William Boylan, Federalist turned state’s rights supporter

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William Boylan, image courtesy the North Carolina Division of Archives and History

In the Spring of 1799, a 23-year-old William Boylan relocated to North Carolina’s capital to re-establish his uncle’s pro-Federalist newspaper.  The Raleigh Minerva, formerly the Fayetteville Minerva, became Wake County’s first newspaper.

The turn of the nineteenth century was the height of the Federalist’s power, with national leaders like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, plus a Federalist-dominated congress.  But Federalists were rather unpopular in the South.

The Jay Treaty, which forgave debts of the British from the Revolutionary War, was a financial determent to large plantation owners in the South.  Federalists were also uninterested in supporting agriculture, they were far more interested in banking, manufacturing, and the urbanization of the United States.

Boylan could not have had many political allies in Raleigh, but it never stopped him from becoming an extremely civic-minded public servant and philanthropist.  William Boylan had an active role in the following (and likely more) Raleigh enterprises: He…

  • Owned a bookstore on New Bern Avenue (Now New Bern Place)
  • Was appointed to Wake County Court in 1804, serving as chairman from 1815 til his death in 1861
  • Was a Raleigh City Commissioner several times
  • Served as the treasurer of the Agricultural Society of North Carolina
  • Advocated for a statewide mutual fire insurance company beginning in 1803 (the idea didn’t take until 1843, after several disastrous fires)
  • Was a Lieutenant of a Raleigh City Corps during the War of 1812
  • Acquired large tracts of land including Joel Lane’s Wakefield in 1818 and Yates Mill in 1819
  • Served on the Construction Commission for the new State House in the 1830s
  • Was a trustee of the Raleigh Academy (which was located on Burke Square, now the site of the Governor’s Mansion)
  • Was one of the directors of the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad
  • Was an investor and supporter of the North Carolina Railroad beginning in the 1840s
  • Was an investor in a (failed) Plank Road construction effort in the 1850s
  • Served as a warden of the poor and established the first Wake County poorhouse
  • Served as President of the State Bank of North Carolina

Boylan’s Minerva was defunct by 1821, having been overshadowed by rival Joseph Gales and his pro-Republican Raleigh Register.  Gales has an equally long and impressive resume, which we’ll look at later.

William Boylan remained a staunch Federalist, which was only ever popular in New England and the Northeast, while the national impression of Federalism was that of an out-of-touch and even unpatriotic aristocracy.  This may be one reason why Boylan’s pro-Federalist paper went under.

But despite Boylan’s politics, he took measures throughout his life to serve the city and state he loved.  He was long remembered for using his carriage to deliver firewood to the poor, and helped his friend and former slave Lunsford Lane flee Raleigh for safe haven in the North.

And although the Federalist position had been one of a strong central government, Boylan sensed impending war with the North, and warned the capital that it was completely unprepared. Boylan seemed to be poised at 79 years old to protect his state’s rights, or perhaps his four plantations in Mississippi.

The local militia, known as Oak City Guard, was re-established at Boylan’s urging in 1855.  In 1861, the same year as Boylan’s death, North Carolina seceeded from the Union and entered into war with the North, whose soldiers were known as the Federal troops.

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