I’ve been writing a newspaper column since 1986. During that time, I’ve had occasion to criticize the policies of six North Carolina governors: Jim Martin, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, Beverly Perdue, Pat McCrory, and Roy Cooper.
None has seen fit to have me flogged. An ancestor of mine, William Pendley, wasn’t so lucky.
Some years ago I wrote a book about the ancestry of my late father, Harold Hood. A native of Caldwell County, he had deep roots in the Carolina mountains. Most of his family arrived in what are now Caldwell, Burke, Wilkes, Ashe, and Watauga counties during the 18th century. While his Hood line was originally Dutch and Scandinavian, my father’s other ancestors were primarily Scotch-Irish, along with English and a smattering of French, German, Italian, and (probably) African.
Most of his English progenitors arrived in the New World before 1700. In what might be considered a sign of things to come, many were getting away from authority figures they didn’t like. Our ancestry includes Puritans escaping religious persecution to settle in New England, Cavaliers escaping Puritan persecution to settle in Virginia, and assorted malcontents escaping political enemies to settle in the mid-Atlantic colonies.
Among the latter was William Pendley — although, technically speaking, he wasn’t fleeing his own enemies. He was fleeing those of his master, Walter Broadhurst.
Broadhurst was the scion of a wealthy Catholic family. Seeking freedom and fortune in the New World, Broadhurst arrived in Baltimore in 1639 with Pendley as a servant. Although poor enough to have to sell his services in exchange for passage, Pendley was literate and intelligent. During his service to Broadhurst and another prominent Maryland citizen, Dr. Thomas Gerard, Pendley occasionally even acted as an attorney handling some local legal and land disputes.
The 1640s constituted a tumultuous time in Maryland politics. Lord Leonard Calvert, a Catholic and the colony’s first proprietary governor, originally tried to rule Maryland with an iron fist. Provoking a violent response from the population, Calvert then yielded authority to a colonial assembly. As the English Civil War approached, Calvert attempted to keep Maryland neutral. It didn’t work. A Protestant revolt forced Calvert, his family, and his religious and political allies to flee to Virginia for a couple of years.
Pendley, my 9th-great grandfather, was among them. He was married by then and at least one of his children was born in Northampton County, Virginia. Records show that he spent several years in Virginia, performing legal services and serving on juries.
Lord Calvert returned to power in Maryland in 1646, then died a year later. On his deathbed, Calvert appointed Thomas Greene as his successor. But Greene’s tenure lasted less than a year. The next governor, the Protestant William Stone, was less to William Pendley’s liking, it seems.
The court record reports that in early 1649, Pendley gave a speech at the home of a certain John Hallowes at which he reviled Gov. Stone and his policies. Pendley said he regretted returning to Maryland in support of the government, that he’d rather have stayed in Virginia, and indeed that he’d rather “have gathered oysters for a living” than do any service for the governor.
Pendley was arrested and charged with sedition. A Maryland court convicted him and sentenced him to be imprisoned and whipped with 20 lashes. Within a few weeks, Pendley was dead at the shockingly young age of 30 — most likely as a result of his flogging by the colonial authorities.
According to my ancestral studies, there were many other opinionated troublemakers in my family tree. Another 9th-great grandfather, John Tully, was one of colonial America’s first publishers of editorials. And several Quaker forebears espoused and advanced the cause of abolition, one provoking a major court case in Virginia over the right to liberate slaves.
As far as I can tell, however, only one of my ancestors, William Pendley, was beaten to death for expressing his opinion. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?