Whether you believe that the people of Mecklenburg made a full-throated declaration of independence on 20 May 1775 or merely anti-British resolutions of less importance on 31 May 1775, what is not in dispute is that in the summer of 1775 James Jack delivered resolutions to the Continental Congress. Jack, later and popularly known as “Captain Jack” due to his rank in the county militia, was the eldest of nine children of Irish immigrants who came to America around 1730. The Jack family moved to Charlotte around 1772 where they opened a tavern known as Pat Jack’s.
In the summer of 1775 Jack was instructed “to go express to Congress with a copy of all Sd. resolutions and laws &c and a letter to our 3 members there, Richd. Caswell, Wm. Hooper & Joseph Hughes, in order to get Congress to sanction or approve them.” According to Jack’s later accounts, “I set out the following month, say June.”
The British government knew of Jack’s mission. In August 1775, Governor Martin wrote to the Earl of Dartmouth in London that he had been “informed” that “treasonable resolves” had been “sent off by express to the Congress at Philadelphia as soon as they were passed in the Committee.” The road to Philadelphia was nearly 560 miles with Loyalists and British agents everywhere. If Jack were caught carrying the seditious documents from Mecklenburg he would have been hanged for high treason.
In a brief account in 1819, Jack wrote, “I then proceeded on to Philadelphia, and delivered the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence of May 1775, to Richard Caswell and William Hooper, the Delegates to Congress from the State of North Carolina.” Beyond Jack’s account, no first hand record exists of Jack’s meeting with the North Carolina delegates and a copy of the papers he delivered has never been found.
Almost one hundred years later, an historian named Cyrus Hunter gave the following account of Jack’s ride to Philadelphia:
“Upon his arrival [Captain Jack] immediately obtained an interview with the North Carolina delegates (Caswell, Hooper and Hewes), and, after a little conversation on the state of the country, then agitating all minds, Captain Jack drew from his pocket the Mecklenburg resolutions of the 20th of May, 1775, with the remark: ‘Here, gentlemen, is a paper that I have been instructed to deliver to you, with the request that you should lay the same before Congress.’ The congressmen told Jack that independence was “premature.” According to Hunter, Jack then replied:
“Gentlemen, you may debate here about ‘reconciliations’ and memorialize your king, but, bear it in mind, Mecklenburg owes no allegiance to, and is separated from the crown of Great Britain forever.” Hunter presented Jack’s ride as heroic and legendary as Paul Revere’s, helping Jack earn the moniker, “Charlotte’s Paul Revere.” However, without proper historical evidence the truth surrounding James Jack’s ride to Philadelphia may never be known.
The Declaration of Independence by the Citizens of Mecklenburg County, published by the Governor under the authority and direction of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina (“Governor’s Report”) (Raleigh, 1831). An online version is maintained by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library at www.cmstory.org in document index in “All About the Declaration” section.
John McKnitt Alexander, “Rough Notes,” in the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence Papers in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill .
10 The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, “Letter from Josiah Martin to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth,” June 30, 1775.
Hunter, Cyrus L. Sketches of Western North Carolina (Raleigh, 1877).