[Autograph letter signed from William Hooper to his uncle James Murray, regarding management of Murray's Point Repose plantation, including slaves, and with important content on Hooper's increasing opposition to British rule in America].
Finian, N.C. [near present-day Wilmington]: 10 February 1774. pp. Usual folds. Accompanied by a 19th-century pencil drawing of Hooper's residence.
Housed in a chemise and slipcase.
A future Signer of the Declaration of Independence reports on the condition of slaves at a North Carolina plantation, and on his own political radicalization: written just seven months before he traveled to Philadelphia to serve in the First Continental Congress.
An important and politically-charged letter from William Hooper, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Hooper writes to his uncle, James Murray of Boston about various matters related to Murray's plantation in Point Repose, New Hanover County, North Carolina. James Murray was, by all accounts, a man of high character but he was also a staunch Loyalist. Murray relocated to Boston in 1765 to pursue various business interests, and then fled to Halifax to avoid persecution by Patriots in 1778. Throughout Murray's time in Boston, Hooper helped manage Point Repose for his uncle. Hooper writes of the plantation:
"The House at Point Repose is tending fast to decay, and from the ruinous condition in which it appears at present I cannot conceive it will be worth while to attempt to repair it. I shall not interfere however to fathom your Intention, or to dictate to you the Inexpedience of further expense upon a plan which you have little prospect of selling & from which you cannot by your own cultivation of it derive any advantage for some time hence."
Indeed, Murray's control of the plantation at Point Repose would not last much longer. In 1783, Point Repose was sold to cover debts owed by Murray. The plantation was bought by Murray's nephew, gallant Revolutionary general Thomas Clark, who fought with distinction at Moore's Creek, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth before being captured by the British at the Siege of Charleston. Clark was also William Hooper's brother-in-law. Hooper mentions him briefly in this letter towards the end, writing, "I have not seen Tho Clark since last summer. He has been very ill & writes us that he is reduced to Jack Quince's size."
Among Hooper's report on Point Repose here, he advises on the personnel on the plantation, namely the two negro servants, Jacob and Cuff:
"I may be allowed to hint that I think Jacob is disposed of & but little to your benefit, as from the manner in which he is employed he cannot be improved much in his trade, & by his being placed with an honest House Carpenter that purpose would be better answered & you would received handsome Wages for him, 30 or 35p is too much for the use of Rowan's old negro, even tho He should make Pt Repose his constant residence, which I do not suspect he does. I have taken the freedom to mention to Mr. Rowan that you will soon take him from him, he does not wish to part with him. Cuff is still with Mr. Maclaine where he meets so much Indulgence that I fear he will be very little disposed to be hired to any person who proposes to make any thing by his Labour. He is healthy fat & Jolly, having shared in the general Sickness of the country but being now perfectly recovered. He applied to me for Negro Cloaths. I directed Mr. Maclaine to supply him with all possible economy. I cloathed Jacob as negroes are commonly clad, altho' You might have indulged him in his request to a kind of distinction, I did not think myself authorized to do it."
Hooper also reveals important details about his political mindframe in his letter. His growing enmity, along with that of a growing number of citizens of his colony for the governing of colonial matters by the British is evident here:
"We have no Court, and it is very uncertain when we shall have. The Assembly meets on the first of March next tho I have no suspicion that any business will be done. Government has thought fit to new model the Attachment Instruction so that now it amounts to an utter denial of that process, as no man can have it without prejury."
Here, Hooper refers to the developing controversy in North Carolina around the enforcement of the attachment clause. This allowed for the seizure or garnishment of property owned by non-resident North Carolinians who owed a substantial debt in the state. Royal governors sought to delete the clause, which would force North Carolina creditors to sue for recompense in English courts. Obviously, this raised the ire of the colonists in North Carolina, leading to the "Court Quarrel," which resulted in the closing of all courts in the colony except for local magistrate courts. Josiah Martin, the colonial governor, attempted to open new courts under his own authority, but the colonial Assembly refused to fund them. Naturally, this situation led to growing anti-British resentment in the colonies.
"Strange that the Interest of a few designing Merchants of Great Britain can sway with the religious Lord Dartmouth to induce him to sacrifice to it the trade of this province in one of its most essential securities - I am not a licentious demagogue, & no man more respects the powers of Government constitutionally exercised than I do, but God forbid that I should ever wish for Laws upon the Ungenerous footing upon which they are now."
William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, often referred to as Lord Dartmouth, was Parliament's Secretary of State to the colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution. He was a level-headed diplomat who attempted to reconcile with the colonies whenever possible, but ultimately, he was too strong a supporter of the constitutional supremacy of the British Parliament to do much good for the grievous Americans. He resigned after the Boston Tea Party, the colonial reaction to the Coercive Acts, and the battles of Lexington and Concord clearly signaled an end to the possibility of reconciliation for the Crown and the colonists. Hooper's particular complaint against Dartmouth lies in the latter's support for the abolishment of the attachment clause (though Dartmouth would later offer a compromise that was also rejected by the North Carolina Assembly). When Hooper refers to "one of [the colony's] most essential securities," he is likely referring to the right to hold property and have issues regarding said property dealt with by the members of the immediate community. Hooper also decries the "ungenerous" nature of the laws presently administered by colonial officials.
William Hooper (1742-90), born in Boston, was educated at the Boston Latin School and Harvard, and studied law under James Otis, whose radical political views were instrumental in the early movement for American political autonomy. Hooper moved to North Carolina in 1764 to begin a swiftly-successful career as an attorney, being named Deputy Attorney General of the colony in 1770. In that capacity he sided with the government in the dispute against the Regulators, which earned him the label of a Loyalist by some. Though he was slow to join the revolution against Great Britain, once he did, he quickly took a leadership role, representing North Carolina in the First and Second Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777. Although he lingered in North Carolina too long to vote for the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, he did arrive in time to sign it in early August. Hooper was one of three North Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence, along with Joseph Hewes and John Penn.
Hooper's political views were controversial, as they were grounded in a conservative, even federalist ideology. After the conclusion of the American Revolution, Hooper resumed his legal practice, even working to protect the rights of former Loyalists. This, coupled with his strict adherence to the letter of the law often put him at odds with his fellow North Carolinians, but he nonetheless served them well. He helped to write the state constitution of North Carolina, and lobbied for North Carolina's ratification of the Federal Constitution in 1787, before passing away in 1790.
The letter is accompanied by a small but finely-executed pencil drawing of William Hooper's residence signed by Charles Pattison Bolles (1823-1909). Bolles was a civil engineer, coast surveyor, military officer, and artist who served both the United States and the Confederacy as a surveyor. Bolles eventually made his home in Wilmington, and completed important surveys of Cape Fear and the surrounding areas. His drawing captures the simplicity of Hooper's original residence, Finian, from which the present letter was written. The residence was shelled by the British during the Revolutionary War, but ultimately survived until 1882. The drawing was featured in Chris E. Fonvielle's HISTORIC WILMINGTON & THE LOWER CAPE FEAR, illustrating a passage about Hooper's activities in Wilmington in 1773-74. A photocopy of the relevant page accompanies the drawing.
Early William Hooper autograph material is especially rare in the market. Further, the dichotomy between Hooper's concerns about slaves and personal property rights makes this letter a particularly interesting example not only of Hooper's worldview, but of the ability of members of the revolutionary generation to hold contradictory views about human liberty.