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Historical Publications Section
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North
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Last Updated 05/21/01


Government


The Constable in Colonial North Carolina

Alan D. Watson

[Vol. 68 (1991), 1-16]

“A poor Constable’s petition to the … Legislature of North Carolina for an additional fee...”
Pray listen to me, for I ought to be heard,
I’m a useful, quite useful, “limb of the law;”
You’ve made me and clothed me with powers absurd,
Since ye’ve made no provision for my back nor my jaw[.]
I’ve follow’d the business some few wretched years,
And found to my sorrow that it’s only conducive
To drunkenness, poverty, misery and tears[.]
I have to encounter most horrible perils,
I’ve three times beheld the grim jaws of death:
Knives, guns and pistols, and sticks with large ferrules,
Doth threaten full often to rifle my breath.
Pokers, pan handles, and hot boiling water,
Too often oppose me in hostile array;
And torrents of curses fall thick from each quarter,
Down on my poor head, by night and by day.
Ye allow the high Sheriff such fees and commissions,
As quickly enables him a Nabob to be;
I therefore beseech ye, in your acts and provisions,
To enact and provide me a Sheriff-like fee.

A poor Limb of the Law

North Carolina Free Press (Tarboro), January 1, 1833

WHEN HISTORIANS OF the 1950s and 1960s began an exploration of the nature of “mobs” and “crowd” activity in the Revolutionary era, they were drawn to comparisons of popular disturbances in America and Europe. Colonial demonstrations, though similar in composition and purpose, proved relatively less violent than their European counterparts. In a perceptive essay, Gordon S. Wood suggested that the paradox might be explained by the lack of institutional-authoritative restraints faced by the Americans. Able to achieve their goals with little or no opposition, American mobs were not as readily provoked to violence and thus appeared more moderate than those in Europe.1

Subsequently Donna J. Spindel successfully applied Wood’s observation to the Stamp Act crisis in North Carolina. Examining the elements of the colonial law enforcement system—constable, sheriff, justice of the peace, and militia—Spindel concluded that the peace-keeping mechanism worked satisfactorily until the emergence of widespread opposition to government, for example in the case of anti-British sentiment in the Revolutionary era. At that juncture the system collapsed, largely because local officials either sympathized with, cooperated with, or participated in the mob scenes designed to negate the impact of the odious Parliamentary legislation.2

Among those local officials was the lowly constable, who occupied the bottom rung of the peace-keeping ladder in the colony. The constabulary office appeared early in the province of Carolina, more specifically in the northeastern region of current North Carolina then called Albemarle. Its origins may be traced to England, where the institution had a long, if not altogether distinguished, history. But the nature of the office was doubtless influenced by precedents established in Virginia, from which so many seventeenth-century North Carolinians came. However, the legal system of seventeenth-century Virginia in turn owed much to the English example, dependent as it was upon a large corpus of printed works detailing the procedural aspects of English law and describing the functions of law enforcement officials.3

The Fundamental Constitutions of 1669, the blueprint by which the Lords Proprietors of Carolina hoped to settle and govern their province, formally created the office of constable and directed the appointment of six such officials for each of the precincts into which Carolina was to be divided. Although the Fundamental Constitutions subsequently lapsed into desuetude, the framework of local government remained, patterned broadly upon that of the mother country. Extant precinct (later county) and provincial records reveal a constabulary that served local courts as well as assisted the General Court of the colony, though scattered references suggest that early courts appointed only two constables per precinct.4

The constable in North Carolina remained a shadowy figure, however, until 1715, when the office was defined by legislation that helped to comprise the revisal of the laws of the colony. That statute and another in 1741 invested constables with the “same Power and Authority” as that possessed by constables in England. In 1765 newly commissioned royal governor William Tryon, describing North Carolina to his superiors, wrote, “the Constables to every Purpose are of the same Nature as those in England.” And James Davis’s The Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, published in the colony in 1774, drew principally upon English legal treatises and common law to describe the office of constable in North Carolina.5

In fact, the constabulary in North Carolina resembled the office of petty constable in the mother country, though in the colony it lacked the “almost infinite variations of methods [found] in [the] shires and hundreds and parishes” of England that emanated from centuries of “custom and practice.”6 Fundamentally distinguishing the English petty constable from his colonial counterpart was the former’s role as a spokesman for his village. In the hierarchical schema of English polity and society, the petty constable served as an intermediary between local inhabitants and politico-judicial authority. In North Carolina, however, local justices of the peace and sheriffs stayed more closely attuned to the people, obviating a mediatory role for the colonial constable.

Also distinguishing the constabulary in England from that in America was the responsibility of the former to present “delinquencies” of law enforcement to the quarterly courts and courts of assizes. Both high and petty constables in the mother country, legally bound to bring offenders against the law to justice, offered in writing to the courts indictments of a general nature that might not be prosecuted by individuals: “public nuisances” such as roads in disrepair and “natural nuisances” such as blasphemy and drunkenness. Constables made their presentments either individually or as a “constable’s court.” By contrast, in colonial America the responsibility for such presentments usually fell to the provincial or county grand jury.7

Although in England the high sheriff once appointed constables, by the time of the English settlement of America justices of the county courts had assumed that responsibility in the mother country. The practice extended to the colonies. North Carolina legislation directed county magistrates during the first quarterly session of court each year to appoint as many constables as they deemed necessary. Upon the death or removal of a constable from his district, two justices (after 1741, a single magistrate) could appoint a replacement to serve until the meeting of the next court.8

Constables might appoint deputies but were accountable for their substitutes conduct unless the deputies were admitted to office by the county court and duly sworn before a justice of the peace. In practice, the use of deputies was rare but not unknown. New Hanover County agreed to allow Malatiah Hamilton to serve for Robert McCracken in Wilmington, and the Hyde County court discharged Timothy Allen, who had hired a substitute. Benjamin Phillips, denominated a deputy constable in Orange, was properly installed in office, as evidenced by the fact that county justices later held him responsible for failing to execute a warrant.9

Provincial legislation required appointees to qualify for office within ten days by taking a prescribed oath before a justice of the peace. Rarely did the county courts stipulate a time for qualification, however, for given the difficulties of transportation and communication, ten days might have proven onerous.10 Carteret County justices often directed an appointee to qualify before a designated magistrate, but most counties simply ordered the constable nominee “to repair to some justice.” A reversal of that process occurred in Rowan County, the site of the Moravian settlement of Wachovia, where justices frequently sent one of their number to the German towns to qualify constables.11

The number of constables annually appointed by a county court varied widely, doubtless bearing some correlation to the number of residents and the geographic extent of the county. Coastal counties, long settled and often subdivided, required fewer constables than the more recently created, densely populated, and larger western counties. Among the former, for example in New Hanover, Onslow, Hyde, Chowan, and Carteret counties, from five to nine constables sufficed between 1766 and 1775. Along the western frontier in open-ended counties filled by the massive immigration of Germans and Scotch-Irish after the mid-eighteenth century, the number of constables ranged as high as twenty in Orange (1765), thirty-six in Rowan (1774), and eighteen in Tryon (1769).12

The towns and villages of the colony were always beneficiaries of constabulary protection. County courts deemed one constable sufficient for villages such as Beaufort (twelve houses in 1765) and Brunswick Town (twenty families in 1754).13 The three most populous urban areas in North Carolina—Edenton, Wilmington, and New Bern—merited two or more constables. In 1757 the Chowan court appointed John Ross and John Vann for Edenton. Extant minutes of the New Hanover County court reveal John Tilton and William Bell serving Wilmington two years later. And by 1768 the Craven court appointed three, perhaps four, constables for New Bern.14

Provincial statute required constables to serve one-year terms, exempting them from such service for five years thereafter unless they voluntarily agreed to continue in office. The often haphazard nature of the appointment process by county magistrates and the lack of “Constables Books,” known to have existed at least for Cumberland County and presumably containing constabulary appointments, preclude a rigorous analysis of appointment practices.15 County appointment policies apparently varied widely, however.

Many counties, exemplified by Onslow, seemed to prefer one-year constabulary assignments. Four fifths of the 126 men known to have served in Onslow between 1734 and 1737 and from 1741 through 1775 probably remained in office no more than a year. Eighteen of the twenty-five who continued longer served two terms. In Rowan, only thirty-nine of 426 identifiable constables appointed between 1756 and 1775 remained in office longer than one year, and most of those thirty-nine were relieved after two years’ tenure.16

Conversely, other counties opted for more extended service. Between 1758 and 1775, Edgecombe justices kept half of their eighty-eight constables in office for two or more terms. Many served three to seven years; John Shepherd and John Murphy served ten and eleven years respectively. Nineteen of eighty-six identifiable Chowan County constables served at least two terms, and that county seemed more prone than others to leave the decision to remain in office to the incumbents. Rather than arbitrarily replacing constables, the Chowan justices often waited for them to resign. A variation of the usual policy found departing constables in New Hanover County occasionally recommending their successors, but the county justices rarely acceded to their wishes, unlike in Virginia, where outgoing constables often successfully proposed their replacements.17

Although constabulary service was a civic obligation, the General Assembly lightened the burden in 1741 by exempting constables from all provincial, county, and parish taxes during their appointed terms.18 The 1741 statute also excused constables from mandatory work on the public roads, a service required of male taxables. By law road overseers might call upon the taxables under their charge for as many as twelve days’ labor annually, though in practice the time probably varied from five to ten days.19 And legislation in 1764 excused constables from militia musters. Thus constables avoided time-consuming public responsibilities that effectively doubled as forms of taxation.20

An assessment of the benefit of the exemptions from taxes, road work, and musters might proceed from the investigation of historians M. L. M. Kay and William S. Price, Jr. They contend that work taxes constituted approximately 50 percent of the total tax burden in North Carolina between 1755 and 1771; fees, some 23.5 percent; provincial and local poll taxes, 20.3 percent; and duties and minor impositions, the remainder.21 In effect, constables escaped the payment of 70 percent of their annual taxes, a figure that was all the more significant in light of North Carolina’s comparatively demanding tax burden vis-à-vis other colonies and the mother country, as well as the colony’s thoroughly regressive tax system.22

Constabulary fees also helped to cushion the demands of the position, though (according to “A poor Limb of the Law”) they may not have been commensurate with the attendant risks and responsibilities. A fee schedule in 1715, perhaps the first for the colony, provided compensation for executing summons and warrants.23 By the end of the colonial era, a constable received seven pence per juror in summoning a jury of inquest, one shilling per witness in summoning evidences for a trial, and two shillings eight pence for each warrant, execution, and attachment served. Occasionally the county courts rewarded constables with additional compensation for extraordinary services.24 While the constables’ fees paled by comparison with those of the sheriff, county clerk, and county register, such compensation in conjunction with tax relief ameliorated the financial burden imposed by the office.

Despite the inducement to service, not all persons designated by the courts accepted their appointments. Most of the recalcitrant came to court, paid their fines of two pounds five shillings, and were dismissed.25 Perhaps the fees and tax incentive were insufficient, given the rigors of the job, the time spent away from one’s occupation, and sometimes the requisite but unneighborly intrusion into the lives of others who might resent, however lawful, the demands of the commonweal represented by the constable.26

English common law required constables to meet three basic qualifications: integrity; knowledge of office; and “Ability, as well as in Substance, or Estate, as in Body; to execute his Office....” The last referred not only to the physical capacity to withstand the rigors of travel and confrontations with lawbreakers but also to an economic independence that (ideally) rendered constables immune to bribery. Additionally, constables had to reside in the district for which they were chosen. In practice, a further requirement was literacy. When Joseph Lloyd of Onslow County objected to his appointment in 1765 by contending that he was unable to write, the court dismissed him.27

Integrity, knowledge, ability, and literacy notwithstanding, the constabulary seemed to devolve upon the middle order of society. The compensation and very nature of the position—menial tasks and dealing with the roughest elements of society—would have alienated the elite, who sought more prestigious and rewarding positions. Not surprisingly, civil and military officers, members of the General Assembly (past and current), clergymen, physicians, lawyers, and those “exempt by the laws of England” were excused from constabulary service.28 In essence constables were drawn from the farmers, ferry keepers, tavern keepers, and artisans of the day.

That policy may have served a very useful purpose, however; for, as Alan Williams has shown in Virginia, the appointment of small farmers to such positions as road overseer, deputy law official, processioner, and juryman broadened popular participation in government and helped to mute opposition to the ruling gentry.29

Occasionally the constabulary proved to be a springboard to advancement in the local sociopolitical hierarchy. George Parker of New Hanover County yielded his post in 1766 when he was named a justice of the peace. In Onslow, Constables William Williams, Mathew Whitfield, Enoch Ward, and Moses Fox later became magistrates, with Ward also serving as sheriff. However, of extant court minutes other than Onslow, only those of Tryon County, formed from Mecklenburg in 1768 and bordering South Carolina, reveal a significant number of constables rising to the office of magistrate, perhaps as a result of the unsettled state of local affairs in that area. Between 1770 and 1773 at least five constables were elevated to the magistracy in Tryon County.30

In his role as a law enforcement officer the responsibility of the constable was essentially threefold: to prevent a breach of the peace; to quiet those engaged in a breach of the peace; and to punish those who broke the peace. At times it was a dangerous job, not meant for the meek or frail. Venturing to keep the peace might easily jeopardize one’s safety, as a Granville County constable discovered when intervening in a drunken brawl. The revelers proceeded to bind the constable by his “neck & heels” and to smear human excrement upon his face. Discretion was often the best course, and even justices of the peace stood aside when antagonists seemed determined to fight.31

Taverns, exceedingly popular and numerous in North Carolina, were often scenes of roisterous behavior that occasioned calls for constables. At the inns of Bethabara and Salem in Wachovia, where a great many visitors were fed and lodged by the Moravians, violence frequently erupted. After one man had stayed several days in the Bethabara tavern, conducting himself rudely and refusing to leave, a constable “providentially” appeared and threatened to arrest the stranger as a vagabond, “whereupon the man suddenly took to his heels.” In another instance, several persons ‘behaved themselves very insolently” in the tavern and openly bragged about it. A constable was called to take the “actors” before a justice of the peace “in order that their freedom may be somewhat restrained by the Law.”32

More than tavern scuffles and insolent behavior engaged the attention of constables. With sheriffs, they sought suspected felons, robbers, and murderers, moving beyond their districts in search of lawbreakers. Two Orange County constables appeared in neighboring Rowan County in the fall of 1755, looking for highwaymen who had bound and robbed a woman. Not the least of the crimes in North Carolina for which constables had to be wary was counterfeiting, a nefarious and almost ubiquitous activity that threatened the integrity of the monetary system. Constable Hardy Cane of Edgecombe County, acting on a warrant issued by a magistrate, apprehended one Richard Braswell, a suspected counterfeiter, and seized a barrel containing molds, metal, and other ingredients needed for reproducing coins that he found in Braswell’s house.33

County magistrates demanded the presence of constables at the quarterly meetings of the courts in order to maintain decorum among the sometimes unruly crowds that gathered, or, in the words of the Orange County court, “to keep the lawyers Bar and clerks table clear of all persons who have no business.” Constables also delivered warrants, assisted the grand and petit juries, and in general served the needs of the justices on the bench.34 Rowan magistrates required all constables to appear on the first day of each quarterly session of court, from which number the justices usually selected four to remain for the duration of the term. Chowan required the presence of two constables at each court. Tyrrell and Cumberland each utilized two per quarterly session, rotating them so that no constable would have to serve more than once a year. Orange justices instructed the county sheriff in December, 1753, to summon three constables to the next court, a number that rose steadily until it reached eight by 1761—an increase reflecting a rapidly rising population and consequent court business.35

The county courts spent much time and effort appointing, fining, and often excusing absentee constables. At the opening of their October, 1756, term, Onslow justices called for constables and none appeared. In Rowan, twelve failed to answer in July, 1765; seventeen in February, 1769. The Craven court fined John Vendricks, Jr., Nathaniel Fipps, and John Riggs for contempt in failing to attend to court and accused them of encouraging other constables to do the same but later remitted their fines. On the other hand, the New Hanover justices fined Thomas Nixon for nonappearance and replaced him as constable. The same fate befell John Roberts and James Sanders in Carteret County.36

The amounts of the fines levied on absentee constables varied greatly within and among the counties. Cumberland imposed penalties that ranged from five to twenty shillings. Craven fines, varying from five and ten shillings to one to five pounds, likewise showed no uniformity. Almost any reasonable excuse sufficed to gain a remission of the fine. The experience of the Chowan magistrates in July, 1753, evidenced the diversity of situations with which the court had to deal: Thomas Ward and Charles Roberts, discharged on paying fees; Lewis Bond, charge abated by his death; Demsey Welch, James Parker, and Thomas Ward, fines reduced to one shilling and discharged upon paying costs; John Ross, “mistake” and charge dropped; William Vann, fine executed. Collection from Vann proved difficult, for his case was continued for more than two years without successful prosecution.37

The constabulary was an administrative as well as a law enforcement agency. Constables formed a critical cog in the tax collection process in the colony. They identified and listed taxables or tithables, who were then assessed a capitation or poll tax, the principal levy in the colony for provincial, county, parish, and municipal revenues. Legislation in the revisal of 1715 and later laws directed constables annually (at specified times) to canvass each house within their districts to ascertain the number of taxables and to warn each head of household to list his or her taxables with the appropriate county officials. Constables returned their tax lists to the precinct treasurers, later to the precinct clerks, and then to the justices of the peace in their respective counties. Thus the constable’s list might be cross-checked with the treasurer’s (clerk’s, justice’s) list in an effort to ferret out concealed taxables and to prevent constables from charitably overlooking taxables.38

The constable’s other administrative duties were as varied as the demands made upon the county magistrates. Constables brought or summoned parents to bring orphans or illegitimate children to court for apprenticeship, sold estates at public auction, collected fines from defaulters on road work, and called road overseers to court to settle their accounts. Constables also returned deserting soldiers to their regiments and runaway slaves to their masters or to jail.39

If Wilmington was exemplary, constabulary duties in urban areas mainly entailed notifying heads of families to send their male taxables to work on the streets and bridges of the towns and levying warrants of distress on the property of those who failed to obey the summons.40 Distress netted considerable amounts of money, which proved too much of a temptation for some. In 1751 the Wilmington town constable absconded “without making any sum.” Two years later Constable Benjamin Berrimon ran off with seven pounds twelve shillings in fines collected from those who had defaulted on their street obligations.41

Additional demands upon the Wilmington constables included collecting taxes, policing the commercial activity of slaves, and maintaining an orderly atmosphere on Sundays for those who attended church.42 Controlling the slaves, who probably comprised half or more of the town’s population and dominated the local markets, usually proved ineffective, despite the best efforts of the town commissioners and the construction in 1767 of a cage in which to incarcerate offenders. Perhaps the officials were simply lax, for the Wilmington constables occasionally were reprimanded for failing to walk the streets on Sundays.43

County constables found that serving warrants and other instruments of process issuing from the courts sometimes proved dangerous, as “A poor Limb of the Law” averred. When Constable John McGuire attempted to present Thomas Evans with a warrant for assault, Evans, with pistol in hand, swore that he would shoot the constable if McGuire did not leave his house forthwith. One Sam Moore, upon meeting Constable Joseph Phelps, whom Moore thought had a warrant for his arrest, shot at Phelps, but the ball passed through the constable’s clothing, leaving Phelps unhurt. Subsequently Phelps and three other men arrested Moore, bound him, and took him to jail.44

While provincial statute and English common law required citizenry to aid a constable if assistance was sought, constables such as Phelps could not depend upon support. Constable James Williamson of Edgecombe charged three men with refusing to help convey a prisoner to jail. Four men in Rowan declined to seek the notorious Owens gang, highwaymen who had barricaded themselves and their families in a fortified camp. Asking for assistance from one William Barnes, Constable John Burroughs in Craven was denied and consequently “was much beat and ill treated....” Two years later the same luckless constable was rebuffed by one Goddard DeBruhl.45

Constabulary service did not always heighten respect for the law on the part of the occupant of the office. When Constable James Barnes of Bertie County attempted to serve a warrant upon one Samuel Cotton, he was met by Cotton’s brother, Joseph, who “threatened to Shoot & Destroy” Barnes if the constable came on Samuel’s property. Four years later, in 1736, Samuel Cotton as constable sought to serve a warrant on Barnes. No longer holding the office and perhaps remembering the earlier incident, Barnes resisted Cotton’s effort.46

Given the nature of the job and the numerous officeholders, it is not surprising that a number of instances of constabulary malfeasance appear in the records. By law constables were responsible for those entrusted to their care. In Onslow Justice John Starkey brought complaint against Peter Perry for allowing Edinijah Stanberry to escape from custody after being taken on a warrant issued by Starkey. The magistrate had brought suit against Stanberry for forty shillings. As a result of his negligence, Constable Perry was required to pay the forty shillings and court costs. Similarly, when Joseph Elkins in Craven escaped the custody of Constable William Nunn, the latter was fined five pounds.47

Scattered references in the county records reveal other instances of negligence. Constables failed to serve or make returns of warrants, executions, precepts, or attachments, did not account for moneys collected, and submitted false returns. County justices also charged constables more generally with contempt of authority or simply “neglect of duty.” On occasion county authorities also questioned the character of the constables. A Tyrrell County jury presented one constable for failing to keep the peace and for unlawfully cohabiting with a woman. New Hanover magistrates found William Starkey guilty of riot as well as neglect of duty.48

On the whole, however, given the relative paucity of complaints against the constables as opposed to their manifold numbers and duties, the occupants of the constabulary office served the public as well as could be expected. As nonprofessionals who were untutored in the law, the constables labored under a severe handicap. Compounding their difficulty was the secondary nature of their job. Fees and release from taxes were insufficient compensation to permit constables to ignore the occupations from which they earned livelihoods. Constables also encountered a traditional colonial aversion to interference in private affairs in a society that resented public officiousness and sought any handy weapon to prove the point. That attitude, combined with the constables’ often lowly socioeconomic status, which militated against their ability to command respect, may well have led to a policy of circumspection in dealing with the populace, particularly in matters of law enforcement.49 Such was the life of “A poor Limb of the Law.”


Footnotes

Dr. Watson is professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

1 Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., “Political Mobs and the American Revolution, 1765-1776,” American Philosophical Society Proceedings, XCIX (August, 1955), 244-250; Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743-1776 (1955; New York: Capricorn Books, 1964), 305-306; Lloyd I. Rudolph, “The Eighteenth-Century Mob in America and Europe,” American Quarterly, XI (Winter, 1959), 447-469; Bernard Bailyn (ed.), Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750-1776 (Cambridge, Mass,: Harvard University Press, 1965), 581-584; Gordon S. Wood, “A Note on Mobs in the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, XXIII (October, 1966), 635-642.

2 Donna J. Spindel, “Law and Disorder: The North Carolina Stamp Act Crisis,” North Carolina Historical Review, LVII (January, 1980), 1-16.

3 Warren M. Billings, “English Legal Literature as a Source of Law and Legal Practice for Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, LXXXVII (October, 1979), 403-416. Despite the appointment of constables in Virginia as early perhaps as 1634, and certainly by 1642, the constabulary office received little attention in Virginia law, less in fact than was accorded that position by subsequent North Carolina legislation. William W. Hening (ed.), The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia... (Richmond, New York, and Philadelphia: Published by the editor, 13 volumes, 1809-1823), I, 223-224, 246, 467, IV, 170. See also Philip Alexander Bruce, Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (1910; Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 2 volumes, 1964), I, 602.

4 Mattie Erma Edwards Parker (ed.), North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1670-1696, Volume II of The Colonial Records of North Carolina [Second Series], edited by Mattie Erma Edwards Parker and others (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, projected multivolume series, 1963—), xxvi, 9, 60, 346, 373, 419, hereinafter cited as Parker, Higher-Court Records, II; Mattie Erma Edwards Parker (ed.), North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1697-1701, Volume III of The Colonial Records of North Carolina [Second Series], xxxix, xlii, 36, 47, 53, 127, 365, 386, 427, 434, 523; William S. Price, Jr. (ed.), North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1702-1708, Volume IV of The Colonial Records of North Carolina [Second Series], 367, 370.

5 Walter Clark (ed.), The State Records of North Carolina (Winston and Goldsboro: State of North Carolina, 16 volumes, numbered XI-XXVI, 1895-1906), XXIII, 15-16, 162-163, hereinafter cited as Clark, State Records; William S. Powell (ed.), The Correspondence of William Tryon and Other Selected Papers (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, 2 volumes, 1980-1981), I, 529; James Davis, The Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace... (New Bern: James Davis, 1774), 115-123, especially 122, hereinafter cited as Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace.

6 Wallace Notestein, The English People on the Eve of Colonization, 1603-1630 (1954; New York: Harper and Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1962), 235.

7 Sidney and Beatrice Webb, English Local Government from the Revolution to the Municipal Corporations Act: The Parish and the County (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1924), 463-473; Minutes of the New Hanover County Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, June, 1739, Archives, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, hereinafter cited as Court Minutes with appropriate county and session.

8 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 16, 163, 526; Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 121.

9 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 116; New Hanover Court Minutes, December, 1760; Hyde Court Minutes, June, 1747; Orange Court Minutes, June, 1757.

10 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 162; Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 122. But see John West and John West, Sr., who were ordered specifically to qualify within ten days. Orange Court Minutes, December, 1752, January, 1753.

11 Craven Court Minutes, June, 1744; Adelaide L. Fries, Douglas LeTell Rights, Minnie J. Smith, and Kenneth G. Hamilton (eds.), Records of the Moravians in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission, 11 volumes, 1922-1969), I, 392, hereinafter cited as Fries and others, Records of the Moravians.

12 New Hanover Court Minutes, 1766-1775 passim; Onslow Court Minutes, 1766-1775 passim; Hyde Court Minutes, 1766-1775 passim; Chowan Court Minutes, 1766-1775 passim; Carteret Court Minutes, 1766-1775 passim; Orange Court Minutes, 1765 passim; Rowan Court Minutes, 1774 passim; Tryon Court Minutes, 1769 passim. Cumberland, a relatively western county peopled largely by the Scots influx, needed twenty-five constables in 1764. Cumberland Court Minutes, 1764 passim.

13 “Journal of a French Traveller in the Colonies, 1765,” American Historical Review, XXVI (July, 1921), 733; William L. Saunders (ed.), The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 10 volumes, 1886-1890), V, 158-159; Carteret Court Minutes, 1740-1775 passim; New Hanover Court Minutes, February, 1759, June, 1760, March, 1761.

14 Chowan Court Minutes, April, July, 1757; New Hanover Court Minutes, February, 1759; Craven Court Minutes, January, March, 1768.

15 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 122, 163; Cumberland Court Minutes, July, 1772. See Craven Court Minutes, October, 1766, for John Granade, who avoided constabulary appointment by claiming that he had served within the past five years.

16 Onslow Court Minutes, 1734-1737, 1741-1775 passim; Rowan Court Minutes, 1756-1775 passim. The figures for Onslow and Rowan counties agree with those of Donna J. Spindel and Stuart W. Thomas, Jr., who found in a sample of 227 North Carolina constables taken from the years 1663 to 1740 that 90 percent served only one year. Donna J. Spindel and Stuart W. Thomas, Jr., “Crime and Society in North Carolina, 1663-1740,” Journal of Southern History, XLIX (May, 1983), 227, hereinafter cited as Spindel and Thomas, “Crime and Society.”

17 Edgecombe Court Minutes, 1758-1775 passim; Chowan Court Minutes, 1742-1774 passim; New Hanover Court Minutes, March, 1741/42; David Alan Williams, “The Small Farmer in Eighteenth-Century Virginia Politics,” Agricultural History, XLIII (January, 1969), 98, hereinafter cited as Williams, “Small Farmer in Eighteenth-Century Virginia Politics.”

18 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 163. For confirmation of the exemption see James Hall and John Scroggs, Rowan Court Minutes, July, 1758, and May, 1774, respectively.

19 Marvin L. Michael Kay and William S. Price, Jr., “‘To Ride the Wood Mare’: Road Building and Militia Service in Colonial North Carolina, 1740-1775,” North Carolina Historical Review, LVII (October, 1980), 383, hereinafter cited as Kay and Price, “Road Building and Militia Service.”

20 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 450, 597, 609, 761.

21 Kay and Price, “Road Building and Militia Service,” 391.

22 Marvin L. Michael Kay, “The Payment of Provincial and Local Taxes in North Carolina, 1748-1771,” William and Mary Quarterly, XXVI (April, 1969), 240; Kay and Price, “Road Building and Militia Service,” 379.

23 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 86. Before the institution of the fee schedule, a court might order suitable compensation for a constable’s services. See Parker, Higher-Court Records, II, 373.

24 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 123. For his trouble in locating counterfeiters, Constable Hardy Cane received an award of four pounds from the Edgecombe County court. Edgecombe Court Minutes, May, 1745. See also Constantine (Constance) Luten, Chowan Court Minutes, January, 1765.

25 See, for example, Joseph Hannis, Craven Court Minutes, May, 1752; Stephen Williams, Onslow Court Minutes, July, 1742; William McClammy, New Hanover Court Minutes, September, 1766; Oney McClammy, New Hanover Court Minutes, June, 1767; and Benjamin Starrah, Rowan Court Minutes, April, 1764.

26 David H. Flaherty, Privacy in Colonial New England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967), 192-193, 218, hereinafter cited as Flaherty, Privacy in Colonial New England. 27 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 115; Onslow Court Minutes, June, 1765.

28 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 162-163; Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 116, 122; Spindel and Thomas, “Crime and Society,” 227. Of course “Infants, Madmen, Poor, Old, and Sick or Lame Persons” were also excused. Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 116.

29 Williams, “Small Farmer in Eighteenth-Century Virginia Politics,” 94-101.

30 New Hanover Court Minutes, December, 1766; Onslow Court Minutes, July, 1742, January, 1748/49, January, 1751/52, February, 1761; Tryon Court Minutes, April, July, 1770, April, 1772, July, 1773; David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943 (Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 1950), 205. By the 1760s a longstanding boundary dispute between North and South Carolina had created a quasi-lawless area along their mutual border that included part of Tryon County. As a result of surveys in 1764 and 1772, North Carolina lost some 470,000 acres and 5,000 white inhabitants to the southern colony. Marvin Lucien Skaggs, North Carolina Boundary Disputes Involving Her Southern Neighbors (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941), 87-89.

31 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 120; William Lambarde, The Duties of Constables Borsholders, Tithing Men (1583; New York: De Capa Press, 1969), 11, hereinafter cited as Lambarde, Duties of Constables; A. Roger Ekirch, “The North Carolina Regulators on Liberty and Corruption, 1766-1771,” Perspectives in American History, XI (1977-1978), 213; Johann David Schoepf, Travels in the Confederation [1783-1784], translated and edited by Alfred J. Morrison (Philadelphia: William J. Campbell, 2 volumes, 1911), II, 123-124.

32 Fries and others, Records of the Moravians, I, 289, II, 730. Constables were urged to arrest “Rogues, Vagabonds, and idle Persons” within their districts. Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 120; Chowan Court Minutes, July, 1755.

33 Fries and others, Records of the Moravians, I, 361; Edgecombe Court Minutes, May, 1745; Kenneth Scott, “Counterfeiting in Colonial North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, XXXIV (October, 1957), 467-482.

34 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 123; Lambarde, Duties of Constables, 19-23; Orange Court Minutes, June, 1758; Rowan Court Minutes, 1764-1772 passim. Constables from the individual counties also served the colony’s superior court. See Craven Court Minutes, October, 1761.

35 Rowan Court Minutes, July, October, 1754, October, 1756, February, 1769; Chowan Court Minutes, June, 1775; Tyrrell Court Minutes, June, 1768; Orange Court Minutes, December, 1753-August, 1761 passim.

36 Craven Court Minutes, September, December, 1774; New Hanover Court Minutes, October, 1769; Carteret Court Minutes, June, 1767.

37 Cumberland Court Minutes, January, 1758, May, 1765, October, 1772; Craven Court Minutes, December, 1747, June, 1751, May, 1757, May, 1758, July, 1760, October, 1761, July, 1762; Chowan Court Minutes, July, 1753, January, July, 1754, April, July, October, 1755, January, 1756.

38 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 72-73, 210-212, 526-531, XXV, 162-166. Chowan (Constantine [Constance] Luten) and Bertie (Joseph Reddick) specifically directed constables to prosecute the “many persons” in the counties who had failed to submit their lists of taxables. Chowan Court Minutes, January, 1765; Bertie Court Minutes, September, 1772. See also Constable Walter Jones in Craven, who served warrants against six individuals for concealing taxables. Craven Court Minutes, June, 1751.

39 Clark, State Records, XXIII, 200, XXV, 338-340; Fries and others, Records of the Moravians, I, 288; Orange Court Minutes, May, 1766; Chowan Court Minutes, July, 1755.

40 Donald R. Lennon and Ida Brooks Kellam (eds.), The Wilmington Town Book, 1743-1778 (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, 1973), 25, 28, 41, 47, 55, 58, 66, 71, 84, 97, 106, 112, 123-124, 177, 185, hereinafter cited as Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book.

41 Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book, 41, 61.

42 Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book, 65, 185, 214, 219; Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace, 120. Of extant county court minutes, only those of Tyrrell reveal the use of constables to collect taxes—a five-shilling levy to underwrite construction of a courthouse. Tyrrell Court Minutes, September, 1735.

43 Lennon and Kellam, Wilmington Town Book, 160, 205, 210-211, 238; New Hanover Court Minutes, June, 1767; Alan D. Watson, “Impulse toward Independence: Resistance and Rebellion among North Carolina Slaves, 1750-1775,” Journal of Negro History, LXIII (Fall, 1978), 319. Constables in New Bern also patrolled the streets on Sunday. See Craven Court Minutes, June, 1774. For slaves controlling the markets of southern coastal towns see Peter H. Wood, “‘Taking Care of Business’ in Revolutionary South Carolina: Republicanism and the Slave Society,” in The Southern Experience in the American Revolution, edited by Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry E. Tise (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 273-275.

44 Rowan Court Minutes, January, 1759; Fries and others, Records of the Moravians, I, 410. See also the complaint of Constable John Rowse against Edward Roberts for assault. Minutes of the General Court, March, 1736, Colonial Court Records, State Archives.

45 Edgecombe Court Minutes, August, 1769; Rowan Court Minutes, January, 1756; Fries and others, Records of the Moravians, I, 135, 151, 161; Craven Court Minutes, June, 1769, September, 1771.

46 Bertie Court Minutes, August, 1732, May, 1736.

47 Davis, Office and Authority of a Justice of Peace; Lambarde, Duties of Constables, 19-23; Onslow Court Minutes, January, 1751/52; Craven Court Minutes, September, 1742.

48 Tyrrell Court Minutes, June, 1739; New Hanover Court Minutes, October, 1768.

49 Flaherty, Privacy in Colonial New England, 191-192, 214-215, 218; Spindel and Thomas, “Crime and Society,” 227.



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