January 15, 1862 issue of the WEEKLY STANDARD (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Transcribed and Posted by Myrtle Bridges
February 07, 2003
The following communication we find in the Petersburg Express of 31st ult., printed in type so small
and ink so pale as to be almost illegible. It is believed to be from the pen of Col. John Hillory Wheeler.
The communication and the "Fanning manuscript," to which it refers will be read with interest by most of
our readers, as it refers to an important period in our earlier revolutionary history.
The Roman maxim that during the war the laws are silent, may be likewise applied to letters, and Southern
literature hitherto always dependent and depressed, must now lie for the most part in abeyance, until the
presence war is brought to a close. It is pleasant, however, to draw attention to an interesting exception
to the general rule, in the recent appearance, at Richmond, under the editorial care of Thomas H. Wynne, of
"The Narrative of Col. David Fanning, (a Tory in the Revolutionary War with Great Britain,)
Giving an account of his Adventures in North Carolina, from 1775 to 1783, as written by himself, with an
Introduction and Explanatory Notes." It is neatly printed on elegant snow-white paper-a rarity in these days
of blockade-and comprises ninety two pages luxuriating in a wide sea of margin. The surprise which the
announcement of such a work issuing from the press in these hard times, may occasion, will be lessened when
we add that it is printed for private circulation only-the number of copies being limited to fifty. The
editor, Mr. Wynne, is distinguished for his enthusiastic interest in the collection and preservation of
the scattered materials-the flotsam and jetsam of our historical literature, and he has given a striking
exhibition of it, in bringing out this work, amid the distractions of business and the disturbances of war.
From Mr. Wynne's preface we learn that the acquisition of a copy of Fanning MSS, is mainly owing to the
persevering efforts of Mr. Wheeler, author of a History of North Carolina.-The introduction to the "Narrative,"
is from his pen. After Fanning's death in 1826, at St. John, New Brunswick, his son, who appears to have
been a very worthy man, allowed an agent of the Massachusetts Historical Society, to make a copy of the
original MSS, and Mr. Wheeler obtained permission to make a transcript of that copy, which is exact, verbatim
Governor Swain, the patriarch of historical matters in North Carolina, had long known of the existence
of Fanning's MSS, and had made repeated ineffectual efforts to obtain a copy, and it was owing to a suggestion
of his that Mr. Wheeler made his recent successful effort to get it. He gives it as his opinion, based upon
internal evidence and comparison with other accounts, that the "narrative" may be depended upon as "a
truthful record."-The explanatory notes add much to the interest of the "Narrative." Among them is one
making reference to some sketches of the Revolutionary war in the Carolinas, published in the 2nd volume
of the Southern Literary Messenger, from the MSS of Col. Guilford Dudley. The note is erroneous in regard
to Mrs. Dudley. She was not a niece of John Randolph, or Roanoke, the orator, but his first cousin. She
still survived in Louisiana in 1845, aged eighty one years, and in a letter written in that year, she said:
"I have nothing to do but read my Bible and write to my friends." Col. Dudley, who raised a patriot volunteer
company, at Halifax, No. Car., in 1774, was a native of Caroline County, Va.
David Fanning was born in Johnston County, NC and was of the age about the time of the outbreak of the
old Revolution. He wrote his "Narrative" in 1790, in Nova Scotia. Although illiterate, as is abundantly
apparent from the orthography and syntax of his "Narrative," he possessed extraordinary qualifications
for the career of a Tory partisan. He was fearless, prompt, cold-blooded, remorseless, indomitable, full
of resources. He was Colonel of Loyal militia of Chatham and Randolph counties; was engaged in forty
skirmishes; killed many "rebels," took much plunder and many prisoners; captured at Hillsborough, Gov. Burke,
his council, and divers officers of the "Rebel" army; he was twice wounded and fourteen times made prisoner.
He repeated effected his escape with the scientific skill of an accomplished burglar. Some of these episodes
in his career were rather unpleasant: "I got back to Roburu's Creek; but was taken in three days; and again
introduced at Ninety-Six. I was chained and ironed as before in the center of a room 30 feet square; forty-five
from the ground, the snow beating in, through the roof, with 4 grates open night and day." It was, however,
not many days before he effected his escape; but on the following day, meeting with a party of "Rebels," he
says "I received two bullets in my back; one of which is not extracted. I luckily kept my seat in the saddle,
and rode off. After proceeding 12 miles I turned my horse into the woods, and remained there eight days;
having no support but herbs, except three eggs."
Fanning was one of three persons excepted from the amnesty act passed by North Carolina in 1783. During
the Revolutionary war, every State contained a formidable number of the disaffected, some of who were
doubtless conscientious, and sacrificed their property and their homes to a mistaken sense of duty; but the
larger portion of them, like Fanning, were unprincipled and malignant.
It is an interesting subject of inquiry in what proportion the disaffected of the old Revolution compare
with those of the Revolution of 1861. The relative number was undoubtedly far greater then than now. The
condition of North Carolina in 1781 was most deplorable; without continental troops, without arms, with
only a regiment of volunteers in arms, Col. Dudley's, and that in the upper part of the State; and Fanning
ranging through a large tract of country, plundering, burning, killing; the General Assembly, the Governor,
the Council and other officers of the civil government, and the State archives collected at Wake Court-house,
(now Raleigh) with Fanning threatening on the one hand, and a garrison of British veterans at Wilmington on
the other. But the limits of this notice will not allow us to pursue this and other interesting topics that
suggest themselves. Fannings "Narrative," of this period of internecine ware in North Carolina, the future
historian will make much use of, and he will borrow from it vivid pictures of the "times that tried men's
souls," and it will especially serviceable for a biography of Fanning-a desideratum which, it is to be hoped,
will hereafter be supplied, when the clangor of arms shall have ceased, and Southern literature shall enter
upon a new and brighter career under the benignant auspices of the Independent Confederacy.
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