Autograph letter signed ("Joseph Hewes"), 3 pages (9 x 7 3/8 in.; 229 x 187 mm) on a bifolium, Philadelphia, 5 June 1775, to Samuel Johnston (at Edenton, North Carolina), docketed on verso of second leaf "Joseph Hewes | 5th June 1775"; separated at central fold, each sheet backed with tissue, closing a few tiny spots of ink erosion. Half brown morocco folding-case, blue morocco labels gilt.
Writing less than two weeks before the Battle of Bunker Hill, Joseph Hewes urges "the utmost exertions of every friend to American Liberty. ..."
A remarkable and prescient letter by one of the scarcest signers, in which Hewes foresees the difficulties of the newly united colonies in raising an army and financing a prolonged military conflict. Hewes begins with a lament about the schedule and pace of the Continental Congress: "I wrote a long Letter to you by Captain Gilles, and now would write a much longer if I was at liberty to mention the business taken up by Congress, but that I cannot do till the injunction of Secrecy is taken of[f]. they have much before them, scarce a day passes without the Arrival of an express from some quarter, and altho Necessity strongly urges that they should be speedy in their determinations, yet they proceed very slowly. I wish to God you was here that I might advise with you on some matters of great importance. I could say a thousand things to you in my Chamber that I cannot by any means put on paper."
Hewes then turns more particularly to his concerns about the ability of the colonies, in the wake of the Battles of Lexington and Concord two months earlier, to pay for a regular army to repel the British. "I am exceedingly uneasy (so are my Colleagues) not that I think we are doing any thing but what Necessity will Justify, but I fear we shall be obliged to promise for our Colony much more than it will perform and perhaps more than it is able to bear.—When a large extensive Country Loses its Trade, when its Ports are all Shutt up and all exportation ceases, will there be Virtue enough found in the Country to bear heavy Taxes with patience. suppose a Country, no matter where, should be under such circumstances, and Necessity should oblige the inhabitants to raise a large Army for their defence, how is it to be paid? suppose the exigences of that country should demand one million Sterlg. per Annum, how is it to be raised? how made? how sunk?"
Hewes also looks forward to returning to North Carolina after Congress adjourns and joining Johnston at a Provincial Congress. "I will not trouble you farther with imaginary Countries, but beg leave to call your attention to your Own, where I think it will be absolutely Necessary to have a Provincial Convention immediately after our return. I think Mr. Harvey may appoint some day in August for the Meeting, an express should be sent to every County with Letters to some of the most popular Men that are friendly to our cause, and great care should be taken to have as full a representation as possible. some matters will be laid before them that will require the utmost exertions of every friend to American Liberty amongst you.—I cannot pretend to say when the Congress will break up, perhaps I may be able to guess as it a month hence." He further relates that "it has been often proposed by some of our Members out of Doors to Adjourn to Hartford or New haven in Connecticut in Order that we might be near the seat of Action, but some of the Southern Gentlemen have not yet given their Consent, nor do I think they ever will." Hewes writes that he and fellow North Carolina delegate (and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence) William Hooper endorse the move, since "it would afford ... an opportunity of Visiting the Camp of the American Army near Boston which I want much to see."
The Mr. Harvey mentioned by Hewes was John Harvey, Speaker of the North Carolina Assembly and President of that colony's first two Provinicial Conventions. Hewes's correspondent, Samuel Johnston, was a delegate to the first four of North Carolina's five Provincial Conventions, presiding over the third and fourth. He was as well a moderator of the colony's 1775 Revolutionary Convention.
Hewes closes by sending compliments from himself, Hooper, and delegate Richard Caswell to Johnston's family, and in a postscript he mentions that he has given Mr. Underhill some Philadelphia newspapers to bring to Edenton. This letter is evidently a somewhat expanded, near duplicate of a letter Hewes sent to Johnston the previous day. That letter, somewhat defective, was endorsed by Hewes "Favour of Mr. Underhill" and "Copy to S. Johnston | Underhill." It has appeared twice at auction: at Christie's, 23 April 1983, lot 47 (Property of John Gilliam Wood, Hayes Plantation, Edenton, North Carolina), and at Sotheby's, 13 December 1995, lot 156.
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