The crowning labor of his life, however, and the one which will constitute a more lasting monument to him than any that others could erect, was his ‘Colonial Records
I do not know how others may view the circumstances which attended the conception and execution of this invaluable work, but to my mind they appear to have been clearly providential.
At different times in the history of the State
spasmodic efforts had been made to secure the early records which were known to exist in England
, but these efforts were mostly individual, and supported by very limited means, and they resulted in a very unsatisfactory collection of fragmentary material.
When the Legislature finally resolved to make a sufficient appropriation, and to inaugurate an authoritative search for all documents bearing upon our Colonial history, Colonel Saunders
had never paid any especial attention to the subject, and if his health had not failed, the probability—nay, the certainty—was that he would have been promoted to higher positions than that of Secretary
of State—the incumbent of which office was required to superintend the publication of the material, when obtained-and thus the labor of editing it would have fallen upon his successor, who, whatever his capabilities for the ordinary duties of the office might have been, would almost certainly have fallen far short of the supreme excellence as an historical editor which he developed.
But his painful malady, which was doubtless partly the result of wounds and exposure during the war, about this time began to confine him to indoor life and soon to his chair, and thus he was anchored for his life—work.
From the beginning he was interested in it—in a very short time he became enthusiastic over it—and thenceforward he gave his whole mind and heart to it. The result to him personally was that he became, beyond all comparison, the best informed man upon our Colonial history that has ever lived, while in the extent and accuracy of his knowledge of the subsequent history of the State
he has had very few equals.
To one who was interested in such studies it was a great pleasure to listen to his criticisms upon and discussions of those early men and times in North Carolina
, and his prefatory notes to the different volumes of the Records are a masterful presentation of the trials and struggles of our forefathers, and a glorious vindication of them against the historical scavengers who have sought to defame them.
The vindication, too, is not that of the advocate or the rhetorician, but of the calm, fact-weighing historian and philosopher.