Northern Irish history professor Noeleen McIlvenna presents key insights on English colonialism.
"These ideas, ...and all those very mutinous people, eventually became accepted as the quintessential American values."
– Noeleen McIlvenna
"An understanding of the English Revolution is crucial to understanding the formative years of the North Carolina colony, for the politics of the people from top to bottom had been formed in the crucible of "Oliver's Days." The mixture of politics, religion, economics, and military experience suffused the thinking of all who had come of age in the twenty years prior to 1660. The future colonists of North Carolina had been exposed to all these ideas....
"... At first glance, the ideas of the English Revolution appear to have evaporated from the North Carolina terrain in the eighteenth century. The colony joined America's "Gulag Archipelago" as South Carolinians spread the slave society north, just as they would later expand it south into Georgia.'
The Introduction refers to an Affidavit of Henry Hudson, Jan. 31, 1679, in Saunders, CRNC, 1:272. ‘‘Landgrave’’ referred to medieval German nobility; ‘‘Cassique’’ was a Spanish version of the Arawak word for chieftain. John Locke, prohibited from transferring English titles to the colonies, had suggested these designations for a potential colonial nobility and gentry.
Excerpt from publisher's notes Historians have often glorified eighteenth-century Virginia planters' philosophical debates about the meaning of American liberty. But according to Noeleen McIlvenna, the true exemplars of egalitarian political values had fled Virginia's plantation society late in the seventeenth century to create the first successful European colony in the Albemarle, in present-day North Carolina. ...
They created a new community on the banks of Albemarle Sound, maintaining peace with neighboring Native Americans, upholding the egalitarian values of the English Revolution, and ignoring the laws of the mother country.
Tapping into previously unused documents, McIlvenna explains how North Carolina's first planters struggled to impose a plantation society upon the settlers and how those early small farmers, defending a wide franchise and religious toleration, steadfastly resisted. She contends that the story of the Albemarle colony is a microcosm of the greater process by which a conglomeration of loosely settled, politically autonomous communities eventually succumbed to hierarchical social structures and elite rule. Highlighting the relationship between settlers and Native Americans, this study leads to a surprising new interpretation of the Tuscarora War.
PART ONE: The First Generation -- 13
– one: Escape to the Swamp, 1660–1663 -- 15
– two: Building the Sanctuary, 1664–1673 -- 28
– three: Culpeper’s Rebellion, 1673–1680 -- 46
– four: The Rise and Fall of Seth Sothell, 1681–1695 -- 71
PART TWO: The Second Generation -- 89
five: Challenge of the Anglicans i: Church Establishment, 1695–1707 -- 95
six: Challenge of the Anglicans ii: Native American Resistance, 1695–1707 -- 112
seven: Cary’s Rebellion, 1708–1711 -- 127
eight: One Final Fight for Freedom, 1711–1713 -- 148
Afterword -- 161
Notes -- 165
Bibliography -- 195
Index -- 207
Dr McIlvenna's note:
Ref. 14. Throughout this volume, I refer to this person as Shaftesbury, although he was known as Anthony Ashley Cooper until 1661, when he became Lord Ashley. In 1672, he acquired the title of Earl of Shaftesbury."
"Olivers days come again." So an Anglican missionary disparagingly described society in North Carolina in 1711, comparing his surroundings to England during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, when monarchy, aristocracy, and the established church had been pushed from power and the removal of censorship allowed radical ideas to circulate. The missionary disdained such freedoms, preferring "order" as he saw it—rule by "natural leaders such as the gentry and the church. Instead he found himself governed by Quakers, representatives freely elected by the people and firmly devoted to the maintenance of an egalitarian community.1
The Carolinas are known as Restoration colonies, founded as a result of Charles II's return to England in 1660. Charles bestowed the Carolinas on the men who orchestrated his accession to the throne. But although born of the Restoration, the colonies were really shaped by the previous twenty years, a period of civil war and revolution during which Charles's father had been executed and censorship had been ended and during which the British people witnessed the birth of radical ideas about power and politics and about who exactly constituted "the people."
An understanding of the English Revolution is crucial to understanding the formative years of the North Carolina colony, for the politics of the people from top to bottom had been formed in the crucible of "Oliver's Days." The mixture of politics, religion, economics, and military experience suffused the thinking of all who had come of age in the twenty years prior to 1660. The future colonists of North Carolina had been exposed to all these ideas.
The second Stuart king, Charles I, succeeded to the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1625. By 1640, his political and religious policies had alienated many of the gentry. Charles's appointee as archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, pursued Arminian reforms, restoring altars, stained glass windows, ornate vestments, and rituals to the Church of England. While some horrified Puritans fled to Massachusetts in response, most remained in England, their resentments building year by year.
Exacerbating these religious grievances, the king's collection of taxes—called ship money—coupled with his monopolies on soap and salt to provoke bitterness. Designed to keep Charles independent of Parliament, these fiscal policies worked through the 1630s. Tight censorship prevented public and sometimes even private airings of opposition.
In 1637, the introduction of a new Arminian prayer book into the liturgy roused a strong resistance movement in Scotland, leading to mass signing of a national covenant. The covenant constituted both a religious and a nationalist statement, proclaiming that all signees committed themselves to Presbyterianism and to the independence of the Scottish Parliament. Charles wanted to crush this rebellion against his authority and called up a new Parliament in London that he hoped would supply the funds to raise an army against Scotland.
Instead of voting money for the king, the 1640 Parliament, seething with long-standing grievances, imprisoned the king’s ministers and bishops and then turned to constitutional matters. Parliament declared that it could not be dissolved except by its own consent, a major limitation of royal power.
Pushing the king and the House of Commons even further apart was the news of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, a serious uprising interpreted in England and Scotland as one part of an international papist plot, with Archbishop Laud as a leading conspirator. Charles reacted by charging leading Parliamentarians with treason. They escaped, but many people at all levels of English society believed that the king had set his mind on absolutism. Charles left London for safety and to organize his Cavalier army. The Parliamentarians, or Roundheads, raised their own. Hostilities began in the fall of 1642.2
Early battles went the way of the royalists, so the Parliamentarians reorganized their army in 1644. This New Model Army would take shape under the principle of a "career open to the talents": the most able soldiers would be promoted to the officer corps. Under the command of Oliver Cromwell, the new army turned the tide of the war the following year and crushed the royalists' military force.
The idea that promotion depended on merit rather than class rank was a revolutionary doctrine in a nation of monarchy and aristocracy, and although Cromwell had never meant the concept to go beyond the army and his immediate military needs, the spread of ideas could not be controlled. The revolutionary premise gained momentum from simultaneous religious and political developments. Censorship ended in 1641, and pamphleteering erupted on an astonishing scale. Radical ideas about a wide distribution of power and the franchise and about religious toleration circulated at unprecedented levels. An array of religious sects sprang to life, zealously challenging clerical control of faith and practice, the imposition of tithes for a state church, and the elaborate system of patronage that allowed the ruling class to select the clergy. Cromwell’s support of freedom of conscience, although it did not extend to Catholicism, furthered the proliferation of religious dissent and the questioning of all types of authority. As the leading historian of the period writes, "The deference and decencies of all social order seemed to be crumbling."3
Radical thought found its epicenter in the New Model Army. The soldiers had witnessed the success of a meritocracy, proving that intelligence and competence were not the exclusive possessions of the landed gentry. In April 1647, as a reaction to arrears in pay, the rank and file chose representatives, called agitators, from each regiment and formed the General Council. Their demands went far beyond military grievances. They wanted what they felt they had fought for. The most radical among them, known as the Levellers, developed a program demanding that the franchise be extended,that parliamentary seats be more equitably distributed, and that "all titles, by Prerogative, Priviledge, Pattent, Succession, Peerage, Birth or otherwise to sit and act in the Assembly of Parliament, contrary to, and without the free choice and Election of the People, be utterly abrogated, nuld and made voide."4 They rejected an established church and its attendant tithes. They argued against the enclosures of the common lands of each town, asking that those lands be "laid open again to the free and common use and benefit of the poore."5
They wanted legal reforms, too—laws written in English and freedom from imprisonment for debt. Their opponents claimed, "They have cast all the mysteries and secrets of government . . . before the vulgar. . . . They have made the people thereby so curious and so arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule." A special meeting of the General Council was held in Putney in November 1647, where famous debates took place that constituted an important moment in the history of democratic theory.
In late 1648, the army moved against Parliament, believed to be too conciliatory toward the king. The members of Parliament allowed to remain voted to try Charles on charges of treason. He was executed in January 1649, and the monarchy and House of Lords were abolished, creating a republic.The Levellers, although not unhappy with the new commonwealth, resented the means (military force and an unrepresentative Parliament) by which it had been achieved and published pamphlets stating their argument. Cromwell saw that they now threatened his power and moved against them. The Leveller leadership, civilian and military, was arrested. When some regiments mutinied, Cromwell ordered their suppression. He and his major generals seized control of the commonwealth and ruled England through the 1650s.
The Leveller movement suffered defeat, but its ideas did not.
With the army and the political structure firmly under his control, Cromwell maintained a policy of toleration toward many religious sects in which radicalism found a new home.Ranters believed that Christ lived in every man, and some carried that idea further to claim they were therefore incapable of sin. Ranters tended to be fond of carousing, but one prominent Ranter, Abiezer Coppe, calling God "that mighty Leveller,’’ argued that the greatest sins lay in ‘‘not letting the oppressed go free, the not healing every yoke and the not dealing of bread to the hungry."7 Another, Lawrence Clarkson, held forth against the state clergy and their tithes: "It is more commendable to take a purse by the highway than compel any of the parish to maintain such that seek their ruin, whose doctrine is poisonable to their consciences."8
A new group that emerged in the early 1650s, the Society of Friends, commonly referred to as the Quakers, attracted many Ranters. Headed by James Nayler, who had served in a radical regiment, this church's theology recognized little authority and no centralized control of religious practice. Their early devotees interrupted Episcopal services, and Nayler was brought before Parliament on charges of blasphemy. John Lilburne, a principal leader of the Levellers, converted to Quakerism in 1656. Quakers would play a leading political role in early North Carolina; their belief system reveals much about that community’s ideals.
That the House of Commons accorded so much of its time to hear Nayler’s case indicates how badly the Quakers frightened the powerful.Just a few years later, Quakers also faced prosecution in Virginia and Massachusetts. What danger did these people pose to English society and to England’s American colonies?A contemporary politician labeled Quakers "all Levellers, against magistracy and property."9 Their speech and dress constituted an affront to secular authority and perhaps even sedition. Quakers understood that language was imbued with layers of meaning that custom had somewhat disguised. The use of the personal pronouns "thee" and "thou" signaled a refusal to recognize class rankings. They would not refer to themselves as "humble servants" or accord anyone else titles of superiority such as "your excellency." They refused to dress to reflect their wealth or lack thereof. Likewise, they refused to participate in social manners of deference, such as tipping one's hat to one's social or economic betters, that only reaffirmed inequality.
Quaker theology went beyond anything previously seen since the breakdown of censorship, for they even posited a leveling of the patriarchal order. The English Revolution had offered women a window of opportunity for involvement in the political sphere.
The social upheaval of the war, coupled with the questioning of all authority that accompanied the overthrow of monarchy, led women into the streets, where they organized, petitioned, and even preached. The more radical the group, the more likely women were to play a public role. One historian who examines the experiences of women in England through the seventeenth century notes that "women were particularly visible within the popular movement which might have established a wider political democracy, among those people 'commonly though unjustly styled Levellers.'"10While the Interregnum saw an outpouring of prophesy, pamphleteering, and preaching by women attached or aligned with many different sects, the Quakers were "the most receptive to the spiritual authority of women." The most thorough and recent study of the early Quakers claims that "there was complete equality as regards the ministry at least in theory, between men and women, and there are no early records of men being preferred to women."11
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658; his son, Richard, took over as head of the commonwealth but could not command the loyalties of his father. The power vacuum led to a reawakening of the sects. Their search for freedom from authority stretched far beyond what the Puritans had setout to do to the monarchy. One historian calls 1659 the summer of the "'Quaker terror.' . . . The saints of the 1640s had been overtaken on the road to the new Jerusalem by the Quakers."12
From 1653 on, England’s upper ranks gradually reunified, as those Roundheads and Cavaliers who had assumed opposing sides during the Civil War on religious grounds now realized that their commonalities in terms of property ownership outweighed their differences. The concept of liberty, of a free Parliament, had sprung far out of their control and, as Lawrence Stone tells us, now constituted "too dangerous a spirit to be allowed abroad. The problem was how to use it in order to transfer control from the King and his personal advisors to men of property, without also sharing this liberty with the middling sort of people."13 George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, and Anthony Ashley Cooper (later known briefly as Lord Ashley and then as the Earl of Shaftesbury) conspired with their old Cavalier enemies, such as Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, to bring back the monarchy and the House of Lords.14 Even the Anglican Church would be reestablished as a safeguard against the spread of meritocracy and the danger that such ideas posed to their property. Charles I had explained, "People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in time of peace."15 These men were to be rewarded for their efforts with more property than they could measure.
Monck, at the head of an army he had purged of both royalists and "fanatics," partnered with Shaftesbury and switched sides. In negotiations with the dead king’s son, Charles, exiled with his close adviser, Hyde, at Breda in Holland, Shaftesbury and Monck asked Charles to sign an agreement protecting land settlements of the commonwealth and guaranteeing some measure of religious toleration. Both Monck and Shaftesbury were pragmatists. No great friends of the Anglican Church, they sought order rather than conformity. Charles signed the deal in April 1660, and he returned to England and the throne a few weeks later. The restored state infrastructure suppressed the radical ideas of the revolution during the 1660s.
America apparently also belonged to the English throne to dispose of as the monarch wished. In 1663, three years after the Restoration, Charles II carved up his portion of the globe to thank his faithful supporters. He issued a charter for the area from the coast of the Carolinas to the Pacific Ocean to eight well-connected "lords proprietor"’: Hyde; Monck; Shaftesbury; William Lord Craven; John Lord Berkeley; his brother, Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia; Sir George Carteret; and Sir John Colleton. Occupied with political events and their estates in England, among these proprietors only William Berkeley had any plans for spending time anywhere near his new endowment, and he imagined that he could control it safely from Jamestown.
The plan was that the immense acreage would serve as a lucrative and potentially perpetual source of income for the lords of colonization. Quitrents from settlers, profit from commodities such as tobacco, and of course gains from the sale of humans and their labor would flow home to the coffers in London. Four of the proprietors belonged to the Royal Adventurers to Africa, and two others already owned or had investments in Caribbean plantations.16
John Locke, Shaftesbury’s close associate and his coauthor of the feudal Fundamental Constitutions, which would be the proprietors' blueprint for governing the new colony, also had investments in the slave trade.17
The lords proprietors laid their plans for Carolina from afar. Ironically, the Crown’s favorites, rewarded for restoring order to the realm, would establish a colony filled with people inspired by the Quakers and Levellers the ruling elite had suppressed. p.12
At first glance, the ideas of the English Revolution appear to have evaporated
from the North Carolina terrain in the eighteenth century. The colony joined America's "Gulag Archipelago" as South Carolinians spread the slave society north, just as they would later expand it south into Georgia.1 "The family," as the Moores became known, intermarried with Chowan clique families and converted wealth into political power. These South Carolinians, already groomed for economic and political dominance over others, claimed vast land holdings in the Cape Fear area and parlayed those estates into seats in the assembly.
The southern slave society’s elites tried to disguise the grotesque brutality of the regime over which they presided. The gorgeous architecture of Charleston, homes filled with the best luxuries Europe had to offer, and sons educated at Eton together constituted a facade covering a system that allowed them to sell other people’s—and occasionally their own—children for money. No system of social control could operate more effectively than the ever-present threat of destroying family bonds.
The planters lived in a world of self-delusion, comforting themselves with the patriarchal idea that the slaves happily served them: ‘‘My Negroes are in more comfortable circumstances than any equal number of Peasantry in Europe, there is not a Beggar among them nor one unprovided with food, raiment & good Lodging, they also enjoy property; the Lash is forbidden; they all understand this declaration as a Substitute —‘If you deserve whipping I shall conclude you don’t love me & will sell you.’ . . . Yet I believe no man gets more work from his Negroes than I do, at the same time they are my Watchmen and my friends; never was an absolute Monarch more happy in his Subjects than at the present time I am.’’2
There was no way to marry absolute monarchy and the republican ideas of Levellers and Quakers. Since the 1640s, these groups had rejected all titles and privileges of birth and refused to defer to any who claimed high social rank. Demanding a wide franchise, they sought to give political access to the common man. But North Carolina’s elite planters combined legal expertise, control of local market networks, and the election machinery to manage the colonial assembly in tandem with the governors. That political domination included running the court system. The slave society completely contradicted every Albemarle principle.
However, North Carolina’s planters could rarely compete with the finery of their southern counterparts, earning the colony the sobriquet ‘‘Poor Carolina’’ from contemporaries and future historians. Private tutors, bnever mind an English education, were much rarer than in South Carolina, while no one displayed Charleston’s powdered wigs or porcelain.3 Neither geography nor climate had limited the growth of planter wealth. Rather, the majority of the people who settled the region continued to resist the plantation complex. Eastern planters could not command the outward signs of deference from less wealthy white farmers, and the colony as a whole remained much less stratified than its neighbors.
North Carolinians never totally lost their leveling spirit, as the Piedmont’s Regulation movement a few generations later testifies. Huge numbers of small farmers moved into the Piedmont in the 1740s and 1750s. Perhaps attracted by the Albemarle tradition, they brought with them a theology of equality in the sight of God. Politically, the backcountry farmers remained underrepresented in the colony as late as the 1770s, but they struggled against the emergent slave society. These farmers objected not because they carried modern liberal ideas about race relations but because a slave society devalued their labor and skills and especially because it meant the concentration of power in the hands of a few. Like the men of Cary’s Rebellion, these small farmers viewed the planter elite as the source of their troubles, blocking their right to participate fully in their own government.
The North Carolina Regulators organized a movement against political corruption in the late 1760s: ‘‘To sum up the whole matter of our petition in a few words it is namely these that we may obtain unprejudiced Jurys, That all extortionate Officers Lawyers and Clerks may be brought to fair Tryals—That the Collectors of publick money may be called to proper settlements of their accounts. . . . If we cannot obtain this that we may have some securities for our properties more than the bare humour of officers, we can see plainly that we shall not be able to live under such oppressions.’’4 The history of the Regulation’s fight for fair and just representative government is told elsewhere, but slaveholders violently repressed any attempt to introduce equality and justice to the political system. The rich planters’ raw military power again crushed a popular egalitarian movement.5
The ideas of the English Revolution survived even the public hanging of the Regulators, emerging again in Mecklenburg County, where citizens told their delegates to the state’s Constitutional Convention in the late 1770s to ‘‘oppose everything that leans to aristocracy or power in the hands of the rich and chief men exercised to the oppression of the poor.’’6 North Carolinians later refused to ratify the new federal constitution with its strengthening of centralized power.
The defeat of the Albemarle settlers in 1713 (and later of the Piedmont Regulators) does not constitute the usual uplifting American story of equality triumphing over hierarchy. A very few ruthless and aggressive men defeated these movements and imposed the plantation complex on the whole state. Yet many North Carolinians—red, white, and black— contested the slave society during the colonial period, recognizing that not only slaves lost. Almost everyone did. Given the barbaric practices of slavery, contemporary Tar Heelers should bear with pride the ‘‘Poor Carolina’’ legacy. However humble its origins, the Albemarle community believed in equality, representative government, and freedom of religion.
These ideas, cherished by George Durant, John Culpeper, and all those very mutinous people, eventually became accepted as the quintessential American values.
CRNC Colonial Records of North Carolina
NCHGR Hathaway, North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register
NCSA North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh
1. Urmston to Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, July 7, 1711, in Saunders, CRNC, 1:768.
2. The historical debate over the causes of the English Civil War has spawned an enormous literature. Some of the most influential works include Hill, Century of Revolution; Stone, Causes of the English Revolution; Russell, Origins of the English Civil War; Aylmer, Rebellion or Revolution; J. C. D. Clark, Revolution and Rebellion; Cressy, England on Edge; Manning, English People and the English Revolution. For a useful historiographical guide, see Richardson, Debate on the English Revolution Revisited.
3. Hill, "A Bourgeois Revolution?," in Three British Revolutions, edited by Pocock, 122; see also Hill, World Turned Upside Down; Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion.
4. Richard Overton, "Some Articles," in Levellers, edited by Aylmer, 83.
5. Richard Overton, "Appeale from the Degenerate Representative Bodyy...to...the Free People...of England," July 1647, in ibid., 87.
6. Hill, World Turned Upside Down, 72.
7. Ibid., 210, 212–13.
8. Ibid., 214.
9. Hill, Experience of Defeat, 126n. Although the Quakers are now most famous for their pacifist principles, pacifism entered Quaker doctrine only after the failed Venner Rising in 1664. Many Quakers resisted this new line preached by George Fox, their leader. Some had already departed to cross the Atlantic, "traveling," as Hill puts it, "to establish the Leveller/Quaker republic in America"
(Experience of Defeat, 160).
10. George, Women in the First Capitalist Society, 53.
11. Mack, Visionary Women, 1; Moore, Light in Their Consciences, 125. See also Fischer, Suspect Relations, 49–52.
12. Hutton, Restoration, 71, 121–22.
13. Lawrence Stone, "The Results of the English Revolutions of the Seventeenth Century," in Three British Revolutions, edited by Pocock, 36. 14. Throughout this volume, I refer to this person as Shaftesbury, although he was known as Anthony Ashley Cooper until 1661, when he became Lord Ashley. In 1672, he acquired the title of Earl of Shaftesbury.
15. Hill, Some Intellectual Consequences, 13.
16. Thomas, Slave Trade, 201; Paschal, "Proprietary North Carolina,’" 74–75; Haley, First Earl, 230.
17. Thomas, Slave Trade, 14.
1. Peter H. Wood, ‘‘Slave Labor Camps in Early America: Overcoming Denial and Discovering the Gulag,’’ in Inequality in Early America, edited by Pestana and Salinger.
2. Henry Laurens quoted in Olwell, Masters, Slaves and Subjects, 192–93.
3. Ekirch, ‘‘Poor Carolina,’’ 38–44.
4. Petition from Orange County Inhabitants, 1770, in Saunders, Colonial Records of North Carolina (CRNC), 8:234.
5. Kars, Breaking Loose Together.
6. Saunders, Colonial Records of North Carolina (CRNC), 10:870.