Chronology of the American Revolution

The following is a timeline that includes important events leading up to the American Revolution which,  in many cases, involved, influenced or affected Cornelius Harnett.  Timeline entries in which Harnett was not involved or which took place outside of North Carolina are of well-known events listed to put events involving Cornelius Harnett in context.  This is a North Carolina perspective.

  • 1754-1763. French and Indian War. This was the final phase of a colonial war involving Great Britain and other European nations that lasted from 1689 to 1763.  The English and the French battled for domination in North America, the Caribbean, and in India.  The English came to dominate at a high cost that led to a staggering debt and their need for increasing taxes. (Timeline).  For an expanded summary of this conflict see the following website:
  • March 22, 1765. Stamp Act Passed.  This was the first serious attempt by the British Parliament to assert governmental control over the colonies.  For the full text of the Stamp Act see the following web site: .(Connor-1 , pp 30-32, pp 55-56)
  • March 24, 1765.  The Quartering Act of 1765. (Timeline)
  • May 29, 1765.  Patrick Henry’s:  “If this be treason, make the most of it” speech.  (Timeline)
  • October 19, 1765.  Opposition to the Stamp Act occurred in Wilmington by 500 people who hanged Lord Bute in effigy.  (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • October 31, 1765.  More opposition to the Stamp Act occurred on Halloween, the day before the stamp act was to take effect, by a large Wilmington crowd that carried an effigy of Liberty in a coffin for burial; but the crowd joined in celebration at a bonfire when a “faint heartbeat of Liberty” was detected. (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • November 16, 1765.  After the Stamp Act took effect, about 300 members of the Sons of Liberty, escorted  Stamp Master William Houston to the courthouse where he resigned his office.  The Sons of Liberty treated the crowd to the best liquors. (Lefler, pp 182-184).
  • November 28, 1765.  The Stamp Master incident on November 16, 1765 had this effect:  The British Sloop Diligence arrived at Brunswick with an assignment of stamps and stamped paper but since there was no Stamp Master, the stamps remained aboard ship.  (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • January 1766. After the British ship Viper seized two merchant ships arriving at Brunswick for not having stamped papers, the people rebelled by seizing the British vessel, by throwing its crew in jail and by refusing to sell supplies to the Kings ships.  The attorney general for the Crown ruled that the seizure of the merchant ships was legal and that the seized vessels should be sent to Nova Scotia for legal proceedings. (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • February 18, 1766Another rebellious act occurred on this date.  An agreement was signed by the gentlemen, freeholders and inhabitants of several counties, including Cornelius Harnett, declaring:  “We will at any risk . . . unite. . . in preventing entirely the operation of the Stamp Act.”  (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • February 19, 1766.  Following the agreement of February 18, the following act of rebellion occurred.  Several armed patriots marched to Brunswick, posted a guard around the Governor’s residence and after an altercation with him broke open the collectors desk and took the papers of the seized merchant vessels and so threatened Fort Johnston that its guns were spiked. (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • February 20, 1766.  After the number of armed insurgents had increased to 1,000, a group of these insurgents boarded the British vessel Viper and compelled the Captain to release the seized merchant vessels, the Patience and the Dobbs. (Lefler 182-184)
  • February 21, 1766Harnett confronts Governor TryonSons of Liberty, with Cornelius Harnett as leader, marched to Brunswick, confronted Governor Tryon in his home, and forced Col. Pennington, Comptroller of the Province, who was hiding at the Governor’s home, to resign. By this act Harnett earned the title “Pride of the Cape Fear.”  (Connor-1, pp 38-41) (Lefler, pp 182-184)
  • March 18, 1766.  The Declaratory Act. (Timeline)
  • June 29, 1767.  The Townshend Revenue Act.  (Timeline)
  • August 1, 1768.  Boston Non-Importation Agreement. (Timeline)
  • March 5, 1770.  The Boston Massacre.  (Timeline).
  • March 26-31, 1773Correspondence Committee for NC conceived.  Josiah Quincy, Jr.,of Massachussetts , apparently an agent of Samuel Adams, spent the night of March 26 & 27, 1773 at the home of Cornelius Harnett and met with Harnett and Robert Howe and over a five day period met with other North Carolina leaders.  This was when the idea for a continental correspondence committee originated in North Carolina, a plan already circulating in Massachussetts and Virginia, and which came into being in December of 1773 by act of the Colonial Assembly of North Carolina.  As a result of hearing Harnett’s views at this meeting Quincy later referred to Harnett as the “Samuel Adams of North Carolina.”   (Connor-1, pp 79-83)
  • May 10, 1773.  Tea Act Passed; British Parliament had again determined to tax America.  (Timeline)
  • December 7, 1773.  Committee of Correspondence created in NC.  This was at the first meeting of the Colonial Assembly after Harnett met with Howe and Quincy in March.  Both Howe and Harnett were on the committee that recommended the committee to the Colonial Assembly and both were named as members of it along with the Speaker and other prominent North Carolinians. (Connor-1, p 80) (CSRvol9, p 741)
  • December 16, 1773.  Boston Tea Party (Timeline)
  • March 31 to June 22, 1774. The Intolerable Acts.  These were punishment for Boston Tea Party  They were called Coercive acts by Parliament.  They included Boston Port Act (March 31); Administration of Justice Act (May 20); Massachusetts Government Act (May 20); Quartering Act of 1774 (June 2); and Quebec Act (June 22).  (Time Line) (Signing Time Line).  See
  • July 21, 1774.  A mass meeting of Wilmington citizens on this date launched the call for what became the First Provincial Congress.  This was after Governor Martin refused to call a meeting of the North Carolina Assembly [Colonial].  (Connor-1, p 82)
  • August 25-27, 1774.  First Provincial Congress. At this congress that met in New Bern delegates to a Continental Congress were authorized. Committees of Safety were authorized at this Congress before the Continental Congress met.    (Connor-1, pp 87-88)
  • September 5-October 26, 1774.  The First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia. (Timeline)
  • October 20, 1774.   The First Continental  Congress issued “Resolves of the Congress governing the Safety Committee.”  This occurred just over a month before the intitial meeting of the Wilmington Committee of Safety and more than two months before New Hanover Committee of Safety met and joined with the Wilmington Safety Committee. (McEachern, pp 1-9 and Appendix I, pp 93-108, p 93)
  • November 23, 1774.  Cornelius Harnett was unanimously elected Chairman of the Wilmington Safety Committee. (Connor-1, p 87).  The actual minutes of the New Hanover Safety Committee indicate that at a meeting of the freeholders of Wilmington on this date Cornelius Harnett was proposed and assented to as a member of the committee and listed first, which is consistent with him being elected as Chairman before January 4, 1775 when he was referred as being  “in the Chair.”  (McEachern, p 1)
  • January 4, 1775. When the New Hanover Committee of Safety was organized to join and cooperate with the town of Wilmington, Cornelius Harnett was placed at the head of the joint committee.  (Connor-1, pp 87-88); [The Minutes of the Safety Committee indicated that the decision for Harnett to chair the joint committee occurred the following day. (McEachern p 8].  The Minutes of the Safety Committee indicate that the freeholders of New Hanover met to “join and cooperate with the committee of the town” and “having Cornelius Harnett, Esqr,  into the Chair” unanimously chose 25 other New Hanover members for the joint committee, including Alexander Lillington, the person for whom the county seat of Harnett County is named. On this date delegates were chosen to join with other counties and towns in order to chose representatives to the ensuing Congress at Philadephia.  (McEachern, p 8]
  • January 5, 1775. The joint meeting that began on January 4 was adjourned until this date when the Joint Safety Committee reconvened and selected Cornelius Harnett as Chairman. The committee by resolution gave notice to the merchants of Wilmington that the “Committee of the County of New Hanover & of the Town of Wilmington united and met for the Important purpose of Carrying into Execution the Resolves of the Continental Congress . . . ”    (McEachern, pp 8-9)
  • April 3-7, 1775.  Second Provincial Congress.  This congress was very interesting in that the members of the Colonial Assembly and this Congress were practically the same, meeting in the very same place in New Bern.  Delegates were elected to the Second Continental Congress.  This infuriated Governor Martin.
  • April 8, 1775.  Last North Carolina Assembly (Colonial) met. The Assembly was dissolved by a furious Governor Martin immediately after the end of the Second Provincial Congress at which delegates had been elected to the Continental Congress.  (Connor-1, p 85)
  • April 18, 1775.  The Rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes. (Timeline)
  • April 19, 1775.  Minutemen and Redcoats clash at Lexington and Concord.  “The shot heard ’round the world.” (Timeline)
  • May 8, 1775. Cornelius Harnett hears news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  (McEachern, p 31) [See action that follows on June 19, 1775 below.]
  • May 10, 1775.  The Second Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia.  (Timeline)
  • May 20, 1775.  Mecklenburg County claims to be the first governmental body to draw up the resolution declaring independence, a claim that is disputed. The dispute involves whether this was done by elected officials of Mecklenburg County or by a group of citizens of that county.  The date of this resolution appears on the upper scroll of the North Carolina State Flag.  (Netstate)
  • June 15, 1775.  George Washington named Commander in Chief.
  • June 19, 1775. According to the June 21 minutes of the joint Wilmington-New Hanover Committee, the Committee agreed that an agreement solely by the New Hanover Safety Committee on June 19, 1775 would stand as an agreement of the joint committee and that that it be “Recommended to the Inhabitants of this District to sign the Same as speedily as possible & that the same Resolution be printed in the public Newspaper.”  The document is entitled “ASSOCIATION” and recites in the opening paragraph of a three and one-half page document that it was “Unanimously agreed to by the Inhabitants of New Hanover County in North Carolina 19th June, 1775”.  The next paragraph recites parenthetically, “[news of the Battles of Lexington & Concord was received in Wilmington by Cornelius Harnett on May 8th]” and then, after referring to “causes sufficient to drive an Oppress’d people tothe Use of Arms”, provides:  “We therefore the subscribers, inhabitants of New Hanover County, having ourselves bound by that most sacred of all  obligations . . ..shall be justified before God & Man in Resisting force by Force.” (McEachern p 31). Comment: It is highly improbable that all persons in the County of New Hanover signed this document.  This may have been a clever device used for circulation among the citizens of New Hanover County to flush out Tories, Loyalists and others who did not want to join in the cause against the Crown. This, of course, is speculative.
  • July 15, 1775.  On this date the New Hanover Committee of Safety, headed by Chairman Harnett, dispatched volunteers to join Col Moore who was on his way to Fort Johnston. (McEachern, p 44)
  • July 16, 1775.  Governor Josiah Martin begs his home government to proscribe at least four North Carolinians: Cornelius Harnett, John Ashe, Robert Howe and Abner Nash.  (Smith, p 82)
  • July 18, 1775.  Five Hundred men under Col. Howe set Fort Johnston afire.  Governor Martin, learning of preparations for this, had dismantled the Fort and had fled Fort Johnston for safety aboard the British Cruzier, an act which brought disgrace upon him in the eyes of his superiors.  This was a result of action taken by the Wilmington-New Hanover Safety Committee under the leadership of Cornelius Harnett.
  • August 20-September 10, 1775.  Third Provincial Congress.  This Congress organized the Army and vested executive power in committees of Safety, subject to a Provincial Council with 13 members, two from each military district and one at large. (Connor-1, p 109)
  • October 18, 1775.  At the first Meeting of New Provincial Council at Johnston County Courthouse, Cornelius Harnett was elected President.  Since this occurred  before the Town of Smithfield, the current county seat of Johnston County, was created on April 23, 1777, it is not clear whether the courthouse was located within the bounds of the area that later became geographical boundaries of Smithfield.  (Smith p 83), (Smithfield).
  • October 18, 1775 to December 18, 1776, Cornelius Harnett was the Chief Executive Officer of North Carolina for more than a year before the office of Governor was established by the first North Carolina Constitution.  Initially this was in his capacity as President of the Provincial Council from October 18, 1775 until  June 5, 1776 when he was elected President of the Council of Safety, a body established on May 11, 1776 by the Fourth Provincial Congress. (Connor-1 p 153)   Thereafter he continued to be the Chief Executive officer of North Carolina by serving as President of the successor Council of Safety until December 18, 1776 when Richard Caswell was elected as the first N.C. Governor pursuant to the first N. C. Constitution.  It could be argued that Harnett continued to serve until Caswell took his oath of office as Governor on January 16, 1777. (Smith, p. 87) (Connor-1, p 153, p. 178)
  • January 15, 1776.  Paine’s “Common Sense” published. (Timeline)
  • February 27, 1776. This is the date that the Highlanders, Crown Loyalists, were defeated by rebel forces at Moore’s Creek Bridge, an event that inspired passage of the Halifax Resolves during the Fourth Provincial Congress. (Timeline)
  • April 4-May 14,  1776. Fourth Provincial Congress met at Halifax.
  • April 12, 1776. A report that became known as the Halifax Resolves was written by Cornelius Harnett and unanimously adopted by the Fourth Provincial Congress on April 12, 1776, a date that appears on the lower scroll of the North Carolina Flag.  The full text of the Halifax Resolves appears in the article Provincial Congress under subtitle “Fourth Provincial Congress”.  The Halifax Resolves, empowered delegates from North Carolina to the Continental Congress to concur with delegates from other colonies in declaring independence and in forming foreign alliances, while reserving the sole and exclusive right of forming a constitution and laws. (Netscape)
  • May 11, 1776.  During the Fourth Provincial Congress the Provincial Council was renamed the Council of Safety with increased powers.  Harnett was named as one of the members.  (Connor-1, p 153)
  • May 1776.  Cornelius Harnett and Robert Howe were declared outlaws by Sir Henry Clinton.  Both were leaders in bringing disgrace upon Royal Governor Martin in July of 1775 by destroying Fort Johnston, causing Martin’s flight to safety aboard the Bristish ship Cruzier.  Martin had requested that Harnett and Howe along with John Ashe and Abner Nash be proscribed (declared an outlaw).
  • June 5, 1776.  At a meeting of the Council of Safety on this date, Cornelius Harnett, who had been President of the predecessor Provincial Council, was named President of the Council of Safety.  (Connor p 159)
  • June 7, 1776.  Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposes separation from Great Britain.  Congress postpones vote on his resolution for a month.  The Committee of Five is formed to write the Declaration of Independence.  (Signing Timeline)
  • July 1-4, 1776. Continental Congress debates and revises the Declaration of Independence. (Timeline)
  • July 1, 1776.  “Informal” vote on independence. (Signing Time Line)
  • July 2, 1776.  Vote to separate from Britain passes in Congress.  (Signing Time Line)
  • July 4, 1776.  Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia; it is sent to the Printer. (Timeline)
  • July 8, 1776. Declaration is read publicly (perhaps for the first time among the colonies).  (Timeline)
  • July 9, 1776.  New York, the only colony to abstain from the vote on July 2, assents to break with Great Britain.  (Signing Time Line)
  • August 1, 1776. Declaration of Independence read for the first time in North Carolina at Halifax by Cornelius Harnett.  The document at that time was called “A Declaration”  and the one read by Harnett was one of 200 duplicate originals prepared by Printer John Dunlap, documents that came to be known as the Dunlap Broadsides.  See
  • August 2, 1776.  The majority of signers affix their names to the engrossed Declaration of Independence. (Signing Time Line)
  • November 12 to December 23, 1776.  Fifth Provincial Congress met in Halifax.  Cornelius Harnett was a  delegate representing Brunswick and according to tradition played a role in shaping a new Constitution for North Carolina, to include opposing a provision to establish the Church of England as part of the new State government.  Tradition also ascribes to him the thirty-ninth article which declared ‘that there shall be no establishment of any one religious church or denomination in the State in preference to any other, but all persons shall be at liberty to exercise their own mode of worship.  The new Constitution established the office of Governor, subject to powers vested in a Council of State.
  • December 16, 1776.  Richard Caswell was appointed Governor by the Fifth Provincial Congress on a temporary basis pending a meeting of the newly created Assembly of North Carolina.  Cornelius Harnett was named as one of seven members of the Council of State.
  • December 18, 1776.  Richard Caswell elected Governor of North Carolina.
  • December 25-26, 1776.  Washington crosses the Delaware and gives the colonies their first major win. (Signing Time Line); for the dates see (accessed May 10, 2013).
  • January 16, 1777.  Pending action by the Assembly, Richard Caswell was sworn in as Temporary Governor on this date.  Cornelius Harnett was sworn in as a member of the seven person Council of State and was elected Chairman of the Council of State.
  • April 7, 1777.  The first Assembly met in New Bern and reelected certain officials named by the Fifth Provincial Congress, to include Richard Caswell as Governor and Cornelius Harnett to the Council of state, their terms to begin on May 1st, 1777.  (Connor-1 p. 178)
  • After April 7; before May 1, 1777.  Before his new term to the North Carolina Council of State began, Harnett was elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
  • November 15, 1777Articles of Confederation adopted by the Second Continental Congress.  (Wikipedia)
  • April 24, 1778.  North Carolina ratified the Articles of Confederation.  Harnett favored the action.  Thomas Burke, also a delegate, opposed this.  This approval by North Carolina took place just over a month after Harnett wrote Governor Caswell advising the importance of a union of the States in preventing ” . . . continental blood shed and Confusion.” (Morgan, p. 240)
  • May 8, 1780.  Cornelius Harnett completed his third consecutive one-year term in the Continental Congress.  He was ineligible to serve further since the articles of confederations for more than three terms during any six year period.  (Connor-1, p 180).  For the major role played by Cornelius Harnett in the Continental Congress, see Harnett’s Contribution as Founding Father.
  • March 2, 1781Articles of Confederation ratified.  (Timeline);
  • January 1781.  The British captured Wilmington.  The British under command of Major Craig located Cornelius Harnett, captured him, paraded him down the streets of Wilmington and threw him in prison and kept in there in a dying condition until he was released in early April at the request of Tory friends in Wilmington. This was The Price of Leadership paid by Cornelius Harnett.  (Connor-3, pp 88-89)
  • April 28, 1781.  Cornelius Harnett died shortly after his release from prison.
  • 1781.  Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown. (Signing time Line)
  • 1783.  The Treaty of Paris is signed.  The war is over. (Signing Time Line)
  • 1787.  On September 17 the Constitution is adopted.  In December, Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the document. (Signing Time Line)
  • 1788. New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, putting the historic document into effect. (Signing Time Line)
  • 1789.  George Washington takes office as the first president of the United States under the new Constitution. (Signing Time Line)


Connor-1. Connor, R.D.W, CORNELIUS HARNETT: AN ESSAY IN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY, Raleigh, N. C.; Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1909, pp. 1-109, Print (&Web, digitized after copyright expoired by Google at   For additional information on how to access this digital version, see reference to this book under menu item “Resources/Books“.
Connor-2.  Connor, R.D.W., REVOLUTIONARY LEADES OF NORTH CAROLINA, ed. W. C. JACKSON, Raleigh, N.C., North Carolina State Normal & Industrial College Historical Publications. 1916, Chapter III, “Cornelius Harnett”, pp. 49-79,; Reprint by the Reprint Company, Spartanburg, S. C., Print.
Connor-3.  Connor, R.D.W. MAKERS OF NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY, Raleigh, N.C.; The Thompson Publishing Company, 1923. “Cornelius Harnett”, Chapter VII, pp., 77-90, Print.
Crow.  Crow, Jeffrey, ed. The Southern Experience in the American Revolution, Chapel Hill, N. C., University of North Carolina Press, 1978, Print, Chapter 1, pp. 3-24, by Pauline Maier entitled “Early Revolutionary Leaders in the South and the Problem with Southern Distinctiveness,”  p.7.
CSRvol. Colonial State Records, Lower House, North Carolina General Assembly; CSRvol09, December 04, 1773-December 21, 1773.
Lefler.  Lefler, Hugh T. and Albert R. Newsome., eds., The History of a Southern State, Revised Edition, Chapel Hill, N.C., The North Carolina Press, 1954, 1958. Print.
McEachern.  McEachern, Leora H., and Isabel M. Williams; Wilmington-New Hanover Safety Committee Minutes., Wilmington, N.C., American Revolution Bi-Centenial Commision, 1974. Print. 147 pages.
Netstate. NETSTATE, North Carolina, The North Carolina State Flag, ed, Web., 15 May 2011.
Signing Time Line.  Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence by Dinise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese, Quirk Books, Philadephia, pp 236-237.
Smith.  “Our Debt to Cornelius Harnett”, an address delivered in Wilmington N. C. on May 2, 1907 by C. Alphonso Smith, PhD, LLD, pp. 75-99 in Addresses Delivered Under the Auspices of the North Carolina Society of the Colonial Dames of America, 1900-1926.  Jackson and Bell Compnay, Wilmington, N. C.
Smithfield.  Smithfield, North Carolina Web site:  [connection broken].
Timeline.  Timeline in parenthesis is in effect a citation indicating that the timeline entry came from the following Web source:
This timeline is very informative in that it has hyperlinks that expand on most of the events listed in the time line.  For example, for the period 1754-1763, the hyperlink over the entry of “French and Indian War,” takes the reader to a full page article about this war, also known as “The Seven Years War.”  The Seven Years War relates not only to the conflict in this country but also to other conflicts in which England was involved during the period.

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