Francis Oliver was a delegate to the 1788 Constitutional Convention held in Hillsborough. Image courtesy of Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
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.
John C. Cavanagh, Decision at Fayetteville: The North Carolina Ratification Convention and General Assembly of 1789 (Raleigh, 1989); Stephen E. Massengill, North Carolina Votes on the Constitution: A Roster of Delegates to the State Ratification Conventions of 1788 and 1789 (Raleigh, 1988); Francis Oliver, Last Will and Testament, January 1808, Duplin County Wills, 1759-1913, North Carolina Office of Archives and History; Louise Irby Trenholme, The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina (New York, 1932)
By Richard Carney, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Ratification Debates, Political History, Political Documents, Religion