Act of Founding Transylvania

The Founding of the Transylvania Colony

Among the incidents of the early settlement none is more significant than the Rustic Parliament, which convened at Boonesborough, May 23, 1775. Without any warrant other than a common desire and reverence for justice, seventeen delegates convened. They were five hundred miles from any organized society or civil government. Nominally within the jurisdiction of Virginia, nominally subjects of the British crown, without knowledge of the battles of Lexington and Concord or even the Declaration of Independence, coming into the wilderness without a charter, they proceeded to the enactment of laws for the establishment of the courts of justice for their common defense, for the collection of debts, for the punishment of crime, for the restraint of vice. Having no early education, knowing only the meaning of the word "duty," they proceeded to express it in the laws made. The names of these worthy delegates were: Squire Boone, Daniel Boone, Samuel Henderson, William Moore, Richard Callaway, Thomas Slaughter, John Lythe, Valentine Harmon, James Harrod, Nathan Hammond, Isaac Hite, Azariah David, John Todd, Alexander Spotswood Dandridge, John Floyd, and Samuel Wood. -Public Domain

Colonel Richard Henderson, May of 1775

Mr. Chairman, and Gentlemen of the Convention,

You are called and assembled at this time for a noble and an honourable purpose—a purpose, however ridiculous or idle it may appear at first view, to superficial minds, yet, is of the most solid consequence; and if prudence, firmness, and wisdom, are suffered to influence your councils and direct your conduct, the peace and harmony of thousands may be expected to result from your deliberations; in short, you are about a work of the utmost importance to the well-being of this country in general, in which the interest and security of each and every individual is inseparably connected; for that State is truly sickly, politically speaking, whose laws or edicts are not careful, equally, of the different members, and most distant branches, which constitute the one united whole. Nay, it is not only a solecism in politics, but an insult to common sense, to attempt the happiness of any community, or composing laws for their benefit without securing to each individual his full proportion of advantage arising out of the general mass; thereby making his interest (that most powerful incentive to the actions of mankind) the consequence of obedience. This, at once, not only gives force and energy to legislation, but as justice is, and must be eternally the same, so your laws, founded in wisdom, will gather strength by time, and find an advocate in every wise and well-disposed person.

You, perhaps, are fixing the palladium, or placing the first cornerstone of an edifice, the height and magnificence of whose superstructure is now in the womb of futurity, and can only become great and glorious in proportion to the excellence of its foundation. These considerations, gentlemen, will, no doubt, animate and inspire you with sentiments worthy the grandeur of the subject.

Our peculiar circumstances, in this remote country, surrounded on all sides with difficulties, and equally subject to one common danger, which threatens our common overthrow, must, I think, in their effects, secure to us an union of interests, and consequently, that harmony in opinion, so essential to the forming good, wise and wholesome laws.

If any doubt remain amongst you with respect to the force or efficacy of whatever laws you now, or hereafter make, be pleased to consider that all power is originally in the people; therefore, make it their interest by impartial and beneficial laws, and you may be sure of their inclination to see them enforced. For it is not to be supposed that a people, anxious and desirous of having laws made, who approve of the method of choosing Delegates or Representatives to meet in General Convention for that purpose, can want the necessary and concomitant virtue to carry them into execution.

Nay, gentlemen, for argument's sake, let us set virtue, for a moment, out of the question, and see how the matter will then stand. You must admit, that it is, and ever will be, the interest of a large majority, that the laws should be esteemed and held sacred. If so, surely this large majority can never want inclination or power to give sanction and efficacy to those very laws which advance their interest and secure their property.

And now, Mr Chairman and gentlemen of the Convention, as it is indispensably necessary that laws should be composed for the regulation of our conduct—as we have a right to make such laws without giving offence to Great Britain, or any of the American Colonies—without disturbing the repose of any society or community under Heaven—if it is probable, nay, certain, that the laws may derive force and efficacy from our mutual consent, and that consent resulting from our own virtue, interest, and convenience, nothing remains but to set about the business immediately, and let the event determine the wisdom of the undertaking.

Among the many objects that must present themselves for your consideration, the first in order must, from its importance, be that of establishing Courts of justice or tribunals, for the punishment of such as may offend against the laws you are about to make. As this law will be the chief corner-stone in the ground work or basis of our Constitution, let us, in a particular manner, recommend the most dispassionate attention, while you take for your guide as much of the spirit and genius of the laws of England as can be interwoven with those of this country. We are all Englishmen, or, what amounts to the same, ourselves and our fathers have, for many generations, experienced the invaluable blessings of that most excellent Constitution, and surely we cannot want motives to copy from so noble an original.

Many things, no doubt, crowd upon your minds, and seem equally to demand your attention. But next to that of restraining vice and immorality, surely nothing can be of more importance than establishing some plain and easy method for the recovery of debts, and determining matters of dispute with respect to property, contracts, torts, injuries, &c. These things are so essential, that if not strictly attended to, our name will become odious abroad, and our peace of short and precarious duration. It would give honest and disinterested persons cause to suspect that there was some colourable reason, at least for the unworthy and scandalous assertions, together with the groundless insinuations contained in an infamous and scurrilous libel lately printed and published, concerning the settlement of this country, the author of which avails himself of his station, and under the specious pretence of proclamation, pompously dressed up and decorated in the garb of authority, has uttered invectives of the most malignant kind, and endeavors to wound the good name of persons, whose moral character would derive little advantage by being placed in computation with his, charging them, amongst other things equally untrue, with a design of “forming an Asylum for debtors, and other persons of desperate circumstances”; placing the proprietors of the soil at the head of a lawless train of abandoned villains, against whom the regal authority ought to be exerted, and every possible measure taken to put an immediate stop to so dangerous an enterprise.

I have not the least doubt, gentlemen, but that your conduct, in this Convention, will manifest the honest and laudable intentions of the present adventurers, whilst a conscious blush confounds the wilful calumniators and officious detractors of our infant, and, as yet, little community.

Next to the establishment of courts or tribunals, as well for the punishment of public offenders, as the recovering of just debts, that of establishing and regulating a Militia seems of the greatest importance. It is apparent that, without some wise institution, respecting our mutual defence, the different towns or settlements are, every day, exposed to the most imminent danger, and liable to be destroyed at the mere will of the Savage Indians.

Nothing, I am persuaded, but their entire ignorance of our weakness and want of order, has, hitherto, preserved us from the destructive and rapacious hands of cruelty, and given us an opportunity, at this time, of forming secure, defensive plans, to be supported and carried into execution by the authority and sanction of a well digested law.

There are sundry other things highly worthy your consideration, and demand redress, such as the wanton destruction of our game, the only support of life amongst many of us, and for want of which the country would be abandoned ere to-morrow, and scarcely a probability remain of its ever becoming the habitation of any Christian people. This, together with the practice of many foreigners, who make a business of hunting in our country, killing, driving off, and lessening the number of wild cattle and other game, whilst the value of the skins and furs is appropriated to the benefit of persons not concerned or interested in our settlements. These are evils, I say, that I am convinced cannot escape your notice and attention.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Convention, you may assure yourselves that this new-born country is an object of the most particular attention of the Proprietors here on the spot, as well as those on the other side of the Mountains, and that they will most cheerfully concur in every measure which can, in the most distant and remote degree, promote its happiness or contribute to its grandeur.


Minutes of the Transylvania House of Delegates, Transylvania Colony, May 23 - May 27, 1775

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