberts (the OK Pawnee) whose daughter, Nell, married my uncle. I forwarded your post to my son, Jack K. “Pete” 9who is adept @ transcribing old land deeds0 for any additional comments or corrections to my notes. Jack R. Templet

    • Thanks so much Jack. I’ll go back and take another look and update the document.

    • I looked and of course, section makes perfect sense and I can see it now. I’m still not sure about toppers or tossers, but I put tossers as a second possibility, because it surely is. But I had a good laugh at grogshops. I’ve never heard that word before but it makes perfect sense. I looked it up in the dictionary and it says “a drinking place of disreputable character.” Yep, fits perfectly and now that you’re identified the word, I can see that too in the document. Thanks much.

  2. Robert Leopard says:

    Hi Roberta.

    Nice transcription.

    “Toper” means drunkard. According to Merriam-Webster it was first used in 1661.

    The last questionable word meant nothing to me, but I’m sure Jack is correct that it is “article”.

    Robert Leopard

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