The Civil War in North Carolina



Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

Bookmark and Share



        After all the toils of war and the vicissitudes of fortune, he returns to his home,


                         --Life's long vexations passed,
                         Here to return and die at home at last.

        Cornelius Harnett,*

        * Drake's Biographical Dictionary; Lossing's Field ook, II, 582.


born 20th April, 1723; died 20th April, 1781.

        Associated with Robert Howe in the cause of Liberty and Independence was Cornelius Harnett.

        Both of these distinguished men, by the proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton, were excluded from all pardon from the Royal Government. Although not, like Howe, a soldier, it was not the fortune of Harnett to figure in "feats of broil and battle," yet he did equal deeds of daring and courage in the great drama of life, in which men and arms are only subordinate parts, and "the value of whose services," says Mr. Davis, "was only equalled by the extent of his sufferings and his sacrifices." We regret that so little has been accurately known of Mr. Harnett that even his birthplace is conjecture. Mr. Drake states, as does Lossing, "he was born in England," but gives no authority. Unquestionably there were two persons of the same name, both distinguished in the annals of North Carolina.

        The father, whose name the subject of our sketch bore, was not an obscure man, from the fact that he was the abettor and friend of Gov. Burrington in his quarrel with Everhard, and one of the Governor's councillors, 1730. It may be inferred that he was a man of distinction in North Carolina as early as 1725. But, as will be seen, he and Burrington did not remain friends very long.

        From the Rolls Office in London, in a dispatch dated Feb. 20th, 1732, of George Burington, Governor of the Province of North Carolina, to His Grace the Duke of Newcastle, one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, I extract the following:

        "Mr. Cornelius Harnett, another of the Council, was bred a merchant in Dublin and settled at Cape Fear in this Colony. I was assured by a letter I received in England that Harnett was worth six thousand pounds sterling, which induced me to place his name on the list of persons to be Councillors; when I came to this country he was reputed to be worth 7,000; but now he is known to have traded with other men's goods; and is not worth anything, and so reduced as to be compelled to keep a public house."


        There are other records that aid us. "At the General Court, sitting at Edenton, the 26th March, 1726, George Burrington, the Governor, was indicted, for that about the 2d of December, 1725, with Cornelius Harnett, of Chowan County, and others, he assaulted the house of Sir Richard Everhard."*

        * Williamson II, 229. Davis at Chapel Hill, 1825.


        In the Register's office in New Hanover County*

        * Book, page 71.


there is a record of a bond from Colonel Maurice Moore, of New Hanover Precinct, to Cornelius Harnett, "of the same place," dated 30th June, 1726, &c.

        Since we know from the inscription on the headstone of Cornelius Harnett, of Cape Fear, that he was born in 1723, it is clear that the Cornelius Harnett, of Chowan, was another person, probably the father, and that he was not of English birth, but of Irish descent. But we are led to believe that his son was born in North Carolina, and there was no movement from 1765 to 1780 in the cause of independence in which he was not ready and active; "The Samuel Adams of North Carolina," as he was styled by Josiah Quincy, who visited the South in 1773.

        With Colonel John Ashe, he was denounced by Governor Martin in 1775, for the burning of Fort Johnson. He was Chairman of the Wilmington Committee of Safety, and after Governor Martin's retreat the State was governed
Page 46 of 471
Index - Contents
Featured Books & CD-ROMS