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Tatom, Absalom

by Neil C. Pennywitt, 1996

1742–20 Dec. 1802

Absalom Tatom, military leader, delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1788, and a member of Congress, was born in Granville County. He first appears in North Carolina records as a sergeant in the local militia in 1763. On 1 Sept. 1775, in anticipation of the Revolutionary War, he was commissioned first lieutenant in the First North Carolina Continental Regiment; he was promoted to captain on 19 June 1776. The reason for his resignation in the fall, on 19 September, is unknown, but on 15 Aug. 1778 he enlisted in state service as assistant quartermaster and keeper of the arsenal at Hillsborough. Before the end of the year he also became contractor for the town. He resigned both positions when commissioned major of the detachment of North Carolina Light Horse on 12 Feb. 1779, but in July he was named clerk of the Randolph County Court and later in the year was elected to represent that county in the House of Commons. The latter position was invalidated, however, as he was already county clerk. In 1781 he appears as district auditor for Hillsborough.

Why Tatom was there is not clear, but at the Battle of Elizabethtown in August 1781 he was captured by Tories but escaped under cover of darkness. In 1782 the Continental Congress named him one of three commissioners to survey lands to be granted to Continental soldiers in the western territory that later became Tennessee. For a time he was actually in the West, where one of his servants was captured by Indians, yet it was also in 1782 that Tatom served as private secretary to Governor Thomas Burke and as the state tobacco agent. Clearly a busy man and one of many talents, in May 1785 he was elected surveyor of North Carolina by the Continental Congress and soon afterwards was named by the state as a commissioner to sign paper money. In 1788 he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention as well as the Hillsborough borough representative in the legislature. He served in the next six sessions as well but died shortly before the end of the last one.

Tatom's name does not appear in the 1790 census for North Carolina, but at the time of the 1800 tally of Orange County he was recorded as being over forty-five years of age and owning eight slaves but having no family. Following a brief illness he died in Raleigh during the 1802 legislative session and was buried in the Old City Cemetery.

Available records make no mention of Tatom's family, marital status, or religious affiliation, although it is known that he was a member of the Grand Order of Masons, Eagle Lodge No. 19 (now No. 71) at Hillsborough. He served as senior grand warden pro tem of the Grand Lodge on 25 Jan. 1795.

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 
Note on the history of the Eagle Lodge in Hillsborough: The lodge was originally chartered in 1791 as Lodge #19 in the North Carolina Masonic organization. It soon became inactive. By 1819 it was re-organized and given #71. In 1932 the lodge petitioned for restoration of its original number -- #19 -- which was restored at that time.


John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585–1979 (1981).

Walter Clark, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 10 (1890).

Don Higginbotham, ed., The Papers of James Iredell, vol. 2 (1976).

William L. Saunders, State Records of North Carolina, vols. 12–13 (1895–96), 15–22 (1898–1907), 24–25 (1905–6).

Frederick G. Speidel, North Carolina Masons in the American Revolution (1975).

Who Was Who in America, historical vol. (1967).


Hello, and thank you for this great resource.

A correction: Eagle Lodge in Hillsborough is #19 again. Below is copy from a one-page handout we give to visitors. Please contact me if you want more information or images.

Speed Hallman

Eagle Lodge #19 AF&AM
Hillsborough, North Carolina

The mission of Freemasonry in North Carolina is to raise the moral, social, intellectual, and spiritual conscience of society by teaching the ancient and enduring philosophical tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, which are expressed outwardly through service to God, family, country, and self under the Fatherhood of God within the Brotherhood of Man.
--Mission statement of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina

Eagle Lodge, founded in 1791, is one of the first Masonic lodges chartered under the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. Members of Eagle Lodge helped lay the cornerstone of Old East at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1793, a ceremony that marked the birth of public higher education in the United States.

Our 1823 Greek Revival building was designed by state architect William Nichols and built by John Berry. The building has served as an opera house, meeting hall, Civil War hospital, and observatory for Burwell School students. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Freemasonry is devoted to high ideals, community service, and charitable work. Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in North Carolina support the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford and WhiteStone, a Masonic and Eastern Star home for the elderly in Greensboro.

The term Freemason appeared as early as 1212 in connection with the master builders who traveled about Europe erecting churches and cathedrals, many of which still stand. These Freemasons formed themselves into lodges in which the secrets of their art might be preserved. Today, as then, candidates must seek admission. Freemasonry does not recruit members but inquiries about membership are welcomed.

The Historic Eagle Lodge Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation formed to protect, preserve, maintain and restore Eagle Lodge's building. Please send tax-deductible gifts to the Historic Eagle Lodge Foundation, PO Box 373, Hillsborough, N.C., 27278. All gifts are appreciated and every gift will be acknowledged. Thank you!

Dear Speed,

Thank your for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share this correction with us.  I have added an update note which you'll see above the "References" to indicate the history of the lodge number change.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

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Copyright notice

This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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