Today, North Carolina celebrates the 248 years since adoption of the Halifax Resolves, which preceded the Declaration of Independence. A document unique to North Carolina, it helped catalyze the American call for independence, and secured North Carolina’s spot as a First in Freedom state.

The Halifax Resolves is a resolution adopted by the Fourth Provincial Congress of the Province of North Carolina. It directed the state of North Carolina “to declare independence, to join with other colonies in similar endeavors, and to reserve the right of North Carolina to create a Constitution.”

“The Resolves were simply entered into the Congressional minutes, and as such, are not ‘signed’ documents. After adoption, the secretary of the Congress, James Green, sent copies of the Resolves to the North Carolina delegation assembled with the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia for execution,” according to the National Park Service. “The colonial assemblies desired self-governing status within the British Empire in early 1776. However, North Carolina was an exception. The Halifax Resolves ordered North Carolina’s delegation to the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, not only to form foreign alliances, but also to seek and vote for independence from Great Britain. This action made North Carolina the first of the colonial governments to call for total independence. As such, it became a factor leading to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776.”

In the years leading up to the Halifax Resolves, historically significant events occurred within North Carolina that provide some important context to the eventual adoption on April 12, 1776. One of those events mirrored a more famous example in Massachusetts; while most Americans are familiar with the Boston Tea Party of 1773, far fewer are likely familiar with the Edenton Tea Party of 1774, one of the first political acts led by women in US history.

“I can count a few, but I have some fingers left,” wrote Dr. Troy Kickler of the relatively small circle familiar with the Edenton Tea Party. Dr Kickler is senior fellow and managing director of the North Carolina History Curriculum Project at the John Locke Foundation, founding director of the North Carolina History Project, and editor of 

The Edenton Tea Party occurred on October 25th, 1774, at the home of Penelope Barker, the wife of Thomas Barker, treasurer of the Province of North Carolina. It is believed that Mrs. Barker convinced 47-51 women “to stop drinking tea and buying English clothes,” and to sign a petition, a political first. 

 “Before the 1770s, women did not sign petitions,” wrote Kickler.

Another major event leading up to the Halifax Resolves shares commemoration on our State flag — the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. While documentation has been hard come by for full verification, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence allegedly took place on May 20, 1775, and the Mecklenburg Resolves, which do have supporting documentation, occurred on May 31 of that year, according to Kickler. 

Notably, the first battle in the war for independence was fought in February of 1776, at Moore’s Creek Bridge in North Carolina, where the Whigs (Patriots) beat the Loyalists. When the Fourth Provincial Congress reconvened in Halifax, North Carolina on April 4, the victory was fresh in their minds. 

“Independence seems to be the word; I know of not one dissenting voice,” remarked  Colonel Robert Howe to the Fourth Provincial Congress on April 4, 1776.

According to the North Carolina History Project, a committee was created to “explore further measures that should be taken to defend the colony against King George III and the British, as well as preserve the state of the colony.”

The committee met for the first time on April 8th. Cornelius Harnett, Allen Jones, Thomas Burke, and Abner Nash were appointed as acting members. On April 12th, the committee submitted the Halifax Resolves for consideration to the Provincial Congress. 

“By unanimous vote, the Halifax Resolves empowered the delegates in Philadelphia to cooperate with delegates from other colonies to declare independence from Great Britain,” Kickler told the Carolina Journal. “North Carolina was the first colony to do that. The Halifax Resolves were published and distributed throughout the colonies so people could follow the laudable example of the Halifax Resolves.”

The original text of the historic document reads in part:

“Your Committee are of Opinion that the house should enter into the following Resolve, to wit: Resolved that the delegates for this Colony in the Continental Congress be impowered to concur with the other delegates of the other Colonies in declaring Independency, and forming foreign Alliances, resolving to this Colony the Sole, and Exclusive right of forming a Constitution and Laws for this Colony, and of appointing delegates from time to time (under the direction of a general Representation thereof to meet the delegates of the other Colonies for such purposes as shall be hereafter pointed out.”

The Provincial Congress unanimously adopted the Halifax Resolves, and a copy was sent to Joseph Hewes, a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress. 

The Halifax Resolves were read aloud at the Continental Congress meeting and, within weeks, other colonies had also declared their independence from Britain after drafting similar resolutions. 

Delegates to the Continental Congress from North Carolina and Virginia made a motion on June 7, 1776 that the colonies should unite to be free and independent states. 

“The motion was received and on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was submitted and approved by the delegates,” according to the North Carolina History Project. 

At least two copies of the Resolves are known to exist today. The copy sent to the Continental Congress is held at the National Archives. The other is in North Carolina’s state archives.

Today, you’re more likely to catch references to the Halifax Resolves on the roadways. North Carolina license plates featuring the phrase “First in Freedom” are a hat tip to the Halifax Resolves, and the date, April 12, is featured prominently on North Carolina state flag.