Editor’s Note: In the days and months leading up to the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, local declarations issued by official bodies could be very personal. They could indicate whether a specific person was deemed an enemy or true friend of liberty, as the two declarations included here show. The first pinpoints “a certain John Schaw.” The committee declaration states “it our duty to declare, that the said Schaw has herein shown himself a busy tool, and an enemy to American liberty.” In counterpoint, the second declares a Major Trent “a true friend of American liberty,” despite slanderous efforts “at having his character traduced in this publick manner” (in a newspaper).
Norfolk Borough (Virginia) Committee Declaration of an Enemy to American Liberty
Norfolk Borough Committee Chamber, August 8, 1775.
Whereas, it appears from undoubted testimony, that a certain John Schaw, of this Borough, did, in the presence of Lord Dunmore, officiously point out to the Soldiery at Gosport one Alexander Main,Fifer to one of the Volunteer Companies of this place, as a person who ought to be apprehended for his impudence (as the said Schaw expressed himself) in wearing a hunting-shirt in their presence, in consequence of which the unhappy man was apprehended, and is now, by his Lordship’ s order, confined on board the Otter, sloop-of-war; we therefore think it our duty to declare, that the said Schaw has herein shown himself a busy tool, and an enemy to American liberty, and as such, we advise every friend to his Country to have no further dealing or connection with him.
WILLIAM DAVIES, Secretary.
West-Augusta County (Virginia) Committee Declaration of a True Friend to American Liberty
At a meeting of the Committee of the County of West-Augusta, on Friday, October 27, 1775:
Major William Trent produced a Maryland Paper of September last, in which, under the Williamsburgh head, of the 8th of the month, was the following paragraph: “By a gentleman who came passenger in the Ship Baltimore, bound for Maryland, we learn that one Captain Trent, a native of Pennsylvania, left London about the beginning of May, being intrusted by Lord North with the sum of £ 40,000, to fee the Indians to cut our throats.” Uneasy at having his character traduced in this publick manner, and in order to remove any bad impressions it may have made on such of his countrymen as are not acquainted with him, he thought it prudent to apply to us, to whom he is well known, as well as to the inhabitants in general on this side the Mountain, to have always been a friend to his Country, and at the time produced letters from gentlemen of family and fortune in England, to him, which being read, prove his connections are with the friends of America. He likewise showed copies of letters written by him to gentlemen there, which breathe the strongest spirit of American freedom.
His using his influence with the Indians at the Treaty lately held here in favour of the United Colonies, as well as its being his interest to keep peace with them, and to be on good terms with the inhabitants where his estate chiefly lies, all serve to corroborate the opinion we entertain of his attachment to his Country. Therefore, it is unanimously Resolved, That the paragraph in the Maryland Paper, under the Williamsburgh head, is false and scandalous, and seems to be inserted with a design to ruin him in the opinion of his countrymen, and to sow dissensions amongst us.
Resolved, That Major Trent’ s conduct has been, on all occasions, that of a true friend to American liberty; and that any injury done him would be the cause of much mischief, as his numerous friends and acquaintances, as well amongst ourselves as amongst the Six Nations, would resent it.
Resolved, It is the opinion of this Committee, that the Printers ought to be cautious how they suffer publications in their Papers against any person, without good and sufficient grounds, and more especially against the friends of this Country.
Resolved, As Major Trent has ordered the author of this publication to be sued, that all friends to the Country ought to endeavour to have him apprehended.
Resolved, That these Resolves be sent to Messrs˙ W˙ & T˙ Bradford, of Philadelphia, and they be requested to publish them in their Paper; and as the paragraph has appeared in most of the other Papers on the Continent, the Printers of them will no doubt look upon it as a piece of justice due from them to Major Trent to publish these Resolves in their Papers.
GEORGE CROGHAN, Chairman.
American Archives, Vol. 3, Fourth Series, Peter Force, ed., Washington, D.C.: M. St. Claire Clark and Peter Force, 1846, p. 66 (Declaration of an Enemy to American Liberty)
Liberty! The American Revolution, Peter Fleming, New York: Viking, 1997