.. e speedy collection of small debts, and the creation of the counties of Wake, Guilford, Chatham, and Surry in the areas of the region where the Regulators were the most numerous. These laws were designed to meet the demands of the Regulators, but while the assembly was vigorously passing these laws word arrived that the Regulators had assembled in Cumberland County and were preparing to march to New Bern, the current capital of North Carolina and residence of Royal Governor William Tryon. A complete change came over the assembly and thoughts turned toward punishing measures (8). The assembly adopted the “Johnston Act” introduced by Samuel Johnston, who would later be a member of the Continental Congress and a senator from North Carolina in the First Congress of the United States.
This act was to be enforced for one year only. It stated that the attorney general could prosecute charges of riot in any superior court in the province. All who avoided the summons for court for sixty days were declared and liable to be killed for treason. In addition to these drastic steps, the governor was allowed to call the militia out to enforce the law. The Regulators, as anticipated by the governingauthorities in North Carolina, reacted with defiance. To promote and strengthen their organization they sent messengers to nearly every county to encourage supporters and organize those who would join them.
The people of Rowan County were extremely cooperative due to their hatred of the Johnston Act (9). Governor Tryon, in March 1771, ordered a term of superior court to be held in Hillsborough, but judges filed a protest with the council. Under the riotous conditions existing in that part of the province, they felt that they could not hold court with any hope of prosecution. They also feared for their personal safety because of what previously occurred in Hillsborough in the case of Judge Richard Henderson. After this appeal had been made, the council decided that it was time to take a stand against the lawlessness of the citizens (10). Protest from the Regulators came strongly, but Tryon paid no attention.
On March 19, 1771 he called for volunteers for the militia and when enlistments began slowly he offered a payment of forty shillings. The offer helped tremendously, and on April 23 the troops got under way. Guns, ammunition, and other equipment for these troops had been sent at Tryon’s request from Fort Johnston on the Cape Fear River. General Hugh Waddell had already been ordered to march to Salisbury to halt the advances of the Rowan Regulators, to retrieve the western militia, and march to Hillsborough from the west. At the Johnston County Courthouse troops from Craven, Cateret, Orange, Beau- fort, New Hanover, Onslow, Dobbs, and Johnston were joined by the Wake militia. They made their way to Smith’s Ferry beside the Neuse River where Tryon reviewed the troops on May 3, 1771.
There were 1,068 men; 151 were officers. Pleased with his recruitment, he broke camp and advanced toward Hillsborough. General Waddell and his 284 officers and men were approaching Salisbury from the Cape Fear River. Governor Tryon and the militia reached Hillsborough on May 9. General Waddell left Salisbury that same day, but while crossing the Yadkin River he was met and stopped by a large group of Regulators. Waddell retreated back to Salisbury. Intending to help General Waddell, Tryon left Hillsborough on May 11 leading the militia through the heart of “Regulator country.” On the fourteenth day they reached the banks of Alamance Creek where they rested for a day.
On May 16, 1771, Tryon ordered his army into battle formation. The companies from Cateret, Orange, Beaufort, New Hanover, and Dobbs counties, plus the artillery, were in the lead, followed by companies from Onslow and Johnston. With these troops Tryon set out to destroy a large body of Regulators reported assembled five miles ahead. The Regulators, estimated at about 2,000, were waiting for Tryon’s confrontation. They lacked adequate leadership, a clear purpose, efficient organization, and even sufficient arms and ammunition for battle. The Regulators must have felt that simply by making a display of force they could frighten the governor into granting their demands.
Among their number were many noisy and restless individuals and many who seemed not to realize the seriousness of the situation lying ahead. Earlier that week, some of the Regulators captured Colonel John Ashe and Captain John Walker of Tryon’s militia while they were scouting, severly beat them, and made them prisoners. So careless were the Regulators and so unaware of the situation most of them were wrestling and playing around when an older soldier who happened to be among them warned them to expect an attack at any minute. Shortly after, the firing began. Before the shooting began, the Regulators were given a choice to retreat and dissolve their group or be fired upon.
In the one hour they had to decide few were considering their lives. The Regulators gave no response and thus the Battle of Alamance began. Tryon’s well-equipped troops soon put the Regulators to flight. The Regulators had no officer higher than captain and each individual company fought independently. Tryon’s artillery fire was very effective in the beginning, but many Regulators later found refuge behind trees and rocks. The Regulators were deserted by many of their own comrades and took early leave of the battlefield.
The Battle of Alamance lasted two hours. Tryon’s forces lost nine to death and sixty-one wounded, while the Regulators lost the same number killed and had a large, but undetermined number of people wounded. Tryon took about fifteen prisoners and executed one on the spot with the idea of striking terror into the hearts of the Regulators. This action, I believe, was uncalled for because of the decisive military defeat. Despite his evil display of character during the battle, Tryon had his own surgeons treat the wounded Regulators (the entire battle has been summarized from source #11).
The Regulators attempt to secure reform in local government by force apparently failed completely. The Regulators were compelled to retreat from society and live life in the wilderness. Many migrated, some going to Tennessee and down into the Mississippi River Valley. Others followed Daniel Boone’s trail into Kentucky. In fact, by 1772, just one year later, about 1,500 of the former Regulators left North Carolina (12). The importance of the Battle of Alamance and its proper place in American history have been topics of discussion not only in North Carolina, but across the country.
I gathered this fact from the area from which my sources came. I noticed that the efforts of the Regulators is very similar to that of the colonists efforts to gain independence, only on a much smaller scale. The War of Regulation should be regarded as one of the primary thrusts of North Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War. Because of the research I have done I am encouraged to find out more about the history of North Carolina. The Battle of Alamance should be covered in every American history course simply because it illustrates the desire for independence many colonists had during this time period.
Endnotes 1. Nelson, Paul David. William Tryon and the Course of an Empire: A Life in British Imperial Service. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 1990.
2. Dill, Alonzo Thomas. Governor Tryon and His Palace. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 1955.
3. Dill, Alonzo Thomas. Governor Tryon and His Palace. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 1955. 4.
Spindel, Donna J. “Law and Disorder: The North Carolina Stamp Act Crisis.” North Carolina Historical Review. vol 57: 1980. pp. 1-16. 5.
Henderson, Archibald. “Origin of the Regulation in North Carolina.” American Historical Review. 21: 1916. pp.320-32. 6.
Lefler, Hugh T. “Orange County and the War of Regulation.” in Orange County, 1752-1952. ed. Hugh T. Lefler and Paul Wager. Chapel Hill: 1953.
pp. 22-40. 7. Fitch, William Edwards. Some Neglected History of North Carolina. Neale Publishing Company: New York, New York, 1905.
8. London, L.F. “The Representation Controversy in Colonial North Carolina.” North Carolina Historical Review. vol 11: 1934. pp.
255-76. 9. Newsome, Alber Ray and Hugh T. Lefler. The History of a Southern State. The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1973.
10. Bridenbaugh, Carl. Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1734-1776. Knopf Publishing, New York NY, 1968. 11.
Edward, Brother C. “The Regulators: North Carolina Taxpayers Take Arms Against the Governing Elite.” American History Illustrated. April 1983: pp. 42-48. 12. Stumpf, Vernon O.
Josiah Martin: The Last Royal Governor of North Carolina. Carolina Academic Press for the Kellenberger Foundation: Durham, NC, 1986.