In the summer of 1775, 246 years ago, Captain James Jack found himself riding from Mecklenburg County to Philadelphia. The reason for making the nearly 560-mile ride on horseback, in the middle of the summer? Captain Jack was delivering news of the full support and consensus for separation from British rule. The documents certainly included the Mecklenburg Resolves and potentially the mythical Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. In 1775, the colonies were still technically under British rule and this act – carrying seditious materials - was considered treasonous. But Jack’s mission was well known among British government officials here and abroad. In August 1775, Governor Martin wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth in London that he had been “informed” that “treasonable resolves” had been “sent off by express to the Congress at Philadelphia as soon as they were passed in the Committee.” The knowledge of Jack’s ride made him a vulnerable target and capture would have resulted in death by hanging for the crime of High Treason.
Delivering the Declaration, painting by Chas Fagan. Captain Jack races out of Charlotte to ride north to Philadelphia to deliver the Mecklenburg Resolves to North Carolina’s representatives at the Continental Congress.
Almost a hundred years later in 1877, historian Cyrus Hunter gave the following account of Jack’s ride to Philadelphia:
“Upon his arrival [Captain Jack] immediately obtained an interview with the North Carolina delegates (Caswell, Hooper and Hewes), and, after a little conversation on the state of the country, then agitating all minds, Captain Jack drew from his pocket the Mecklenburg resolutions of the 20th of May 1775, with the remark: ‘Here, gentlemen, is a paper that I have been instructed to deliver to you, with the request that you should lay the same before Congress.’
The Congressmen told Jack that independence was “premature.” According to Hunter, Jack then replied:
“Gentlemen, you may debate here about ‘reconciliations’ and memorialize your king, but bear it in mind, Mecklenburg owes no allegiance to, and is separated from the crown of Great Britain forever.”
Whether Captain Jack actually discussed the Resolves with North Carolina’s representatives is unclear, but the words attributed to him speak to Mecklenburg’s insistence on independence, which is evident later in September 1780 as the British marched into the backcountry town. With July 4th only a couple of days away, now is a good time to reflect on America’s road to independence.
The Charlotte Museum of History is currently showcasing the Chas Fagan Retrospective exhibit featuring Captain Jack on his ride to Philadelphia. You can watch a virtual tour of the exhibit here or come visit the Museum in person. Head to charlottemuseum.org website for hours and tickets.
Competition submissions of proposed Captain Jack statue by Chas Fagan. These paintings are the original concepts for what becomes the Captain Jack statue on the Trail of History.
Until next week,
Summer Intern – UNC Charlotte Graduate Student
For more Fact Fridays related to the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, click here!
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
This post is based on an essay by Scott Syfert for the Charlotte 240 project, a collection of essays written by Charlotteans that explore regional history and highlight the people, places, and spaces that tell our story. You can find the original article here: charlottemuseum.org/captain-jacks-ride-to-philadelphia/
The Declaration of Independence by the Citizens of Mecklenburg County, published by the Governor under the authority and direction of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina (“Governor’s Report”) (Raleigh, 1831). An online version is maintained by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library at www.cmstory.org in document index in “All About the Declaration” section.
John McKnitt Alexander, “Rough Notes,” in the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence Papers in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
10 The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, “Letter from Josiah Martin to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth,” June 30, 1775.
Hunter, Cyrus L. Sketches of Western North Carolina (Raleigh, 1877).
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass