The Regulator Movement
James Hunter, as mentioned before, was considered the “general of the Regulation.” Hunter was known for traveling around to Regulator meetings apart from Orange County and speaking of news around the western counties. Probably, the second most proficient vocal leader of the Regulation, Hunter not only went around to various Regulator meeting but also hand delivered numerous advertisements and petitions to provincial officials. Because of this distinctive assignment and his overall profile Hunter was referenced as the “chief of the Regulators” in a Bethabara Diary dated in 1771. After the Battle of Alamance in 1771 Hunter and other leaders such as Husband fled the area for fear of death. Governor Tryon marched his men onto the farm lands of both these men as well as others and destroyed everything. Their lands were sold off by the sheriff because of their treasonous activities.
The last person on the list was Hermon Husband, who many historians consider the actual leader and instigator behind the Regulation. Husband’s involvement almost seems to be that of an observer looking for a step up. It was the historian Whittenburg who placed the reason for Husband’s involvement on him wanting to take control of county government away from this ring of elite who took away control in the mid 1750’s. Husband tried to take power away through elections however, when that did not work he began speaking publicly about the evils of these men from the east who took control of their western counties. It was Husband that brought the Regulation to Orange County and spread the propaganda of the evils of the appointed officials. At all times Husband preached pacifism. He did not want to see violence arise because of their grievances. He was not involved in the riots in April of 1768 nor the one in 1770. Additionally, during the Battle of Alamance he was present at the beginning but before the fighting started he fled. Husband’s involvement ends with his playing the role of instigator. Only once did Husband sign a petition from the Regulators and at no time was he a principal leader or voice of representation for the Regulators. His role was visible from the side of the Governor and other local officials but appears very minimal when it comes to the primary sources which were found.
Tryon believed the Regulation was only an “infatuation, instigated by a few Persons, whose characters are as desperate as their fortunes, and who having nothing themselves to loose, scruple not to involve men of a far different character and stamp, into all the Calamities and Miseries of civil discord, and who out of the general confusion, assuredly hope that the increase of their fortunes, may keep pace, with the weight, & measure of their Crimes.”
Governor Tryon was convinced the rebellion in Orange County was the result of only a few men who have instigated the emotions of men to do their bidding for them. Those “few Persons” were men such as Rednap Howell, James Hunter, and Hermon Husband. In his attempt to single out leaders of the Regulation, Tryon failed to address the issues at hand and realize that more than just a few were unhappy with the way they had been treated by lawyer, merchants, and local politicians. For the May 11th meeting the Regulators were hopeful that a resolution could be reached and their grievances could be met. Tryon however wanted the hostilities to end and did not believe negotiating with the Regulators was needed. He issued a proclamation which demanded the immediate end of hostilities in Orange County.
Fanning’s Defense of Tryon
Edmund Fanning defended Tryon’s position by issuing a letter of his own to the Regulators. He wrote to them as if he were the champion of Orange County addressing them as “my friends”. He even suggested that if a grievance had been brought before him he would have taken the petition to Tryon himself as a representative for the people of Orange County. At the same time though, Fanning did not believe that any person had been “cheated or wronged by the Burgesses, Justices, Vestry or Sheriffs, in their public settlements.” Continuing with the position of Tryon, Fanning refused to meet with Regulators on the 11th of May and issued arrest warrants for Hermon Husband and William Butler. According to Husband’s arrest warrant he was charged for being “guilty of Traterously and feloniously Conspiring with others in stirring up an Insurrection among his Majesty’s Liege Subjects of the said County.” Once again the disappoint of the Regulators led to a riot. With Hermon Husband in jail nearly 700 men marched into Hillsborough on May 2, 1768 to force the release of the prisoners. Tryon and Fanning’s belief that only a few persons were leading the mob and jailing them would end everything had failed. They still organized in force.
The Regulators began sending petitions straight to the governor, as his secretary had suggested they do. The needed to show the governor they were serious about change. “We the inhabitants of Orange County pay larger Fees for recording Deeds than any of the adjacent Counties and many other Fees more than the Law allows,” this opening line in their petition spells out the main complaint the Regulators had against the local officials. Silencing Tryon’s first belief that only a few persons were inciting the men to civil disobedience, 480 men signed this petition. The sheer number of signers displays the magnitude of the Regulators. In this petition, it was stated that other petitions were included in order to fully explain their grievances. One of these petitions included was more than likely petition No. 11. It was signed by a select committee, as opposed to all 480 from the greater petition, which consisted of John Low, Harmon Cox, John Marshal, William Cox, William Moffitt, George Hendry, and two of our principal names James Hunter and Rednap Howell. This tells us that Hunter and Howell were present at nearly all Regulator functions but it also shows us that many men, besides Hunter and Howell, played key roles in the Regulation.
As June arrived so did Howell and Hunter with the petitions for the Governor on June 20, 1768. Governor Tryon had decided it was time for him to head to Hillsborough himself and get a better handle on the situation. It seemed along his travels to Hillsborough that Tryon better understood what the Regulators’ grievances were and on July 21, 1768 Tryon issued the proclamation that many thought, including Tryon himself, would end the Regulation. Tryon’s proclamation required that all public officials to “cause fair tables of their Fees, legally established, to be affixed up in their Respective Offices.” Tryon, with this proclamation, was trying to crack down on the local officials who were overtaxing and overcharging Orange County farmers. His goal was to ensure that all local and court officials do not “demand or receive other Fees, for public business transacted in their Offices, than what was established by proper authority, upon pain of being removed from their said Offices, and prosecuted with the utmost severity of the Law.” This was not the first proclamation to request this of the western officials however Tryon followed up on this by taking some of the men to court for their extortionate practices. This move did not appease the Regulators because they wanted officials completely removed from office, something Tryon refused to do.
Tryon believed he had solved the problem and now moved to demanding the Regulators pay their taxes they owed the colony. Sheriff Harris was dispatched with Random Sutherland to collect taxes from Regulators. They came upon a large group of Regulators who were meeting at a farm many of which were armed. Upon giving the letter to James Hunter from William Tryon, in which Hunter read aloud, the group voted “to pay no Taxes and this Deponent (Harris) sayeth, that he heard several Persons to him unknown swear that they would kill any man who should dare to take anything from any of them till they came to a Settlement.” The settlement had not been reached like Tryon had believed. No Regulator paid taxes. They were still unified behind the goal of having the local officials completely removed.
The exchange of words continued throughout the month of August. Tryon continued to believe that his proclamation in July completely satisfied the demands of the Regulators and expected them to fulfill their end of the bargain by paying their back taxes. The Regulators on the other hand believed their wishes were not fulfilled because many of the same local officials were still in their respective offices, poised to commit the same crimes they were recently tried. Tensions were getting high again and reached another plateau when the trials of Hermon Husband, William Butler, and others commenced. This brought about the largest confrontation until the Battle of Alamance in 1771. Nearly 3,700 Regulators arrived in Hillsborough to halt the proceedings of the men on trial. Tryon however was ready for them and had already called up around 1,400 in militia forces from surrounding counties to prevent rioting.
With a trained militia force it was difficult for the Regulators to attempt anything against the courts despite the fact that they outnumbered the militia nearly 3 to 1. After a couple days of tension and confrontation the Regulators dispersed and the trials of the men began. Husband ended up being acquitted however William Butler and two others were charged and given fines with some prison time.
As another riot broke out in Hillsborough in September of 1770 the people involved were of the familiar sort however when it came time for someone to speak, a new individual stepped forward. Tryon and the North Carolina Assembly at this point were shifting away from trying to resolve the Regulators grievances to simply suppressing the organization completely. This decision to beginning suppressing the Regulators was solidified in September of 1770 when nearly 150 men, including Husband, Howell, and Hunter, arrived in Hillsborough, North Carolina and attacked the court, nearly killed Judge Henderson and Edmund Fanning, and whipped some of the attorneys present such as John Williams and William Hooper Many of the officials, other than these men, found themselves in imminent danger and were frightened for their lives. “Thomas Hart, Alexander Martin, Michael Holt, John Sitterell (Clerk of the Crown) and many others were severely whooped. – Colo. Gray, Major Lloyd, Mr. Francis Nash, John Cooke, Tyree Harris and sundry other persons Timously made their Escape or would have shared this same Fate.”
Everyone in Hillsborough who worked for the provincial government feared for their lives. It was “James Hunter and some other of their Chieftons” who actually protected Henderson from being harmed, they told him “not to be uneasy for that no Man should hurt Me (Henderson) on proviso.” It was Hunter and Husband who specifically preached this notion of pacifism and that’s why they attempted to protect the judge. Cited by Henderson as the spokesman for the Regulators at this time was a man he believed was named Fields. This supposed Fields was more than likely Jeremiah Fields, a signer of the May 1768 petition sent to Tryon. Fields was barely ever mentioned as a Regulator up to this point. Despite leaders such as Husband, Hunter, and Howell present it was Jeremiah Fields who came forward and stated “He spoke for the whole Body of the People call Regulators.”
The group longed for an end to the overdrawn ordeal they had been fighting for the past three years. Marching upon Newbern became the only option. With rumors flying that the Regulators were gathering from all over the colony to march upon Newbern the assembly became alarmed. They decided to act quickly and pass laws which would satisfy their demands such as capping attorney fees, regulating officials’ duties, and creating newer counties in the west like Wake, Guilford, Chatham, and Surry resulting in better representation.
Word came that the Regulators were on their way marching toward Newbern. This angered the assembly so instead of passing laws resolving the Regulators’ issues, they passed a resolution known as the “Johnson Act” which for the next year gave the attorney general of North Carolina the power to prosecute rioters and in addition, any individual who avoided their court date would be considered an outlaw and subject to death. This act greatly angered Regulators however they never arrived in Newbern as many believed they would. With this act the tensions grew from there and would not end until May 16, 1771, the day of the battle.
As March approached, Tryon decided he wanted to reopen the courts of Hillsborough, despite Regulator efforts to keep it closed. The judges in the area filed a protest which stated they would not open the courts for fear of their lives. The judges refused to have a repeat of the riot in September of 1770, still fresh in their memory. The letter which Tryon’s men intercepted from Rednap Howell to James Hunter sparked the assembly into great action. They asked for Tryon to “Raise as soon as the necessary preparations could be made, a Sufficient Body of forces from several Regiments of Militia, and to March with them into the settlements of the Insurgents, and reduce them by force to an Obedience to the laws of their Country.” Tryon moved into action immediately by requesting militia regiments from nearly every county totaling 2550 men. Tryon hoped to march his militia forces out of Newbern sometime just after April 20, 1771. In the mean time, Tyron sent countless letters to colonels all over the colony, giving instructions on various aspects of the upcoming fight against the Regulators.
Tryon left Newbern with three hundred men and artillery on April 23, 1771. On May 3rd, Tryon met up with more militia at Smith’s Ferry, his militia army now totaled 1,068 with 151 of these men officers. Continuing his march Tryon arrived on May 9th in Hillsborough. General Hugh Waddell had a company of his own chasing after Regulators they believed were in the country. Upon crossing the Yadkin River with only his company of men, General Waddell was stopped by a large force of Regulators. Upon realizing his company was outnumbered, Waddell chose to withdraw his men. Tryon received word of Waddell’s situation and immediately raced to his aid. Tryon left Hillsborough on the eleventh and by the night of the fourteenth Tryon’s men were resting on the banks of the river Alamance. The Regulators just happened to be across the river and on the fifteenth Tryon demanded they immediately disband. Waiting patiently for an answer, it was finally realized that the Regulators were not going to disperse, so on the morning of the sixteenth Tryon ordered his men to battle formations.
The denouement of the Regulator association was the Battle of Alamance in May of 1771. As organization of rebellion would have it, this battle along the river Alamance gave the Regulators the opportunity they needed to defeat the forces of the provincial government and display their power and strength of will. Unfortunately, it seemed many of the Regulators were not prepared to actually go into battle. The belief among many men was that a simple display of force would cause the colonial leaders to give into their demands.
Tryon was not impressed and wanted to end this insurgency once and for all. As Tryon’s militia formed ranks, readying themselves for attack, the Regulators were doing things like talking and wrestling around for fun. Husband, Hunter, and Howell were all present at this battle however none of these men or anyone else stepped up to lead the group. This was the moment in which James Hunter declined an invitation to lead the men into battle. Hermon Husband left the area before it even began, staying true to his pacifistic Quaker roots. It is unknown exactly in what capacity Rednap Howell was involved at Alamance but a warrant for his arrested preceded the battle. With none of the Regulators stepping up to lead the men were without focus and discipline.
Adding to the Regulators lack of discipline and focus the militia they faced was a trained fighting force with superior weapons. The outcome of this battle could easily have been predicted. Once Tryon issued the order to fire the Regulators scrabbled. Some fled but a large portion of men returned fire, causing some damage to the militia but, in the end it was Tryon’s force that came out ahead. The battle lasted only two hours with both sides losing nine men and many wounded.
The next day Tryon issued a proclamation which pardoned all Regulators who would submit to the government and take an oath. There were a few exceptions however, specifically Hermon Husband, James Hunter, and Rednap Howell. Others were taken into custody after the battle, tried, and put to death. Some others were released upon giving their oath to the colony. In all around 6,000 Regulators took the oath with the ones that refused to going into hiding. The end of the Battle of Alamance marked the end of the Regulator movement and their association.
Several principal leaders were integral in sparking interest in the Regulation from the beginning. People like Hermon Husband and James Hunter were vital in spreading the news, goals, and grievances of the Regulation. Because of gentlemen like these the Regulation moved through Orange County including surrounding counties. When the Regulation however were in full swing, in 1768, these leaders took a back seat to the majority rule. Neither man took a continual leadership role with the Regulators, in fact when John Butler, a Regulator in Orange County, was interrogated by Tyree Harris, sheriff of Orange County, and asked if Hermon Husband was a Regulator, his response was, “They are neighbours and act Friendly, and in Common, the Opinion is that Mr. Husbands doth not approve of their Conduct.”
James Hunter took a position more as spokesmen and messenger. Hunter was normally the one who delivered petitions and messages to local and colonial officials such as Governor William Tryon. Men such as Rednap Howell, James Hunter, and Hermon Husband functioned as the visible heads and driving forces behind the Regulation however when it came to actual basic decisions being made, it was left up to the organization. When it came to formulating petitions and other documents which went to colonial officials they were signed by a wide variety of men such as William Moffitt, John Low, Harmon Cox, George Henry, Simon Dixon, and many others. There was a great reliance upon the association of the Regulators and not an individual person or two.
The efforts of the Regulators, for the most part, were successful. The Governor issued proclamations requiring the immediate halt of sheriffs and lawyers overtaxing and overcharging the people in western counties, namely Orange County. The association of Regulators remained strong throughout their run and stayed the course in deciding things based on the majority. Much like the Sons of Liberty the ambitions of the Regulators never strayed beyond their initial goals. The Regulators remained a strong association until the end when a lack of organized military leadership caused them to falter.