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About the Regulators of North Carolina

In the late 1740s settlers with roots in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey came down the Great Valley of Virginia and crossed the Blue Ridge from west to east into the Carolina Piedmont. They brought with them their own forms of worship and of government. First entering the Great Valley of Virginia in the late 1720s these people, Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians and various German sects, were largely left alone by the older established eastern Virginia culture. In fact, along the border between the cultures, in Albemarle and Bedford and Amherst counties the two cultures began to mix and form great men like Jefferson, Madison and Washington: the product of the best of both worlds. North Carolina had been briefly run by the Quakers 50 years before, when the population was sparse and confined to the Northeast corner of the state, but was during the time of the present study, run as a Crown colony, as if it were a part of England. This is the England where the aristocracy still ran the government. It was the England of rotten boroughs – where a powerful man would control one or several parliamentary seats. It was the England where commoners were expected to stop, remove their hats and bow before the mighty as they passed in their carriages, where servants followed their Lords and waited on their every need. The Church was accountable to the King and was established as a State Religion. The Holy Experiment in Pennsylvania, West Jersey and Delaware was a different matter. The laws were based on the golden rule. Freedom of speech, press and religion was found there (after some minor trials and tribulations it is true). The make-up of the legislature was based on population. Most political control was local and taxes were low.

Imagine what would happen if you had all your life enjoyed this freedom and then moved to a place where those in power would visit your farm, collect taxes at whatever rate they saw fit and pocket half of it. Then, if you refused to pay, they would, at gunpoint take your livestock and property. These same people then deny you equal representation in the state legislature and tax you for support of a Church that barely has any members in your area. They deny your ministers the legal right to marry you. They pack the juries and the courts with their friends. The Regulators were formed to fight these abuses. They printed petitions and advertisements and pamphlets. The Governor of North Carolina listened tolerantly but did nothing. The Regulators contained all sorts of people. The Presbyterians and Baptists were prominent. The German Reformed and Lutherans were heavily represented. Even the peace churches were involved. And there were frontier rowdies of course, spoiling for a fight. Governor Tryon smelled a revolt and outlawed the movement about 1768. The movement continued to grow. Judge Fanning, a fawning courtier more intent in winning Tryon’s favor than in administering justice, was removed from his court by a mob, was beaten and pushed down the stairs after which the Regulators took over the courthouse in Hillsborough. The rebellious farmers refused to pay the taxes. A law was passed in January, 1771 making membership in the Regulators an act of treason. Governor Tryon called up the militia in the eastern counties and in May 1771 marched on the Piedmont. He crushed the movement at the Battle of Alamance. Thirty of the men on the losing side were placed in irons and dragged through several of the western counties to discourage further rebellion. Twelve of them were then put on trial for their life and all were convicted of High Treason. The governor offered them a reprieve. If they would swear allegience to the King, then their lives would be spared. Six of them took the oath including a man named Harmon Cox and were “requited to await the King’s pleasure”. Six did not and they were hung, including James Pugh, who on the gallows pointed out that the Regulators had not killed one man until Alamance and prophesied that the blood spilled that day on the gallows would be paid for a hundred fold. Resistance continued, but at a much lower level as the King’s troops went through the western counties administering the Oath of Allegience to the Crown.

After the Battle of Alamance, Quakers and Baptists began to buy property in 1771-2 in the vicinity of Chestnut Creek in Carroll County, Virginia, just over the border from North Carolina. Many of the settlers were relatives of the disowned Quaker, Herman Husband, the best known leader of the Regulation (and who was himself a fugitive). They were part of a mass exodus of 1500 people or more who left the Piedmont after the Battle of Alamance. In 1779 they formed the Flower Swift Militia Company. Governor Tryon had offered a pardon to most of the participants in the Regulator movement but he made exceptions found in the Proclamation dated 11 June 1771 which reads as follows: (From the Colonial Records of North Carolina – Vol. 8)


“Whereas I have been informed that many persons who have been concerned in the late Rebellion are desirous of submitting themselves to the Government, I do therefore give notice that every person who will come in either to mine or General Waddell’s camp, lay down their arms and take the oath of Allegiance and promise to pay all taxes that are now due or may hereafter become due by them respectively and submit to the law of this Country, shall have his Majesty’s most gracious and free pardon for all Treasons, Insurrections and Rebellings done or committed, on or before the 16th of May last, provided they make their submission aforesaid on or before the tenth of July next.

The following persons are however excluded from the benefits of this Proclamation, viz, all the outlaws, the prisoners, all those concerned in the blowing up of General Waddell’s ammunition in Mecklenburg County, and the undernamed persons, to wit:

Samuel Jones Joshua Teague Samuel Waggoner
Simon Dunn, Jr. Abraham Greson Benjamin Merrill
James Wilkerson Edward Smith John Bumpas
Joseph Boring William Rankin William Robeson
John Winkler John Wilcox Jacob Felton
Thomas Person

Given under my hand and the Great Seal of the Province, this 11th day June, A. Dom. 1771.

Wm. Tryon

God Save the King

References and Links:

  1. Regulator petition names were found on Rootsweb’s RowanRoots RootsL archives for 1997 and 1998. Here is an example for Guilford County.
  2. Information on the Regulators:
  3. Another list of Regulators can be found at
  4. Wikipedia:
  5. Official Alamance Battleground web site by the folks who run the Alamance Battlefield Historic Site
  6. A History of the Regulators is on-line: The Regulators of North Carolina (1765-1771) by John S. Bassett, pps 141-212, Government Printing Office, 1895, Call number C970.25.B31r c. 3 (North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). His assertion that the Regulators favored the Tory side in the Revolution has since been proven false. Of 883 persons in old Orange County, NC (includes Alamance) who had supported the Regulation, 289 were rebels, 34 were Tories and 560 avoided taking sides (Data from Alamance Historic Site, repeated in The Cousin’s Warsby Kevin Phillips – note that Quakers and some Baptists had anti-war testimonies and would not be expected to fight). This assertion of his has been repeated in many subsequent histories of North Carolina as well in books like Leyburn’s The Scotch-Irish. See the “” ncgenweb for Orange County for more Regulator information, including some indication on the stand of individual Regulators during the Revolution. The assertion that there may have been some reluctance to support the Revolution because many of the leaders were the wealthy oligarchy of eastern North Carolina who had led Tryon’s militia at Alamance, though, may well be true. The leadership of the militias of southwest Virginia were also mainly wealthy Presbyterian land-speculators, but were not necessarily unsympathetic to the Regulation. Presbyterian ministers from Mecklenburg county, NC had been instrumental in convincing many of their parishioners to drop their support for the Regulation and some of these ministers supported the Tory cause too. So the relationship of the Chestnut Creek Community to their Presbyterian neighbors may have been complicated and uneasy. The fact that many of the Quakers were Scotch-Irish may or may not have helped.
  7. The Conquest of the Old Southwest by Archibald Henderson (Chapters 11 and 12 deal with the Regulation)
  8. Newspaper articles dealing with the Regulation are on-line from the North Carolina Office of Archives and History at “”. Amongst the newspaper articles on this page is one from the Edinburgh Evening Courant, dated 14 September, 1771 that says, “Most of the Regulators, who had been tried and convicted, it was imagined would not be executed, they having the choice either to inlist (sic) in the regular service, or receive 500 lashes; some of them have chosen the former. Neither of the outlaws had been taken, it was thought they were fled to some of the back mountains, and had secured themselves in such a manner, that in all probability they could not be easily discovered.”
  9. Herman Husband, the best known leader of the Regulation was also a leader in the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania 20 years later.
  10. Another on-line account of the Regulators from the viewpoint of the Watauga settlement can be found on-line at
  11. Some of the minutes of New Garden MM (NC) from just after the Battle of Alamance are found here.

James A. Quinn, March 2003, updated December 2007 and again September, 2010.