May 5

This Day in History

American Revolution

May 5, 1776:

Clinton excludes Howe and Harnett from amnesty offer

In North Carolina, British Lieutenant General Henry Clinton issues a proclamation denouncing the Patriots' "wicked rebellion" and recommending that the inhabitants of North Carolina return their allegiance to the king. He offered full pardon to all persons, except Continental Army Brigadier General Robert Howe and North Carolina Patriot Cornelius Harnett.

Howe had angered the British with his defeat of Virginia's royal governor, Lord Dunmore, at the Battle of Great Bridge the previous December, a victory for which he earned a promotion from colonel of the 2nd North Carolina Regiment to brigadier general of the Continental Army and was given command of the army's Southern Department. Howe's father was a prominent North Carolina planter, who sent Robert to England for his education. Robert returned to North Carolina and won election to the Colonial Assembly in 1764, the year in which the Sugar Act tightened imperial regulation on colonial trade and began raising colonial ire. He served with the North Carolina militia from 1766 to 1775, engaging in Governor William Tryon's forays to end the backcountry Regulators' vigilante violence against corrupt officials. In 1775, North Carolinians elected Howe to the provincial congress established in protest against British policy.

Cornelius Harnett was also a native of North Carolina and a committed Patriot. Harnett was a member of the Colonial Assembly from 1754 to1775, serving part of that time with Robert Howe. During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765-1766, Harnett was chairman of North Carolina's branch of the radical anti-imperial political association, the Sons of Liberty. He continued his revolutionary work serving on the Committees of Correspondence with representatives of other concerned colonies in 1773 and 1774 and serving as chairman of the Wilmington Committee of Safety from 1774 to 1775. After North Carolina established a provincial congress, Harnett was an elected member of the Second, Third, and Fourth Congresses and served as president of the Fifth Congress. His role as president of the provincial council from 1775 to 1776 made him the first chief executive of North Carolina's first independent government.

Harnett died on April 28, 1781, while in British custody following his capture during the British occupation of Wilmington. Howe survived the war, but sunk into tremendous debt and disrepute, with a reputation as a womanizing scoundrel. He died suddenly on December 14, 1786.

General Clinton's offer of pardon to the colonists of North Carolina was not a success and he abandoned the area to the Patriots in 1776. During the Southern Campaign of 1780-1781, though, North Carolina was the site of a civil war between Loyalists and Patriots. After Cornwallis took Wilmington, North Carolina, in April 1781, he marched his men to Virginia, where he was finally defeated at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

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