The Nutbush Address (1765)

Written By North Carolina History Project

In the year Wilmingtonians and North Carolina Sons of Liberty groups protested the Stamp Act, North Carolina freemen in the Piedmont protested county clerks, lawyers, and sheriffs’ abuses of power and demanded that their constitutional rights be observed.

A schoolteacher, George Sims, delivered the “The Nutbush Address,” properly called “An Address to the People of Granville County,” to his neighbors and community in the area called Nutbush (which is now in the northern part of Vance and Warren counties).  Thomas Person, the namesake of Person County and later an Antifederalist at the ratification conventions, persuaded Sims to publish the speech.  A somewhat reluctant Sims decided to do so.

Throughout the essay, Sims denounced the use of excessive fees and the local officials’ abuse of power.  He never criticized existing laws, but the schoolmaster decried the “malpractices” of existing law.  Sims demanded reform but never incited violence.  In particular, he called out the local court clerk, a “Mr. Benton.”  For his efforts, Sims was jailed and also sued by Benton for slander.

“The Nutbush Address” was almost relegated to the dustbin of history and never remembered.  Yet Regulators three years later revived its arguments in tackling similar problems with Edmund Fanning’s abuse of power.

Sims provided a telling example in his address regarding the cycle of debt that the farmer endured.  A creditor decided to take a farmer debtor to court.  The court fees were twice as much as the debt.  Because he was taken to court, the farmer needed a lawyer and therefore incurred lawyer fees.  In issuing legal papers, sheriffs charged fees, too.   Many times, Sims argues, the three—county clerk, lawyer, and sheriff—worked together to abuse the system.  There were no standard fees, and the three officials were paid as individuals.  

If the farmer didn’t have the money to pay his debt, the creditor may suggest that the farmer work his debt off.  But this would take him away from his farm, family, and occupation for weeks at a time and thereby prevent him from tending to crops for subsistence and growing crops to sell.  To compound the situation, in a colony in which money was in short supply, many creditors demanded repayment in money, not in goods or services. Sims believed this situation was unconscionable.  

He urged farmers to demand lawful practices and to not pay the fees.  “Where there is no law,” Sims writes, “there is no transgression in not complying with the arbitrary demands of the lawless officer.”  If the county trusted him, he pledged to gladly lead.  Sims ends his speech: “Here I am this day with my life in my hand, to see my fellow subjects animated with a spirit of liberty and freedom, and to see them lay a foundation for the recovery thereof, and the clearing our County from arbitrary tyranny.”