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CHAPTER XIV.

GOVERNOR WILLIAM TRYON.

"THE STAMP ACT.”

GOVERNOR DOBBS died in March, 1765. His successor was Colonel William Tryon, a soldier by profession, a man of ability and of polished adress. He was, however, haughty and unfeeling in temper, fond of show and of absolute power. His wife and her sister, Miss Esther Wake, were relatives of the earl of Hillsboro, and were ladies who knew well how to exert influence in society and gain serviceable friends. They were handsome and accomplished, and soon gathered a little court around them at New Bern, where they fixed their residence.

One of Governor Tryon's first acts was to repeal the law which forbade any other minister than an Episcopalian to perform the mårriage ceremony. He gave permission to Presbyterian ministers to act. This of course gave great satisfaction to the Presbyterian communities and was a good beginning

It seems wonderful that the people for one hundred years had submitted to this law so quietly. It must have been that Episcopal ministers were very few and scattered, and, as a justice of the peace could always be had, religious feeling had been but little considered in their weddings. People often married, as the Quakers did, with no religious form at all, and found it answered just as well.

Tryon found the State heavily in debt from the expenses of the Indian wars. The legislature was fresh from its quarrels with Governor Dobbs, and the whole country was excited by a law recently made by the government in England which was very odious to their colonies over here. This was the famous “Stamp Act," which led directly to the great war for American Independence called “the Revolution.”

The king of England (or rather of Great Britain) and his government were very much in want of money. They had just come through a long and costly war with the French nation, and, though they had conquered and were masters of nearly all the French possessions in America, still they were exhausted and in debt; and as the war had been undertaken to defend the American colonies from the French and Indians, they thought that the Americans ought to help pay for it.

This was only fair, and if the British government had asked for help in a different way, the justice of it would have been acknowledged.

When a government needs extra supplies of money, it usually lays an additional tax on the people. The price of something that they cannot do without is raised, and they pay the increased cost without grumbling if they see that it is just.

In England itself and in every free state it is the representatives of the people elected by them to their legislatures who have the power to fix these taxes. They are supposed to know what the people do or do not wish. It is an important power, always jealously guarded in a free country, and always respected by the English people themselves.

But now their king and his council—or“ ministry,” as they were called—did not let the State legislatures of America have any word in this matter. They demanded the tax in their own way, showing a great contempt of the different State governments.

No doubt they did feel a contempt of these young and growing colonies, and were pleased to have an opportunity to show them how subject they were to the king, and how easily, if he chose, he could override them.

Paper is something that all classes must use, even if they never write anything themselves. Business in law and trade requires a great deal of it. The British government made a law that every bit of paper used in bonds, notes, and deeds, and every law document, should have a certain stamp on it and should be sold at a high price. This law also taxed other necessaries, but it was that on paper which was most odious. It was not the amount of the tax so much, though that was unwelcome enough, as the fact that the American legislatures were not allowed to vote upon it, as was their right. They were not consulted in any way.

This was very galling, and every State in America rose up in protest against it.

Just about this time in North Carolina it seemed as if all the land-agents and law-officers, the sheriffs and constables, and the justices of the peace, were doing all they could to irritate the common people by every kind of odious treatment. The clerks of the court demanded unlawful and heavy fees continually for every service. Five or six dollars was the common price of a marriage license, and some of them demanded fifteen dollars.

In that part of Orange county where now is the pretty village of Chapel Hill and the University of the State, there was then only a small chapel of the Episcopal Church by the side of the road leading from Petersburg, Va., to Pittsboro in Chatham. The sheriff was going over the county, with his deputies, distraining and selling the property of every man who did not instantly pay the amount of tax demanded.

He came to the cabin of a poor man not far from the chapel on the hill, who was not at home. Not finding anything, or enough of anything, among his poor possessions to satisfy the demand, the sheriff made the man's wife take off her homespun dress, which she had spun and woven and made herself, and sold it “under the hammer for the tax, and then, giving her a slap in the face, told her to go and make another.

When such things, and even worse, were done in the name of the law, is it any wonder that the people hated the law and its officers ?

A good governor would have made it his business to put a stop to all this oppression and show the people that he meant to be their friend. But Tryon was of too high and haughty a spirit for that.

When all the States sent delegates to a general congress held at Philadelphia to protest against, and consult what they should do about, the “Stamp Act,” Tryon prevented our legislature from sending a delegate, so that our State could not be represented there.

The people, however, had public meetings and expressed their indignation very plainly, and when an English ship arrived in the Cape Fear with stamps and stamped paper, the militia of the counties round Wilmington, with John Ashe and Hugh Waddell at their head, marched to the town of Brunswick and let the captain of the ship know that the stamped paper should not be landed.

1766. They set a watch on the vessel, and carried off one of its boats and paraded with it, placed on a cart and with flags flying, through the streets of Wilmington. The town was illuminated that night in honor of this exploit, and next day a crowd seized the stampmaster, who was at Tryon's house, and made him take oath before the mayor that he would have nothing to do with the stamps.

The English ship had to sail away, and Governor Tryon thought he had better try to conciliate these irritated people; so he invited the militia to a grand barbecue, where he had an ox roasted whole and barrels of beer and wine and many good things provided.

The people assembled, but, instead of sitting down comfortably to dinner and making friends with the governor, they seized his roast beef and all his provisions and threw them into the river, and poured out all his liquors on the ground.

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