Petition#2 Signatures

Illegal Voting in North Carolina

Don’t worry – this isn’t a political post! It refers to elections in 1776, not more recent events.

I recently received an amazing gift from Bob Tickle of Tennessee. He has published a family history of his Tickle and Bunts ancestors1. It’s a well-researched book with lots of detail and sources. I’m sure there will be many things to share as I work my way through it. I’ll add details of how you can obtain a copy at the end of this post.

My interest was caught by a report on events surrounding elections to the North Carolina Provincial Congress in 1776. This congress passed what became known as the Halifax Resolves, which was the first official endorsement of independence from Great Britain by one of the Thirteen Colonies. Halifax is sometimes known as the town where the course for independence began.

Peter and John Tickle, German immigrants to North Carolina, were also about to embark on new ventures. In 1778 and 1779, they each made a claim to land in Orange County. You can find more details in an earlier post here. Normally, claimants ‘camped’ on the vacant land for a period of time before making their claim and we have some evidence that they were resident in the county at the time of the 1776 elections for the Provincial Congress.

The Elections

In Orange County, the election of delegates to the Congress was scheduled to take place on 15 October 1776. Only free men who owned land in the county were eligible to vote. On the appointed day, landowners from all over Orange arrived to cast their vote at the Courthouse in Hillsborough, the county town, but the voting did not run smoothly and was never completed. The scene inside the Courthouse was described by William McCauley, an Inspector of the Polls:

When the day came the polls opened and when there were about forty or fifty taken a young boy came to give his vote. I asked him if he had any land that he claimed or a house or any property. He told me no. I told him I believed the Congress had not given him, or such as him, a right to vote. Upon that, three or four of Tate’s men2 who appeared said, ‘Let every freeman give a vote.’ I told them that if it was agreeable to Congress and agreeable to them it was with me. In a few votes more in came another little boy, which I being not satisfied, I spoke to the Bench and a few of them said it would be no election. Then I spoke in general to the people and told them if they did not keep in better order it would be impossible to take the poll on account of the throng. It was all to no purpose. After sometime Col. Wm Moor stood up in the Bench and said this was the day the Congress had appointed for the election, hoping they would keep order for after sundown no more could give a vote. A few more votes were taken, but those who had voted kept the others back and we were obliged to get the Books of Polls and withdraw from the Courthouse and no more votes were taken. The sun was still about an hour and a half or two hours high.

from an article by William Doub Bennett, Raleigh, N.C.

This sounds to me as if certain parties wanted to rig the election by introducing ineligible voters for their candidate, while preventing others from casting their vote. It was a turbulent time with conflict between those who were in favour of independence and Loyalists. In all, 617 managed to cast votes in the county but the election was declared invalid.

The experience of many would-be voters is described in this petition to the Provincial Congress:

We have been unjustly, violently and tumultuously prevented from exercising that right [the right to vote] … We attended at Hillsboro all the day on the fifteenth of October in order to vote for Delegates to represent the said county [Orange], but we found it impossible to go into the Courthouse where the Clerks and Inspectors were taking the Poll without great danger of bodily hurt, by reason of the Riot and Tumult which prevailed in and about the Courthouse.

Following this election fiasco, several copies of the petition were circulated within Orange County for signature. Nine of these copies are filed in the Secretary of State’s papers. The petitions are arbitrarily numbered, but Petition #2 is of interest to us. It is likely to cover the area around Alamance and the signatories include Peter Tickle and John Tickle.3

On 28 November 1776, the Provincial Congress passed a resolution calling for a new election in Orange County. This was held on 10 December 1776. Since property ownership was a requirement before one could vote, the list of voters at this election represents the majority of freeholders in the county at this time. Neither Peter nor John Tickle appear in the list of names. Their land had not been surveyed or recorded at this point, therefore they were not considered freeholders.

Did the Tickles Actually Sign the Petition?

Although both Peter and John Tickle’s names appear on Petition #2, reproduced at the top of this post, I have doubts that it was actually them who penned their signatures.

In the 18th century, the majority of people were illiterate and ‘made their mark’ rather than signing their name. From later census records, we can see that many Tickle descendants for the next two generations were unable to read or write. Although it is possible the early Tickles had this skill but did not pass it on to their children, it seems unlikely. It was the fact that immigrants could not spell their names which often led to them being Anglicised when written down by others, as we believe was the case for the Tickles – their original surname possibly being Digel or Diegel.

If you examine the signatures, they look remarkably similar, and appear to be written by someone who had what would have been referred to as ‘a fair hand’. Look also at the signatures of David Phillips Snr and Jnr in the left hand column – they are identical. I think it is likely that many of the names were added to the petition by someone who could write, rather than the people concerned, although possibly with their consent. Whoever signed the petition, it seems the Tickles were not eligible to vote in the subsequent election as they were not yet freeholders in the state.

Earlier in the year, on 12 April 12 1776, North Carolina had authorised her delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. This was the first official action by a colony calling for independence. The 83 delegates finally elected at the end of the year and present in Halifax at the Fourth Provincial Congress unanimously adopted the document called the Halifax Resolves. The Halifax Resolves were important, not only because they were the first official action calling for independence, but also because they were not unilateral recommendations but recommendations directed to all the colonies and their delegates assembled at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

1 The book is “Tickle, Bunts, Bond and Jennings Families: A Family history with some North Carolina roots. Volume I – The Tickle and Bunts Families” Researched, Complied and Annotated by J.R. (Bob) Tickle. You can order copies of the book from:

Wythe Co. Genealogical & Historical Association
P.O.Box 1601, Wytheville, VA 24382
Ph: (276) 228-2445. Web: Email:

2 The name, Tate, appears in several documents. It is outwith the scope of this study to investigate who he was but it is possible this refers to Captain Joseph Tate of the 2nd North Carolina Regiment.

3 You can see transcripts and more details in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, May 1984

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