Stricken with a fatal
stroke while presiding over the NC General Assembly
Richard Caswell Legacy
Richard Caswell, Jr., born Aug. 3, 1729 in Joppa, Maryland—son of Richard
Caswell Sr., Maryland state legislator, military leader and
businessman—came to North Carolina in 1746 with a letter of introduction
from the Royal Governor of Maryland to the Royal Governor of North
Carolina, Gabriel Johnston in New Bern.
Caswell trained to become a surveyor under James McIllwean and lived at
Tower Hill near present day Kinston. In 1747 he received a land grant and
built a home called The Hill in what is today Kinston.
elected to the Colonial Assembly in 1754 where he served for 20 years.
During the early years of his political career, Caswell was loyal to the
King of England and a close associate of Royal Governors William Tryon and
Josiah Martin. But Caswell’s attitudes began to change and by 1774 he had
switched allegiance to the colonial patriots.
a member of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina in 1774 and although
he was serving the royal government as a district treasurer, Caswell was
elected as one of North Carolina’s representatives to the First Continental
Congress which met in Philadelphia, Sept. 1774.
1776 Caswell’s commitment to the patriots’ cause was complete and he was
elected first a Colonel and later Brigadier General by North Carolina’s 4th
Provincial Congress, with Caswell as its President, drafted a new
Constitution for a free North Carolina, providing for the election of a
chief executive. Caswell was elected and took the oath of office Jan. 16,
1777 in the council chamber of Tryon Palace in New Bern. Royal Governor
Josiah Martin had vacated the palace and fled to Maryland. Caswell was
re-elected governor 1778 and 1779. In the meantime, believing New Bern was
too vulnerable to British attack, Caswell ordered all state records moved
from New Bern to Kinston, housing them in what is now Harmony Hall, home
built in 1772 by brother-in-law Jesse Cobb.
Kinston was the de facto state capital from 1777 to 1781 when state records
were moved again to Salisbury. In 1780, Caswell left the governor’s
chair but was Major General in the state militia. From May 1782 until 1785,
he was state Controller General, and then Governor again from 1785 until
November 5, 1789, Caswell collapsed while presiding as President of the
State Senate meeting in Fayetteville. He died five days later, November 10,
1789 at the age of 60.
funeral conducted under the rites of the Masonic Order was held in
Fayetteville, attended by members of the General Assembly. It is believed by
many that his
body was shipped to Kinston for burial in the family plot which is now a
part of the Richard Caswell Historic Site in Kinston.