Francis Oliver (1740-1808)

Written By Richard Carney

Francis Oliver was a Baptist preacher from Duplin County, North Carolina and a delegate at the 1788 state convention to ratify the federal constitution.  Prior to the convention, Oliver never served in public office.  He and his wife, Sarah, had four sons (Isaac, James, John and Benjamin) and six daughters (Zilpha, Sally, Anne, Lueretia, Rebekah, and Rachel).

Before the American Revolution (1775-1783) few North Carolina Baptists acquired high-level government positions.  During the Revolution, Baptists gained reputations as American Patriots and earned the people’s trust.  So after independence, more from the denomination were appointed and elected to office.

When the North Carolina General Assembly called for a statewide convention to debate the new federal constitution, Duplin County residents elected Oliver as one of their delegates.  The convention met in Hillsborough from July 21 to August 4, 1788 and was the first of two state conventions regarding ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  In general, the Federalists, or supporters of the constitution, were well-educated, skilled orators, and wealthier than the Anti-federalists.  However, almost double the number of Anti-federalists presided at the convention.

During the convention, deep divisions developed along religious lines.  Episcopalians were typically wealthy and supported ratification, and less affluent Baptists generally opposed ratification. Oliver, one of eleven Baptist delegates, vigorously defended individual liberty and upheld republican values. 

The convention in 1788 resulted in a vote “neither to ratify or reject the constitution.”  After the convention, Oliver returned to pastor Bear Marsh Church in Duplin County.  He did not participate in the 1789 ratification convention in Fayetteville.  Oliver died in January 1808, leaving a wife and nine children.