Johnston Riot Act of 1771
An Act for Preventing Tumultuous and Riotous Assemblies, and for the More Speedy and Effectually Punishing the Rioters, and for Restoring and Preserving the Public Peace of This Province.
Whereas of late many seditious riots and tumults have been in divers parts of this Province to the Disturbance of the Public Peace, the Obstruction of the Courts of Justice, and tending to subvert the Constitution, and the same yet continued and fomented by persons dissatisfied with his Majesty’s Government. And whereas it hath been doubted by some how far the Laws now in Force are sufficient to inflict Punishment adequate to such heinous Offenses.
Be it therefore enacted by the Governor, Council and Assembly, and by the Authority of the same, That if any persons, to the number of ten or more, be unlawfully, tumultuously and riotously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace, at any time after the first Day of February next, and being openly required or commanded by any one or more justices of the Peace or Sheriff to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart themselves to their Habitations, shall, to the number of ten or more, notwithstanding such command or request made, remain or continue together by the space of one Hour after such Command or Request, that then continuing together to the number of ten or more, shall be adjudged Felons and shall suffer Death as in Case of Felony, and shall be utterly excluded from his or her clergy, if found guilty by verdict of a jury or shall confess the same, upon his or their arraignment, or will not answer directly to same, according to the Laws of this Province, or shall be mute or shall be outlawed, and in every such justice of the Peace and Sheriff within the limits of their respective jurisdiction, as hereby authorized and empowered, and required on Notice or knowledge of any such unlawful, riotous assembly to resort to the place where such unlawful riots and tumultuous assembly shall be, of Persons to the number of ten or more, and there to make, or cause to be made, such Request or Command.
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if such persons so unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled, or ten or more of them, after such request or command made in manner aforesaid, shall continue together and not disperse themselves in one hour, then it shall be lawful to and for every justice of the Peace or Sheriff of the County where such Assembly shall be, and also to and for such Person or Persons as shall be commanded to be aiding and assisting to any such justice of the Peace or Sheriff, who are hereby authorized and empowered and required to command all His Majesty’s subjects of this Province of Age and Ability to be assisting to them therein to seize and apprehend such persons so unlawfully, and riotously and tumultuously continuing together after such Request or Command made aforesaid, and forthwith to carry the Persons so apprehended before one or more of His Majesty’s Justices of the peace of the County where such persons shall be apprehended in Order to their being proceeded against for such Offenses according to Law. And that if such persons so unlawfully and riotously and tumultuously assembled together, shall happen to be killed, maimed, wounded or hurt in the dispersing, seizing, or apprehending, or endeavoring to disperse, seize or apprehend them, by reason of their resistance, that in every such case, the justice of the Peace, Sheriff, or under sheriff, and all other persons being aiding or assisting to them or any of them, shall be free, discharged and indemnified, as well as the King, his Heirs and Successors, as against all and every other person and Persons of, for and concerning the killing, maiming or hurting any of such person or persons so unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled.
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that if any Persons to the Number of Ten or more, unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the Public Peace, shall unlawfully and with force at any time after the first Day of March next, during the sitting of any of the Courts of Judicature within the Province, and with the intention to obstruct or disturb the Proceedings of such Court, assault, beat or wound or openly threaten to assault, beat or wound any of the judges, Justices or other officers of such Court, during the continuance of the term, or shall assault, beat or wound or openly threaten to assault, beat or wound, shall unlawfully and with Force hinder or obstruct any Sheriff, Coroner, or Collector of the Public Taxes in the discharge or execution of his or their Offices, or shall unlawfully and with force demolish, pull down or destroy any church or Chapel or any building for religious worship or any Court House or Prison, or any Dwelling House, Barn, Stable or other House, that then every such offense shall be adjudged a Felony. And the Offenders therein, their Leaders, Abettors and Advisers, shall be Adjudged felons, and shall suffer death as in due case of Felony, and shall be utterly excluded from his or their clergy; and if found guilty by verdict of a jury, or shall confess the same upon his or their arraignment, or will not answer directly to the same, according to the laws of this Province, or shall stand mute or be outlawed.
And whereas it hath been found by experience that there is great difficulty in bringing to Justice those who have been or may be guilty of any of the offenses before mentioned: for remedy thereof, Be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that it shall and may be lawful to and for the Attorney-General of this Province for the time being, or his deputies, to commence prosecutions against any person or persons who may have at any time since the first Day of March last, or shall at any time hereafter commit or perpetrate any of the crimes herein before mentioned, in any superior Court within this Province, or in any Court of Oyer and Terminer, by the Governor or Commander-in-Chief for the time being, specially instituted and appointed, and the judges or justices of such Court, are hereby empowered and required to take cognizance of all such crimes and offenses, and proceed to give judgment and award execution thereon, although in a different County or District from that wherein the crime was committed, and that all proceedings thereupon shall be deemed equally valid and sufficient in law as if the same had been prosecuted in the County or District wherein the Offense was committed, any, Law, Usage or Custom to the Contrary notwithstanding.
And be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, that the judges or Justices of such Court of Oyer and Terminer so commissioned shall direct the clerk of the District where such Court of Oyer and Terminer is to be held to issue Writs Venire Facias, and the proceedings thereon to be in all respects the same as directed by an act of the Assembly passed at New Bern in January of the year of our Lord, One Thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight, entitled An Act for dividing this Province into six several districts and for establishing a superior Court of Justice in each of the said districts and regulating the proceedings therein, and for providing adequate salaries for the Chief Justices and the associate Justices of the said superior Courts. Provided, nevertheless, that no Person or Persons heretofore guilty of any of the crimes or offenses in this Act before mentioned, altho’ convicted thereof in a different County or District from that wherein such Offense was committed, shall be subject to any or other or greater punishment than he or they would or might have been had this Act never been made.
And to the end that the justice of the Province be not eluded by the resistance or escape of such enormous Offenders, Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from and after the passing of this act, if any Bill or Bills of indictment be found or presented or presentments made against any Person or Persons for any of the crimes or offenses herein before mentioned, it shall and may be lawful for the judges or Justices of the superior Court or Court of Oyer and Terminer, wherein such indictment shall be found or presentment made, and they are hereby empowered and required to issue their proclamation to be affixed or put up at the Court House and each Church or Chapel in the County where the crime was committed, commanding the Person or Persons against whom such bill of indictment is found or presentment made to surrender himself or themselves to the Sheriff of the County wherein such Court is to be held within sixty days. And in case such Person or Persons do not surrender himself or themselves accordingly, he or they shall be deemed guilty of the offense charged in the indictment found or presentment made in manner like as if he or they had been arraigned and convicted thereof by due course of Law; and it shall be lawful to or for any Person or Persons to kill or destroy such Offender or Offenders, and such Person or Persons killing such Offender or Offenders shall be free, discharged and indemnified, as well as against the KING, his heirs and Successors, as against all and every Person or Persons for and concerning the killing and destroying such Offender or Offenders, and the lands and Chattels of such Offender or Offenders shall be forfeited to His Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, to be sold by the Sheriff, for the best price that may be had, at Public venue, after notice by advertisement for ten days, and the Monies arising from such sale to be paid to the Treasurer of the District wherein the same shall be sold, and applied afterwards for defraying the contingent charges of the Government.
And whereas by the great Riots and insurrections at the last superior Court held for the district of Hillsborough it may be justly apprehended that some endeavors will be made to punish those who have been guilty of such Riots and Insurrections, as well as those who may hereafter be guilty of the crimes and Offenses herein before mentioned: For prevention thereof and restoring Peace and Stability to the Regular Government of this Province, Be it enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that the Governor or Commander-in- Chief for the time being is hereby fully authorized and empowered to order to attend Regiments of Militia in this Province, to be under the command of such Officer or Officers as he may think proper to appoint for that purpose, at the Public Expense, to be by him employed in Aid and Assistance of the execution of this Law, as well as to protect the Sheriffs and Collectors of the Public Revenue in Discharge of their several duties, which draught or Detachments of Officers and Soldiers when made shall be found, provided for, and paid, in the same manner and at the same rates, and subject to the same rules and Discipline as directed in case of insurrection in and by Act of the Assembly made in the year One Thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight, entitled An Act for establishing a Militia in this Province.
And for effectually carrying into execution the purposes aforesaid, Be it further enacted by the authority, aforesaid, that it shall and may be lawful for the Governor and Commander-in-Chief for the time being to, draw upon either or both of the Public Treasurers of this Province, by warrant from under his hand and seal, for the payment of any such sums of Money as shall or may be immediately necessary for the carrying on and performing of such service, and the said Treasurers, or either of them, are hereby directed and required to answer and pay such warrants as aforesaid out of the contingent fund which shall be allowed in their settlement of the public Accounts.
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that if any number of men shall be found embodied and in an armed and hostile manner, to withstand or oppose any Military Forces, raised in Virtue of this Act, and shall, when openly and publicly required, commanded by any justice of the peace or Sheriff of the County where the same shall happen, to lay down their arms and surrender themselves, that then and in such case the said Persons so unlawfully assembled and withstanding, opposing and resisting, shall be considered as traitors, and may be treated accordingly.
And be it further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that the Justices of every Inferior Court shall cause this Act to be read at the Court House Door, the second Day of each Court for their Counties, and that the Minister, Clerk or Reader of every Parish in this Province shall read or cause to be read at every Church, Chapel or other place of public Worship within their respective parishes, once in every three months at least, immediately after, divine service, during the continuance of this Act.
And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that this Act shall continue and be in force for one year, and no longer. Read three times in Open Assembly and Ratified the 15th Day of January, 1771. WILLIAM TRYON, Governor. JAMES HASSELL, President. RICHARD CASWELL, Speaker. A true Copy of an Act passed last session of the Assembly. ROBERT PALMER, Secretary (Col. Rec. of N. C., Vol. VIII, PP. 481 to 486)