#OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation, 1777

It’s been four weeks since my last #OnThisDay blog post. Today’s might not be the most exciting topic for you, but I think it’s important for Americans to be reminded about the early days of our democracy. The historian in me just can’t help myself.

The Articles of Confederation document was the forerunner of the U.S. Constitution.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com (Preamble of the US Constitution)

On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. It was that document that established the name of our country as the United States of America. It served as the defacto constitution of the nation throughout the Revolutionary War.

I reread the Articles of Confederation last week. It had been quite a while since I’d read the document.

Still stinging from oppressive British rule, the frames of the Articles of Confederation were hesitant to create a strong federal government. Much power was retained by the individual states. States’ rights have been a bone of contention throughout the history of the U.S. and still is today. It seems like every week the legislature of at least one state in the union is testing the waters and “pushing the envelope” to see just how far they can go without being reined in by the U.S. Supreme Court. The major issues today that fall in that category are abortion rights, gun rights, and Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

There were weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation. The document did not give the U.S. the authority to issue a national currency. Hence, the various states printed their own money. It makes my head spin to think what our country would be like today if that hadn’t been corrected.

Another weakness in the document was the absence of authority of the national government to levy taxes. Some people probably think things should have stayed that way, but just think how many things we would not have today if not for federal taxes. The “common treasury” was to be supported by the states, with each state contributing an amount based on the value of the land in that state.

Of all the language in the document, the wording in Article III stood out for me. Specifically, the words, “firm league of friendship.” That phrase sounds quaint to our 21st century ears.

Article III states the following: “The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence [sic], the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence [sic] whatever.”

Article IV went on to state that citizens of any state had the freedom to travel to and from any other state. Of course, slaves were not considered citizens, so they were not afforded that right.

Just as details of how a democratic government operates today takes a long time and much gnashing of teeth, so it was with the Articles of Confederation. The debate leading up to the adoption of the document lasted 16 months.

The Articles of Confederation served the United States of America until March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is a living, breathing document. It is continually up for interpretation and has been amended 27 times. No doubt, it will be amended many more times.


Since my last blog post

We had spectacular autumn weather last week in North Carolina! Wednesday was a crystal clear, unseasonably warm day. I took a break from raking dead, brown leaves to walk around our yard with my cell. I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I happened on one gorgeous tree after another.

I concluded that I live in paradise. I started with one of my favorite trees. It’s a maple that my father and I found as a sprout in our woods in the fall of 1965. It wasn’t much taller than I was, but it was decked out in beautiful orange leaves. The maples in our yard were yellow in the fall, and I wanted an orange one.

Daddy marked the location of the sprout and returned later to dig it up. We planted it in front of our house, and there it proudly stands today, much taller than the house. This fall, it’s orange at top and the rest of it is yellow.

Maple Tree

I’m blessed to once again live in that house. We’re blessed with a wonderful variety of trees, including pine, cedar, maple, hickory, several varieties of oak, holly, mulberry, poplar, ash, dogwood, sweet gum, persimmon, and black walnut.

Hickory Tree
Dogwood Tree
Cedar Tree
Oak Leaves
Sweet Gum Tree Leaves trying to decide whether to turn red or yellow

Dealing with the leaves in the fall after the red, yellows, golds, and oranges have faded and the spent leaves have dropped to the ground is quite a chore. I tend to dread autumn because of the multitude of leaves that must be raked, blown, carried off, or mulched with the tractor, but this year I’ve chosen to enjoy the riot of color in our yard every day. It won’t last much longer.

This tree is pretty, but I don’t know what it is! Can anyone help me?

When not outside, I worked on my novel. I’m putting into practice some of the things I recently learned in the online writing course I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts. It feels good to be revising, editing, and improving my novel.

Don’t give up on me, y’all!


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have everything you need.

Janet

An October 29, 1777 Estate Sale

Did you know that the State Archives in Raleigh is the repository of the original copies of some estate sale records dating back to the 1700s when Cabarrus County was part of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina? These fascinating records for persons known to have lived in the area that later became Cabarrus County are also accessible on microfilm in the local history room at the main branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library in Concord, NC.

John Morrison’s Estate Sale

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Morrison, died in 1777 in old Mecklenburg County. A native of Campbeltown, Scotland, he lived his last thirteen years in the vicinity of the present-day Cabarrus-Mecklenburg County line. His estate papers provide a record not only of his possessions but also the names of many local people. I’m very proud to say that he was a farmer.

Robert Harris, Jr. served as clerk at John’s estate sale on October 29, 1777 – exactly 240 years ago today. Mr. Harris made note of every item sold, who bought it, and how many pounds, pence, or shillings they paid.

Buyers

The buyers were James Moore, Joseph Robb, Evan Shelby, Isaac Sellers, John Robinet, John Murphy, Francis Miller, William Driskill, James Alexander, James McCall, John and James McGinty, Joseph Bigger, Hugh Kimmons, Archibald McCurdy, John Springs, John Carothers, Joseph Calbreath, Alexander Allen, Benjamin and Robert Cochran, Steven Pritchet, Peter Borris, Robert Harris, James Stafford, John Ross, Alexander Finley, James Finney, Hector McClain, Samuel Montgomery, William Wylie, and John Finley.

Most of the surnames listed above are no longer found in our community because many families moved west in the 1790s and early 1800s. Some of the buyers lived in the area that remained in Mecklenburg County after the formation of Cabarrus in 1792, so some of the names are probably from the Mint Hill area.

Summary of Items Sold at Estate Sale

Items sold at the estate sale included eight horses; 19 sheep; 25 head of cattle; 17 hogs and a parcel of pigs; three hives of bees; 17 geese and ganders; 25 pounds of wool; a parcel of books; a great coat; two straight coats and jackets; one pair of blue britches; a pair of old buckskin britches; and a fur hat.

Also, four saddles; five bells and collars; five other collars; six bridles; two sets of horse gears; an “M” branding iron; three augurs; a drawing knife; nailing and stone hammers; a broadax; three weeding hoes; two maulrings; a wedge; a clivish; a sprouting hoe; a mattock; two falling axes; three spinning wheels; two horse trees and hangings; a cutting knife and stone; a sythe and cradle; four sickles; a flax brake; a pair of wool cards; and a pair of cotton cards.

Also, barrels for flour, rice, beef, and salt; a tapper vessel; two cedar churns; oak and walnut chests; two smoothing irons; a looking glass; one whiskey keg; and various other tools, household items, and pieces of furniture.

Other items included 6.5 pounds of iron and 14.5 pounds of steel. Steel as we know it today had not yet been developed. In 1777, steel was the name for sharpening rods used to sharpen knives and other cutting edges.

Half a wagon?

The most puzzling record in John Morrison’s estate papers is that John Springs bought half a wagon and half the wagon implements. Since no one bought the other half, it has been speculated that Mr. Springs knew that John’s wife, Mary, needed the use of the wagon but also needed the proceeds from the sale of the wagon and implements. After all, Mary was a widow with seven children still at home and a baby on the way. Perhaps Mr. Springs made a verbal agreement to let Mary Morrison keep the wagon even though he paid half the value of the wagon at the estate sale.

Another possibility is that John Morrison had bought the wagon and implements from John Springs but had only paid half the bill at the time of his death. Mr. Springs, instead of saddling Mary Morrison with the additional debt of the unpaid balance chose to simply buy back that half of the wagon and implements. When Mary Morrison died in 1781, there is no mention of a wagon in her will or her estate sale.

Lots of ammunition!

Other intriguing items sold at John Morrison’s estate sale were the 17 pounds of gun powder and 55.5 pounds of lead. That’s more gun powder and lead than a farmer needed. So why did John Morrison have so much of both?

John wrote his will on August 30, 1777. By September 3, he was dead. It is speculated that he was stockpiling munitions for the patriots’ cause in the American Revolution and that he was shot by Tories, but we will never know the real story.

My sources

The sources I relied on for writing this blog post are as follows:  John Morrison’s Mecklenburg County estate papers on file at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, NC; What Did They Mean By That? – A Dictionary of Historical Terms for Genealogists, by Paul Drake, 1994; and Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison, 1996.

Red
The Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison

I regret that Marie and I did not know about the existence of John and Mary Morrison’s estate papers when we compiled and published Descendants of John & Mary Morrison of Rocky River in 1996.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet