Friday, June 11, 2010

John Alexander

My great-great-great-great-grandfather was John Alexander (1738-1799), a minister in the Church of England and a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. (Although I'd have preferred a freethinker and a revolutionary, we don't get to choose our ancestors.) Here is a copy of his will, as reproduced in Volume 2, No. 4 (October 1901) of J. R. B. Hathaway's North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register. The will is dated April 4 1795 and was probated in the August 1799 term of the court of Bertie County, North Carolina.

"Da Praecepta, Familiae, Tuae nam Tu Crive Morituruses."

"For as much as the last scene of life seems hastening on, and the curtain ready to fall," I think it prudent, before I make my final exit off the stage, whereon I have some time acted, to dispose of the few trifles fortune has bestowed me, in manner following to-wit:

Imprimis. I Give and bequeath to my two Daughters, Martha and Rachel, all and every part of my property whatever, to be equally divided between them, and to their lawful heirs forever. On the demise of either, before impowered to make a will, the surviving sister inherits the whole and should both decease, before the laws capacitate to will, then, my remaining property to be wholly converted to Educating the poor children within the counties of Hertford and Bertie; under such regulations as my Executors shall think fit. My body I bequeath to the earth, whence it originated, My Soul Immortal and unalloyed to dust, I commend to the Father of Mercies.

The manly, masculine Voice of Orthodoxy, is no longer heard in our land. Far, therefore, from my Grave be the senseless Rant of Whining Fanaticism; her hated and successful rival --- Cant and Grimace dishonour the dead, as well as Disgrace the living. Let the monitor within, who never Deceives, alone pronounce my Funeral Oration; while some Friendly hand Deposits my poor remains Close by the ashes of my beloved Daughter Elizabeth, with whom I trust to share a happy Eternity.

And of this my last Will and Testament, I constitute and appoint Capt'n George West, George Outlaw, Esq., and Mr. Edward Outlaw, my Executors, On whose Probity, Honor, and Disinterested Friendship, I entirely rely for the faithful Discharge of the trust I repose in them. Beseeching them, as they would approve themselves to him who is the Father of the Fatherless, to use all possible means of Inspiring my children with a love of Virtue and an abhorrence of Vice, Restraining them from all plans and persons Dangerous to their Virtue or Innocency --- Giving them an Education to their rank in life suitable and becoming. Let their books and their needles be their principal companions and Employ. I could wish the laws enable me to do more for my wretched and unfortunate slaves than that of recommending them to lenity and mild treatment.

Be to their faults a little blind;
Be to their virtues ever kind.


The "manly, masculine Voice of Orthodoxy" is the Church of England; the "senseless Rant of Whining Fanaticism" is either the Episcopalian Church or the Baptist Church.

I don't know why, if he found his slaves "wretched and unfortunate", he didn't just free them. But perhaps it was just so far beyond the social norm that he didn't feel it possible to do so.


dot said...

Hi Jeff.

A minor typo in the last paragraph: "I don't KNOW why".

As for freeing the slaves, could not it be that in some parts of America, a wandering black person would have been assumed to be a fugitive and either re-enslaved or killed?

Larry Moran said...

There were many loyalists fighting on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War. It was actually the First Civil War. It's interesting that this doesn't seem to be widely known.

Is it taught in American history classes?

Following the defeat of the British, the new American government treated these loyalists very fairly, for the most part. Most were rapidly integrated into the republic but there were quite a few (70,000?) who moved to other countries.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jeremy: Thanks for the typo correction. Many slaveowners freed slaves, but I don't know what the situation was exactly in North Carolina at that time.

Larry: Yes, the Loyalist movement is well-known in US history classes. For example, my own son was reading the book Chains in his class, which depicts the Revolutionary War from the perspective of a slave girl who is not particularly enamored either of revolutionaries or Loyalists.

I've read estimates that approximately 40% of Americans at the time supported the Revolution, while 40% were opposed and 20% undecided.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know why, if he found his slaves "wretched and unfortunate", he didn't just free them. But perhaps it was just so far beyond the social norm that he didn't feel it possible to do so."

It's late and I'm sleepy but even so, "I could wish the laws enable me to do more for my wretched and unfortunate slaves" suggests to me that laws of that time prohibited the freeing of slaves.

And a quick Google shows, e.g., In Full Force and Virtue: North Carolina Emancipation Records, 1713-1860 By William L. Byrd
... divers evil minded persons, intending to disturb the public peace, did liberate and set free their slaves, notwithstanding the same was especially contrary to the Laws of this State ...