Non-Importation Movement

Written By North Carolina History Project

During the mid-to-late 1760s, the British government started tightening its regulatory grip on the American colonies, and in return, Americans started boycotting the importation of English goods.  The boycott movement began in New England and then moved southward.  Unlike the northern colonies, the southern economic interests were controlled by English and Scottish merchants and less likely to boycott English goods; therefore, consumers in each southern colony assumed responsibility and led the non-importation movement.

North Carolina followed the lead of her two southern neighbors, South Carolina and Georgia, and her northern neighbor, Virginia.  In Virginia, large planters, including Richard Henry Lee and George Mason, once again declared that Virginia had an exclusive power to tax its citizens and pledged to boycott all British goods that were taxed (except for paper).  In Charleston, South Carolina, defenders of economic liberty met under the Liberty Tree.  Under its shade, writes economist and historian Murray Rothbard, they pledged to buy no British goods and no slaves from British traders.  In Savannah, Georgia, disgruntled colonists met at Liberty Hall and endorsed South Carolina’s action.   In North Carolina, Cornelius Harnett, later the namesake of Harnett County (est. 1855), championed a non-importation resolution among Sons of Liberty members.  Although the North Carolina House adopted Virginia’s resolutions, Governor Tryon summarily dismissed their action.  As a result, in the fall months of 1769, North Carolina legislators met as private citizens, adopted Virginia’s non-importation resolutions, and vowed to treat violators with “utmost contempt.”  When the government continued trampling on what they considered their English rights, North Carolinians in the end took matters into their own hands.