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A Most Accursed Plot in Favour of the British TyrantThe Llewelyn Conspiracy Of 1777

In the summer of 1777, a plot arose in the counties along the Roanoke River and Albemarle Sound.

Questions to Answer

Why? Who? What?


Simply put, Religion.

Why ? Both of NCs last two Royal Governors, William Tryon and Josiah Martin, promoted the Anglican Church. Governor Martin in letters to the Earl of Dartmouth was urged to give greater encouragement to the establishment of the Church of England for both political and religious motivations. Furthermore, Martin stressed that it was his opinion that the problems grew out of the distinction and animosities prevailing between the established church (Anglicans) and the more denominate protestant churches (i. e. Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, etc.).

Plight the ClergyEdentons own Reverend Daniel Earl wrote to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel: The situation of the clergy in this part of the world is at present truly critical, on account of the difficulty of comporting themselves in such a manner to give no umbrage to the Inhabitants. As for my own part, I have yet kept clear of any censure among my parishioners, and I never introduce any topic into the pulpit except exhortations and prayers for peace, good order and speedy reconciliation with Great Britain.

Other Reasons Acquisition of wealth (land, slaves, etc.) Local control Appointments from the Crown Military commissions


They were men of social prominence, some being large landholders and other holding offices of prominence within the colony.

The Conspirators These men came from Bertie, Martin, Tyrrell, Edgecombe and Hyde Counties. The primary figure in the Tory cabal was John Llewelyn. Llewelyn was wealthy and influential planter from western Martin County.

The Conspirators William Brimage: A wealthy resident of Bertie County, he had long served the Crown as a judge and prosecuting attorney. In 1769, he was appointed to preside in the Vice Admiralty Court. In 1776, he was appointed judge of the court of oyer and terminer in Edenton. His allegiances were revealed in early 1777 when he refused to act against loyalists. Others included: James Stewart, James Rawlins, Richard Taylor, David Taylor, Joseph Taylor, William May, Thomas Best, Peleg Belote, William Wallace, Daniel Leggett, Absalom Leggett, William Tyler, Peter Tyler, James Hays, John Garrett, John Everett, Daniel Bunting, William Savage, Sterling Savage, James Rogers, Malachi Manning, Willoughby Wells, John Everit, James Harrison, William Llewelyn and Francis Williamson.

What Happened? Reports regarding the creation of the state constitution in 1776 led Llewelyn to believe that some those involved in its creation wanted introduce the Romish religion/Popery to the colony. Chief among these legislators were Whitmel Hill and Willie Jones.

Local Anglicans were further incensed when the new state constitution disestablished the Anglican Church. Revolutionaries decreed that all citizens should take an oath of allegiance to the new regime. The draft was instituted requiring all able-bodied men, 16 to 50 years old, to serve in the militia and take arms up against the Crown

Llewelyn wrote his own constitution and oaths for all friends of the King. Copies were made and distributed in Martin, Edgecombe, Halifax, Bertie and Tyrrell Counties as well as Southeastern Virginia. Plans were to organize secret societies throughout the south Before everything was said and done, it was purported that the movement stretched from the Albemarle Sound to Georgia.

Prospective members were recruited at local social functions such as wheat reapings and at religious services where sympathetic lay readers/preaches presided. Prospects would swear an oath of secrecy upon being recruited. Once the oath was taken, the recruits would be educated in regards to the plot of introducing Popery to the colony. Upon taking a second oath to keep their constitution secret, it was revealed to the prospects who found nothing offensive as it all of a religious nature.

Expectations The articles were religious in nature with many conspirators arguing later that they were of little harm. One provision upheld the Holy Bible and the Anglican Church. Another required all swearing allegiance to pay 10 shillings a year to employ a Reader. Another insisted on loyalty and fidelity to King George, opposition to the Whig oath, opposition to the militia and defense of all draughted, distressed or them that are called Tories as oppressed persons, as far as in your power. In addition, all members were expected to keep a certain amount of powder and shot on hand.

Sticks and Codes To identify each other, the group employed secret signs and code words. A friend would present a small stick with 3 notches cut into it to another member as a sign. The two Tories would then alternative letters in spelling out the words B-E-T-R-U-E. Another sign they would frequently used would involve the pointing of the left forefinger to the right arm before spelling the code words. All oaths and rituals were sworn on the Book of Common Prayer.

Plots and Schemes Plans were made to take possession of the magazine at Halifax. The Tories felt that they needed to be prepared as they expected that Sir William Howe and his forces would be marching south soon which would result in a world of bloodshed. To be safe, Llewelyn and others planned to intercept General Howe in order to secure commissions in order to enlist men in support of the Crown. (Note: Llewelyn left for New York but became discouraged around Scotland Neck and returned home.)

Plots and Schemes That a certain David Taylor, a patroller over the Negroes should disaffect the minds of the negroes and cause them to run away, under the name of a rising and draw soldiers out of Halifax while at the same time members of the Society would take the magazine and the Governor. Kill all the heads of the Country in one bloody night. Furthermore, Llewellyn told one of his associates if that he could get ten men to join him he would fall to work and kill them every one speaking of Whitmel Hill and others that had threatened him as a Tory. This group of others included Governor Caswell and local Martin County leaders Nathan and James Mayo.

And the Mighty shall fall Many of the most violent schemes never took place or failed. David Taylor got cold feet and revealed the proposed slave insurrection to the Whig authorities. An attack on Tarboro was stopped by Col. Henry Irwin with all conspirators disarmed and many being encourage to take the Patriot Oath of Allegiance. As word of the conspiracy spread throughout the area, the conspirators began to flee the area.

Law should be strictly attended to Governor Caswell took immediate steps to counteract the loyalist intrigues. The militia was ordered out to guard the magazines throughout the state.

Preparing for Trial Edenton began preparing for the September 1777 term of the court of oyer and terminer at which the conspirators would stand trial for their lives. In May 1777, the General Assembly passed an act the established the penalty of death without clergy for those convicted of treason

Indictments of misprision of treason were brought against those conspirators that gave depositions against Llewelyn, while Llewelyn was standing trial for treason. Those despondents were Daniel Leggett, Absalom Leggett, William Tyler, Peter Tyler, James Hays, John Garrett, John Everett, Daniel Bunting, William Savage, Sterling Savage, James Rogers, Malachi Manning, Willoughby Wells, John Everit, James Harrison, William Llewelyn and Francis Williamson. The indictments charged that the loyalists did maliciously and advisedly endeavor to excite a great number of people to resist the Government . And did dispose sundrey people to favour the Enemy, protect deserters, oppose the draft and assist the Kings Forces. John Baptist Beasley agreed to try the group with James Iredell serving as prosecuting attorney. On September 16, 1777, John Llewelyn was convicted of the crime of high treason . The Jury also found a number of the other loyalists on trial guilty of misprision of treason. Because of the terrible condition of the Edenton jail, all those convicted were released on bond with the exception of John Llewelyn who remained in custody.

Mercy! Surprisingly, efforts began to secure Llewelyns release. Governor Caswell was petitioned to respite the Execution of that unhappy, deluded man and permit an opportunity of applying to the mercy of the next Assembly for pardon, its being his first deviation from rectitude and virtue. Professions of a return to his former good character were promised from the most considerable men in Martin County. One of his principal targets, Nathan Mayo, accompanied Llewelyns wife, Mary, to Halifax to meet with the Govenor.

Reprieve Granted.....But Caswell and the Council of State agreed to a reprieve. During the Legislatures November session, the reprieve was presented to both houses with the Governors insistence that it be made by joint ballot. Both house refused to intermeddle in the present caseunless something from the Judge who sat on the Tryal should be laid before the Governor and Council to induce them to think otherwise. Furthermore, the Legislature recommended that the sentence be carried into execution without delay. However, before the sentence could be carried out, John Baptist Beasley wrote the governor and asked for mercy for the Anglican Loyalist. With this letter, Caswell was free to grant the reprieve.

What happened to the others? There are no clear records in regards to the legal status of the others involved except for William Brimage. Daniel Le