The Albemarle Insurrection of 1679

Did you know that Albemarle County, NC had an insurrection in 1679?  They did, and apparently the Indians were considered to be a part of the problem, along with Negroes.  It doesn’t say, but I suspect these are free negroes, not enslaved people, as those in bondage would be severely disciplined for their participation in an insurrection.

It’s interesting that in many of these documents, North Carolina with her rich swamps is often portrayed as a safe-haven for those who need to hide or to disappear.  Escaped slaves, Indians, debtors, etc.  After the Tuscarora War, the whites hunted for years for the Indians who were hiding in the swamps.  They weren’t hiding there, they were living there, outside the reach of the encroaching settlers.

Representation concerning the rebellion in Albemarle County

No Author


Volume 01, Pages 256-261

——————– page 256 ——————–

[B. P. R. O. Colonial Papers.]


It is humbly tendred to the consideration of the most Illustrious and Right Honorable the Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina.

That the Rebellion of the Inhabitants of the County of Albemarle was not accidentall or casually arose from any present or sudden provocation given, but rather the effect of a more mature or deliberate contrivance, which I humbly conceive will so appeare to your Lordships by the ensuing particulars as here circumstanced, the mane substance whereof can be clearly proved by the evidence of divers credible witnesses upon oath before any person or persons, your Honors shall think fit to empower to take cognizance of the premisses.

That the Principalls and Heads of this Rebellion were not only prompted thereunto by ambition and envy or the private pekes and particular disgusts they had to those Gentlemen your Honors thought fit to entrust with the Government, but alsoe more especially those personall and particular crimes they knew themselves guilty of and accountable for whenever a Governor should come.

That this was a deliberate design of no sudden growth may be proved by their generall charge wherein all their former actions seem to have a naturall tendency to this their last and horrid end, At first their severall times disturbing the Courts, subverting the Government, dissolving Parliaments, Their industrious labor to be popular and continued making of factions and parties.

Their poysoning the peoples eares, unsetling and disquieting their minds, by diffusing and dropping abroad, by their Agents false and dangerous Reports tending much to the indignity of your Honors and reproach of your Government, and among divers others, that your Honors intended to raise the Quitrents to two pence and from two pence to six pence per acre. Now what they have done since is so notorious and obvious to every eye, as the imprisoning your Lordships’ Deputies, putting the President who was likewise his Majesty’s Collector into Irons, their Generall arming on the first appearance of Gilham’s shipp in Pascotanke

——————– page 257 ——————–

River, their seizing and carrying away the Records, Lastly their arrogating and assuming to themselves the supreme and sovereign power, by first dissolving then erecting Courts of Judicature, convening Parliaments without Writs, and as if they had the sovereign and absolute power they put out make New Officers not only in Courts and other publick services of the Country, but even where The King is more immediately concerned, turning out His Majesty’s Collectors, putting in others, clearing and discharging Ships, but last of all their most horrid treasonable and tyrannicall actings in erecting a Court for tryall of life and death without the Lords Deputies or Commission of Oyer and Terminer or any other colour or pretence of Authority, either from His sacred Majty or your Lordships, and particularly in the cases of Mr Thomas Miller and Mr Timothy Biggs.

But their speciall, particular and respective crimes are here annexed to their severall names here in the margin in the order following (vizt)

Capt Valentine Bird. He being appointed by the Country to be Collector of His Majesty’s Duty of the penny per pound, for all Tobacco not exported for England, did without power from or the privity or consent of either my Lord High Treasurar or his Majesty’s Commissioners of the Customs suffer the New England Traders to load and carry away the Tobacco of the Country without paying the said Duties, by which meanes they are now run in arreare to His Majesty one hundred and fifty thousand weight of Tobacco, and finding the hazard he had run in case another Collector should be sent he with above one hundred more, most whereof were Pastotankians, which after led the other Precincts into Rebellion there, with him subscribing a Paper against the payment of the said Duty, but after hearing by the report of Crawford that Mr Eastchurch was coming Governor and Mr Miller Collector, Bird and the rest of the subscribers were the first that took armes and opposed Miller at his first landing fearing they should be questioned for what they had done so, as soone as ever Gilham arrived they again take armes and by their Agents invite the other three Precincts to joyne with them, and till the generall elaps of the Country they were only in this defection and Bird was their Leader and drew the first sword, encouraged hereunto by Captain Zackery Gilham who supplied them with many fire armes and other weapons of War, came with some of his Seamen armed to Captain Crawford’s house, where the President and two other of the Deputies were taken prisoners.

George Durant. hath several times before not only contemned but opposed the authority established by your Honors, and in the head of a

——————– page 258 ——————–

Rebell rout by force subverted the Government turning out and placing in whom he and they thought fit at pleasure, and openly threatning that, if ever Mr Thomas Eastchurch came in Governor, he would turn Rebell. And as if these were too small crimes, he hath viciated a Record of Court by adding, razing and other wayes altering the verdict of a jury, and as foreman giving it in contrary to what the whole Jury had returned upon oath, particularly in case of Mr Thomas Miller. And in fine hath all along when at home beene one of the most violent, active and the most outrageous of all the Conspirators and Insurrectors.

Capt. William Crawford hath formerly as well as now industriously made it his business to be popular, make factions and then head them and very subtily though clandestinely and underhand, will be found one of the chief contrivers as well as acters in this Rebellion, but (besides) his particular crime, in the imbezling and taking of the file of the Records, a gratious grant of your Lordships to the Country. And having formerly got the Records into his Custody, divers of them are since not to be found: and this he did, as may be judged; (since he could make no private advantage thereby) purposely to keep the people ignorant of your Honors good intentions to this Country and might find fitter occasions thereby to insence them against your Lordships and the government.

Capt: John Willoughby He is a person that runs himself into many errors and premuniries through his extra-judiciall and arbitrary proceedings in the Courts of Judicature, and for instance in the case of Mr Thomas Eastchurch, who by reason of their tyranny and injustice to himwards would have appealed to your Lordships, but was thus answered by Willoughby That they were the Court of Courts and Jury of Juries. He is a person that through a naturall habit of pride or ambition hath been alwaies imperious amongst his equals, courteous to his inferiours, because factious and would be popular; stubborne and disobedient to superiors, evidenced by his scornfull and peremptory refusing obedience to the summons of the Palatine’s Court and his beating the sworn Officer that served the same: and for this and other scornes and contempts put upon the Court, and continuing still obstinate, he was outlawed: The next Parliament approving of the proceedings against him, set a fine on his head for his said contempt. And hereupon he disavowes your Government by addressing his complaints to the Governor and Councill of Virginia, and notwithstanding the discountenance he met with there, yet he returns not homewards till he heard the Country was up in armes.

——————– page 259 ——————–

Capt: Thomas Cullum frequently sells powder, shot and fire-armes, as well to those Indian nations that are not as those that are in amity with the English, expresly contrary to the Laws of all the English Provinces which make it death to sell either to our enemies. And on notice given to the Magistrates of Virginia, Warrants were there issued out for apprehending him, and if he had there been taken (although in another Government) he must have stood a tryall for his Life for the same or like fact there committed.

Lieut: Col: John Jenkins being some time made Governor by the appointment of Cartwright was after for severall misdemeanours displaced and imprisoned; yet although never legaly discharged, raiseth a party of riotous persons in armes, and these with some others vote him Generalissime, neither he or they pretending to any other right or authority than what he derived from this Rebell Rout, these turne out the Palatines Court, dissolve the Assembly, place and displace whom he and they pleased by an arbitrary power and force. But yet although Jenkins had the title yet in fact Durant governed and used Jenkins but as his property, for of all the factious persons in the Country he was the most active and uncontrolable.

John Culpeper, a person that never is in his element but whilst fishing in troubled waters, he was forced to fly from Ashley River for his turbulent and factious carriage there. He both here and in New England with some of the discontented Traders plotted there and underhand here incouraged the hot headed people to this rash and ill-advised Rebellion. Culpeper being their Secretary or Register and one of their Caball or Grand Councill in matter of advise, this being the second disturbance he hath made here, besides what he hath done in Ashley River, New England and Virginia and therefore a man they much hearken to for his experience sake.

Patrick White is one that with Willoughby applyed himself to the Governor of Virginia, that beate Mr Miller when he landed, and an active man in this Rebellion, and hath formerly been a disturber of the Government.

Capt: James Blount, although one of the Great Councill or Assistant to the Deputies is one of the chief persons amongst the Insurrectors, and although I wrote to him, the speaker and rest of the Burgesses of Chowan Precinct, yet when the Sheriffe or Chief Martiall came with my letter and endeavoured to raise Posse Comitatis for keeping the peace and securing of that your Lordships Country, he the said Blount with one Captain John Vernham took the Martiall and his men Prisoners and raised forces against the Government.

——————– page 260 ——————–

Bonner and Slocum two other of the Burgesses joyne with Cullum, Blunt and Vernham. So that all the five Burgesses of Chowan, although contrary to their Oathes of Allegiance and Obedience, and to their proceedings in Parliament, are in this defection and by their bad example have drawn in the Country people. There are besides these about eighty or an hundred which may be ranked in a second Classe differing no more from the former than second rates from first. And all or most of these have been guilty of former insurrections with some of their Leaders above named, especially such as live in Pascotanke, vizt Lieutenant Wells, Seares, Jennings, Ellis, Bonesby and his two sons, Cotes, with divers others of the Precinct.

Now the rest of the people may rather be reputed newtrall, for if they have complyed (as many of them have done) it is only through want of Courage that they have sacrificed their faith to their fears, and for the same reason will on the first appearance of a party from your Honors although but 60 or 70 men on pardon published and examplary justice done on the Ring-leaders who do overawe them, they will then gladly returne to their duties, their necessities also constreighning them, for they cannot subsist without planting of Corne and Tobacco, well knowing that without these two (having made them their sole dependence) they must perish by hunger or want of cloathing, unless the Chief leaders build Capers and imploy them to rob the Merchants to supply their wants as they come into the Capes of Virginia which is not above 20 or 30 leagues from this Inlet; and they are apt enough to tell them, that in respect of the openness of the Road, shallowness of the Inlet, fastness of the Country, and by reason of the woods, swamps, rivers, creeks and runs, this Country being no waies accessible by Land but to the northward from Virginia, and that but by three passes or avenues, by which meanes they may possibly be persuaded they may be as safe from His Majesty’s Frigates as if they were in Sally.

I mention not this to discourage your Honors, but do likewise assure you that they are as inconsiderable, as rash and disobedient: the whole number I do not say of men but Tythables that is of working hands consist of about 1400 persons, a third part whereof at least being Indians, Negros and women will, the rest once being declared Rebells, quickly desert them and come in in hope either of liberty or better usage. So that in fine I can no way bring the number of Rebells that may be expected in armes to amount to 100 men, and these by reason of the several rivers and creeks which run north and south, and divide the severall Precincts, so that they cannot suddenly joyne. If therefore a Ship

——————– page 261 ——————–

from England with goods and servants which I am confident would answer the charge, two or three Sloopes prest from Virginia, all man’d with about 60 or 70 men divided into two parties, one whereof might run up to Chowan up the Sound in a night, and there I am sure they would meet with many Loyall and lusty young men, who would immediately joyne with them and on notice divers who fled to Virginia would return for Pasquimans, there were but 3 or 4 noted Rebells as Jenkins, Durant, Sherrell, Greene, Pricklove and Lininton, most of the rest being Quakers, who stand firme in their obedience although they will not fight, the archest Rebells and greatest number being in Paccotanke. And although it is easy to reduce them either by the way above proposed or by those soldiers as are yet behind in Virginia or by Volunteers from thence, near two hundred having promised Mr Eastchurch to march in with him as soone as he should obteine Licence from the Governor there, but his death prevented his designe, the Governor assuring him by his messingers that nothing should be wanting on his part wherein he might serve him, they there and also in Maryland being exceeding sensible of the dangerous consequences of this Rebellion, as that if they be not suddenly subdued hundreds of idle debters, theeves, Negros, Indians and English servants will fly into them & from thence make Inroads and dayly Incursions, whence great mischief may follow which may better be foreseene and prevented than after remedied, for considering the vast coast and wild woods of the backside of Virginia they may come from Maryland & the Wilderness between Virginia and Albemarle extending one hundred miles without one Inhabitant they may and some already do go into them in defiance of all the care the Governor and Magistrates there take for prevention.

Hat tip to Mavis for this document.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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