Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Samuel Johnston, 13 April 1792

From Samuel Johnston

Senate Chamber 13th. April 1792


I have heard of but few suits brought by British-Creditors, since the peace, for the recovery of Debts in the State of North Carolina, and never heard that any one had failed of a Recovery because he was a British Subject. In one instance where a Suit was instituted under my direction for the recovery of a Debt contracted in the year 1768 at which time the plaintiff returned to Great Britain and has been resident in London from that time, a recovery was had in the Superior Court at Edenton in April last, for the full value, nor was it any part of the defence that the Plaintiff was a British Subject, tho the fact was notorious. The parties were Alexander Elmsly agst. Stevens Lee’s Exors.

The case of Bayard against Singleton, as I recollect it, was this. Mr. Cornell the Father of Mrs. Bayard was a Merchant in the Town of Newbern in North Carolina. Sometime previous to the Declaration of Independence, he went to Europe, leaving his Family in Newbern and after that returned from Europe to New York, then a British Garrison. From New York he came to Newbern in a Flag of Truce; but the Assembly, then sitting, refused to permit him to come on shore unless he would take an Oath of Allegiance to the State; which he refused. While on board the Vessel in the Harbour of Newbern, he conveyed the whole of his Estate in North Carolina to his Children respectively, by several Deeds of Gift, which were duly proved and registered. Mr. Cornell then, with the permission of the Executive, removed his Wife and Children to New York. All Mr. Cornell’s estate was afterwards declared to be confiscated by Act of Assembly, and all the property which Mr. Cornell had conveyed [to] his Children was seized and sold by Commissioners appointed f[or] the Sale of confiscated Estates. Mr. Singleton became a purchaser [of] part of it under this Sale. One of Mr. Cornell’s Daughters, who cl[aimed] that part under one of the abovementioned Conveyances, instituted an Ejectment for the Recovery of it and on tryal a verdict was given for the Defendant.

I should have done myself the pleasure sooner to have answered your Queries, had I not part with your Notes immediately and did not get them back till this morning. I am Sir Your most Obedient Servant,

Saml. Johnston

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); slightly mutilated, so that some words and parts of words are lost, being supplied from PrC (DLC), the latter in Lambert’s hand, with the following at head of text in TJ’s hand: “No. 54” (being item 54 appended to TJ to Hammond, 29 May 1792). Tr (DNA: RG 59, SDR). Recorded in SJL as received 13 Apr. 1792.

In the case of Bayard v. Singleton, William and Elizabeth Bayard had brought an action of ejectment to recover the New Bern property that had been confiscated from Samuel Cornell by the state of North Carolina under the terms of a 1779 act for the confiscation of Loyalist property and purchased by Singleton under the terms of another act passed in 1782 for the sale of confiscated lands. The Bayards alleged that they were the rightful owners of the property in question because Cornell, a royal councillor who remained a British subject during the War for Independence, had deeded it to Mrs. Bayard before the 1779 Confiscation Act was passed. But the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Singleton in November 1787 on the grounds that Cornell’s deed to Mrs. Bayard was invalid because at the time he executed it he was an alien enemy who had no right to own land in North Carolina. At the same time the court also declared that no alien could hold land in the state (Bayard v. Singleton, Hugh T. Lefler, ed., North Carolina History Told by Contemporaries [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1948], p. 125–8; Summary of Bayard v. Singleton, n.d., enclosed in Phineas Bond to Leeds, 10 Nov. 1789, PRO: FO 4/7, f. 284–5; see also Richard O. DeMond, The Loyalists in North Carolina during the Revolution [Durham, N.C., 1940], p. 170–3, 188–9). Johnston neglected to inform TJ that he had been a counsel for the plaintiffs in Bayard v. Singleton.

Index Entries