Lots of information on the Regulators' rebellion and its aftermath, with photos of monuments and historical markers
Fight the Powers That Be - the Regulators Show the Way to Revolution
The year is 1764. You are a hard-working citizen of western North Carolina -- a merchant, a farmer, or a servant. For light, you burn candles made of grease drippings. You sleep on a bed of moss or hay. Your annual salary is about 100 British pounds, but it buys less and less with each passing year. Why? Taxes. Local officials knock at your door more and more often, and they are forever adding extra charges that empty your pockets. You mention this fact to a friend and are surprised to learn that it is happening to him too. In fact, it is happening to everyone you know. The more you talk about it, the angrier you get. Where is all the money going?
Enter the royal governor, William Tryon. He lives in a palace that cost 15,000 pounds to build. He dines on fancy meals and sleeps on mattresses stuffed with curled horse hairs. He gazes at the stars through a glazed dome skylight and reads by candles that burn whale oil. How can he afford such a lavish lifestyle? Where does all his money come from? Furthermore, how can all those men in the eastern part of the state are live in such luxury while you are struggling to get by?
One day, you and your friends get together to discuss these mysteries, and you reach a few conclusions. For starters, the local officials who charge you those exorbitant fees are not really local at all. Most are close friends of Governor Tryon. Ditto for the lawyers. In fact, every person in town who is financially secure has close ties to the governor. Is this just a coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. As a group, you decide it's no accident. Moreover, you resolve to do something about it. Others call you "the mob." You call yourselves "the Regulators," and you take the state by storm. Though you will lose the battle, your point of view will ultimately win the war.
As Becky and I trekked across North Carolina, we quickly learned that U.S. history is full of uprisings and rebellions. These acts of dissidence came to a climax during the American Revolution, which led to our nation's independence. The Regulators' rebellion is often credited with pushing North Carolina into the revolutionary war. In fact, some of their rhetoric became founding ideas of our country.
Once the Regulators had determined that all of their local officials were corrupt, they began to protest. Governor Tryon tried to appease them by passing a proclamation forbidding the collection of illegal fees, but it didn't take long before the sheriffs returned to their old ways. This corruption infuriated the citizens, particularly those who lived in the Granville District. All they needed was a spark to light their fire, and it came in the form of a man named Herman Husband. Although he never became their official leader, he really knew how to work the crowd. The Regulators agreed not to pay any more taxes until they were convinced they were legitimate.
The officials, meanwhile, decided it was time to flex some muscle. So they stole the horse, saddle and bridle of one of the Regulators and sold them for taxes. The Regulators retaliated by rescuing the horse, riding through town, and firing shots at the colonel's house. The sheriffs quickly arrested them, but not before they earned the sympathy of their fellow town citizens. An angry mob of 700 men marched over to the jail house. The Regulators were promptly released. This event was a milestone in American history. The Regulators proved to the nation (and themselves) that if people rally together, they become a force to be reckoned with.
Threatened by the Regulators' disobedience, the government passed a law making it easy to punish rioters. If these rioters did not come to court, they would be declared outlaws and could be killed without a trial. Ooh boy, that made the Regulators angry! They grew braver, and their acts became bolder. Before long, they were breaking into courtrooms, kicking the judges off their benches and holding phony trials. Attorneys, meanwhile, were dragged through the streets. Citizens who opposed the Regulators' cause were assaulted. Homes were burglarized and burned.
Up to this point, Governor Tryon had been relaxing in his palace, sipping from one of his eight tea services. But when it grew clear that the Regulators were getting out of control, he decided to squash their rebellion. He called upon North Carolina citizens to join the military, using a bonus of 40 shillings to lure them in. After weeks of intensive training, a troop of 1,000 men marched off to meet the Regulators. The militia had clear goals, strong leadership, organization and plenty of ammunition. The Regulators did not. Though they had been together for several years, they had never really prepared for military warfare. It showed. Though the Regulators had twice as many men as the military, they quickly realized they were going to lose. A number of them actually fled the battle scene. When Herman Husband, a pacifist, realized he was not going to be able to bring about a truce between the two sides, he got on his horse and rode away.
Governor Tryon gave the Regulators a choice: return peacefully to their homes or be fired upon. They chose the latter. The Battle of Alamance, as it is called, lasted two hours. In the end, both sides lost nine men. Tryon took 15 prisoners and executed one on the spot. The Regulators were devastated. In some ways, the Regulator rebellion can be seen as a failure. Their ultimate goal -- securing reform in the local government -- was never realized. In fact, many participants had to drop out of society altogether. Some spent the rest of their lives hiding in the woods. Others were pardoned by Tryon after they took an oath of allegiance to the government.
Nevertheless, I think that, in the end, the Regulators were victorious. Their desire to change unfair taxation would inspire settlers in the northern colonies to do something about harsh British tax laws. They showed their fellow countrymen that people truly can rally together to create change. This empowering experience led to the American Revolution, and the creation of the United States of America as we know it today.
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Links to Other Dispatches
Daphne - Nathaniel Bacon: a rebel with a cause
Kevin - Another slab of Bacon: a rebel without a clue
Stephanie - You go, colonial girl wonder!
Teddy - Witchy woman's gonna put a spell on you!
Becky - Rock the vote the colonial way
Irene - Burning down the house: land riots in early America
MAD - The indentured servant trade: still rearing its ugly head