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War of Regulation

The Regulators rose up against the government by refusing to pay taxes and by meddling with the courts. The western rebels were defeated by North Carolina Governor William Tryon on May 16, 1771 during the Battle of Alamance Creek.

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.

The North Carolina population grew from 30,000 in 1729 to 265,000 in 1775, and settlements had spread to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The expansion, however, was the beginning of conflict between the east and west. The east controlled the government, which burdened the west with high taxes and other corruption. As a result, the War of Regulation took place.

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.

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. Each side lost nine men in the two hour skirmish.

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.



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