Letters between Nathanael Greene and the Society of Friends at New-Garden, courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina. Click through to see in the North Carolina Digital Collections.
A mysterious pair of letters appears in the May 24, 1790 edition of the North Carolina Chronicle; or, Fayetteville Gazette, and we want your help interpreting it! We came across the letters while browsing Guilford County materials in the North Carolina Digital Collections for our County of the Week series.
The letters, originally written during the Revolutionary War, reflect the difficult choice Americans faced during the war–between loyalty to the British crown and patriotism to their local community–and the they also speak to the difficult position of North Carolina Quakers dedicated to pacifism. Although the original letters are fascinating in their own right, we were curious about why they were reprinted in the newspaper almost a decade later. What related events might have been happening in North Carolina and Guilford County in the spring of 1790? What was the goal of the newspaper in reprinting the letters?
In the first of the two letters, Nathanael Greene, famous commander of the Southern Department of the Continental army (and, later, namesake of Greensboro) pleads for help from the Friends (Quakers) of New-Garden in Guilford County. Greene’s army had just fought one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, and Greene’s success at this battle turned the tide of the war in favor of the Americans. However, Greene’s army left to pursue the enemy towards Wilmington, leaving behind its wounded soldiers at the Courthouse. Thus, Greene wrote the Greensboro Quakers begging them for help.
I address myself to your humanity, for the relief of the suffering wounded at Guilford court-house. . . . [Y]ou are generally considered as enemies to the independence of America; I entertain other sentiments. . . . I respect you as a people, and shall always be ready to protect you, from every violence and oppression. . . .
The British are flattering you with conquest, and exciting your apprehensions respecting religious liberty. They deceive you in both. . . .
Having given you this information, I have only to remark, that I shall be exceedingly obliged to you, to contribute all your power to relieve the unfortunate wounded at Guilford. . . . I shall be able to judge of your feelings as men, and principles as a society.”
The Society of Friends at New-Garden’s reply, also reprinted in the newspaper a decade later, indicates that:
we shall do all that lies in our power; although . . . from our present situation we are ill able to assist. . . as the Americans have lain much upon us, and of late the British have plundered and entirely broke up many amongst us. . . . but, notwithstanding all this . . . we have as yet made no distinction as to party and their cause, as we have now none to commit our cause to, but God alone”
What knowledge do you have to share about the original letter, and why do you think it was reprinted so many years later in the North Carolina Chronicle; or, Fayetteville Gazette?
If you’re interested in the history of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in North Carolina and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, you might be interested in these titles from the Government & Heritage Library:
Copy of sketch of New Garden Quaker community, Guilford Co., North Carolina, time of battle of Guilford Court House (March 15, 1781), Digital Collections
Minutes of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends … (1872; 1908, 1911-1912, 1915, 1945)
Babits, Lawrence E. and Joshua B. Howard, Long, obstinate, and bloody : the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (2009)
Hilty, Hiram H., New Garden Friends Meeting : the Christian people called Quakers (1983)
Newlin, Algie I., The Battle of New Garden (1977)