The Regulator Movement and the Battle of Alamance

During the years preceding the American Revolution many North Carolina people experienced strong feelings of discontent with the way in which the provincial government's officials were conducting the affairs of the colony. Their quarrel was not with the form of government or the body of laws but with the malpractices and abuses of those empowered to administer that government and those laws.

Grievances affecting the daily lives if the colonists included excessive taxes, dishonest sheriffs, and illegal fees. General scarcity of money contributed to the state of unrest. Those residing in the western part of the province, particularly, were isolated and out of sympathy with the easterners; it was from these frontier counties that the War of Regulation originated and grew. Minor clashes occurred until the spring of 1768, when an association of "Regulators" was formed. Wealthier colonists considered these Regulators to be "a mob." Allied in opposition to what they considered unjust and tyrannical practices of government officials, these Regulators never had an outstanding leader, though there were several who were prominent in the movement, including James Hunter, Rednap Howell, William Butler, and Herman Husband. Husband, a Quaker and disciple of Benjamin Franklin, circulated political pamphlets of a patriotic nature in seeking to effect reform peacefully by influencing public sentiment.

Discouraged over failure to secure justice through peaceful negotiations, and considering the the government indifferent to their distress because of the slowness of legal remedies to take effect, the reformers took a more radical stand. Violence, lawlessness, and terrorism reigned. When punitive measures were taken against them, the Regulators defiantly refused to pay fees, terrorized those who administered the law, and successfully disrupted court proceedings.

It fell to royal Governor William Tryon to bring the backcountry revolt to a speedy conclusion. In March, 1771, the governor's council, determined to squelch the angry rebel farmers, advised Governor Tryon to call out the militia and to march against the Regulators.

Volunteers to the militia were mustered. When the expedition finally got under way, General Hugh Waddell was ordered to approach Hillsborough by way of Salisbury, with Cape Fear and western militia at his command. Tryon and his army proceeded more directly towards Hillsborough. General Waddell, however, with a small force of only 284 men, was accosted on his way from Salisbury by a large body of Regulators; in views of the numerical superiority of the opposition, the general elected to turn back. On May 11, 1771, Governor Tryon and his forces left Hillsborough intending to go to Waddell's rescue. After resting on the banks of the Alamance Creek in the heart of Regulator country, Tryon gathered his army of less than 1,000 men. Five miles distant the army of Regulators, about 2,000 strong, had assembled. The battle began on May 16 after the Regulators rejected Tryon's suggestion that they disperse peacefully.

Lacking adequate leadership, efficient organization, and munitions to defend themselves successfully, the Regulators were no match for Tryon's better-trained, equipped, and organized militia. Many Regulators fled the field of battle, leaving their bolder comrades to fight on.

Each side lost nine men in the two hour skirmish. A large number of Regulators were wounded. Tryon tool about fifteen prisoners, of whom six were executed later. The rebellion of the Regulators had been crushed by military defeat; they had failed in their attempt to secure reform in local government. Many of them moved on to other frontier areas beyond North Carolina; those who stayed were offered pardons by the governor in exchange for pledging an oath of allegiance to the royal government.

The War of Regulation, culminating in the Battle of Alamance, is illustrative of the dissatisfaction of a large segment of the colonial population during the period prior to the American Revolution. The boldness with which these reformers opposed royal authority provided an object lesson in the use of armed resistance, one which revolutionaries would employ within a few short years in the War for Independence.

Located on the grounds at the site of the Alamance Battleground is the Allen House, a log dwelling characteristic of those lived in by frontier people on the western fringes of the colony. Family sources suggest that John Allen constructed the house around 1780. John's sister, Amy, was the wife of Herman Husband, the agitator, pamphleteer prominent in the Regulator movement. The Allen House was donated by descendants of the family and moved from nearby Snow Camp to the site, where it was restored and refurbished with its original furnishings. The family papers, books, and documents tell an interesting story, portraying an authentic example of living on the frontier during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Visitors to the site may view the field of battle which is marked by a granite monument (158k) given as a memorial in 1880; a large marker showing a map of battle and giving a brief history is located there also. An audiovisual presentation of the historical event is offered in the visitor center.

North Carolina. Historic Sites Section. Alamance Battleground: Where
the Regulators and Militia Met to End the War of the Regulation.
[Raleigh, NC]: North Carolina Historic Sites, 1980.

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