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Timothy Bloodworth (1736-1814)
Bloodworth, an Anti-Federalist, opposed ratifying the federal Constitution at the 1788 North Carolina convention. Image courtesy of Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.
Timothy Bloodworth was an influential Patriot, Anti-Federalist
, and Democratic-Republican. Bloodworth typified a new generation of working-class politicians who rose to prominence during and after the American Revolution.
Bloodworth was born in obscurity in New Hanover County and named after his father, who had migrated to North Carolina from Virginia in the early 1700s. Bloodworth had little formal education, but he pursued a variety of careers. He farmed, taught school, kept a tavern, and operated a ferry. At one point, he practiced medicine and preached occasionally. He also worked as a wheelwright and watchmaker, but he was probably best known as a blacksmith. Bloodworth’s many services to his neighbors won him a large following even if, in the words of nineteenth-century North Carolina historian Griffith McRee, his “learning was so ill-digested as sometimes to excite ridicule, and expose him to the charge of quackery.” Settling near Burgaw, Bloodworth acquired a substantial estate of nine slaves and some 4,000 acres.
Elected to the colonial assembly in 1758, Bloodworth eventually emerged as a leader in the movement for independence from Great Britain. In 1775, he helped organize the Wilmington Committee of Public Safety and acquired a reputation for ruthlessness in dealing with Loyalists. During the Revolutionary War, Bloodworth held a series of local offices, and he served in the General Assembly from 1779 to 1784. According to legend, he saw combat as a sniper in fighting around Wilmington in 1781.
As the war drew to an end, Bloodworth became a leader of North Carolina’s Radical faction. The Radicals supported democratic reform, and of particular interest to Bloodworth, harsh treatment of former British sympathizers, including seizure of their property. In May 1783, the General Assembly appointed him a commissioner of confiscated property. A year later the assembly elected him a delegate to Congress.
As a member of North Carolina’s House of Commons, Bloodworth voted against ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, because it called for the return of confiscated Loyalist property and the payment of debts owed to British creditors. As a member of Congress, Bloodworth opposed the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty, which would have allowed Spain to close the Mississippi River to American shipping in exchange for commercial concessions to the United States. Anathema to the South and West, the treaty enjoyed support among Northern merchants, and the ensuing debate over its passage heightened Bloodworth’s suspicions of the commercial classes and a strong national government.
In 1787, Bloodworth resigned from Congress to fight the ratification in North Carolina of the new federal Constitution. Elected as a delegate from New Hanover County to the Hillsborough convention
, Bloodworth was one of the most effective Anti-Federalist opponents of the document. Bloodworth warned that the proposed new government would overwhelm the states. Remembering the Jay-Gardoqui Treaty debate, Bloodworth argued that the more democratic House of Representatives, as well as the Senate, should be required to vote on treaties before they became effective. He claimed that Northern interests would dominate the new government and demanded that a bill of rights be added to the Constitution. In part because of his influence, the Hillsborough Convention
refused to ratify the document. Meanwhile, the General Assembly appointed Bloodworth to represent the state should another federal convention be called. After the new government was created and Congress approved a bill of rights, a second state convention
met in Fayetteville in 1789 and finally ratified the Constitution. At the convention, Bloodworth continued to oppose ratification, yet his unsuccessful opposition did little political damage. Although he lost a narrow race for the United States Senate, he was elected to the state senate and was the only Anti-Federalist elected to the House of Representatives in North Carolina’s first congressional elections.
In 1791, after his district was redrawn, Bloodworth lost a bid for reelection to the Federalist William Barry Grove
. As a national party system developed in the 1790s, Bloodworth was, according to historian Delbert Gilpatrick, one of the “charter members of the Jeffersonian party in North Carolina.” He opposed the fiscal polices of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and he believed the Washington administration was too sympathetic to Great Britain in its ongoing conflict with France. As a lieutenant colonel of the Wilmington militia, Bloodworth ignored orders to seize a French privateer that had brought a prize into the Wilmington harbor. His insubordination notwithstanding, he was elected speaker of the state house in 1794, and two years later he was elected to the United States Senate. After he completed his term he returned briefly to the state legislature. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson appointed him collector of the port of Wilmington.
Bloodworth was a true revolutionary, placing himself on the Radical wing of every issue of his day. He was at best an indifferent administrator. As a purchasing agent for North Carolina troops during the Revolution and as New Hanover County treasurer, for instance, his sloppy recordkeeping was a source of continuing embarrassment. Under his administration, $22,500, a princely some for the era, disappeared from the Wilmington collector’s office. Nevertheless, his accomplishments, mainly in organizing opposition to Britain in the Cape Fear region in the early days of the American Revolution, were impressive. Without the advantages of great wealth, a prominent family, or a prestigious education, Bloodworth’s ambition, ability, and likable personality made him one of revolutionary North Carolina’s most durable politicians.
Lindley S. Butler, “Bloodworth, Timothy,” in John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography (New York, 1999); William E. Dodd, “Timothy Bloodworth,” in Samuel Ashe, ed., Biographical Dictionary of North Carolina (Greensboro, 1917); Delbert H. Gilpatrick, Jeffersonian Democracy in North Carolina, 1789 -1816 (New York, 1931); G. Melvin Herdon, “Bloodworth, Timothy,” in William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina Biography (Chapel Hill, 1979-91); Hugh T. Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, North Carolina: The History of a Southern State (Chapel Hill, 1973); Louise Irby Trenholme, The Ratification of the Federal Constitution in North Carolina (New York, 1932).
By Jeff Broadwater, Barton College
Related Categories: Ratification Debates
, Political History
, Revolution Era
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Region: Coastal Plain