Sunday, August 28, 2011
James Mason Rawlings, Traitor or Not?
Some of us have skeletons in our family closets. Some people are proud of famous ancestors. Our family has both skeletons and ancestors with claims to fame, but mainly our Rawlins predecessors were simply people living out their lives in the best way they knew how. They were swayed by political concerns, just as we are, and made decisions based on limited information, just as we do.
Our first Rawlins ancestor in America, James Mason Rawlings, is a good example. Born about 1737, he emigrated from England prior to the Revolution. Records from the early 1770s show him in Pitt County, North Carolina, married to Priscilla Blount and with a number of children. His brothers, Roderick and Charles, had also come to America. Both of them supported the cause of independence from England. But James kept his loyalty to the mother country.
He was a staunch supporter of the Church of England, which after the Revolutionary War was called the Episcopal Church. Some records refer to him as “Reverend,” and we know he preached at meetings.
More than any other colony, North Carolina had a heavy concentration of Tories— political conservatives who remained loyal to England. The Crown had given land grants in North Carolina to many Scottish merchants. They and other merchants depended upon England for their trade. They feared losing their livelihood if the revolution should be successful. . .a not unreasonable fear since later, the property of many loyalists was confiscated. . . and thus they supported the king.
Other Loyalists, like James Mason Rawlings, were clerics who supported the Church of England. Not only did the church require them to swear loyalty to their God, but also to their king. James and many others worried that if Catholic France entered the war on the American side, the new nation would soon be under the rule of the Pope.
In 1777, Rawlings was accused of plotting to kill revolutionary leaders. A wanted notice in a North Carolina newspaper described him as “a noted villain.” Was he really? I’ll try to answer that question in the next posts.