Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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HARNETT, Cornelius, statesman, born probably in North Carolina, 20 April, 1723; died in Wilmington, North Carolina, 20 April, 1781. He acquired property at Wilmington, North Carolina, and first became known in public affairs through his Opposition to the stamp act and kindred measures. He represented the borough of Wilmington in the provincial assembly in 1770-'1, and was chairman of the more important committees of that body. In 1772 Mr. Harnett, Robert Howe, and Judge Maurice Moore were named by the assembly a committee to prepare a remonstrance against the appointment, by Governor Martin, of commissioners to run the southern boundary line of the province. In 1773 Josiah Quincy, while travelling in the south for his health, spent a night at the residence of Mr. Harnett, whom he styled "the Samuel Adams of North Carolina." As the Revolution approached, Harnett became its master spirit throughout the Cape Fear region. In December, 1773, he was placed on the committee of continental correspondence for the Wilmington district. In the Provincial congress of 1775 he represented his old constituents; and when a provincial council was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the abdication of Martin, he was made its president and became the actual governor of North Carolina. He was a member of the Provincial congress at Halifax, North Carolina, in the spring of 1776, and, as chairman of a committee to consider the usurpations of the home government, submitted a report that empowered the North Carolina delegates in the Continental congress to use their influence in favor of a declaration of independence. Soon afterward Sir Henry Clinton, with a British fleet, appeared in Cape Fear river, and honored Harnett and Robert Howe by excepting them from his offer of a general pardon to those who should return to their allegiance. When, on 22 July, the Declaration of Independence arrived at Halifax, Harnett read it to a great concourse of citizens and soldiers, who took him on their shoulders and bore him in triumph through the town. In the autumn of the same year he assisted in drafting a state constitution and bill of rights, and to his liberal spirit the citizens are indebted for the clause securing" religious liberty. Under the new constitution Harnett became one of the council, and was, in 1778, elected to fill Governor Caswell's seat in congress. His name is to be found signed to the "articles of confederation and perpetual union." When the British subsequently took possession of the Cape Fear region, Harnett was taken prisoner and died in captivity.
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