The Practice and Politics of Fiat Finance: North Carolina in the Confederation, 1783-1789

By James R. Morrill | Go to book overview

IV. North Carolina's Foreign Debt: The Obligation to Martinique

An ample illustration of North Carolina's fiscal difficulties and of the chaos attendant to eighteenth-century public finance is the record of the state's spasmodic, ill-informed, costly, and prolonged effort to discharge its one foreign obligation: a sum owed directly to the government of the French West Indies island of Martinique and thereby to the navy department of the government of France. During the Revolution, North Carolina had commissioned one Marquis de Bretigny as an agent to procure war supplies for the state. Upon Bretigny's application, the governor and the intendant of Martinique had withdrawn from the king's storehouse there French naval supplies valued at 5,487 Spanish milled dollars (almost £2,195 nominal value of postwar North Carolina currency).1 In receipt for these war materials Bretigny had pledged himself that North Carolina would make effective payment. Thereafter North Carolina had placed in the agent's hands funds that were to be forwarded to Martinique in partial payment of the debt.2 By the end of the war the exact details of the above transactions had somehow become lost to the government of North Carolina. The haphazard manner of keeping public records, the inherent problems of a nomadic capital, and the confusion and destruction associated with the war-one or more of these factors probably contrib

____________________
1
M. de la Forest's statement of June 12, 1790, Governors' Letter Books, X, 69-74, State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh. For ease of reading, fractions of dollars will be omitted in the chapter.
2
Walter Clark, ed., The State Records of North Carolina ( 16 vols.; Winston, Goldsboro, and Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 1895- 1906) [volumes numbered consecutive to William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina ( 10 vols.; Raleigh: State of North Carolina, 1886-90)], XIX, 345, 646.

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