Skip to main content

Full text of "Governor George Burrington, with an account of his official administrations in the colony of North Carolina, 1724-1725, 1731-1734"

See other formats

Rook . /^-f-^ 
(iipglitl^^ _ 

CQFVRiGirr oEPoam 

(Bovernor Ceorge tSurrington, 

. . of the . . 

/^'-v/H <^^-^^ ^^'^iis 

Colony of IHortb Carolina. 


; "-in 


George Burrington, 



^i^ 1724-1725, 





RALEIGH, N C: -r I i f'^— / 

Edwards & Broughton, Printers and Binders. ^ 


'* //is virhies were his own, a7id his vices were but too common in 
the times in which he livedo 



This brief narration of a remarkable career may not 

be devoid of interest to North Carolinians and students 

of colonial history in general. In it, I have sought to 

gather such information as could be found in the official 

records, and elsewhere, concerning Governor Burring- 

TON. His life, character, services to the province, and 

the true circumstances of his mysterious death have 

never before been set forth in the form of a separate 


M. Del. H. 
Raleigh, N. C, September^ i8g6. 


Governor Burrington. 



EORGE BURRINGTON, twice Governor of 
\^J_ North Carolina, — first for the Lords Proprietors 
and then under the King — was an Englishman by birth 
and hailed from a locality which, long before his day, 
had been most prolific of the bold spirits whose names 
are so closely linked with the exploration and settlement 
of the New World. To quote the language of a gifted 
novelist, " It was the men of Devon, the Drakes and 
Hawkins, Gilberts and Raleighs, Grenvilles and Oxen- 
hams, and a host more of 'forgotten worthies', whom 
we shall learn one day to honor as they deserve, to whom 
England owes her commerce, her colonies, her very ex- 
istence.'"^' In common with England, North Carolina 
has already learned to honor the greatest of these wor- 
thies, and the State Capital stands as a lasting memo- 
rial of her gratitude to Sir Walter Raleigh, under whose 
patronage the first English settlement in America was 
made, in 1584. 

It was about a century after the colonists, sent out by 
Raleigh, had mysteriously disappeared, and when their 
fortress on the coast of Carolina was a deserted ruin, 
that Burrington first saw the light. The exact place 
and date of his birth have not been ascertained ; but as 
he was a resident of Devon, when appointed, and came 

♦Charles Kingsley, " Westward Ho 

of Devonshire ancestry, the presumption is that he was 
a native of that county. As to the time, it must have 
been as early as 1685, for if Burrington's service in Eng- 
land commenced, (as he said it did), during the reign 
of King William, which ended in 1702, the difference 
between those dates would make him seventeen years 
old at the beginning of such service, even if he was not 
born at an earlier period than that estimated, as may 
well have been the case. If only seventeen, his first 
employment was doubtless in a military capacity ; and, 
according to the above conjecture, as to age, he was 
about thirty-five or forty when he came to America, in 

The Burrington family was seated at Ideford, in the 
parish of Chudleigh, Devon, about the beginning of the 
seventeenth century, if not earlier, and is mentioned in 
the herald's visitation for 1620. From Mr. Arthur A. 
Burrington, a present member of the family who resides 
near Hampton Wick, in Middlesex, England, the writer 
learns that Governor Burrington was a son of Gilbert 
Burrington. But, as there were several members of 
the family at different times, who bore that name, a pa- 
tient research has, thus far, failed to clearly distinguish 
them. One of these was Gilbert Burrington of Jewes- 
Hollecombe, in the parish of Crediton, a gentleman of 
some note, who inherited several manorial estates in the 
adjoining county of Corn wall, from his kinsman, Thomas 
Burrington of Sandford, in 1657. A second Thomas 
Burrington, who was the son of this Gilbert, served un- 
der King William in the Low Countries and made his 
will at the memorable siege of Namur, in 1695, whereby 
it was agreed with a brother officer that, should either 
be slain, the survivor was to receive the tents, pistols, 


and other military equipages, left by the deceased in 
Flanders. There were several other members of the fam- 
ily who rendered service to the Whig cause and also ap- 
pear to have been sons of Gilbert. One of these, Major 
Charles Burrington, is accredited by English histori0^s 
with having been the first gentleman who adhered to 
William the Third — then Prince of Orange — when 
Great Britain was invaded at the beginning of the Revo- 
lution of 1688.* Another, John Burrington, was Mem- 
ber of Parliament from Oakhampton, Devon, and Com- 
missioner in the Vitualling Office, or Commissary. 

In Williamson's History of North Carolina, cited 
hereafter, it is stated that George Burrington received 
his appointment as an acknowledgement of some ser- 
vice rendered by his father to George the First, at the 
time of that monarch's accession. If this be true, the 
Governor was not a son of the Gilbert Burrington, to 
whom we have referred, for that gentleman died prior 
to 1696, and King George ascended the throne in 1715. 
It is possible, however, that the historian confused the 
services of the family, and supposed that the debt of 
gratitude was due Burrington's father individually. Or, 
it may be that the parent in question was a Gilbert Bur- 
rington, the younger, of Jewes-Hollecombe. There was 
a Captain Gilbert Burrington, of the Royal Navy, but 
he died about 1702. In any event, it is of little impor- 
tance whether these gentlemen belonged to the Gov- 
ernor's immediate family, or whether they were more 
distantly related. And whether other members of the 
connection, than those already mentioned, were adhe- 

* Sir James Mackintosh's History of the Revolution of 1688, ch. xv ; 
Hume's History of England, ch. Ixxi ; Macaulay's History of England, ch. 
ix ; etc., etc. 


rents of the House of Orange is difficult to learn i 
though it is by no means improbable that Governor Bur- 
rington, himself, was in the army at a later period, as 
he was often referred to as Captain Burrington, and it 
will be seen hereafter that, in writing of his family's 
loyalty, he boasted of having served the Crown in every 
reign after the abdication of King James. 

It may also be of interest to note, ere proceeding with 
our narrative, that, in the seventeenth century, there 
was an American family of Burrington, in the colony of 
Rhode Island ; '•' but, whether it was descended from the 
Burrington's of Devon, does not appear. 

And now, confining this sketch to the colonial career 
of our subject, — about which there is no uncertainty — 
we learn from the Royal Council Journals that on Feb- 
ruary 26th, 1723, King George the First signified his ap- 
probation of the appointment, by the Lords Proprietors, 
of George Burrington, of Devonshire, Great Britain, 
as Governor of their Province of North Carolina, in 
America. -The latter was thereupon required to give 
bond for the faithful discharge of the duties of said of- 
fice, which he did, with Nicholas Vincent, of Truro, in 
Cornwall, and Dennis Bond, of Grange, in Dorsetshire, 
as his sureties. t As early as the 29th of May, 1723, 
before leaving England, he joined Chief Justice Gale, 
and Secretary Lovick, in securing a lease of the fishe- 
ries of the Colony. J This conveyance, signed by the 
Lords Proprietors and stamped with their armorial seals, 
is now framed and preserved in the State Library, at 
Raleigh, North Carolina. 

♦See Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island, by John Osborne Austin, 
p. 33 ; also Colonial Records of Rhode Island. 

t Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. II, p. 480, 481. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. II, p. 490. 

On the 3rd of June, 1723, the Proprietors sent a com- 
munication to the members of the Council and of the 
House of Assembly, in Carolina, advising them of Bur- 
rington's appointment and commending the new Gov- 
ernor to their good offices as a gentleman of whose in- 
clinations to their service, and hearty desire for the wel- 
fare of the Colony, in general, their Lordships were well 
convinced. At the same time, Edward Moseley, Sur- 
veyor General, was directed to apportion, in fee simple, 
for his use, two thousand acres of land.'=' 

From the Journal of a Council, held at,Edenton, the 
capital of the Colony, on the 15th of January, 1724, it 
appears that Burrington presented himself before the 
Board, and exhibited the credentials, whereby he was, 
" Commissionated and appointed Governor General and 
Admiral of the Province." He was accordingly sworn 
in, and at once assumed his executive functions. f 

From the outset of his administration, the Governor 
encountered opposition to his proper authority, as well 
as arbitrary demands. When an official order was sent 
by him to William Reed, his pred^g^ssor as Chief Exec- 
utive (President of the Council, ad interini)^ the latter 
became so indignant, at being deprived of the govern- 
ment, that he returned the communication, with com- 
ments not altogether refined, for which he was indicted. J 
He was also known to state, upon alleged hearsay, that 
Burrington had been in prison, before leaving England, 
for beating an old woman. Historians, in later years, 
have given the old woman incident as a fact, but cite no 
authorities. Another indictment was found against one 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II, 489, 491. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. II, p. 515. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. II., p. 542. 


Joseph Castleton, for volunteering the opinion that His 
Excellency was "a damn'^ Rogue & villain and that 
there was not a worse Rogue & villain in the world." 
Castleton plead guilty, and was sentenced to stand in 
the pillory, on the public parade of Bdenton, for two 
hours, and to beg pardon, on his knees, for the oflFence.* 
With the terms of this judgment he afterwards com- 
plied, and was thereupon liberated and sent on his way 
— a less talkative, if not a wiser, man. 

In the year 1724, Chief Justice Gale visited England, 
for the purpose of preferring charges against the Gov- 
ernor, who, it was alleged, had hindered him in the ex- 
ercise of his judicial duties and threatened his life. As 
the unanimous verdict of history places the character of 
the Chief Justice beyond reproach, the statements, con- 
cerning Burrington's personal violence, were unques- 
tionably true, though the official administration of the 
latter, even at the time of his removal, received the en- 
dorsement of the Assembly. From the depositions pre- 
sented by Gale, it appeared that, soon after reaching 
North Carolina, the Governor had given out repeated 
threats against him, saying that he would slit his nose, 
crop his ears, and lay him in irons ; that afterwards he 
had insulted him in open court, and furthermore at- 
tempted to enter his house, " but finding he could not 
break open the door, he broke the window all to pieces, 
cursing and threatuing him in a grievous manner, 
swearing a great many oaths, that he would lay him by 
the heels, nay would have him by the throat, speedily, 
and burn his house or blow it up with gun-powder, "f 
As might be supposed, these charges — substantiated, as 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II., pp. 526, 546. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. II., pp. 559, 560, 561. 


they were, by seven members of the Provincial Council 
— were considered by the Proprietors just cause for the 
removal of Burrington. He was accordingly displaced, 
and succeeded by Sir Richard Kverard, of Much Wal- 
tham, Essex, an English baronet, who took the oath of 
office on the 17th of July, 1725.* Burrington was then 
absent, on a visit to South Carolina and the Cape Fear ; 
and, on the 3rd of April, had appointed Edward Mose- 
ley to administer the affairs of State until his return. f 
The Colonial Assembly met, shortly after Everard's 
arrival, at Edenton. In an address, forwarded by the 
members of that body to the Lords Proprietors, they 
refer to the " great happiness which the Province lately 
enjoy'd," under Burrington, and the inconvenience 
caused by " the Sudden & Unexpected Change which 
had been made thro' the many false & malicious Calum- 
nies raised against that gentleman by Persons of the 
most Vile Characters as well as Desperate fortunes." 
The address further enlarges on " his Carryage & beha- 
viour being very Affable & courteous, his Justice very 
Exemplary & his care and Industry to promote the In- 
terest & welfare of the Province very Eminent & Con- 
spicuous." J Two of the members, who aided in draft- 
ing this paper, were Edmund Porter and John Baptista 
Ashe ; but when their affable and courteous friend was 
restored to them, a few years later, it was not long before 
they, too, incurred the old potentate's enmity, and were 
denounced as ungrateful villains, who strove, by false 
representations, to bring his administration under the 
King's displeasure. 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II., pp. 559, 566. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. II., p. 563. 
t Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II., p. 577. 


The next episode, in which we see our hero recorded, 
is a controversy between Governor Everard and the Rev. 
Thomas Bailey, a missionary to whom Sir Richard had 
denied the use of the public house of worship, in Eden- 
ton. It was through his attachment for the preceding 
Governor that the parson had fallen into disfavor with 
Everard ; so, upon hearing of his friend's predicament, 
Burrington aided him in collecting a congregation, 
which broke in the door of the Court House, where the 
reverend gentlemen then held services and gave the 
people a sermon.''' 

In denouncing his opponents, Burrington's statements 
are, at times, too extravagant to be considered, while, on 
other occasions, we find him pouring forth his abuse on 
those who richly deserve it. He was never actuated 
by motives of policy. As Williamson expresses it, 
" Whether he was guided by irregular passions, or by 
the honest contempt for villains, he conducted himself 
with such a want of prudence as to increase the number 
of his enemies, "t From his attack on the Gale residence, 
it has already been seen that he was not a disciple of 
Lord Coke, imbued with the doctrine that " a man's 
house is his castle," or, if so, considered it a castle to 
which he was at liberty to lay siege, whenever so dis- 
posed ; and soon we find him, in company with the elder 
Cornelius Harnett, paying the compliments of the sea- 
son to Governor Everard in like manner. " I want sat- 
isfaction of you, therefore come out and give it to me," 
he called to Sir Richard ; and, upon the non-appearance 
of that gentleman, proceeded to vent his wrath in a 
diversified and well-chosen collection of profanity, among 

♦Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II., pp. 579, 604, 624. 

t Williamson's History of North Carolina, Vol. II., p. 33. 


other things characterizing him as a calf's head, noodle, 
and an ape, who was no more fit to be Governor than 
Sancho Panza. This last opinion, says a modern writer, 
was also entertained by better men than George Biir- 
rington. After relieving his feelings in the manner just 
described, the exasperated ex-governor next turned his 
attention to Thomas Parris — a native of Essex, as was 
Everard — and, with an oath, inquired if all of his coun- 
trymen were such fools. For the violence displayed on 
this occasion, bills of indictment were found against 
Burrington, and prosecuted by William Little, Attorney 
General of the Colony, with whom he afterwards became 
reconciled and appointed Chief Justice, during his second 
term as Governor. Similar bills were also presented 
against him for attacking the houses of two other col- 
onists, — to one of whom he also sent a challenge, and 
swore that he would run the other through the body 
with his sword. Failing to appear, in answer to these 
charges, the cases were continued for several terms of 
court, and finally brought to a close by entry of itolle 
prosequi^ as Burrington left Edenton shortly thereafter.* 
Notwithstanding Burrington's rough exterior, he 
seems to have been a man of education ; and the sale of 
his books, mentioned in a letter hereafter quoted, shows 
that he was not unprovided with literature at a time 
when libraries were few and scattered. His orthogra- 
phy, it is true, would horrify a modern pedagogue : but 
this weakness was not peculiar to himself; for, up to 
the nineteenth century, uniform spelling was an undis- 
covered art. Some knowledge, too, of the literary pro- 
ductions then in existence, is shown by his familiarity 
with the great satire of Cervantes, from which he drew 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. II., pp. 647, et seq., 817. 


Everard's counterpart, when he compared him with Don 
Quixote's trusty esquire. 

As to religion, it has been said that Burrington was a 
Churchman in theory, though not in practice.* The 
latter portion of this statement, at least, is safe from con- 
tradiction by those who have studied his character, for 
he was far from a model of Christian piety; and, when 
smitten on one cheek, was not likely to turn the other. 
In fact, he had a fond preference for smiting first, which 
was usually indulged to his heart's content. 

In the course of a few years, the proprietary rights, 
held by English noblemen in Carolina, with the excep- 
tion of Earl Granville's estate, were surrendered to the 
Crown, whereby the colony again became a royal domin- 
ion. This afforded Burrington another opportunity to 
exercise his power, through influential friends at Court, 
— notably the Duke of Newcastle, — in again obtaining 
control of the provincial government. Chief Justice 
Gale, and others of equal prominence, took steps to pre- 
vent his appointment, but without avail. His commis- 
sion, as Royal Governor, was issued on January 15th, 

1730. He reached Edenton on the 25th of February, 

1 73 1, and took the oath of office on the day of his arri- 
val. f 

A glance at the list of exploits, recorded in this sketch, 
naturally leads one to believe that Burrington was devoid 
of executive ability, but such was not the case. 

" When civil dudgeon first grew high, 
And men fell out, they knew not why; 
When foul words, jealousies, and fears. 
Set folks together by the ears," 

he was in his native element, with a vocabulary of bil- 
lingsgate as inexhaustible in volume as it was ludicrous 

* Church History of North Carolina, p. 103. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 66, 142, 211. 


in character. And again, when decked in his war-paint, 
the turbulent old gentleman would sometimes startle 
his neighborhood in a manner most unbecoming a chief 
magistrate, who was commissioned to enforce the law. 
But, in the consideration of measures for the develop- 
ment of the Colony, and particularly in carrying them 
out, he displayed sound judgment and even keen fore- 
sight. One of his chief follies was the deep-rooted delu- 
sion that no one could oppose him through proper mo- 
tives. In the words of a well-posted historian of recent 
times, "He could tolerate no opinion that was not in 
accord with his own, and deemed every one a personal 
enemy, if not a villain, who differed with him." * Yet, 
with all his faults and eccentricities, there was no one 
who more closely studied or better understood the char- 
acter of the colonists. To the Lords of Trade and Plan- 
tations, he wrote : " The Inhabitants of North Carolina 
are not Industrious, but subtle and crafty to admiration : 
allways behaved insolently to their Governours ; some 
they have Imprisoned, drove others out of the Country, 
at other times sett up two or three supported by Men 
under Arms. All the Governours that ever were in this 
• Province lived in fear of the People (except myself) and 
dreaded their Assemblys. The People are neither to be 
cajoled or outwitted; whenever a Governour attempts 
to effect anj^thing by these means, he will lose his La- 
bour and show his Ignorance." f 

Among other complaints against Burrington, was one 
charging him with having had a poor man and his fam- 
ily, the alleged tenants of John Porter, driven out of 
doors, under distressing circumstances, and then causing , 

♦Saunders' prefatory notes to Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. v. 
t Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 338. 


their dwelling to be burned to the ground.* His reply 
to the accusation, (in which he claimed the land as his 
own), is worthy of reproduction ; for, in addition to giv- 
ing his side of the controversy, it serves to throw some 
light on the demeanor exhibited by the early inhabitants 
toward his official predecessors. Referring to the charge, 
he says: "During the time I remained at Cape Fear, 
word was sent me that M' John Porter would raise a logg 
house as an affront to me on my Land, upon which I 
gave him notice that if he did I should cause it to be 
fired. Some time after I was at that place, and finding 
a logg House of five unbarked green pine loggs in 
height, without either Chimne}'', plaistring, or other 
labour used in building Houses, I ordered my Negros to 
fire the covering to this House or Hog sty. The loggs 
being quite green would not burn. It is a very common 
Practice for the People in this Province to burn their 
Houses, as being a cheaper way than pulling them 
down. But what struck most upon me in the Affair of 
this Logg House was the fate of a former Governour, 
who was also one of the Lords Proprietors at the same 
time. I mean Seth Southwell Esq", who being sur- 
prized on his own Plantation and clapt into a Logg 
House by the late M"" Pollock and others, was there kept 
Prisoner until he renounced the Government and took 
and subscribed a strange oath, too long to be here in- 
certed. It is not unlikely but some People in this Coun- 
try might have the same intentions to me, if I would 
have suffered the Logg House to have remained cov- 
ered." t Judging from the unpleasant experience, here 
related, of Mr. Southwell — or Sothel, as we more often 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., 362. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 618. 


find it written — it would appear that, for once in his life, 
Urmstone, the missionary, was guilty of telling the 
truth, when, in 1717, he wrote home, to England, that 
the colonists cared no more for a Lord Proprietor than 
for a "ballad-singer." More than one hundred years 
later, the historian Bancroft summed up the whole mat- 
ter, with reference to North Carolina, in these words : 
" Its inhabitants were restless and turbulent in their 
imperfect submission to a government imposed on them 
from abroad ; the administration of the Colony was firm, 
humane, and tranquil, when they were left to take care 
of themselves. Any government but one of their own 
institution was oppressive." '^ 

Despite the grave charges, which were the cause of 
Burrington's removal, in 1725, his second appointment, 
in 1730, was hailed with general manifestations of ap- 
proval throughout the Colony, notwithstanding the fact 
that strenuous efforts had been made, by some, to prevent 
his return to power. The Grand Jury, for the whole 
Province, framed an address of thanks to the King, for 
the thoughtfulness, displayed by him, in the selection 
of their former Governor, and were especiall}^ compli- 
nientar}' to Burrington, for the generous example he 
had set, in forgetting all past differences, of a personal 
character.f The members of the Assembly, also, in a 
document of the same nature, were equally as warm in 
their professions. " We are in dut}^ bound," they say, 
" to acknowledge as a particular mark of your Indul- 
gence the placing over us His Excellency George Bur- 
rington Esq" Captain General and Commander in Chief 
of this your Province, a Person who by his Behaviour 

♦Bancroft's flistory of the United States (1837), Vol. II., p. 158. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 134. 


during the time he governed this Province for the Lords 
Proprietors rendred himself very agreeable to the Peo- 
ple by the Great Care he then shewed in his due Admin- 
istration of Justice and in promoting the wellfare of this 
Province." '"' Governor Burrington was not backward 
in his acknowledgements, but declared that their de- 
meanor to him had been so full of respect that he was 
at loss for words to express the esteem and regard he 
had for persons of such great worth and excellent quali- 
fications. f But this love feast was of short duration. 
The House of Burgesses, or Assembly, passed a resolu- 
tion, requesting that a proclamation be issued, for the 
suppression of an evil from which the people suffered, — 
that of charging exorbitant fees by public officials. His 
Excellency replied that, whoever the person might be 
who wrote this resolution, he was doubtless guilty of 
such abuses himself; and that his ruse brought to mind 
the strategem of a thief, who would hide himself in a 
house, for the purpose of robber}^, and then set it on fire 
to escape in the smoke. He further observed that he 
had, in person, examined the practices in the adjoining 
Province of Virginia, and that there the fees charged 
were even more beneficial, to 'officers of the govern- 
ment, than in North Carolina. The Burgesses did not 
seem to think the usages of a sister colony germane 
to the difficulty, but relied on the Royal Charter, by 
which the inhabitants of Carolina were vested with the 
rights of British subjects. The resolution, they declared, 
was not the work of any one member, but expressed the 
sentiment of their entire House, and therefore the Gov- 
ernor's uncomplimentary simile was a great indignity 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 138. 
fCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 259. 


to that body, as a whole.* It is needless to say that an 
agreement was never reached. In the beginning, Bur- 
rington had been '' at loss for words " to express his 
esteem and regard for the members of the Assembly, but 
was never known to experience such inconvenience in 
expressing his anger^ and so the breach remained un- 
healed, until finally he was constrained to put an end to 
their deliberations — or " divisions, heats, and indecen- 
cies," to use his phrase — by prorogation, on the 17th of 
May, i73i.t 

As has already been noted, Burrington was by no 
means lacking in his endeavors for the improvement of 
the Colony. Regardless, alike, of wintry blasts and the 
fierce heat of summer, he was ever active and untiring. 
Indeed, it is not overdrawing the truth to say that it was 
beyond the power of human endurance to toil more in- 
cessantly and undergo more personal sacrifices, in the 
development of its resources, than he did. It was his 
custom to visit the localities where new settlements were 
made, and inspect personally the public thoroughfares 
and bridges, seeing to it that they were kept in proper 
repair by the magistrates charged with that duty. In 
a communication to Lord Carteret, the Palatine, or Senior 
Proprietor, of Carolina, he states that on several occa- 
sions, he narrowly escaped starvation, and had, more 
than once, come near being drowned. To him, more 
than to any other person, was due the upbuilding of the 
Cape Fear region, which afterwards became the most 
important locality in the Colony. With his private 
means he purchased over ten thousand acres there, which 
brought him little or no revenue in after years, and 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 262, 265, 267, 270, 271, 272. 
fCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 284. 


offered valuable inducements to persons who contem- 
plated removing to that neighborhood. He pushed to 
completion a highway, stretching a hundred miles across 
the country, from Neuse River to the lower settlements : 
and the construction of another, still greater in length, 
running from the Virginia boundary to the banks of the 
Cape Fear, was undertaken at his instance. He discov- 
ered, and marked out the channel of the last named 
water-course, and of Topsail Inlet; and sounded and 
explored many other rivers and harbors, theretofore 
comparatively unknown. According to his account, the 
only reward he ever received was a vote of thanks from 
the House of Burgesses.* Nor are we left to rely upon 
the Governor's word for the truth of these assertions. 
The members of the Assembly gave public utterance to 
their gratitude, with a promise to make the King sen- 
sible of his services.! Stronger still is the language 
employed, in an address to Governor Johnston (after 
Burrington's permanent retirement), by inhabitants of 
the precincts of Edgecombe and Bertie, in 1735. They 
express the belief that no man living could have taken 
more pains, or undergone greater fatigue, to acquaint 
himself with the condition of the Province ; that he had 
repeatedly made journeys into the back-woods, on foot, 
often accompanied by only one man. Pinched with 
hunger and in danger of perishing, he had been com- 
pelled, in one instance, to subsist on a single biscuit for 
three days. On some occasions he would come among 
the settlers, several hundred miles from home, with the 
clothing torn from his body, and, at other times, would 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 29, 135, 287, 288, 434, 435. 436, 577, 

tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 262. 


carry considerable sums of money with him, for distri- 
bution among the poorer inhabitants, to better enable 
them to settle the upper country.* Even the lordly 
Virginian, Colonel Byrd of Westover, — who never men- 
tioned his neighbors save in ridicule — could not with- 
hold a letter of congratulation, which stands, however, 
more as an unintentional tribute to the people of North 
Carolina than the compliment to their Governor, for 
which it was meant. He wrote, that what knowledge 
he had of the province inclined him to fear that it would 
take a pretty deal of trouble to bring it into order, and 
that a man of less spirit than Burrington would never 
be able to do so ; for people, accustomed to live without 
law or gospel, felt great reluctance in submitting to 
either. North Carolina, he said, was a very happy 
country, where a livelihood could be had with less labor 
than in any other part of the world. With Burrington 
he deplored the stubbornness of the Assembly at Eden- 
ton, and closed by declaring that if the Governor suc- 
ceeded in reducing to order such anarchy and chaos, a 
statue ought to be erected in his honor ; or, which was 
perhaps better, he would deserve to have his salary 

In 1732, Governor Burrington estimated that the 
white race in North Carolina would aggregate thirty 
thousand, with about six thousand negroes and less than 
eight hundred Indians. The militia, he said, contained 
about five thousand, with an additional thousand to be 
enrolled later on. J 

In his admirable oration, on Early Men and Times of 
the Cape Fear, delivered before the literary societies of 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. IV., p. 19. 
tCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 194. 
X Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 433. 


the University of North Carolina, in 1855, the Honora- 
ble George Davis states that about five miles below 
Brunswick, there is still a small stream, known as Gov- 
ernor's Creek, which takes that name from its former 
proprietor. Burrington's Cape Fear estate, Stag Park, 
had been so called as early as 1664, by explorers from 
Barbadoes. In 1754, he mortgaged it to Samuel Strud- 
wick, of London, (ancestor of the Strudwick family of 
North Carolina), and the deed is now recorded in the ar- 
chives of New Hanover County, at Wilmington. Strud- 
wick, it would seem, afterwards deposited the title with 
Ivieutenant-General John Guise to secure the pa3^ment 
of a debt. When Guise gave a discharge for the same, 
in 1 761, he was joined in the quit-claim by LIEUTEN- 
ANT George Burrington, of the British Army, the 
Governor's sole legatee, who thereby made a conveyance 
of the right of redemption which had been inherited 
from his father.* 

Cape Fear, itself, was discovered and christened with 
that suggestive name by the heroic Sir Richard Gren- 
ville, who came near being shipwrecked in its vicinity 
during the year 1585. f 

Notwithstanding the gratitude professed for Governor 
Burrington, in the addresses of the Assembly, etc., al- 
ready quoted, there never was a time when he was with- 
out enemies. The people appreciated the value of his 
progressive and enterprising spirit, in the post he occu. 
pied; but his intolerant disposition, and violent conduct 
when opposed, however honest the motives of those who 
differed with him, rendered no man safe who dared to 
thwart his designs. Among the most active opponents 

* Col. Records of N. C, Vol. VI., pp. 578, 579, 580; Address of Hon. George 
Davis, at University of North Carolina, 1855. 

t Hakluyt's Voyages (1810 reprint), Vol. III., p. 309. 


of his second administration were Nathaniel Rice, John 
Baptista Ashe, Edmund Porter, and John Montgomer3^ 
Of these, the first three were members of the Council, 
former friends of the Governor, but now enemies of long 
standing. In addition to his public disputes, Ashe had 
quarrelled with Burrington over the ownership of two 
mares, which they both claimed, and, in consequence of 
charges preferred by him, was imprisoned for libel, 
though afterwards released, on a writ of habeas corpiis^ 
by Chief Justice Little.* Montgomery, who was Attor- 
ney General of the Colony, well might have thought : — 

" Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love, 
But why did you kick me down stairs? " 

for his complaint is to the effect that, after attacking him 
with a chair, the Governor had thrown him to the floor 
and punched him in such a manner, with his knee, that 
he would probably have been killed, or seriously injured, 
had not bystanders interposed. After the assault, Mont- 
gomery asked for a license to return to England, which 
Burrington said he could not grant, until after the Coun- 
cil met, but would then give him a license to go to the 
Devil, if he desired it ; and, as if by way of facilitating 
his acceptance of this offer, challenged him to cross the 
Virginia boundary where their difficulty could be pri- 
vately settled, according to the code duello. f IMont- 
gomery, however, was not to be drawn out in this man- 
ner, though he was afterwards charged with having en- 
gaged in a conspiracy, with Chief Justice Smith and 
Secretary Rice, to murder the Governor. According to 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 377, 379, 616 and 617; see also, p. 
385, et scq, 

fCol. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 474. 


Burrington's declaration, this trio attempted to kill him 
with pistols, but the design was frustrated by some 
courageous friends, who unexpectedly came to his assis- 
tance. He further states that indictments were found 
against the three offenders, who thereupon fled to Vir- 
ginia, and remained concealed in that Province until 
after the arrival of Governor Johnston, who ordered the 
prosecution to drop, and " immediately distinguished 
the assassins by his favours, every one being placed in 
some employment." * In commenting on the state- 
ments, here quoted, amazement has well been expressed 
that Governor Burrington escaped at all — " If a tithe of 
what his enemies said about Burrington be true, the 
wonder is that he got away from the colony alive, and not 
that an attempt was made to kill him." f 

It was in the Spring of 1733 that Gabriel Johnston 
received the King's commission as Governor. Johnston 
was a highly educated Scotch gentleman, connected with 
the historic Annandale family of that name, and had, 
before coming to America, been Professor of Oriental 
Languages in the University of St. Andrews. He was 
sworn before the Provincial Council of North Carolina, 
at Brunswick, in the new Cape Fear settlement, on the 
2nd of November, 1734. J This appointment, strange 
to say, was taken with good grace by Burrington. He 
had received intimations of the prospective change, and 
grew impatient under the delay. To the Duke of New- 
castle, he wrote : — " Haveing lived in this Province some 
years without receiving any money from the King, or 
Country, was constrained to sell not only my household 
goods, but even linnen, plate, and Books, and mortgage 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. IV., p. 165. 

t Saunders' prefatory notes to Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. xi. 

t Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 368, 438. 534 ; Vol. IV., p. i. 


my Lands and stocks. The many sicknesses that seized 
me, and their long continuance, have greatly impaired 
my constitution and substance. My affairs and health 
being in a bad condition, I humbly desire my Lord Duke 
will be pleased to obtain His Majesties leave for my re- 
turn to England." And later he says : — " I daily ex- 
pect the Kings leave for my return to England ; when 
it arrives, shall make haste to London. Hope to inform 
my Lords of Trade of all that is necessary for his Ma- 
jesties Service in N. Carolina." * 

A short while before these two dispatches were writ- 
ten, Burrington had temporarily absented himself from 
the Province, for the purpose of visiting South Carolina, 
when the duties of his office devolved upon Nathaniel 
Rice, senior member of the Council. He soon returned, 
however, and was present with the General Assembly, 
on the 13th of November, 1734, when the proceedings 
of that body were brought to a close by the proclamation 
announcing Governor Johnston's arrival.f 

This terminated Burrington's political career in North 
Carolina. The length of his public service, in Eng- 
land and America together, may be estimated by the 
opening phrase of a letter, dated November 15th, 1732, 
two years, almost to the very day, previous to his retire- 
ment, on the 13th November, 1734. He writes: — "I 
have served the crown in every reign since the Abdica- 
tion of King James, & always was allowed to behave as 
became a Man of Honour, and the Family whose name I 
bear ; their Services at the Revolution and during the 
life of the late King William of glorious memory I hope 
are not yet in Oblivion." J The " abdication " of King 

* Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., pp. 625, 630. 

fCol. Records of N. C, Vol, III., pp. 633, 641, 643 ; see also Sauuders' 
prefatory notes to that volume, pp. iii, iv. 
t Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. 375. 


James occurred in 1688. The reign of his immediate 
successor, William of Orange, ended in 1702. So Bur- 
rington must have entered the royal service as early as 
the latter date, which was about twenty years before he 
came to America. 

When he received his second appointment, in 1730, 
the King's warrant was given Burrington for a salar}^ 
of seven hundred pounds, per annum, to be paid out of 
quit-rents in the Colony. But, to his sorrow, he soon 
discovered that getting the warrant was one thing, and 
getting the money was another ; for, during the whole 
time he remained in office, the Assembly made no pro- 
vision whatever for collecting the fund specified. But 
nothing daunted, by this neglect, the Governor pursued 
his policy, regardless of appropriations ; and, as a con- 
sequence, was greatly impoverished at the time of his 
final return to Great Britain. Some months thereafter, 
he petitioned the King for the payment of his salary, 
and for re-imbnrsement of the expenses incurred while 
having surveys and drafts made of the rivers and har- 
bors of the province."^' Had he stopped with this, the 
historian Saunders observes, he might have succeeded ; 
but, taking advantage of the opportunity to again get a 
fling at his enemies, he prayed an investigation of his offi- 
cial conduct, with a view of exonerating himself, which 
caused the petition, by advice of the Privy Council, to 
be adjudged irregular and dismissed.f The aggregate 
amount due on his salary, alone, was between two and 
three thousand pounds. Added to this were large sums, 
expended from his private means, in carrying out the 
royal instructions for having surveys made of different 

*Col. Records of N. C, Vol. IV., pp. 164, 16S. 

t Saunders' prefatory notes to Col. Records of N. C, Vol. Ill, pp. x, xi. 


portions of the colony, both by land and water. What- 
ever may have been the propriety, from a legal stand- 
point, in rejecting his petition, no technical defect in 
that document could relieve the moral obligation to re- 
fund all proper expenditures, and pay the salary stipu- 
lated. It is small wonder that Burrington considered 
himself badly treated. 

In addition to valuable data contained in the original 
records, compiled by the Honorable William L. Saun- 
ders, from which source this sketch is almost entirely 
drawn, we are also indebted to the prefatory notes, which 
emanate from the pen of that author, for the most accu- 
rate estimate yet given of Governor Burrington's char- 
acter and ability: "His of&cial papers relating to the 
province, those at least unconnected with his quarrels, 
are well written and show an intimate knowledge of the 
country and the measures best adapted to promote its 
development. Considered alone, indeed, they would 
present him as an active, intelligent, progressive ruler. 
But they cannot be considered alone, and he stands out, 
therefore, as a man of ability, but utterly disqualified by 
grievous faults for the position he occupied. And 3^et 
he was a wiser ruler than his predecessor, Everard, and 
possessed no more faults ; he was, too, to say the least, 
as wise as his successor, Gabriel Johnston, and no more 
arbitrary. Certain it is, too, that the province under 
his administration continued to flourish and greatly 
prosper, both in wealth and population. It may be that 
Burrington was hampered by his instructions from the 
Crown, and that no Governor could have carried them 
out and kept the peace with a people who, as he said, 
were subtle and crafty to admiration, who could neither 
be outwitted nor cajoled, who always behaved insolently 


to their Governors, who maintained that their money 
could not be taken from them save by appropriations 
made by their own House of Assembly, a body that had 
always usurped more power than they ought to be 
allowed ; with a people, in a word, who well knew their 
rights and dared to assert them to the full." * With this 
should be considered the testimony of Williamson, who, 
after dwelling at some length on his errors and follies, 
says : " He is not charged, nor was he chargeable, with 
fraud or corruption ; for he despised rogues, whether 
they were small or great. Nor could he be suspected 
of cunning, a vice that is more dangerous, because it 
personates a virtue; but he sailed without ballast." f 
And still another tribute, also recognizing his faults, 
portrays him as, " Open, frank, bold, spirited, and gen- 
erous ; but also weak, imprudent, dissipated and reck- 
less. A social and agreeable companion, and a staunch 
friend ; but careless of his personal dignity, and regard- 
less of law or authority." J 

In preparing this narrative, care has been taken to 
present, in an impartial manner, the facts related ; and 
now, by adding a few words to the passages just quoted, 
there is no intention to attempt a palliation of one man's 
sins by comparison with those of others. But as a plea 
for consistency with persons who are too much blinded, 
by the shortcomings of Governor Burrington, to recog- 
nize his good qualities — (as the writer of this sketch 
acknowledges himself to have been, heretofore), — it is 
well to call attention to the fact that far greater men 
have been marked no less conspicuously by the faults 

♦Saunders' prefatory notes to Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. xi. 
t Williamson's History of North Carolina, Vol. II., p. 14. 
t Address of Hon. George Davis, at University of N. C, 1855. 


for which he was noted. Indeed, it may not be pre- 
sumption to cast our eyes so high as the renowned An- 
drew Jackson, — in war, the peer of the bravest, and 
regarded by many as the embodiment of all that is wise 
in statesmanship. Our hearts beat high with pride at 
the splendid military achievements of the Hero of New 
Orleans; and we admire, in a no less degree, the iron 
will, which bore down all opposition to his civil policy. 
Yet the faithful biographer of " Old Hickory" is forced 
to record him as " surpassing all known men in the 
fluency and chain-shot force and complication of his 
oaths." And, furthermore, we are told that he was " too 
quick to believe evil of one who stood to him in the re- 
lation of competitor and rival." Nor did Jackson fall 
below Burrington's mark in the violence of his personal 
conduct. In perusing his biography, we find him, on 
one occasion, armed with a large bludgeon and brace of 
pistols, with which to chastise an enemy in a public 
tavern ; again, he is seen horse-whipping a political op- 
ponent, or swearing by the Eternal that he will crop the 
ears of a third offender, in the event of further provoca- 
tion, while a relation of his countless other quarrels — 
to say nothing of duels — would consume pages. If the 
overshadowing genius, of the one, counterbalanced these 
imperfections, we should not, while contemplating simi- 
lar faults, in the other, lose sight of valuable services 
rendered in an humbler sphere. 

The ultimate fate of Governor Burrington has been a 
source of much perplexity to students of North Carolina 
history, owing to the conflicting statements of different 
writers. Wheeler, with some variation therefrom, fol- 
lows the lead of Williamson, who confuses his tempor- 
ary absence, in April, 1734, with his permanent retire- 


ment, from office, in the Fall of that year. The first 
named author, after mentioning his departure from 
America, also says that he died " soon after," and then 
an account is given of his death.* Thus both historians 
are made liable to the charge of inaccuracy : for, as has 
already been noted, Burrington was with the Colonial 
Assembly as late as November, 1734; and it will soon 
be seen that his death occurred many years thereafter, 
in February, 1759. He was interred in the Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist, Westminster.f 

But, returning to North Carolina authorities, it should 
be remembered that Dr. Williamson, upon whom Wheeler 
evidently relies, does not state that Burrington died soon 
after he reached England. The version of Williamson 
is that, finding himself at loggerheads with adverse fac- 
tions, the Governor " retired from the helm," to which 
is added — erroneously, however, — by way of an explan- 
atory note, " April, 1734." Then beginning an entirely 
new sentence (which should be a paragraph), he goes 
on to give the following account of his death : " This 
imprudent and eccentric man, after his return to Lon- 
don, sold a tract of land that he had taken up, near the 
Haw Fields in Carolina. Having money in his pocket 
on the following night, and rioting in his usual manner, 
he fell a sacrifice to his folly. He was found murdered 
the next morning, in the Bird Cage walk, in a corner of 
Saint James' Park." J 

♦Wheeler's History of North Carolina, part I., p. 42. 

t When Burrington made his will, 1750, he resided in the Parish of St. 
Martin Ludgate ; but, by the probate thereof, March 23, 1759, it appears 
that, at the time of his death, he was a resident of the Parish of St. John 
the Evangelist. For will, etc., see Col. Records of N. C, Vol. VI., pp. 18, 
19, 277. 

t Williamson's History of North Carolina, Vol. II., p. 35, and note. 


Referring to the English newspapers of that day, we 
find more accurate notices, in connection with this mys- 
terious affair, which have heretofore escaped the scru- 
tiny of historians. 

The following is an extract from the Public Adver- 
tiser^ for Friday, February 23d, 1759: — "Yesterday was 
taken out of the Canal in St. James's Park, the Body of 
an elderly Man well dressed. His Pockets were turn'd 
inside out, and his Stick in his Hand, which was clinched 
and bruised." 

The Gazeteer and Daily Advertiser^ of the same date, 
says : — " Yesterday a man genteely drest was taken out 
of the Canal in St. James's Park, and it is supposed 
that he has been drowned some days." 

The London Evening Post^ February 24th to Febru- 
ary 27th : — " The Person found drowned in the Canal in 
St. James's Park last Week, was George Burrington, 
Esq ; who was Governor of the Province of Carolina in 
the last Spanish War, and was known and respected by 
the Gentlemen of that Province." 

The Whitehall Evening Post^ February 22nd to Feb- 
ruary 24th : — " Thursday Morning an elderly Gentle- 
man was found floating in the Canal in St. James's Park ; 
in his Pocket was found a Letter from his Son, who is 
an Officer in the Army now abroad, and was known by 
some Gentlemen who saw him taken out." 

The last named paper, February 24th to February 
27th, also states : — " The Person found drowu'd in the 
Canal in St. James's Park last Week, was Bur- 
rington, Esq ; who was Governor of the Province of Car- 
olina in the last Spanish War." 

So ended the eventful career outlined in these pages. 
The manner of Burrington's death could hardl}- have 


been accidental or suicidal, for there were evidences of 
robbery. And yet, it is strange that no serious wounds 
were noticeable on his person. In view of this fact, the 
most tenable conjecture will probably lead us to the 
conclusion that he was set upon by garroters, who first 
rendered him insensible by strangulation and then re- 
sorted to the canal. Thus pinioned from behind, the 
victim would be powerless, and it was not necessary for 
the robbers to disarm him of the cane, which he so des- 
perately clasped as to retain even in death. Nearly all 
that has been written in history, concerning him, por- 
trays an individual much given to the use of intoxicat- 
ing liquors, which may be true : for the circumstances 
of his murder seem to indicate that he had been carous- 
ing with friends ; and the personal demeanor, in itself, 
exhibited on other occasions heretofore mentioned, is 
further corroborative of such assertions. Yet one of 
the writers, to whom reference has been made, thought- 
fully observes that " the seemingly respectful consider- 
ation, given to him and to his opinions by the Board of 
Trade after his return to England, is by no means con- 
sistent with the theory that he was a mere drunken 
brawler." * Another fact is also worthy of note in con- 
sidering this phase of his character : that, during his 
administrations in North Carolina, he was surrounded 
by enemies, who never lost an opportunity to seize upon, 
if not exaggerate, every act of impropriety on his part ; 
and still, in all of these complaints, which cover scores 
of pages, no mention is made of his dissolute habits. 
Or, to be more accurate, the writer will state that, if 
such charge does exist, it has escaped his observation, 
in making a careful examination of the records. And 

♦Saunders' prefatory notes to Col. Records of N. C, Vol. III., p. xi. 


George Burrington, 









Gov. Burrington 's eventful career is one of absorbing interest to 
students of colonial history. 

The' above work is a carefully written and handsomelj- printed 
account of his administrations, which gives first authentic relation of 
his mysterious death in 1759. 




Booksellers and Stationers, 



it should furthermore be borne in mind that if, in fact, 
he was addicted to intemperance, he was not alone, for 
he lived in a licentious age. " His virtues were his own ; 
and his vices were but too common in the times in which 
he lived," is the conclusion of an impartial authority 
whom we have also had occasion to quote.* 

Like some quaint specimen of statuary, cast in a 
mould which is afterwards destroyed, George Burring- 
ton can never be duplicated. And, for the " peace and 
dignity " of North Carolina, in the present advanced 
state of civilization, it is fortunate that such rulers no 
longer hold sway. But in a colon}', which is peopled 
with every class of society from its mother country, sub- 
jected to the warfare of hostile savages, and abounding 
in unexplored lands, something more than a political 
economist is required to shape its destiny. The philos- 
ophy of Locke in planning a model government of Car- 
olina, went for naught. It was a hardier type, albeit 
less refined, which opened to navigation the water-ways 
of the province, developed its resources, and laid for it 
the foundation of future greatness. 

Such was Burrington. Could we draw aside the cur- 
tain of time and view him, as he stalked up the streets 
of Edenton, or beat through unbroken forests and mias- 
mous pocosons to the sand-bars of Cape Fear, his like- 
ness would doubtless be sought in vain, save on the can- 
vas of poetic genius. — 

" On his dark face, a scorching olime, 

And toil, had done the work of time, 
Roughened the brow, the temples bared. 

And sable hairs with silver shared ; 
Yet left— what age alone could tame— 

The lip of pride, the eye of flame ; 

♦Address of Hon. George Davis, at University of N. C, 1855. 


The full-drawn lip, that upward curled, 
The eye, that seemed to scorn the world. 

That lip had terror never blenched ; 

Ne'er in that eye had tear-drop quenched 

The flash, severe, of swarthy glow. 

That mocked at pain, and knew not woe." 

Far from the land of his labors and turmoils the old 
Governor is now laid at rest. Never will that slumber 
be broken bj^ political animosity or the fiercer discords 
of private life that marred his earthly career. 

" He died, and left the world behind ; 
His once wild heart is cold ; 
'• His once keen eye is quelled and blind ; 

What more? — His tale is told."