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Full text of "The life and character of Governor Alexander Martin"

Gov. TlleXanaeP mart* 



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LIBRHRY 

OF TJIE 

UHlversity of North C^arolioa. 

EndcWfd l)y the DialeL'tic and I'hihai- 
t!iri>pie SoL-ieties. 



eo\^- T-t^'Ana 






THE LIFE AND CHARACTER 



OF 



Governor Alexander Martin, 



BY 



ROBERT M. DOUGLAS, A. M., LL. D., 
Greensboro, N. C. 






Digitized by tine Internet Archive 

in 2010 witii fundjng from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil 



http://www.archive.org/details/lifecharacterofg10doug 



jPl ZD ID P2. E S S 

OF 

ROBERT M. DOUGLAS, A. M., LL D., 

UPON THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF 

GOVERNOR ALEXANDER MARTIN, 

Delivered at the Anmial Celebration of tJie Battle 
of Guilford Court House, July ^, i8gS. 



Mr. President: 

We meet here to-day to celebrate the anniversary of a 
nation's birth on a spot consecrated by the life blood of 
her faithful sons freely giv^en in her defense in the weak- 
est hour of her infancy. 

It is hard to realize that only one hundred and twenty- 
two years have passed since that starry flag was first 
given to the free air of its native heaven. To-day it 
floats on every sea, representing a nation whose material 
power dominates the western hemisphere, and casts its 
broadening shadow across the world. Infinitely greater 
is the influence of the moral principles which it represents 
as the emblem of the most perfect union of liberty and of 
law that the world has ever seen. 

A careful study of the birth, growth and decline of the 
great nations and peoples within historic times, which 
seem to have been regulated by some fixed laws whose 
nature we cannot comprehend, but whose existence we 
are forced to admit, plainly indicates that we are yet far 
from the meridian of our national life. What our future 
may be, no human judgment can foretell; but I have a 
firm conviction that the future destinies of the world are 
in the hands of the English speaking people. One in 
blood and in language, governed substantially by the 
same laws and moved by the same high aspirations, sep- 



arated alone b\' the natural landmarks that define the 
linnits of their respective influence, they will go on to- 
gether in perfect harmon}', in the accomplishment of 
their great mission, with a single purpose and perhaps to 
a common destiny. 

Alread}' the magnificent empire of Spain has gone to 
deca\'. and her imperial power lies with her sunken fleet 
in Manila Bay, both mere memories of the past. She is 
still keeping up a hopeless coritest for dynastic reasons, 
but Sampson's guns are rolling the death- knell of her 
dominion on the great continent she once claimed by 
right of discovery and of conquest. 

Whatever may be the results of this war as to territo- 
rial expansion, it was entered into with evident reluc- 
tance by the American people, and only from the high- 
est sense of national duty and self defense. Once in, we 
know but one way out 

Terrible as war must always be, it has its compensa- 
tions in the patriotism it engenders and the heroism it 
develops. In spite of our sorrow, we cannot but feel a 
mournful pride that North Carolina, ever last in the quar- 
rel and first in the fight, offered up the first sacrifice upon 
the altar of our re-united land. 

Our own Worth Bagley, brave as the bravest, and ten- 
der, loving and true as becomes the brave, standing at 
the post of duty and smiling gentl}^ in the face of danger, 
calmly met the embrace of death. 

Nations, like individuals, have their infancy as well as 
their manhood; and the patriot who guards the cradle of 
a new born state, deserves fully as much as the hero who 
follows its conquering banner in the full tide of its impe- 
rial power. Rome, stern, heroic Rome ,not only deified 
her founder; but held in the highest veneration and per- 
petuated in the most enduring form, the memory of the 
she-wolf which suckled him in his helpless infancy on the 
Palatine Hill. 

The glorious victory of Manila, unparalleled in its com- 



pleteness, was not as important in itself or in its effect 
upon the destinies of mankind, as the battle of Guilford 
Court House. Had there been no Guilford Court House, 
there would have been no Yorktown; and had there been 
no Yorktown, there would have been no Manila. The 
roar of Dewey's 8 inch guns was, in historic result, but 
the echo of the squirrel rifles fired across yonder field by 
the Guilford militia. 

Since the devoted labors of Judge Schenck, the founder 
of our Association and the restorer of the battlefield, but 
little is left to be said about the battle itself; and so it has 
become usual for the annual orator to select some revo- 
lutionary personage as the subject of his address. Cus- 
tom, as well as a certain degree of necessity, has gener- 
ally imposed this duty upon some kinsman of the patriot 
dead. 

As the old Romans thought the duty of eulogy rested 
upon the nearest surviving relative, under the idea that 
he was best qualified to speak of the virtues of the de- 
ceased; so it is thought that those who proudly claim 
their kindred blood will make the greater effort to collect 
from the scattered and exceedingl}- imperfect records of 
that period, the necessary facts to perpetuate the memory 
of our illustrious dead. Thus I am here to-day to give a 
brief outline of the life and character of Governor Alex- 
ander Martin. 

I trust you will do me the justice to remember that 
this is the fourth of July, and that a long historical dis- 
sertation would wear out my welcome. Moreover, a full 
record of the life of one who was for so many years the 
directing power of the State, would be, for that period, 
almost the history of the state itself. Therefore the 
merest outline must suffice. 

The founder of the family in America was Hugh Mar- 
tin, a Presbyterian minister, who emigrated from County 
Tyrone, Ireland, in 1721, and settled in Hunterdon coun- 
ty, New Jersey, where his five sons were born. They 



were Alexander, James, Thomas, Samuel and Robert, 
the Governor being the eldest and Robert, my great- 
grandfather, being the youngest. The five brothers 
came Soutli shortly before the Revolution, and settled in 
Virginia; but all except Thomas soon afterwards removed 
to North Carolina. 

Alexander was born in 1740. and graduated at Prince- 
ton University, then Nassau Hall, in 1756, at the age of 
sixteen. His scholarship must have been remarkably 
fine, as shown not only by the fact of his graduation at 
so early an age, but from the further fact that his staid 
old Alma Mater conferred upon him, in the midst of a 
busy life, the highest honor she could bestow, the degree 
of Doctor of Laws. (LL. D.) 

In 1772 he settled at Guilford Court House, which was 
then situated less than a mile east from here, near the 
edge of the battlefield, and was subsequently named 
Martinsville in his honor. When the battle was fought 
he was a member of the Council Extraordinary. He 
must have become a citizen of the state before 1771, as 
Foote and Moore both state that he and Rev. Dr. David 
Caldwell were present at the battle of the Alamance, and 
made fruitless appeals to both sides for peace. That a 
young stranger should have been selected to accompany 
that eminent divine upon so difficult, dangerous and 
thankless an undertaking, vvas the higiiest tribute to his 
personal character, judgment and patriotism. 

In 1771 he was apparently a resident of Rowan Coun- 
ty, as his name appears among the officers of that coun- 
ty, signed to an agreement dated March 7, 1771, with the 
Committee of the Regulators to subm.it all matters of griev- 
ance to arbitration. What office he held does not appear 
from the paper; but Rumple, in his History of Rowan 
County, says that he lived in Salisbury until Guilford 
County was erected, and that he was frequently commis- 
sioned by the Crown to hold the District Court at Salis- 



bury, having' presided over that court as late as the first 
day of June, 1775. 

On March 18, 1771. he and Colonel John Frohock 
wrote to Governor Tryon giving an account of their 
agreement with the Regulators, and urging a policy of 
justice and conciliation. The answer of Tryon was ex- 
tremely sarcastic, written in the pride and insolence of 
power to one whom he never dreamed would, by the 
choice of a free people, be his successor in the glorious 
years to come. 

In his letter of April 12, 1771, to the Earl of Hillsboro, 
Governor Tryon speaks of Alexander Martin as " Colo- 
)iel Martin." So at that early age Martin was evidently 
a man of position and influence. 

In 1774 and 1775 he was a member of the Colonial As- 
sembly from Guilford County. He was appointed Lieu- 
tenant Colonel of the Second Regiment from this State 
in the Continental line on September ist, 1775, and was 
promoted to the Colonelcy of the same regiment on April 
10, 1776, which he held until November 22, 1777 when 
he resigned. 

Wheeler says that: "He, with his regiment, was in 
the battle of Brandywine, nth September, 1775, where 
Lafayette was wounded; and was near him when he re- 
ceived the wound. In the attack of Washington on the 
British at Germantown, October 4th, 1777, he was pres- 
ent when his General, Francis Nash, was killed." In 

1779 he was elected state senator from Guilford County, 
and again in 1780, 1781, 1782, 1785, 1787, and 1788. In 

1780 he was elected Speaker of the Senate, and again in 

1781 and 1782, as we then had no Lieutenant-Governor, 
an office which was not created until the Constitution of 
1868. 

After the terrible disasters occurring in the South dur- 
ing the year 1780, the Legislature meeting in September, 
created a Board of War "to direct and control the mili- 
tary of the state," and elected as its members Governor 



6 

Martin, John Penn and Oroondates Davis. Of this re- 
markable body, whose powers seem to have been as am- 
ple as tliey were undefined, Governor Martin was the 
Chairman and admittedly its dominating spirit. 

Gov. Graham, in his admirable historical lecture deliv- 
ered at New York in 1S5S, in speaking- of this l^oard and 
its members, says that its creation " was utterly at vari- 
ance with the plain precepts of the Constitution"; but 
that its members " undertook the task devolved upon them 
in the most devoted spirit of patriotism, and with a proper 
sense of its magnitude, and executed its duties with fear- 
lessness, ability and eminent public benefit." Stronger 
commendation could not come from a higher source. 

In the following year the Board of War was discontin- 
ued, and a "Council Extraordinary" created, who, with 
the Governor (Nash), were invested with the powers of 
government during the recess of the Legislature, and in- 
definitely if the invasion of the enemy should prevent the 
holding of elections and the meeting of the Assembly at 
the usual time. This Council was composed of Gover- 
nor Martin, Governor Caswell and Mr. Bignall. 

It is a sad commentar}- upon the condition of our early 
records, that I have been utterly unable to escertain how 
long this truly e.xtraordinary body remained in existence, 
or what it did, if an}thing. Wheeler makes no allusion 
to it whatever in his history, while Moore merely men- 
tions its creation, and does not even include it in his in- 
dex. 

Our State Records are now being compiled -ind pub- 
lished, but the latest volume has not yet reached this 
period of our history. 

I suspect the Council did nothing, but for what reason 
it is difficult to say. Governor Caswell, great and patri- 
otic as he was, was a man of fixed views and strong preju- 
dices, and for some reason was personally antagonistic 
to Governor Martin. It may be that Caswell, having as 
Major General been in command of the entire body of 



State militia, expected the Council merel}' to register his 
will. If so, he found in Martin a man who not only was 
his equal in other respects, but possessed the advantage 
of a calmer judgment and a steadier temper. 

It is truly unfortunate if the divergent views of these 
two great men prevented them from giving to the state 
they loved so well, the full measure of service of their 
great intellects and loyal hearts. 

Upon the capture of Governor Burke, by Fannin in 
September, 1881, Governor Martin, by virtue of his office 
as Speaker of the Senate, succeeded to the Governorship, 
and became in name as well as in fact the head of the 
state government. Governor Burke returned the follow- 
ing year, and resumed his office for the remainder of his 
term; but was soon again succeeded by Gov. Martin, 
who was elected in the Fall of 1782 and again in 1783. 

The Constitution of 1776 provided that: "The Sen- 
ate and House of Commons jointly, at their first meeting 
after each annual election, shall, by ballot, elect a Gov- 
ernor for one year, who sJiall not be eligible to that office 
longer than three years in six successive years. This 
provision compelled the retirement of Governor Martin 
at the end of the year 1784. He was immediately re- 
elected as Senator from Guilford County, and was again 
made Speaker of that body, succeeding Governor Cas- 
well, v/ho had succeeded him as Governor. 

In 1786 he was elected by joint ballot of the two 
houses of the General Assembly one of the five delegates 
to the Federal Convention called to meet in Philadelphia 
to frame the Constitution of the United States. This 
convention convened on Friday, May 25th, 1787, and 
among those present Governor Martin's name appears 
first among the delegates from North Carolina, on page 
139 of volume i of Elliott's Debates. As usual with all 
his duties, he took an active and intelligent part in its 
proceedings; but for some reason both he and William 
R. Davie were absent when the Constitution was signed, 



and hence their names do not appear to that immortal 
instrument in the formation of which they took so deep 
an interest, and the ultimate adoption of which by their 
own state was so larf^ely due to their efforts. In the 
same year Governor Martin was again elected to the 
State Senate, and again became its presiding officer. At 
that time this position was much more important than at 
present, and was universally regarded as second only to 
the Governor in dignit}' and intluence. 

This Legislature called a Constitutional Convention to 
meet at Hillsborough in July 1788, to consider the adop- 
tion of the Federal Constitution. Governor Martin was 
a candidate for the Conv^ention, but was defeated by his 
old friend Doctor David Caldwell, who was an intense 
Republican, as the followers of Jefferson then called 
themselves, and bitterly opposed to the adoption of the 
Constitution. 

The deleat of Martin was practically the defeat of the 
Constitution for the time being; as the Convention by a 
vote of 184 to 84, more than a two-thirds majority, deter- 
mined neither to adopt nor reject the Constitution, but 
simply to recommend a bill of rights and tiveniy-six 
amendments; and it then adjourned sine die to await the 
action of the other states. 

Gov. Martin was immediately returned to the State 
Senate, and again elected Speaker. No stronger proof 
of the stern independence of the stalwart yeomanry of 
Guilford County could have been given than their oppos- 
ition to the Federal Constitution in spite of the earnest 
appeals of their great countyman, whom they always 
loved, honored and trusted. That trust was never be- 
trayed, and that love and confidence were never lost. 

The Constitution having been adopted by a majority of 
the states, the government of the United States went into 
operation in the Spring of 1789. The fourth day of March 
was set for the meeting of Congress; but a quorum of the 
Senate was not obtained until April 6th, and General 



Washington was not inaugurated as President until the 
30th day of April. 

Prompt action on the part of North Carolina becanne 
imperative, and a new Constitutional Convention was 
called. Both the Convention and the General Assembly- 
met at Fayetteville on November 2nd, 1789. 

The Federal Constitution was adopted, and Governor 
Johnston and Benjamin Hawkins were elected Senators. 
This necessitated the immediate election of Governor, an 
office then regarded as of greater dignity and importance 
than that of Senator, as he was the head of the sovereign 
state of which the Senator was only one of the represen- 
tatives. In fact Mr. Jefferson regarded the Governors 
of the respective states as the only officials whose visits 
the President could be expected to return. 

It is impossible for us to realize the extreme reluctance 
and grave misgivings with which this state entered the 
Federal Union. A republic formed by the voluntary 
aggregation of sovereign states, widely separated and of 
diverse internal interests, was an untried experiment in 
the history of the world. All the republics and democ- 
racies of former times had virtually been confined in their 
governing power to their dominating cities. The Roman 
republic was simply the republic of Rome. The city 
was the creator of the republic, and was properly called 
"the mistress of the world". Here the National govern- 
ment was the creature of pre-existing states, and to call 
Washington City the mistress of this country would be a 
pure absurdity. 

North Carolina had many illustrious men from whom 
to choose her Chief Executive; but she felt the need of 
her strongest son, one not only of proved loyalty and 
ability, but one whose calm judgment and steady hand 
could be trusted to guide the infant ship of state through 
the stormy billows that hid the horizon. In this hour of 
supremest trial the heart and mind of the people turned 
to Alexander Martin. 



10 

He was immediately elected Governor, and the Old 
North State began her magnificent career as one of the 
United States of America under his directing hand. He 
was again elected Governor in 1790 and again in 1791, 
thus for the second time serving out the full number of 
terms allowed by the Constitution. 

Ji/'.i' times Governor of this state, once by succession 
andyfz'f times by direct election. Governor Martin has 
left a record that has never been equalled and seldom 
approached. Governor Caswell was elected four times 
and Governor Vance three times. 

Of Martin's wonderful career as Governor, Colonel 
Wheeler, whose extreme Jeffersonian leaning made him 
by no means partial to our great Federalist, simply says, 
on page 182 of his history: "He (Alexander Martin) 
conducted the affairs of the State in a troubled and peril- 
ous period with great dignity, unswerving fidelity and 
scrupulous integrity." Justice could say no less, and 
eulogy need say no more. 

In 1793 Governor Martin was elected to the Senate of 
the United States, and served his term with his habitual 
ability, fidelity and distinction. While not agreeing with 
the extreme views of Hamilton, he was a staunch Feder- 
alist, and a devoted follower of Washington, whose per- 
sonal friendship he so long enjoyed. 

In the childhood of a nation its people are more impul- 
sive and less conservative than in its more mature devel- 
opment. It may be the want of national experience, and 
perhaps to a greater extent, the disruptive influence in- 
separable from successful revolution. It is a realization 
of this fact that has lead the students of history to a more 
thorough appreciation of the sublime character of Wash- 
ington, who was far greater in his restraining influence 
over the dangerous elements of the country than in his 
more brilliant achievements. As a successful general, 
and even as the founder of a mighty nation, he may be 
surpassed by others; but in his formative influence upon 



11 

the character of a great and noble people, he has no 
superior in history, and but one rival in Alfred the 
Great. 

The principles of the French Revolution, for the time 
beinsr, exercised a wonderful influence over the American 
people, in some sections endangering the existence ot 
organized government, and even threatening the founda- 
tions of the Christian faith. No Irishman, whether Cath- 
olic or Protestant, has any toleration for infidelity; and 
while he may not live up to the doctrines of his Church, 
he is always ready to fight for them. Governor Martin 
from his seat in the Senate, saw the threatening dangers- 
and regardless of personal consequences, sternly faced 
the gathering storm. He may have underestimated the 
ultimate conservatism of the people, and doubted too 
much Jefferson's ability to control the dangerous elements 
he had aroused, but he did the right as he was given to 
see the right. 

With his lofty patriotism, deep convictions and strong 
character, he could not do otherwise. He w^as Alexan- 
der Martin; and while the willow may bend, the oak 
must stand or fall. He strongly supported Adams' ad- 
ministration, voted for the Alien and Sedition acts, and 
at the end of his term retired to private life with the 
great party to which he belonged. 

Moore's history on page 428 of volume i, says that 
Jesse Franklin succeeded Bloodworth as Senator in 1798. 
This is a mistake. Franklin succeeded Martin, and took 
his seat on December 30th, 1800, as shown on page 21 of 
the Annals of Congress for the first session of the Sixth 
Congress. 

About 1789 Governor Martin moved his residence to 
the new county of Rockingham, which was cut off from 
Guilford in 1785, and thereafter resided on a plantation, 
to which he gave the name of Danbury, situated on the 
south bank of Dan River, at the mouth of Jacobs' Creek. 
Here he lived until his death in 1807, possessing ample 



12 

means and exercising the most generous hospitality. 
Among his gue-ts was General Washington, who spent 
several (]a\"s with him on his return from his Southern 
trip in 1790, arriving there about the first week in June 
of 1791. 

They had long been friends. Besides having been 
United States Senator during Washington's entire second 
term, during which he strongly supported his adminis- 
tration, he had served under him during the War. Upon 
his leaving the army General Washington presented to 
him a pa.ir of silver cups. One ot the cups now belongs 
to Colonel James Martin, of Winston, N. C, who is a 
lineal descendant of the gallant Colonel James Martin 
who commanded the Guilford militia under Greene, and 
who was Governor Martin's brother. This cup is now 
on the desk before me. 

Governor Martin was always a warm friend of our 
State Universit}'. .\s Governor he earnestly recom- 
mended its support by the State. In 1790 he became 
one of its trustees, and remained so until his death. He 
was President of the Board of Trustees in 1792-3, but 
gave up this position upon his election to the U. S. Sen- 
ate. Another proof of his wonderful popularity is shown 
in the action of the Legislature, which promptly struck 
from the map of North Carolina the names of the coun- 
ties of Tryon, Bute and Dobbs, and yet retained the name 
of Martin County, although it had been named in honor 
of Josiah Martin, the Royal Governor. No one would 
raise his hand against a name that stood so high on the 
patriot roll. 

Governor Martin represented Rockingham County in 
the Senate in 1804 and 1805. It may seem strange to 
some that one who had so repeatedly held such high 
positions should, in his old age, be willing to go again 
to the Legislature; but his fellow citizens knew well the 
incalculable benefit of being represented by one of his 
great ability, exalted character and long experience; 



13 

while with him the post of duty was the post of honor. 
That he was again elected president of the Senate showed 
that he retained to the last the respect and confidence of 
his fellow men. 

Like others of our greatest men, the character of Gov- 
ernor Martin exhibited some apparent inconsistencies. 
The brave old patriot, whose life was full of heroic and 
successful effort, and whose distinguishing characteristic 
was strength, — stern, dominating, matchless strength, — 
in his hours of relaxation relapsed into the quiet poet- 
dreamer, wandering along the leafy banks of the Dan, 
and writing verses. 

This brings us to another phase of human character 
which recalls a remark made by my father when I was a 
boy. It then made a deep impression on my mind, which 
has been strengthened by the observation and reflection 
of maturer years. He was discussing the character of 
General Winfield Scott in connection with his celebrated 
" Hastyplateofsoup" dispatch, and remarked that his ex- 
perience had shown that even the greatest men generally 
prided themselves upon the particular qualities which 
they did not happen to possess. Governor Martin, by 
the practical consensus of contemporaneous judgment, 
eminent as soldier, patriot, statesman and scholar, thought 
that he was a poet. I regret to say that the deliberate 
judgment of posterity is that in this view he was mis- 
taken. His ode on the death of General Francis Nash 
and lines on the death of Gov. Caswell have been pub- 
lished in the University Magazine, and have been highly 
praised for their patiotism. His admiring kinsmen con- 
sole themselves with the idea that his best poems must 
have been lost. 

Upon his death in 1807, his body was placed in a vault 
constructed in a beautiful wooded bluff overlooking the 
river. Here his remains rested in peace for thirty or 
forty years, until a great freshet in the river caused the 
water to rise above the level of the vault, into which it 



14 

flowed. He was devoted to ti>e river; and it seemed 
strangely pathetic that its wat-s should, after so many 
years, come as if to take once ninre in their fond cmhrace 
all that remained of him it lo\ -d so well, "grieving-, if 
aught inanimate e'er grieves o\' -r the unreturning brave." 
As the vault was injured, his remains were nioved and 
buried elsewhere, but at what spot no one seems to know, 
and it is impossible to obtain even a clue from the con- 
flicting statements. It is a singular coincidence that he 
and General Greene should both sleep in unknown graves. 

A contemporary, writing of Governor Martin, says 
that: "He was about five feet nine or ten inches in 
height, well formed and fine featured." I have a large 
photograph of him taken from an original portrait also 
in the possession of Colonel Martin. The head is large 
and well shaped, and has the poise of conscious strength. 
The face is strong and attractive. The nose is long and 
straight, with full thin nostrils. The iorehead is not 
unusually high, but is broad and well developed. The 
jaw is square and massive, indicating, with the firm 
straight lips, e.Ktraordinary force of character, with an 
inflexible will and great concentration of purpose. The 
lips seem to be slightly compressed, which is sometimes 
the result of the habitual effort of self-control. The 
eyes, which are large and wide apart, are looking straight 
at you and apparently through you, from lids that are 
slightly closed. It is not the laughing eye of Erin, whose 
wrath "a word can kindle and a word assuage." It is 
rather the calm eye of the frontiersman, long used to 
danger for which it was ever watchful, but from which it 
never shrank. 

The entire expression is one of repose; but there is 
something which suggests: 

"That underneath that face like summer ocean's, 

Its lip as moveless and its cheek as clear, 
Slumbers a whirlwind of the heart's emotions, 

Love, hatred— pride, hope, sorrow — all save fear." 



15 

Governor Martin, like all strong men, had his enemies; 
but he brushed them aside with too much indifference to 
leave any record of his defense. He has since had 
detractors even among self-styled historians; but no de- 
fense or vindication is necessary of one for whom the pa- 
triots of the Revolution thought no honor too high, and 
in whom George Washington could find a kindred spirit- 

From this cup, sanctified by the lips of the Father of 
his Country in the pledge of friendship to my honored 
kinsman, and now filled with pure water from the spring 
that quenched the dying thirst of the heroes who fell 
upon this field, I drink in the deepest reverence, to the 
memory of the Deathless Dead. 



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