In 1762, Mecklenburg County was created from Anson County had been brewing in the American Colonies for some time, including the inhabitants of the newly named county. Issues such as taxation without representation, religious persecution, and unfair practices of law by the British were a common stressor in daily life.
In June of 1774 news came to Mecklenburg County that Britain was punishing Boston, Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party of December, 1773 by closing the harbor and imposing punitive laws that many called the “Intolerable Acts”. The harbor was the economic center of Boston, the busiest town in America, and this harshness angered many Americans. A plea went out from the Massachusetts Colony for all other colonies to select delegates to meet in September at a convention called the Continental Congress. Committees of Correspondence were formed in order to share information amongst the separate colonies. In North Carolina, trouble had been brewing for some time. Issues such as taxation without representation, religious persecution, and unfair practices of law by the British were a common stressor in daily life, and the colony was quick to lend support.
The British Governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, refused to call a meeting of the North Carolina Assembly until after September, when the newly formed Continental Congress was to meet. In July 1774, John Harvey, the Speaker of the Colonial Assembly, distributed handbills and urged people to elect delegates to attend the First Provincial Congress, held in New Bern on August 25, 1774. This act was in direct disobedience to British Authority. Governor Martin sent out letters forbidding the convention and called for military force in order to stop it. The convention went ahead as planned however, becoming the first popular assembly in America to assemble without the consent of the Governor.
Although still the Speaker of the Colonial Assembly, John Harvey was soon named the president of the North Carolina Provincial Congress. Among many issues considered, the congress approved the forming of a Continental Congress in Philadelphia and also approved a trade boycott to protest the British actions in New England. They chose as delegates William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and Richard Caswell. These men were to represent North Carolina at the Continental Congress to be held in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774.
In addition to the Committees of Correspondence were the Committees of Observation and the Committees of Safety. With the British Government’s authority deteriorating in the colonies, these committees soon took on the role of revolutionary courts, exposing those loyal to the British Crown, managing the economy within their community, and forming / managing the local Militia loyal to the colony. Family tradition tells that Rural Hill’s John Davidson, already a Justice of the Peace, was appointed to the Committee of Safety in Mecklenburg County. Unfortunately, no records have been found to prove this tradition, although it is certainly plausible. We do know that by this time John Davidson had become a Major in the Hopewell District of the Mecklenburg County Militia.
On May 19, 1775, Col. Thomas Polk called to order the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety. Two men from each militia company were selected to attend. Major John Davidson and John McKnitt Alexander were the representatives of the Hopewell District. The news of the April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord had just arrived that day and tensions were high. Five resolutions were drawn, stating generally; that Great Britain had violated the rights and liberties of its own people, that political loyalty to the crown had been dissolved completely, and that the people of Mecklenburg County declared themselves to be free and independent of any and all British rule. The following day, May 20, 1775, the document was signed by all the delegates, including Rural Hill’s Major John Davidson, and was read from the courthouse steps to a large gathering of Mecklenburgers. The original document has never surfaced and was believed to be lost in a fire in 1800. In 1819 the “Mecklenburg County Declaration of Independence” was published by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander in the Raleigh Register and North Carolina Gazette. Dr. Alexander said that his father had been a clerk at the meeting and had left him a copy of the document prior to his death.
Whether the document was a true declaration of independence may be up for debate, that it was a precursor to the May 31, 1775 Mecklenburg Resolves is widely regarded as fact. The Resolves generally stated that all British laws were null and void and that the colonies would answer only to the newly formed Continental Congress in Philadelphia, but did not officially declare independence, as it left open the possibility of reconciliation. Captain James Jack (an uncle of Violet Wilson Davidson, Major John Davidson’s wife) is reported to have carried the Resolves (and possibly the Declaration) to the North Carolina delegation meeting at the Continental Congress. The delegates declined to present the document(s) to Congress as a whole, fearing that they were drawn up as a potentially premature reaction to learning of the British attacks at Lexington and Concord.
Despite the controversy of whether or not the Mecklenburg County Declaration of Independence existed, the early government of North Carolina adopted the date, claiming that North Carolinians were the first Americans to declare independence from foreign rule. The date May 20, 1775, sits atop both the state flag and state seal. Historic Rural Hill is proud to continue to share the history of this important moment in time and Major John Davidson’s role within it.