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Saturday, May 18, 2013

North Carolina's Most Amusing Governor and Wilmington Founder

Portion of 1733 Moseley Map
George Burrington was, by no means, popular with early eighteenth-century North Carolinians.  Thus, it is also, by no means, a surprise that he is not credited with starting North Carolina's only valuable port... a port began in direct rivalry with another port on the very same Cape Fear River that sat in a better position for deep-draught and heavily laden ships that traveled 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean.  Brunswick Town was praised by its contemporaries as a "flourishing place."  Still, Newton, New Town, New Liverpool, or New Carthage, all names for the early rival port that became Wilmington, won the contest.  

Burrington voided Maurice Moore's land grant at the later location of Wilmington and planted his own pioneers upon that soil in September of 1732.  It was from this date that Wilmington claims its birthday, for John Watson, the first settler of that port town, and his fellow entrepreneurs, including James Wimble, never abandoned it.  They began selling off lots to other settlers until it began to grow larger and more powerful than Brunswick Town across the river.  

Gabriel Johnston, appointed to succeed Burrington, arrived in 1734 and favored the new port town until, six years later, he gave it the name "Wilmington" to show allegiance to his patron Spencer Compton, or Lord Wilmington.  

For at least two years, George Burrington was known as the new town's creator.  After that time, politics and an unfavorable memory served the highly passionate Devon man of Scottish heritage not so well.  That honor has since been bestowed upon Governor Johnston.  If you don't believe me, look in a North Carolina history textbook sometime.  Most of them give Johnston's name as the founder of the new town.  A descendant of Johnston's also became a later governor of the state and further drew attention to their family versus Burrington's, who had earlier fled the colony because Brunswick Town's promoters threatened to murder him. 

Most will find these facts difficult to digest because we tend to view history through rose-tinted glasses, that the characters of history somehow belong on a pedestal.  Still, I assure you that our ancestors were human beings, just like us, and their emotions and desires reflect our own which have little changed through the centuries.  There is no better psychological case study than North Carolina's history whereby the consistency of this human characteristic can be discerned.  

I study Burrington in particular because he amuses me.  Some of my writing has been in the line of historical fiction and I see Burrington as a model for an fascinating, and even comedic fictional character.

North Carolina historians have seen the North Carolina Colonial Record collection available in any library or online at .  Those records reveal Burrington's alternating passions.  Those passions ranged from extremely generous and friendly to extremely irate, even violent.  He perceived threats that weren't there and exaggerated faults in others.  I have no doubt that any psychologist today might diagnose the man with manic depression and records from the National Archives in London support this conclusion.

Still, there's no doubt that he founded Wilmington out of his great, passionate loyalty to Thomas Pelham-Holles, duke of Newcastle and his sense of right and wrong as far as the king's property was concerned.  He has always been a fiercely loyal man, a trait that served against him from time to time.  As I said before, Wilmington exists because of politics, not because our ancestors believed it was a better location for a port.  We have since rationalized this conclusion into being, now understanding the place to be swampy and mosquito-ridden... similar to the area where Wilmington now stands, as well.  Modern perceptions hide many things... politics often forces asynchronicity.

I will leave it to you to explore the online search engine for the NCCR and see the many records available under "Burrington."  This deposition of Christopher Gale, issued in January 1725, only one year into Burrington's first term, will whet the appetite.

My sense of amusement was peaked by a record that I recently received from Britain's National Archives.  The story behind this record fits perfectly with what we already know about George Burrington and I will relate to you the particulars and some of the added research that I put into this record.  I seldom get to explore records in this depth in my professional writing, owing to the intent of the study, so you get to hear these juicy tidbits in my blog.

This record is C 11/1196/12, or Burrington v Templeman and was first brought to the attention of London's chancery or equity court in October 1723.  It is very important for my research because it shows Burrington's whereabouts in the period 1726-29 when he appears to disappear from the NCCR and his absence from the Lower Cape Fear allowed Brunswick Town's promoters and founders to take illegal advantage of illegal patents.  This was heretofore unknown and the impetus behind the creation of Wilmington.  That was, as I mentioned, the intent of my study.

As for Burrington's personality profile, this record holds more...

The story that is told by this court record begins 1720-21 when George Burrington bought thirteen separate notes from a financially troubled fellow military man who frequented the Tilt-Yard Coffee House, which sat directly across from London's government complex at Whitehall.  It could be that Burrington patronized this coffee house as well.

Francis Templeman suffered perhaps from a fire in 1704 that ruined his malting business and never quite recovered.  Burrington obviously felt sorry for Templeman and, being wealthy and magnanimous, generously decided to purchase these notes in 1720 that amounted to a total of £4800!  This was quite a chunk of cash... roughly about $175,000 (1993 exchange rates) today.  

You would have to be a very good friend of mine to get that much money on loan!  In fact, I would think it unrealistic to believe that anyone could pay back a loan of that size from the proceeds of a recovering malt business.  I'll bet Templeman had other assets, though.

Still, it comes as little surprise that Templeman could not pay these notes on their due dates, between 1722 and 1723... thus, the point of the court case. 

By coincidence, Burrington was chosen by the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, who frequented Whitehall regularly to be the next proprietary governor of a colony in America... the proprietary colony of North Carolina.  He was scheduled to leave on the ship Champion with another new appointee, receiver-general Arthur Goffe, on October 23, 1723.  

Burrington may have had a lot of investments and may have had little cash before that date, or he simply wanted to settle this issue with Templeman before he left England for however many years he would be required to serve as governor of the American colony.  However it played out, on October 19th, he attempted to recover his due funds from the financially troubled Templeman, and abruptly encountered the lack thereof.  He apparently became angry and, as we well know him from the many accounts in the NCCR collection, pitched a violent fit.  Templeman had Burrington arrested.  Burrington's passionate nature, so well understood later as governor of North Carolina, got the better of him for, perhaps, not the first time.

Burrington was trying to recover the remaining £1280 that Templeman owed him, but, due to his temper, was then charged with £2560, or twice that amount, in bail to get out of jail in time to sail for his appointment in North Carolina.   He made bail on the 22nd, immediately filed and argued this action against Templeman, who was ordered to pay £2000 to Burrington in increments over a reasonable period of time (not what Burrington had hoped for, obviously).  Then, Burrington literally ran to the docks to board the Champion and he and Goffe arrived in Elizabeth City, VA early that December, a longer than usual 9-week transit across the Atlantic.  

At that time, coming directly to North Carolina was difficult due to the Outer Banks... 

The record shows that Burrington began picking up the payments three years later, in September 1726 and, thus, I have the proof that I needed to show where he was after he fled Edenton and after spending some time in the Lower Cape Fear to look after his investment in that newly-settled region.

Still, it cost Templeman another £720 for his tardiness on paying the debt while Burrington, however, lost a total of £1840 for losing his temper!  

By the way, the duke of Newcastle lived at Lincoln's Inn Fields and worked across the street from Templeman's favorite coffee house.  He probably knew both of these gentlemen, certainly Burrington, the story between them, and decided that he could use such a passionately loyal man as Burrington to be the scapegoat in his first real scheme as Southern Secretary in the Whig government of Robert Walpole... making North Carolina a profitable venture for the Crown who had just purchased the colony in the summer of 1729.  

Newcastle needed a passionately loyal man like Burrington to function as a scapegoat in the political power-play against the wealthy and politically strong Tory Family (and their base at Brunswick Town) whose great investments in the Lower Cape Fear would be threatened by the new town that would wrest control of North Carolina for Newcastle and his Whig friends.  Certainly, this was a classic motive for murder!

Not surprisingly, George Burrington came back to North Carolina for his second term as governor, the first royal governor of the colony... and Wilmington became history in September 1732.  It also explains why he had to hightail it back to England to keep Brunswick Town's promoters from killing him!  Passionate men have often found themselves in such predicaments and, as a result, have become the subjects of dark comedies throughout history.  George Burrington would be a perfect subject for such a work!  :)



Dethroning the Kings of Cape Fear: Consequences of Edward Moseley's Surveys

Purchase an e-copy for $5 or get a print version among more titles by B. C. Brooks

Aristocratic Pyrates of the Albemarle

Purchase an e-copy for $5 or get a print version among more titles by B. C. Brooks







Brunswick Town and Wilmington

 Purchase an e-copy for $5 or get a print version among more titles by B. C. Brooks