Prior to the American Revolution, many people in North Carolina were upset by the way the government was handling the colony's affairs. Their complaints were not about the form of government or the colony's laws but about abuses caused by government officials.
Complaints from the colonists included excessive taxes, dishonest sheriffs, and illegal fees. Lack of money contributed to the state of unrest. Colonists living in the western part of the province were isolated and unsympathetic with colonists living in the east. The War of the Regulation began in those western, frontier counties.
The government and colonists clashed in small instances until the spring of 1768. In 1768, an association of "Regulators" was formed. Wealthier colonists considered them to be a mob. The Regulators never had an outstanding leader. There were several important men in the Regulator movement, including James Hunter, Rednap Howell, William Butler, and Herman Husband. Husband was a Quaker and follower of Benjamin Franklin. He also circulated political pamphlets advocating for peaceful reform.
The reformers took a more radical stand after failing to secure justice through peaceful negotiations. Violence and disorder reigned. When the government retaliated against them, the Regulators refused to pay fees. They also terrorized those who administered the law and disrupted court proceedings.
It was royal governor William Tryon’s responsibility to suppress the revolt. In March 1771, the governor's council advised Tryon to call out the militia and march against the rebel colonists.
Volunteers for the militia were mustered by Tryon. General Hugh Waddell was ordered by Tryon to enter Hillsborough through Salisbury. Waddell had the Cape Fear and western militias at his command. Tryon and his army marched toward Hillsborough. Waddell had only 284 men, and was challenged on his way to Hillsborough by a large group of Regulators. Waddell ordered to retreat since he was outnumbered by the Regulators. On May 11, 1771, Governor Tryon and his forces left Hillsborough to rescue Waddell. Tryon stopped at the Alamance Creek in the heart of Regulator country and gathered his army of approximately a thousand men. 2,000 Regulators had assembled five miles away.
The Battle of Alamance
The battle began on May 16, 1771 after the Regulators rejected Tryon's suggestion that they disperse peacefully. The Regulators were no match for Tryon's militia since they lacked proper leadership, organization, and weapons. Many Regulators fled the battlefield.
The rebellion of the Regulators was crushed by Tryon. Nine members of the king's militia were killed and 61 wounded. The Regulator losses were much greater but exact numbers are unknown. Tryon took 15 prisoners; seven were hanged later. Many Regulators moved on to other frontier areas beyond North Carolina. Those who stayed were offered pardons by the governor in exchange for pledging an oath of allegiance to the royal government.
The War of the Regulation illustrates the dissatisfaction of many people before the American Revolution. The boldness displayed by reformers opposed to royal authority provided a lesson in the use of armed resistance. These principles were employed by patriots and rebels years later in the American War for Independence.