Captain Benjamin Merrell &
The Regulators of Colonial North Carolina
BLOOD SHED ON THE ALAMANCE---THE FIRST BLOOD SHED IN THE
REVOLUTION, MAY 16TH, 1771
In the year 1759 a town was established by the legislature of the province of North Carolina, on the Eno, a branch of the Neuse, near its head waters, in the county of Orange, which might have received its name, Hillsborough, from the beautiful eminences by which it is surrounded, as well as from the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for American affairs, from whom it is called. Its first name was Childsborough, in honor of the Attorney-General, but the change speedily took place on account of the odium attached to the attorney for his exorbitant fees.
This little village, the county seat of Orange, has claims upon our attention, for events enacted within its precincts and its neighborhood, in times gone by. It was the seat of the first provincial congress in North Carolina, 1775;-the head-quarters of Gates after his sad defeat at Camden;-and of his adversary, Lord Cornwallis, on his invasion of Carolina in his pursuit of Greene (the residence of his Lordship, then one of the most sightly buildings in the village, is now kept as a tavern of no splendid appearance) ;-but more particularly noted as the place of the first outbreaking of those discontents, which had shown themselves in complaints and remonstrances, but here assumed form and consistence, first heard of in Orange and Granville, and ultimately spreading over all that section of the State west of a line drawn from the point of entrance of the Roanoke, from Virginia, to the point of egress of the Yadkin to South Carolina;-discontents, and complaints, and outbreakings, that eventuated in the first blood shed in Carolina, in the contest of freedom,of opinion and property with the tyranny and misrule of the British government: and the first contest that had any appearance of a regular predetermined battle, in the provinces in North America.
This spirit of discontent was at first confined to that part of the province granted and set off to Lord Granville, which was bounded by the Virginia line on the north, by the line of latitude of 35' 34' on the south, and extending from the Atlantic Ocean indefinitely west; but more particularly, that part of his Lordship's domain lying west of the line from the Roanoke to the Catawba, at the points specified above. It might have been quieted, had the governor been as ready to require the agents of Granville and his own officers to do justice, as he was to issue his proclamations, filled with promises, and vain orders, to a people irritated by oppression, but not desirous of rebellion.
On the 24th of April, 1771, Governor Tryon marched from Newbern with a small force, on his way, according to the recommendation of the council, to check a rebellion in the upper country, which had received the name of the Regulators, or the Regulation; the militia of the several counties, in answer to the governor's demand upon the constituted authorities, joined him on his march, and on the 4th of May he encamped at Hunter's lodge in Wake county. Here being joined by a detachment of militia under Col. John Hinton, he found himself at the head of an armed force sufficient to alarm, if not subdue, the undisciplined country in which the dissatisfaction prevailed. He left the palace in Newbern accompanied by about three hundrod men, a small train of artillery, and a number of baggage wagons; on the way he had been joined by the detachment of militia from New Hanover county, under Col. John Ashe; of the county of Craven, under Col. Joseph Leech; of the county of Dobbs (now called Lenoir), under Col. Richard Caswell; of the county of Onslow, under Col. Craig; of the county of Carteret, under Col. William Thompson; of the county of Johnson, under Col. Needham Bryan; of the county of Beaufort, a company of artillery, under Captain Moore, and a company of Rangers under Capt. Neale; and a company of light horsemen from Duplin, under Capt. Bullock.
Froin this place he sent out some detachments to assist the sheriffs in collecting their taxes and various fees due to the government and its officers, with the hope of overawing the community by his military parade; and on the 9th instant marched to the Eno, and encamped within a few miles of Hillsborough, the centre of the infected district, and the residence of the most hated and oppressive officer of the crown, Col. Edmund Fanning, who joined his camp at this place with a detachment of the militia of Orange, whom by various means he had prevailed upon to unite with the governor in putting down their distressed and rebellious neighbors.
This was the second visit paid by the governor to the county of Orange on account of the agitation of the public mind, and the disturbances in the community, and the difficulty attending the collection of taxes and the fees of the public officers. In the early part of July, 1768, he came as governor, unattended with any armed force, and used the authority of the chief magistrate, and the address of a practised politician, to restore order, under promises of redress. The apparent quiet gave place to redoubled confusion after his departure, as the promises of protection from illegal exactions all proved vain. He now came with an armed detachment of the colonial militia, to quell by power what he would not control by justice.
The whole inhabited region of Carolina, west of the line mentioned above, inhabited, as Martin says,---"by several thousand families, removed from the mother country, settled in the frontier counties of the province, exposed to the dangers of savage Indians, and subject to all the hardships and difficulties of cultivating a desolate wilderness, under the expectation of enjoying to their fullest extent the exercise of their religious privileges as a people,"---and with their religious were joined inseparably the civil and domestic rights of an enterprising race accustomed to endure hardship and resist oppression;---all this region of country was agitated, and in some parts in open rebellion; without a single military leader of experience; with few men of much wealth or political eminence, or polished of scattered neighborhoods, and or any preparations of the rifle and powder and ball of the hunter.
Mr. Wirt, in his Life of Patrick Henry, says, "the spirit of revolution in Virginia began in the highest circles in the community, and worked its way down to the lower, the bone and sinew of the country." Wherever it may have begun in the eastern part of Carolina, it is certain that in the western division, the people, feeling that their interests were neglected by the governor, and misunderstood or overlooked by the seaboard counties, and not protected, or even consulted, by the parliament or court of England, or any of their executive officers, were moved as one great, excited, undisciplined mass of shrewd, hardy, enterprising men, that acknowledged the dominion of law, and held "opposition to tyrants" to be "obedience to God."
The men on the seaboard of Carolina, with Colonels Ashe and Waddel at their head, had nobly opposed the Stamp Act, and prevented its execution in North Carolina; and in their patriotic movements the people of Orange sustained them; and called them "The Sons of Liberty." Col. Ashe, in Wilmington, ventured to lead the excited populace against the wishes and even the hospitality of the governor, and in 1766 his party had thrown the governor's orasted ox, provided for a barbecue feast, into the river. Now they were marching with this very governor, to subdue the disciples of Liberty in the west; perhaps, through a misunderstanding of the true nature of the case, they were willing to convince the governor that they were, all supporters of the laws and of the authority of the British crown, by uniting with him and subduing those who were reported to the council and provincial legislature as an ignorant and restless multitude, to be reclaimed, by severity, to the government of the laws. The eastern men looked for evils from across the waters; and were prepared to resist oppression on their shores before it should step upon the soil of their State. The western men were seeking redress from evils that pressed them at home, under the misrule of the officers of the province, evils unknown in the eastern counties, and misunderstood when reported there. Had Ashe, and Waddel, and Caswell, understood their case, they would have acted like Thomas Person, of Granville, and favored the distressed, even though they might have felt under obligations to maintain the peace of the province, and the due subordination to the laws. While the rest of this province, and the other provinces, were resisting by resolutions and remonstrances, and making preparations for distant and coming evils; these western men, in defence of their rights, boldly made resistance to the constituted authorities, unto blood. While the eastern men stopped the stamped paper on their shore, contended with an enemy in their own bosom, and sought deliverance at home in the wilderness.
The disturbances Governor Tryon came to quell were no sudden outbreaks of a discontented and excitable people. As early as the year 1759, the attention of the legislature of the province was called to the illegal fees exacted by the officers of government, producing great and alarming discontents; and a law proposed for redress failed in meeting the approbation of the legislature, though the discontent of persons living on Lord Granville's land had been manifested by the seizure of his lordship's agent, in Edenton, Francis Corbin, and his purchase of liberty by his bond, for future better behavior, in 8,000 [pounds sterling], with eight securities. This exhibition of popular frenzy was rot noticed by the governor, because one of his favorite counsellors, M'Culloch, was engaged in it. In 1760, the people of Orange, finding themselves "defrauded by the clerks of the several courts, by the recorders of deeds, by entry takers, by surveyors, and by the lawyers, every man demanding twice or three times his legal fees," violently prevented the sheriff from holding an election according to proclamation of the governor, in expectation of some new oppression by the office-holders, in the form of taxes and fees. In June, 1765, a paper entitled, "A serious address to the people of Granville county, containing a brief narrative of our situation, and the wrongs we suffer, with some necessary hints with respect to a reformation," was circulated in that county, with great effect, being written with much clearness and force. The wrongs complained of in Orange, and Granville, and Anson, and the other counties, were essentially, and for the most part, individually the same.
The people complained that illegal and exorbitant fees were extorted by officers of government; that oppressive taxes were exacted by the sheriffs, where they had a right to exact some; and that the manner of their collection at all times was oppressive, especially when the right to exact any was denied. As early as the years 1752 or 1753, Childs and Corbin, the agents for Lord Granville, and successors of Mosely and Holton, began to oppress the people who had been induced, by fair promises, to settle on his lordship's reservation, by declaring the patents issued by their predecessors null and void, because the words, "Right Honorable Earl," had been left out from the signature, which had been simply, "Granville, by his Attorneys." They next demanded a larger fee for the patents they issued, than had been given to their predecessors---next, a fee for a device which they had invented to be affixed to the papers;---also, by granting over and over again, knowingly, the same lands to different persons, and in no case returning illegal fees;-and in various ways rendering titles to land uncertain and insecure in a large part of Orange. In all these extortions the people complained that the high officers of the province were so interested, there was little prospect of justice but by some strong appeals and exhibitions of powerful dislike, that could not be frowned down.
The governor's proclamation, issued from time to time, requiring that copies of the legal fees should be exhibited to the people, and no others demanded, were disregarded by his officers; and it was more than hinted that the judges were, indirectly at least, in many cases, partakers of the crime, by sharing the fees of office with the inferior officers. This gave weight and impunity to the oppressive exactions. The people were poor, living on productive land as most of them did, they were far from market, and had scarcely surmounted the labors and exposures of a new settlement. One of them who was engaged in the opposition, declared that when he had gone with his father to Fayetteville to market, with a load of wheat, he could get a bushel of salt for a bushel of wheat; or if money was demanded, they could get five shillings a bushel for wheat, of which only one was in money, and the rest in trade. And if they could go home with forty shillings, or five dollars from a load of forty bushels, they thought they had done well. In these circumstances double fees and double taxes were exceedingly oppressive,---and to men of their principles these exactions were sufficient cause of open and persevering resistance.
In 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed, and the governor issued two proclamations on the 25th of June, one making known that desirable fact, the other requiring of the officers of government strict adherence to the graduated table of fees; expecting of consequence that both the east and the west would be gratified, and make no further resistance to the collection of the lawful taxes, and range themselves on the side of the government. The peace and tranquillity were far greater in the eastern counties than in the western. During the session of the county court of Orange, a number of persons entered the court-house in Hillsborough, and presented to the magistrates a written complaint, drawn up by Harmon Husbands, which they requested the clerk to read, setting forth the views of the people respecting their wrongs,---"that there were many evils complained of in the county of Orange that ought to be redressed, "---and proposing that there should be a meeting in each company of militia, for the purpose of appointing delegates for a general meeting to be held at some suitable place" where there was no liquor,---"judiciously to inquire whether the freemen of this county labor under any abuse of power."---"that the opinions of the deputies be committed to writing, freely conversed upon,---and measures taken for amendment." The proposition was considered reasonable, a a meeting was appointed to be held at Maddock's Mill, two or three miles west of Hillsborough, on the 10th of October, to inquire into the acts of the government---"for while men were men, if' even the Sons of Liberty were put in office they would become corrupt and oppressive, unless they were called upon to give an account of their stewardship."
The company meetings were held, and the delegates were appointed; in some cases, with written commissions, viz.:---"At a meeting in the neighborhood of Deep River, 20th August, 1766, it was unanimously agreed to appoint W. C. and W. M. to attend a general meeting on the 10th of October, at Maddock's Mill, where they are judiciously to examine whether the freemen in this county labor under any abuses of power; and in particular to examine into the public tax, and inform themselves of every particular thereof, by what laws, and for what use it is laid, in order to remove some jealousies out of our minds." "And the representatives, vestrymen, and other officers, are requested to give the members what information and satisfaction they can, so far as they value the good will of every honest freeholder, and the executing public offices pleasant and delightsome."
On the appointed day, the 10th of October, 1766, the delegates assembled; after some time, James Watson, a friend of Col. Fanning, the most odious officer in the county, came, and as a reason for his not appearing to give account as their representative, read a message from Fanning, that, "It had been his intention of attending them till a few days ago, when he observed in the notice from Deep River, the word judiciously, which signified the authority of a court; and that he considered the meeting an insurrection." The meeting had full and free discussion on a variety of topics; and finally resolved that such meetings as the present were necessary, annually, or oftener, to hear from their representatives and officers, in order to have the benefits of their constitution and the choice of their rulers; and that as their representatives, sheriffs, vestry and other officers had not met them here, with but one exception, they should have another opportunity of conferring with their constituents. It is impossible to conceive what fairer mode of ascertaining the truth could be devised by men situated as they were, without a printing press and without newspapers. Such proceedings might, in the colonial days, be rebellion to be put down; in these days of liberty, a man would lose his hold on the community were he to refuse compliance with such commands from his constituents, or the community at large.
In April, 1767, another meeting was held at the same place Maddock's Mills, and the following preamble and resolutions were discussed and adopted, by which these men passed the Rubicon; and from being called a mob, or insurgents, were known by the name of REGULATORS, or THE REGULATION, and were considered as having some continued existence:
"We, the subscribers, do voluntarily agree to form ourselves into an association, to assemble ourselves for conference for regulating public grievances and abuses of power, in the following particulars, with others of the like nature that may occur, viz.:
"1st. That we will pay no more taxes until we are satisfied they are agreeable to law, and applied to the purposes therein mentioned, unless we cannot help it, or are forced.
" 2d. That we will pay no officer any more fees than the law allows, and unless we are obliged to it; and then to show our dislike, and bear an open testimony against it.
" 3d. That we will attend our meetings of conference as often as we conveniently can, and is necessary in order to consult our representatives on the amendment of such laws as may be found grievous or unnecessary; and to choose more suitable men than we have done heretofore for burgesses and vestrymen; and to petition the houses of assembly, governor, council, king, and parliament, &c., for redress in such grievances as in the course of the undertaking may occur; and to inform one another, learn, know, and enjoy all the privileges and liberties that are allowed, and were settled on us by our worthy ancestors, the founders of our present constitution, in order to preserve it on its ancient foundation, that it may stand firm and unshaken.
"4th. That we will contribute to collections for defraying necessary expenses attending the work, according to our abilities.
"5th. That in case of difference in judgment, we will submit to the judgment of the majority of our body.
"To all of which we solemnly swear, or being a Quaker, or otherwise scrupulous in conscience of the common oath, do solemnly affirm, that we will stand true and faithful to this cause, till we bring things to a true regulation, according to the true intent and meaning hereof, in the judgment of a majority of us."
These resolutions were drawn up by Harmon Husbands.
A subscription was set on foot, and fifty pounds were collected for the purpose of defraying the expenses of such suits as might arise in seeking redress of their grievances. During this year, 1767, the governor commenced his palace at Newbern, for which, with great difficulty, he had obtained an appropriation of 5,000 [pounds sterling] by the last legislature; and proceeded in a tasteful and expensive style of building, to expend the whole sum upon the foundation and a small part of the superstructure. At the meeting of the two houses in December of this year, the governor laid before them the condition of the building. The legislature with reluctance gave, as the only alternative, 10,000 [pounds] more to complete the palace. When finished it was pronounced the most superb building in the United Provinces. The governor was gratified, and the people incensed. The taxes had been burdensome-the palace rendered them intolerable.
On the 21st of May, 1768, the Regulators had another meeting, and determined to petition the governor direct, and prepared their address; which, with a copy of their proceedings at this and the previous meetings, was sent to His Excellency, by James Hunter and Rednap Howell. In the month of June, these gentlemen waited upon the governor at Brunswick; and in reply to their petition, received a written document from which the following extracts are made:
In all these public and documentary proceedings of the Regulators, we see nothing to blame, and much to admire. On these principles, and to this extent of opposition, the whole western counties were agreed. The most sober and sedate in the community were united in resisting the tyranny, of unjust and exorbitant taxes; and had been aroused to a degree of violence and opposition difficult to manage and hard to quell. And the more restless and turbulent and unprincipled parts of society, equally aggrieved, and more ungovernable, cast themselves in as a part of the resisting mass of population, with little to gain, but greater license for their unprincipled passions, and little to lose, could they escape confinement and personal punishment. These persons were guilty of lynching the sheriffs, that is, seizing those they found in the exercise of their office, tying them to a black-jack, or other small trees, beating them severely with rods, laughing and shouting to see their contortions; they would rescue property which had been seized for taxes, often with great violence; and on one occasion, in April, 1768, proceeded to fire a few shots upon the house of Edmund Fanning in Hillsborough. These unjustifiable acts were charged upon the party; and the Regulators were made accountable for all the ill that wicked men chose to perpetrate under the name of struggling for liberty; while it is well known that the leaders of this oppressed party never expressed a desire to be free from law or equitable taxation. The governor's palace, double and treble fees and taxes without reason, drove the sober to resistance, and the passionate and unprincipled to outrage. But there were cases of injustice most foul and crying that might palliate, where they could not justify, the violence that followed; such as taking advantage of the quietness of the Regulators to seize a man's horse with the bridle and saddle, and selling them for four or five dollars to an officer, to pay taxes resisted as illegal.
The sheriff had taken advantage of a peculiar conjuncture of events to seize two of the leading men. A meeting had been agreed upon to be held on the 20th of May, 1768, when the sheriff and vestrymen would meet a deputation from the Regulators, and give them satisfaction. Previous to that day a messenger came from the governor with a proclamation against the Regulation as an insurrection; the sheriff immediately, with a party of thirty horsemen, rode some fifty miles, and seizing Harmon Husbands and William Hunter, confined them in Hillsborough jail. The whole country arose, and making an old Scotchman of some seventy years of age, Ninian Bell Hamilton, their leader, marched towards Hillsborough to the rescue. When they reached the Eno, they found the prisoners set free, with this condition laid upon them among others-"nor show any jealousies of the officers taking extraordinary fees. "When the Regulators reached the Eno, Fanning went down to meet them with a bottle of rum in one hand and of wine in the other, and called for a horse to take him over-"ye're nane too gude to wade," replied the old Scotchman. Fanning waded the river, but no one would partake of his refreshments, or listen to his statements. The governor's messenger, who had just then returned, rode up to them, read the governor's message, and assured them that, on application to the governor, he would redress their grievances and protect them from extortion and oppression of any officer, provided they would disperse and go home. The whole company cried out, "agreed! agreed!" and immediately dispersed. This event preceded the visit made by Hunter and Howell to the governor.
Early in July, 1768, the governor arrived in Hillsborough, and issuing a proclamation, as he had promised Hunter and Howell, excited the expectations of the country that some redress -would be granted. But sending the sheriff to collect the taxes, and with him a letter addressed to the people of a similar import with his proclamations and previous letters, these fond expectations were all broken, and the excited people drove off the sheriff with threats of his life if he persisted in his efforts, and sent a reply to the governor. On a false alarm "a large body of the Regulators assembled in arms, on the night of the 11th of August, near Hillsborough. The nearest companies of militia were called upon; and a large body assembled to defend the governor from injury or insult. The better part of the community were averse to the irregularities of those lawless spirits who, attaching themselves to the cause of liberty, greatly impeded its progress; and desired to govern themselves and persuade their neighbors, by reason, to gain the justice they demanded. Frequent communications passed between the governor and the leaders of the Regulators before the session of the superior court, Sept. 22d, at which Husband and Butler were to be tried; and the demands of His Excellency always implied absolute submission; while the Regulators insisted on protection. On the day of trial, between three and four thousand people assembled near the town, but no violence was committed; the court proceeded; Husbands was acquitted; Hunter and two others were found guilty of riot, fined heavily and committed to jail, from which two soon found the means of escape, and all soon received the pardon of the governor. A number of indictments were found against Fanning; he was pronounced guilty on all, and fined one penny each.
After this display of justice, the governor issued a proclamation of a general pardon to all who had been engaged in the late riotous movements, except thirteen individuals designated by name. These were probably esteemed by the governor as principal men among the Regulators in Orange county, and their names are preserved, James Hunter, Ninian Hamilton, Peter Craven, Isaac Jackson, Harmon Husbands, Matthew Hamilton, William Payne, Ninian Bell Hamilton, Malachy Tyke, William Moffat, Christopher Nation, Solomon Goff, and John O'Neil. Supposing the country sufficiently pacified, the governor returned to his palace, soon to find that the people were neither deceived nor dispirited. The course of events in the upper country flowed on in a disturbed channel, during the remaining part of the year 1768, the whole of 1769 and 1770. The Regulators held their meetings, often in an excited, but never in a dissipated manner, and continued to throw more and more difficulties in the way of the sheriffs and other officers, whose exactions increased by impunity. All classes felt the evil, and a greater number than formerly determined on resistance. In March, 1770, Maurice Moore reported to the governor from Salisbury, where he had gone to hold the superior court,---"that the sheriffs of the several counties of that district, complained heavily of the opposition made to them in the exercise of their duties, by the Regulators; that it was impossible to collect a tax or levy an execution; plain proofs, among others, that their designs have even extended farther than to promote a public inquiry into the conduct of public officers:" and he prayed that it might not be found necessary to redress the evil " by means equal to the obstinacy of the people."
On the records of the superior court in Hillsborough, under date of Sept. 24th, 1770, is the following entry, which requires no comment. "Several persons styling themselves Regulators, assembled together in the court-yard under the conduct of Husbands, James Hunter, Rednap Howell, William Butler, Samuel Divinny, and many others, insulted some of the gentlemen of the bar, and in a riotous manner went into the court-house, and forcibly carried out some of the attorneys, and in a cruel manner, beat them. They then insisted that the judge (Richard Henderson being the only one on the bench) should proceed to trial of their leaders, who had been indicted at a former court, and that the jury should be taken out of their party. Therefore, the judge finding it impossible to proceed with honor to himself and justice to his country, adjourned the court until tomorrow at 10 o'clock; and took advantage of the night and made his escape, and the court adjourned to meet in course."
The next entry is as follows, viz.:
So it appears there was no superior court in Orange for a year; and in Rowan the course of justice was greatly impeded.
To these acts of rebellion, unfortunately, were added acts of personal violence that called the governor from his palace, with his armed force to revenge. Immediately after the adjournment of the court, a lawyer, Mr. John Williams, on his way to the court-house, was met by a number of individuals, who seized and beat him severely in the streets. Edmund Fanning, the person most obnoxious to the community, was seized in the courthouse, dragged out by his heels, severely beaten, and kept in confinement during the night. In the morning, when it was discovered there would be no court, he was beaten again; his fine house, which occupied the site of the present Masonic Hall, was torn down, and his elegant furniture destroyed. While the buildings on the premises were falling under the hands of the Regulators, a bell, which had been procured for the Episcopal church, and deposited with Fanning for safe keeping was discovered. The cry was raised, "it's a spice mortar;" and in a twinkling, Fanning's spice mortar was scattered in fragments.
The excited multitude then proceeded to the court-house; appointed a man by the name of Yorke as clerk; set up a mock judge; called over the cases; directed Fanning to plead law; and pronounced judgment in mock gravity and ridicule of the court, and law, and officers, by whom they felt themselves aggrieved. Henderson informed the governor, and urged his special attendance, and proposed the calling of the Assembly. Soon after, the house, barn, and out-buildings of the judge, were burned to the ground. The governor postponed the calling of the legislature till the usual time; and received them in the palace, which had just been completed, amidst the confusion of the upper country, so greatly aggravated by its erection. Vigorous measures were proposed to restore peace to the upper country; four new counties were set off---Guilford, Chatham, Surry, and Wake. With the hopes of dividing the attention of the people, a proclamation was issued forbidding merchants, traders, or others, to supply any person with powder and shot, or lead, till further notice and finally it was determined to proceed to extremities, and on the 19th March, 1771, the governor issued his circular to the colonels and commanding officers of the regiments, stating the grievances the government was suffering; he adds---"You are to take fifty volunteers from your regiment, to form one company," &c., offering, at the same time, liberal rations, bounty and pay. No little difficulty was found in collecting the necessary forces, from the great unwillingness of the militia to march against men, in whose doings there was so much to justify, and so little to condemn and punish.
On the 9th of May, after many delays, he was encamped, as we have said, on the banks of the Eno, near Hillsborough. General Hugh Waddel had been directed to march with the forces of Bladen and Cumberland, and to rendezvous in Salisbury, and collect the forces from the western counties, and join the governor in Orange, now Guilford. While he was encamped at Salisbury, waiting for the arrival of ammunition from Charleston, the exploit known in tradition as the Black Boys was performed by a company of men in Cabarrus county, who, lying in wait in disguise, with blackened faces, intercepted the convoy of ammunition between Charlotte and Salisbury, routed the guard, blew up the powder, and escaped unhurt.
Having crossed the Yadkin, Waddel found a large company of Regulators assembled to prevent his advance; his own men were many of them averse to violence, and others strongly in favor of the insurgents, and were falling away from his ranks. Upon receiving threats of violence if he continued to advance, in a council of officers, he determined to retreat across the Yadkin.
GENERAL WADDEL'S CAMP, Pott's Creek, 10th May, 1771. By a Council of Officers of the Western Detachment: "Considering the great superiority of the insurgents in number, and the resolution of a great part of their own men not to fight, it was resolved that they should retreat across the Yadkin. William Lindsay, Griffith Rutherford, Ad' Alexander, Saml. Spencer, Thos. Neel, Robert Harris, Fr. Ross, Saml. Snead, Robt. Schaw, Win. Luckie.
"May 11th, Capt. Alexander made oath before Griffith Rutherford, that he had passed along the lines of the Regulators in arms, drawn up on ground he was acquainted with. The foot appeared to him, to extend a quarter of a mile, seven or eight deep, and the horse to extend one hundred and twenty yards, twelve or fourteen deep."
On Waddel's retreat the Regulators pressed on him, and many of his men deserting, he reached Salisbury with a greatly diminished force, and immediately dispatched a messenger to Tryon to warn him of the common danger. The governor, already alarmed at the reports that came in, of forces gathering on the Alamance, on the route to Salisbury, raised his camp immediately, and on the 13th of May crossed Haw River; and on the evening of the 14th, encamped within six miles of the Regulators, on the Alamance. On the 15th, the Regulators sent a message to the governor making propositions of accommodation, and asking an answer in four hours. He promised them one by noon the next day. In the evening, Captain Ashe and Captain John Walker being caught out of camp, by the Regulators, were tied to trees, severely whipped, and made prisoners. On this, as on the preceding night, one-third of the forces was under arms all night. On the 16th, Tryon began his march at daybreak, and moved on silently within half a mile of the insurgents, and there proceeded to form his line,, the discharge of two cannon being the signal. Here Rev. David Caldwell, who, at the solicitations of his parishioners and acquaintances, some of whom were with the Regulators, had visited Tryon's camp on the 15th, in company with Alexander Martin, afterwards governor of the State, to persuade the governor to mild measures, again visited the camp, and it is said obtained a promise from the governor that he would not fire until he had tried negotiation. Tryon sent in his reply to the Regulators, demanding unconditional submission, and gave an hour for consideration: they, heard with great impatience a first and second reading.
Both parties advanced to within about three hundred yards of each other; Tryon sent a magistrate to the insurgents with proclamation to disperse within an hour, and also commenced negotiation for an exchange of Captains Ashe and Walker. Robert Thompson, who had with some others come into the camp to negotiate with the governor, was detained as a prisoner, and attempting to leave camp without liberty, the governor seized a gun and shot him dead with his own hand. A flag of truce sent out by him was immediately fired on by the excited people, many of whom were near enough to witness the circumstances of Thompson's death. The parties had gradually been drawing nearer and nearer to each other, the insurgents somewhat irregularly, till their lines in places almost met. The governor gave the word "fire," his men hesitated, and the Regulators, many of them with rude antics, dared them to " fire." " Fire!" cried the governor, rising in his stirrups; " fire! on them or on me!" and the action began. The cannon were discharged, and the military commenced firing by platoons; the Regulators in an irregular manner from behind trees. Some stout young men of the Regulators rushed forward and seized the cannon of the governor, but not knowing how to use them, speedily gave them up and retreated. A flag of truce was sent out by the governor to stop the battle; an old Scotchman cried out to the Regulators, "it's a flag, don't fire;" but almost immediately three or four rifles were discharged, and the flag fell. The firing was renewed with fresh vigor by the military, and the Regulators in the general fled, leaving a few posted behind trees, who continued their fatal aim till their ammunition was exhausted, or they were in danger of being surrounded.
Some of the Regulators had wished and expected to fight; but the greater part that had assembled expected that the governor, seeing their numbers, would parley with thein, and ultimately grant their demands. Rev. Mr. Caldwell, just from Tryon's camp, was riding along the lines urging the men to go home without violence, when the command to fire was given, and with difficulty escaped from the conflict. They had no commander to regulate their motions, they had none with them used to camps and wars to give them advice; there had of late been no expeditions against the savages, and the military life, further than to shoot a rifle and live on short rations, was all new. "O," said an old man, who was in the battle, to Mr. Caruthers, "O, if John and Daniel Gillespie had only known as much about military discipline then as they knew a few years after that, the bloody Tryon would never have slept in his palace again!" Many that were defeated in that bloodshed, in a few years showed Cornwallis they had learned to fight better than in the day of Tryon's victory on the Alamance. It is the unvarying tradition among the people of the country that the Regulators had but little ammunition, and did not flee till it was all expended.
Nine of the Regulators, and twenty-seven of the militia were left dead on the field; a great number were wounded on both sides in this skirmish, or battle---in this first blood shed for the enjoyment of liberty. We cannot but admire the principles that led to the result, how much soever we may deplore the excesses that preceded, and the bloodshed itself. The excesses of the Regulators had been great, as has been recorded, but the barbarities of the governor upon his prisoners, after his victory, make these lamented deeds dwindle into harmless sport. On the evening of the battle, he proceeded to hang, without trial or form, James Few (whom he had taken prisoner), a young man, a carpenter, that owned a little spot of land near Hillsborough, where Mr. Kirkham's house now stands, of quiet and industrious habits, goaded on to rebellion by the exactions of Fanning; and at last, driven to madness by the dishonor done by that man to his intended bride, he joined the Regulators, and proclaimed himself "sent by heaven to release the world of oppression, and to begin in Carolina." And not content with this, the governor's vengeance followed his aged parents, and having executed their son, Tryon proceeded to destroy the little provision made for their helplessness and age.
Captain Messer was condemned to be hung the next day. His wife, hearing of his captivity and intended fate, came with her oldest child, a lad of about ten years, to visit and intercede for her husband. Her kindness comforted but could not redeem her husband, the father of her children; the governor was inflexible. While the preparations were making for the execution, she lay upon the ground weeping, her face covered with her hands, and the weeping boy by her side. When the fatal moment, as he supposed, had arrived, the boy, stepping up to Tryon, says: "Sir, hang me and let my father live!" "Who told you to say that?" said the governor. " Nobody!" replied the lad. "And why," said the governor, "do you ask that?" "Because," said the boy, "if you hang my father my mother will die, and the children will perish." "Well!" said the governor, deeply moved by the earnestness and affecting simplicity of the lad, "your father shall not be hung to-day." On suggestion of Fanning, Messer was offered his liberty on condition that he would bring in Harmon Husbands, his wife and child being kept as hostages. After an absence of some days he returned, saying he had overtaken him in Virginia, but could not bring him back; he was put in chains and taken along as prisoner.
After resting a few days on Sandy River, the governor passed on as far as the Yadkin, and having issued a proclamation, that all those who had been engaged in these disturbances, excepting the prisoners in camp, the company called the Black Boys, and sixteen others, that should come into camp, lay down their arms, and take the oath of allegiance before the 10th of July, should receive a free pardon: and having sent General Waddel with a company of twenty-five light horse, one field-piece, and a respectable corps of militia to visit the counties to the west and south, and return home, himself took a circuit round through Stokes, Rockingham, Guilford to Hillsborough. In all his circuit, after the bloodshed, he exhibited his prisoners in chains, particularly in the villages he passed. He exacted the oath of allegiance from all the inhabitants that could be found; levied contributions of provisions with a lavish hand upon the suspected and the absent; he seized one Johnson, who was reported to have spoken disrespectfully of Lady Wake, from whom one of the counties lately forcibly set off had been called, a beautiful and accomplished lady; and for his want of gallantry to this sister of the governor's wife, condemned him to five hundred lashes on his bare back, two hundred and fifty of which were inflicted; and offered a reward of a thousand acres of land, and one hundred pounds in money, for Harmon Husbands, James Butler, Rednap Howell, and others of the Regulators; and filled his measure of tyrannical glory by burning houses, destroying crops, and holding courts-martial for civil crimes. On reaching Hillsborough, he held a special court for the trial of his prisoners, twelve of whom were condemned to death on his urgent statements, and six were actually executed. The real leaders had all escaped, but a sacrifice must be made; the court hesitated and delayed; he sent his aide-de-camp to Aide and threaten their delay; the soldier and governor were lost in the tyrant and the savage.
On the 19th of June, six prisoners were publicly executed near Hillsborough, of whom the unfortunate Messer was one, reprieved a few days by the spirit of his child, only to be carried about in chains, and hung ignominiously at last. The governor, in person, grave orders for the parade at the execution, and, as Maurice Moore said, "left a ridiculous idea of his character behind, bearing a strong resemblance to that of an undertaker at a funeral."
Robert Mateer, one of the victims, was a quiet, inoffensive, upright man, who had never joined the Regulators. On the morning of the bloodshed he visited Tryon's camp with Robert Thompson, and was detained with him a prisoner; being recognized as the person who had, some time before, grievously offended the governor in the matter of a letter entrusted to his care, he was condemned, and made one of six that were executed; beloved while living, and lamented when dead.
Captain Merrill, from the Jersey Settlement, or, as others say, from Mecklenburg county, was on his way to join the Regulators---probably had been engaged in intercepting Waddel---with three hundred men under his command. Hearing of the defeat and dispersion of the Regulators on the Alamance, when within a day's march, his men dispersed, and he returned home, but was afterwards taken prisoner, and was made one of the six that were executed. A pious man, he professed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and declared himself ready to die, and died like a soldier and a Christian, singing very devoutly, with his dying breath, a Psalm of David, like the Covenanters in the Grass Market in Edinburgh.
James Pugh, an ingenious gunsmith, had, during the firing at Alamance, killed with his rifle some fifteen of those who served the cannon, and delaying his escape too long was taken prisoner, and made one for this day's sacrifice. When placed under the gallows he asked and obtained leave from the governor to address the people for half an hour. He justified his course, professed his readiness to meet God, inveighed against the oppression of the public officers, and particularly against Fanning. This dastardly man, unable to bear the reproaches of his victim, made the suggestion, and the barrel, on which the prisoner stood, was overturned, and the young man launched into eternity, his speech unfinished and his half hour unexpired.
These men may have been rash, but they were not cowards: they may have been imprudent, but they were suffering under wrong and outrage, and the withholding justice, and the proper exercise of law. "And if oppression will make a wise man mad," the ten years of such oppression as these suffered, would have proved them fit for subjection had they been submissive.
Tryon returned to his costly palace in Newbern, only to bid it farewell, and make room for Josiah Martin, who knew better how to appreciate these people and their complaints. Edmund Fanning, the cause of so much trouble, gathered a company and met the governor on his first approach to Orange; went with him to Alamance, and as the firing commenced, found it indispensable to take his post many miles in the rear, whether through fear of his life, or of shedding the Regulators' blood. Harmon Husbands, also, on the other side, rode faster and farther on that day. He had been active for years in exciting the people to resistance, making speeches, circulating information, drawing up memorials and papers of a political cast, and taking the lead in measures that brought on the bloodshed in Alamance. He had been once put in prison while a member of the legislature, for his principles and connection with the disturbances in Orange; but when the cannon began to roar at Tryon's command, on the 16th of May, on the Alamance, he mounted his horse and rode rapidly away to the more quiet State of Pennsylvania, and was not seen again in Carolina till after the Revolution---professing that his principles as a Quaker forbade him to fight, though they impelled him to resistance. When the time of trial came, that men must submit or flee, or bleed, he escaped, while others poured out their blood. He and all like him are passed over in the inquiries we make about the people who bore the burden of the Revolution and its previous struggles.
The question now arises, who were these people?---and whence did They come? They could discuss the rights and privileges of men; they could write in a manner that has been pronounced "the style of the Revolution;" and they were men that feared an oath, the oath of allegiance exacted by Tryon, from multitudes, as the condition of their lives and property, hung on their consciences through life, and no reasoning could convince them they were free from its awful sanctions, though the king could afford them no protection. One of these, who was in the bloodshed of Alamance, and afterwards had borne ams for the king, as he considered himself bound to do, said sorrowfully at the close of the Revolution---"I have fought for my country, and fought for my king; and have been whipped both times." Still his oath bound his conscience, while he rejoiced it did not reach his children.
The descendants of these people, who were at the time treated as rebels, and stigmatized in government papers as ignorant and headstrong and unprincipled, hold the first rank in their own country for probity and intelligence; have held the first offices in their own and the two younger and neighboring States; and have not been debarred the highest offices in the Union. In less than four years from this period, those who were not crushed by the solemnities of the oath Tryon forced on them, united with their brethren of Mecklenburg of the same stock, and kindred faith, in maintaining the first declaration of independence made in North America---a declaration sealed with blood in North Carolina, but never, like the Regulation, put down. The principles of the Regulators never were put down; and in the contest with the governor, there is little doubt on which side the victory would have declared itself had there been a military man at the head of the undisciplined people, or had they been fully convinced the governor would fire upon them. Repeatedly had these men gathered at Hillsborough, and dispersed without violence, on promise of redress; and Waddel had been met and turned back without bloodshed a few days before.
The greater part expected some terms of reconciliation, while some wished for the contest, and many were ready to fight. The address sent in to Tryon the day before the bloodshed, in which they promised to disperse and go home if he would redress their grievances, shows they were not expecting the governor to proceed to violence. The feelings of a great part of the western counties were united in the object of their efforts; and many of the inhabitants of the seaboard were on their side. The militia of Duplin refused to march against them, with the exception of a company of light horse under Capt. Bullock, and also refused the oath of allegiance the governor offered them on his return. In Halifax there were many supporters of their principles; in Newbern itself many, in fact, the majority of the militia assembled, declared in their favor. Not a few men of eminence favored them more or less openly, advocating the principles, but greatly disapproving the excesses of the violent. Of these were such men as Maurice Moore, judge of the Superior Court; Thomas Person, the founder of Person Hall, at Chapel Hill; and Alexander Martin, afterwards governor of the State.
Martin, the historian, who appears to know so little about the principles and habits of the persons engaged, says that there were "several thousand families" scattered through the upper counties: and so there were---and these gathered into congregations of religious worshippers all along from the Virginia to the South Carolina line. It is the origin of these that is now inquired after; and the nature of their religion, so favorable to mental exercise and improvement, to civil freedom and the rights of man, that is to be delineated,---a religion the same now as in the days of the American Revolution,---and the great English Revolution of 1688,---and the same in spirit and substantial forms as when the great Apostle plead his cause, in chains, at Rome.
There has been as yet no monument erected to the memory of those who fell on the Alamance, in this first bloodshed in the cause of oppressed freemen seeking their rights: they sleep in unhonored graves, as also do those who were publicly executed in the same glorious cause near Hillsborough, June 19th, 1771. But you can find the battleground and graves of the slain, on the old road from Hillsborough to Salisbury by Martinville, or Guilford old courthouse. It is a locality to be remembered, for the event must always fill an honorable page in any full and fair history of North Carolina, or of the United States, as the first resistance to blood, in which resistance was determined upon, even should resistance end in wounds and death.
The Regulators may have been rude; they certainly were unpolished; but they were not ignorant, neither did they lack intelligence, nor exhibit as a people any lack of religious or moral principle. On the contrary, their estimation of an oath far transcended the expectation of the governor, who anticipated much from a people taught by McAden, Caldwell, Pattillo, and Craighead,, all eminent in their vocation as gospel ministers.
Differing from the governor in their religious principles as much as in their political creed, they were condemned by the king's officers to fines and plunder and confiscation and death, and by the ministers of the State religion to endless perdition. There is extant a sermon preached before the governor at Hillsborough, on Sunday, the 25th of September, 1768, by George Mieklejohn, from Romans, chapter XIII, 1st and 2d verses---in which the preacher avows that the governor ought to have executed at least twenty on that his first visit; and that the rebels could not escape the damnation of hell on account of their resistance to the existing government. But these outraged men sought deliverance from the oppression of man, and hoped in the mercy of Almighty God. And they found from heaven what was denied by earth.
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS