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Letter from Thomas Smith to Joseph Shippen



Westmoreland County, April 7, 1774.

SIR: The present transactions at this place are so very extraordinary that I am persuaded you will be very much surprised at the relation of them, if any thing that is absurd and unwarrantable which originates from Lord Dunmore can surprise you. I think I am warranted in this observation by his Lordship' s letter to his Honor, a duplicate of which, together with a letter at the same time to Conolly, we have had just read to us.

After Conolly was committed to jail in the manner you have been informed, the Sheriff let him at large on his word of honour to return at the court. He did return, indeed, and in such a manner as might have been expected from his preceding conduct. We heard when we came up to this court, that he was mustering a large party in order to prevent the court from sitting. We thought that there could not be any foundation for such a report, but at the same time we thought it prudent to order the Sheriff to raise as many men as he could collect, to prevent us from being insulted by a lawless set of men acting under the colour of authority. The time was so short that few were collected on our side, and those few were ill armed, so that we found ourselves in a very disagreeable situation when we received certain intelligence that Conolly was coming down with two hundred armed men. When we found they were at hand the Magistrates thought it prudent to adjourn the court, as it was near the time. They soon after came down to the number of one hundred and fifty or one hundred and eighty, with colours flying, and their Captains, & c˙, had their swords drawn. The first thing that they did was to place centinels at the court house door, and then Conolly sent a message that he would wait on the Magistrates and communicate the reasons of his appearance. The Bench and Bar were then assembled in Mr˙ Hanna' s house, where we sent him word we would hear him. He and Penticost soon came down, and he read the paper which will be sent down to his Honor the


Governor with the bearer of this, and then he read a duplicate of Lord Dunmore to our Governor, together with the letter mentioned before.

The Court told him they would soon return an answer to what he had said. (They did not think it prudent to do it without consulting together and taking the opinion of the Bar.) We soon agreed on the terms of the answer, and the gentleman who had the principal hand in forming it, has done it in such a manner as I am persuaded will procure him the thanks of the Government. It contains firmness and moderation, and, as far as I am capable of judging, it was not possible to form one more free from exceptions in our present situation. One in any other form might have been the occasion, of altercations, which might have produced undue concessions, or been attended with the most fatal consequences; for I have reason to believe that the greatest part of them were wishing for some colourable reason to quarrel. The Bench purposed to deliver the answer in the court house. However, in that particular they counted without their host, for they were refused admittance, and Conolly waited for them at the court house door, where Mr˙ Wilson, at the request of the Court, delivered it, and after exchanging copies they departed more peaceably than might have been expected. However, the consequences of such proceedings are too apparent to need be enumerated; the administration of justice must be entirely at a stand, and, indeed, I cannot help thinking that this mob has collected for that purpose, as I am well assured that amongst all those who assembled there was not one single man of any property; on the contrary, the greatest part of them were such as are obliged to hide themselves from their, creditors, or such as are under the necessity of taking shelter in this part of the country to escape the punishment due to their crimes. It seems Lord Dunmore gave Conolly blank commissions, trusting to his own prudence to fill them up, by inserting the names of proper persons. Conolly, in order to be consistent with himself, bestowed one of these commissions on one Teagarden, an old fellow, who has several times been committed for felony. I don' t, Indeed, know that he has been convicted, because he has always broken the jail. Once I think he was committed to Lancaster jail and escaped. His character is so well known, that those who are the strongest advocates for the present disturbances are ashamed of his being appointed one of their Captains.

The people in this part of the country who would wish to enjoy the benefits of society, and would submit to any form of government, are in the most disagreeable situation that can be imagined: their property, their liberty, and their lives, are at the mercy of a lawless desperate banditti! In such a situation they look for, and have the utmost reason to expect, the protection of that Government under which they have settled. What is the most proper method to be taken it would be presumption in me to suggest. There are but two ways: the one to agree on a temporary line of jurisdiction until the matter can be finally settled; the other, to establish a sufficient garrison at Fort Pitt to withstand the rabble who act under Lord Dunmore' s commission. It would have been a happy thing for this part of the country, if this last measure had met with success when it was first recommended to the Legislature; and, indeed, sensible people in this part of the country, who are well affected to this Government, cannot help drawing conclusions from the opposition which that measure met with, which I am persuaded could never be the motives of those who may have made the opposition to it.

The conduct of Lord Dunmore is really the most extraordinary, in the light in which the people of this part of the country are obliged to view and feel it, that can be imagined. To establish the jurisdiction of a different Province over the people who have purchased, and settled, and lived for a considerable space of time, peaceably under this; — to establish this jurisdiction by a military force, is such an absurd measure, that I believe it will be difficult to suppose any man in his senses would have adopted it.

I hope you will excuse this incoherent scrawl, when I inform you that it is wrote in a small room amidst the clamour and confusion of a number of people. If you think the contents of it are of consequence enough to be communicated to his Honor the Governor, I will request


you to do it; if not, you will please to excuse this impertinence, of, sir, your obliged and most humble servant,

Joseph Shippen, Esquire.