In 1787–1789, North Carolina was severely divided over whether to adopt or reject the newly proposed Constitution. Baptists, led by their ministers, strongly opposed the new Constitution primarily because of the lack of a provision protecting freedom of religion. The Reverend Lemuel Burkitt, “a prominent leader of opposition” to the Constitution, stood as a candidate for Hertford County to the state ratifying convention in March 1788. Several weeks before the election, posters were pasted on trees announcing that Burkitt would hold a meeting at his church in which he would explain the Constitution.
Elkanah Watson, a merchant who had moved to Edenton, N.C. in 1785 where he purchased a plantation, actively supported the Constitution writing pieces for newspapers in North Carolina and Virginia. “Indignant, at what we deemed an insidious attempt to deceive the community,” Watson and two friends determined to disrupt the meeting. When they arrived at the crowded church, they “found a horse hitched to every tree.” Watson and his friends made their way “to seats, a little distant from the pulpit” as they listened to Burkitt explain the Constitution “to suit his unhallowed purposes.” When Burkitt denounced Congress’ control over a large federal capital from which an army of 100,000 could be dispatched to disarm and enslave the American people, Watson and his friends moved up front “directly under the pulpit” determined more than ever to “break up the meeting.” They denounced Burkitt’s reference to the federal capital which created “a general movement and buzz, which instantly swelled into a perfect uproar.” The three Federalist disruptors fled the melee, got to their horses, and escaped unscathed. They had accomplished their goal—the meeting “dissolved.”
The next day, Watson and one of his friends prepared a caricature of Burkitt pontificating from his pulpit with the words “proceeding from his mouth . . . ‘and lo he brayeth.’” The caricature was “committed to some resolute fellows,” who were instructed to “post it up at the door of the courthouse, at the opening of the polls” and “defend and protect it.” Burkitt’s friends, “stung to the quick by the sarcasm, attempted to pull it down,” but were forcibly opposed. “A general battle ensued” in which the candles in the courthouse were extinguished leaving both parties, in great confusion. Satisfied with the resulting chaos, Watson road off only to find later that Burkitt had been elected as one of two Antifederalist delegates to the Convention.