Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Scotch-Irish leader in pre-Revolution North Carolina: Rev David Caldwell (1725–1824) and the Battle of Alamance (1771)

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Rich coastal elites with their rigged political systems.
Lower class rural mountain communities, growing disaffected and resentful.
A huge culture gap.
Simmering tensions.

This basic storyline sounds very familiar to us today, sounding a lot like the Hillbilly Elegy 2016 narrative. but this was North Carolina in the 1770s. The state was being run by those on the east coast, with scant regard for the folk in the hill country in the west towards Appalachia. It was a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture – this website says that North Carolina was –

"divided into two generally different societies, an eastern seat of government appointing or controlling local officials, and there being confusing tax laws in place, it is easy to understand the feeling of alienation the backcountry people experienced.”

In the thick of it all was Presbyterian minister Rev David Caldwell (1725–1824). This biography gives us some insight –

“… In December 1775 delegates of the Continental Congress met with Rev. Caldwell. Although seemingly isolated on the frontier, Rev. Caldwell joined an intercolonial movement that aided attainment of America’s independence. Beginning in January, 1776, his sermons from the pulpit inspired wary and disaffected Scotch-Irish to take up arms and fight against British oppression …" 

And here is part of a sermon preached in this Revolutionary environment by Caldwell, in which he cites the Glorious Revolution as a template for liberty and the justified overthrow of the tyrannical Crown of his day, nearly 100 years later and half a world away –

“… The sin and danger of sloth, in relation to our civil liberty, or of yielding to the unjust demands of arbitrary power, is further evident from the fact that those in high life, or who administer the government, have all the allurements …

When James II abdicated the throne of England and raised an army of papists and confederate French, to establish popery and slavery, the British nation did not betray their religion or their liberty by an inglorious submission, nor did they desert the mighty cause of truth and freedom through sloth or cowardice …

They valiantly repelled the force and fury of his attacks and fearlessly proclaimed the Prince and Princess of Orange the King and Queen of Britain. They our forefathers, or many of them, sacrificed at Londonderry and Enniskillen their lives, that they might have down to us the fair inheritance of liberty and the Protestant religion; and in the whole course of their conduct in the support and defence of their rights they have set us an example which ought not to be disregarded … “

It is interesting to me to see again the Williamite Revolution presented in this way - not unthinkingly loyal to the Crown, but rather consciously pro-liberty and willing to rise up against the Crown. There is still something important to be done with that story for our time.

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Caldwell was a massive influence on North Carolina, making a huge impact as a community leader, physician and educator, as well as minister. He and his wife Rachel were both of Ulster parentage - David's father Andrew was from Ballycogan near Lifford, and Rachel's father was Rev Alexander Craighead from Donegal - a minister who required parents of children requesting baptism to swear the Solemn League and Covenant. So it's no surprise to see Londonderry mentioned in the sermon extract above. Their families had arrived in America and settled at Drumore Township in Pennsylvania, land which had been granted for an Ulster-Scots community by William Penn in February 1739.

Caldwell was involved in the Battle of Alamance on 16 May 1771, when the backcountry ‘Regulators’ (effectively the North Carolina version of the 'Sons of Liberty’, who were seeking to introduce regulations to root out political corruption and élitism) took up arms against a coastal militia. This is sometimes claimed to be the first battle of the Revolution.


Alamance full

One of Caldwell’s students was John Morehead (1796–1866) who later became Governor of North Carolina. He recalled that Caldwell spoke with a “…broad Scotch accent which he often assumed, when he desired to be humorous or to worry a laggard pupil with a bad lesson…"

The other surviving sermon that I know of is orthodox theology, entitled The Doctrine of Universal Salvation Unscriptural. It seems that Caldwell’s time at Guildford, North Carolina, also included some of the Second Great Awakening revival, in 1791, by which stage he had been joined by another Ulster-descended minister, James McGready.

In 1842 Caldwell's successor and biographer wrote of the “Scotch-Irish Presbyterians” being “the most efficient supporters of the American cause during the struggle for independence”. A more recent and detailed biography is online here.

David and Rachel Caldwell are honoured still today with a heritage centre and park in Greensboro.


Caldwell Center Interior Rachel Caldwell plaque PHILOSOPHY AND LIBERTY
Biographer Finis Jay Caldwell has concluded that Rev David Caldwell would have developed his ideas of political liberty from John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government (1689), including that people may justifiably raise armed resistance to the state. This was required reading at the College of New Jersey when Caldwell was educated there as a young man.

And Locke’s concepts of liberty can be traced back to Lex Rex, the famous 1644 work by Samuel Rutherford (see here), and which just last summer the Washington Post connected with the Declaration of Independence (see here). And once you get to Rutherford, the philosophical lineage carries on back through Andrew Melville, John Knox and George Buchanan. Rutherford even quotes from Aristotle.

For today, one of the sharpest minds on these liberties is David Robertson, until relatively recently the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, and also until recently a very much pro-Independence voice in Scotland. These two articles, on his ‘Wee Flea’ blog, will give you a flavour:
A Warning for Scotland (March 2017)
Scots Calvinists were no Tartan Taliban (December 2015)