The Regulators of North Carolina – Outraged Opressors The history of colonial North Carolina is bombarded with frequent strife and turmoil. The people of North Carolina, because of a lack in supervision from the British monarchy, learned to possess an independent spirit.
The colony remained isolated from the rest of the country because of several geographical conditions such as poor harbors, the abscence of navigable rivers, numerous swamps, and bad road conditions. Due to these conditions, communities throughout North Carolina became widely seperated. The colony was initially set up by the Lords Proprietors, an English founding company that helped finance early American exploration.When North Carolina was freed from British proprietorship, the Granville family, descendants from the original Lords Proprietors, con-tinued to hold their land rights. This area, which became known as the “Granville District,” was the scene of many disputes over land grants, taxes, British support, and a great deal of lesser issues. Settlers in the back country (Piedmont) felt particularly oppressed by the laws drawn up by an assembly largely composed of eastern landowners. “Local” officials in many counties, particularly in the western segment of the back country were not local men at all, but friends of the royal governor, William Tryon. These so-called “friends” often collected higher fees than authorized by the law while obtaining tax money or divided a single service into many services and charged fees for each.
Lawyers who followed the judges around the colony also fell into the same habit. The citizens of Anson, Orange, and Granville counties were the first to make themselves heard.In 1764, this band of citizens, referred to as the “mob,” created a number of local disturbances until Governor Arthur Dobbs passed a proclomation forbidding the collection of illegal fees, the practice that the people complained of the most. Their protests were calmed only temporarily. However, the efects of the new law wore off soon enough and sheriffs and other county officers returned to their old dishonest practices. Citizens complained largely in part because money was so scarce; local trading was almost limited to barter.
Often, property was seized and resold, and citizens felt that their property was being sold to a friend of an official for much less than its true value (1).People among the Granville District were anxious to revolt and needed only a leader to provide the spark that led to the fire of the War of Regulation. A man named Hermon Husband became actively involved and was referred to as a leader several times, despite the fact that he was often nothing more than an agitator. Husband reprinted patriotic flyers with messages dealing with taxation withour representation hoping that citizens would call for reform. However, at no time during the Regulation was there an actual leader (2).
Orange County was an early center of Regulator activity.Colonel Edmund Fanning, holder of numerous offices in the county including the prominent Clerk of the Recorder’s Court at Hillsborough, became a prime target along with Royal Governor William Tryon, who took office in 1765. Tryon was hated because he aimed to use taxes to build Tryon Palace in New Bern, a very costly residence for himself, as well as the seat for the colony’s government. The Regulators, “who named themselves after a group of country reformists in South Carolina (3)” shortly after Tryon’s announcement to build the palace, had no sympathy with the governor’s desire for a fancy residence.
The War of Regulation was not limited to Orange County. Outbreaks of violence during the collection of taxes in Anson County and several riots throughout the Granville District were sure signs of what was to come.A group of men, apparently enthusiastic over the success of the Sons of Liberty in resisting the Stamp Act, called citizens together to determine whether they were being treated justly or not.
Edmund Fanning denounced this meeting. Little was accomplished at the meeting, but this is where the Regulators proclaimed themselves as a radical political group (4). Minor oppositions continued to occur until the spring of 1768 when the sheriff of Orange County announced he would be collecting taxes at certain areas of the colony only, and if colonists did not pay at these particular locations a charge would be incurred. This occured at about the same time Tryon gave word about the construction of Tryon Palace.
This was very inconvenient for the sttlers for two reasons. The widely scattered population made it difficult to arrive at these tax stations. Lack of money was also a concern. Opposition to these moves influenced people to join the Regulator association. The Regulators declared their purpose in a proclamation soon after claiming they would: “assemble ourselves for conference for regulating public grievances and abuses of power, in the following particulars.
.that may occur: (1) We will pay no more taxes until we are satisfied that they are agreeable to law, and applied to the purposes therein mentioned, unless we cannot help it, or are forced. (2) We will pay no officer any more fees than the law allows, unless we are obliged to do it, and then show our dislike and bear open testimony against it.
(3) We will attend all of our meetings as often as we conveniently can.. (4) We will contribute to collections for defraying the necessary expenses attending the work, according to our abilities. (5) In case of differences in judgement, we will submit to the judgement of the majority of our body.
(5)” The Regulators also did not allow drinking of alcohol at their meetings because they knew that different opinions could result in an internal clash. At an unfortunate moment with feeling between the two opposing sides at a peak, officials in Hillsborough seized a Regulator’s horse, saddle, and bridle and sold them for taxes. Outraged, a band of Regulators rode into Hillsborough, rescued the horse, and before leaving town, fired several shots into Edmund Fanning’s house.Fanning, who was in court in Halifax, immediately ordered the arrest of three Regulators who played a big role in the Hillsborough horse incident, William Butler, Peter Craven, and Ninian Bell Hamilton. Citizens of Orange County were very sympathetic with the Regulators. Hermon Husband was chosen as one of two delegates to meet with officials to discuss the incident.
Before the meeting could be held, Fanning gathered a handful of armed men and assisted the sheriff in arresting William Butler and Hermon Husband. The two men were charged with inciting the people to rebellion and were confined in the Hillsborough jail. Enraged by the officers, the following morning seven hundred men, some of whom were not Regulators, went to Hillsborough to rescue the prisoners.County officials, becoming alarmed, released the prisoners in time to speed them away to meet the approaching mob of men.
The governor’s secretary informed the protestors that Governor Tryon would receive their petition to investigate conditions in Orange County and would see that they received fair treatment at the hands of county officials. Due to this incident, support for the Regulation movement spread (6). The Regulators pursued their purpose with tremendous force.
They often broke into courts of justice, drove judges from the bench and set up mock trials.They dragged unoffending attorneys through the streets almost until death and publicly assaulted peaceful citizens who refused to express public sympathy for the Regulation. In September, 1770, Judge Richard Henderson was presiding over the superior court in Hillsborough when a mob of one hundred fifty Regulators, led by Husband, armed with sticks and switches, broke into the courthouse, attempted to strike the judge, and forced him to leave the bench. They next attacked and severely whippped John Williams, a practicing attorney. William Hooper, who later would be a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an assistant attorney general was dragged through the streets to be humiliated and violently abused. Edmund Fanning was pulled from the courthouse by his heels and dragged from the courthouse before being brutally whipped.
The mob then broke into Fanning’s house, burned his papers, destroyed his furniture, and demolished and burned the building. Many others were whipped as the Regulators rioted through the streets of Hillsborough.Windows of private homes were broken and the inhabitants of the town were terrorized. Court was adjourned when Judge Henderson was unable to keep order (7). The assembly of Governor Tryon set about at once to draw up a series of reform measures.
Acts were passed dealing with the appointment of sheriffs and their duties, fixing attorneys’ fees, regulating officers’ fees, providing for mor …