A document reader compiled by students in
History 432 and 332: The Era of the American Revolution
Western Carolina University
Click the links highlighted in yellow below to explore primary documents on any of the following topics.
The Great Awakening was a religious revival that swept through the colonies in the mid-eighteenth century. Participants in this moment of revival were marked by a sense of rebellion against religious authority and an embrace of spiritual individualism. Although the Great Awakening had an important impact on the emergence of revolutionary thinking, the issue of slavery complicated such ideas in the southern colonies. To view documents on the Great Awakening in the Carolinas and the South, click here.
The Regulator movement began in 1766 and consisted of mainly farmers from across the North Carolina piedmont. The Regulators protested corruption in government, particularly that of Governor William Tryon. The movement ended in 1771 with a climactic battle when Tryon marched the colonial militia to Hillsborough and successfully quelled the rebellion. The movement, in many ways, inspired the actions of the patriots fighting the Revolution a few years later. Click here to see documents.
After the British passed the Stamp Act in 1765, North Carolina colonists mounted protests against the measure. They organized resistance against the stamp tax and targeted stamp collectors. Click here to view documents on the Stamp Act protests in North Carolina.
Throughout revolutionary North America, port cities played an especially significant role in the escalation of imperial tensions. As the British Empire sought to crack down on illegal trade in the American colonies, the passage of goods in and out of coastal port cities came under intense scrutiny. The bustling ports in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina like Brunswick and Wilmington quickly became politically charged. To read more about port cities in revolutionary North Carolina, click here.
In response to the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, radicals throughout the American colonies organized in resistance. In North Carolina, planters, small farmers, and merchants from both rural and urban areas organized, formed mobs, and rioted in protest to both the Stamp Act and the actions of Governor Tryon. To view documents about the Sons of Liberty in North Carolina, click here.
In order to effectively communicate between colonies and rally neighboring colonies to actively participate in the revolution, all thirteen colonies created Committees of Correspondence, which were committees who wrote letters to each other discussing British opposition and the unification of the colonies. The idea was proposed in the Virginia House of Burgesses in March of 1773, in which the House decided each colony should each have a committee for intercolonial correspondence. These committees were vital to the unification of colonies and the revolution as a whole. To read documents regarding the operations of the Committees of Correspondence in NC, click here.
William Tryon was the royal governor of North Carolina between 1765-1771. He was known for extravagant spending, and particularly for passing unpopular taxes to support the building of the governor’s mansion. He was also in power during the Regulator movement and sent the militia to defeat the uprising in the Battle of Alamance. To read more about Governor Tryon, click here.
A month after shots were fired in Lexington and Concord in 1775, the Committee on Safety of Mecklenburg County, NC drafted and adopted this set of resolves to suspend the authority of the King and Parliament within the colony. They did not advocate for independence, though these resolves are often incorrectly mistaken for so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which is not a real thing. To read documents on the Mecklenburg Resolves, click here.
The documents in this section are from various sources and delegates from North Carolina to the Continental Congress. They present an intricate look into the actions of the congress, dealings of the delegates, and their decisions for which the Congress acted. To view documents regarding the North Carolina delegation to the Continental Congress, click here.
Trying to keep the Continental army going was a struggle. With a lack of supplies and the hardship of motivating the soldiers to keep going, the revolution could have faltered. The Continental Congress did not provide enough funds to supply the standing army. Payment for services was important to many who enlisted in the Continental Army. Soldiers struggled with hunger, disease, cold, and a lack of basic supplies. To read more about the Continental Army in North Carolina, click here.
Throughout revolutionary America, local militias were essential to the military needs of the patriot cause, yet also a constant source of frustration. George Washington and his generals depended on militia support, yet constantly complained of their inadequacy as soldiers and their tendency toward insubordination. In North Carolina, and in particular western North Carolina, militia volunteers had a reputation for ungovernability and renegade violence. To view documents about the militia, click here.
The loyalists– or Tories– were a group of American men and women who chose to support the British Crown during the Revolution. Persecuted throughout the war, the loyalists were branded traitors to the American cause, and by war’s end had not only lost their place in American society but their place in history as well. To see documents about Loyalists in North Carolina (and beyond) click here.
The American Revolution unleashed considerable violence in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Cherokee towns as native people endeavored to repeal the encroachment by white settler from western Virginia and North and South Carolina onto their land. The Middle Cherokee in western North Carolina suffered particularly devastating defeats as patriot militias engaged in scorched-earth tactics against homes and villages. To read documents about the Cherokee Indians of western North Carolina, click here.
The Rutherford Expedition was a military offensive plan to eliminate the Cherokee. The Cherokee were allied with the British, so the North Carolina militia decided that the Cherokee needed to be taken out during the Revolutionary war since they had attacked white settlements in 1776. General Griffith Rutherford led this expedition and his men destroyed Cherokee villages in their conquest from July of 1776 to the end of 1776 in the Western North Carolina Mountains. To read more about the Rutherford Campaign, click here.
The Battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge proved a major loss for the British forces early on in the war. The British goal in the invasion of North Carolina was to link up with Scottish Loyalist and March from the coast to the mountains with the support of thousands of these loyalists. On February 27, 1776, The British Regulars met up with the Continental Army at Moore’s Creek less than 20 miles from Wilmington. After the patriots defeated the British and allied southerners, the English experienced considerable difficulty recruiting loyalists to their cause. To view documents on the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, click here.
The Battle of Charlotte occurred on September 26, 1780. This was a battle between the British troops of Lord Cornwallis versus a force of North Carolina Patriots. The Patriot forces were highly outnumbered during this fight while under Col. William R. Davie. These Patriot troops were supposed to delay Cornwallis at Charlotte. This battle was represented part of the North Carolina campaign that the British turned to after they took South Carolina and Georgia. There, they relied of Loyalist support. In North Carolina, they met with considerably more resistance. To read documents about the Battle of Charlotte, click here.
The Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 was a pivotal victory for the Patriot militia in western North Carolina. It was, in many ways, a turning point for the Americans who had suffered a string of defeats by the British throughout the South. The Patriot militias killed British Major Patrick Ferguson and unleashed particular brutality on the Loyalist militia after their surrender. For more on the Battle of King’s Mountain, click here.
The Battle of Cowan’s Ford was a small encounter in part of the larger effort on the part of the patriot army to stop the advances of the British campaign through the South. It took place on February 1, 1781 along the Catawba River in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. During the encounter, a small American force tried to slow the advance of a comparatively larger British Army under the command of General Cornwallis. To read about Cowan’s Ford, click here.
The Battle at Guilford Courthouse in now Greensboro, North Carolina, was fought in 1781. During this battle the Continental Army was led by a native Rhode Islander, General Nathanael Greene. The British Army was led by General Charles Cornwallis. The battle began on March 5th and soon led to the surrender of the British Army in Yorktown. Previously, the British Army was taking great successes in battle until arriving at Guilford Courthouse. After losing over 25% of their men fighting this battle, the British Army retreated giving the Continental Army a much needed confidential boost to finish the Revolutionary War. To read documents, click here.
On December 18, 1776, the North Carolina Fifth Provincial Congress adopted a Constitution declaring the state’s first permanent form of government independent from England. The Constitution is divided into two parts. The first part consists of the Declaration of Rights listing twenty five principles, including the right to popular sovereignty and the right to due process. The second part of the Constitution, the Form of Government, outlined the three branches of North Carolina state government. The legislative branch, called the General Assembly, was divided into the Senate and the House of Commons with annual popular elections for each of the Representatives. The two house system, where laws must pass both to be in effect, created a system of checks on the passage of laws in the state. The executive branch, consisting of the Governor elected by the General Assembly, was “for the time being” in charge of the military, could petition for money, and could lay embargoes. The judicial branch consisted of the Supreme Court of Law and Equity, Admiralty courts, and the Attorney-General, which were elected and constructed by the General Assembly. By giving the election decision for the Supreme Court justices and the governor, the Form of Government gave the General Assembly the most power in the North Carolina State government. To read more about North Carolina’s first state constitution, click here.
The American Revolution highlighted the tensions between liberty and slavery and nowhere was this clearer than in the South. Many enslaved people understood the revolution as an opportunity to fight for their own liberty. To view documents on the experiences of slavery in North Carolina and the South, click here.
The Edenton Tea Party was a political protest staged by fifty-one women from Edenton, North Carolina in response to the Tea Act of 1773 and Intolerable Acts of 1774, passed by the British Parliament. The women, led by Penelope Barker, signed a document declaring their intention to participate in the Non-Importation policies suggested by the Continental Congress. Though colonial political resistance was common in the 1770’s, organized women’s movements that stood alone were not. The Edenton was praised in the colonies, but ridiculed and satirized in the British press. The women of colonial Edenton challenged the traditional patriarchal boundaries of eighteenth-century western society. The Edenton Tea Party was one of the earliest organized political actions in American history. To read more, click here.