North Carolina Map

Regulation in North Carolina

Regulation in North Carolina took a tone similar to the process that occurred in South Carolina, with one major exception: It was much more violent. The inequalities faced by backcountry settlers in North Carolina were not as gross as those in South Carolina, but the region was terribly underrepresented in the legislature and bore the burden of unfair taxation. A group of concerned settlers drafted a document in 1766 known as Regulation Advertisement Number One, which sought to balance these inequalities and grab the attention of the colonial government. Authorities largely ignored the petition, and, in 1768, a formal Regulation movement took hold. The North Carolina Regulators agreed not to pay their taxes until the government recognized the unfairness of the situation and did something to address backcountry grievances.

The grievances of backcountry folks in North Carolina also had to do with the conduct of local officials, whom they viewed as irretrievably corrupt. No local officials in the rapidly expanding western part of the colony were popularly elected; they were all appointed by the colonial government, stationed near the coast at New Bern. Frontier dwellers also resented the fact that many local officials held multiple offices and drew multiple salaries. Another bone of contention between the colonial government and the backcountry Regulators was the mansion being constructed by Governor Tryon. Known as the Palace, it was built under the supervision of John Hawks, a leading English architect, at a cost of 15,000 pounds to the taxpayers of the colony. In 1771, the British governor of North Carolina, William Tryon, put down a revolt by backcountry Regulators over the oppressive rule and corruption of local officials and the use of taxes to build a new governor’s mansion. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) In 1768, the Regulators drew up Regulator Advertisement Number Four, which delineated their plan of action more clearly. They resolved not to pay taxes and not to pay local officials’ fees.

The Regulators also agreed to meet periodically as a sort of alternative legislature and to pool resources to defray necessary expenses. Rioting followed the 1768 petitions, and several Regulator leaders were jailed for allegedly inciting the riots. Interestingly, the rioters targeted local officials, whom they saw as particularly corrupt. In South Carolina, the initial movement was directed against criminals; in North Carolina, the Regulators attacked the government. Their leading followers promptly stormed the jails and freed those who had been imprisoned, setting up a showdown with Governor William Tryon. In 1771, Tryon raised a militia force of about 1,500 to march into the backcountry and restore order by putting down the Regulators. The Regulators, with about 2,000 men, met the militia in the brief battle of Great Alamance Creek, in which a handful of men on each side were killed. Six Regulators were eventually caught and hanged, but most of the rest received pardons. Many Regulators chose to emigrate from North Carolina to the far west, to what would eventually become the state of Tennessee. The Regulator movement in the Carolinas was one of a number of conflicts between established Eastern colonial governments and their unhappy subjects in the backcountry. Like the Paxton Boys movement in Pennsylvania, it demonstrated the tension between the frontier and the coast. It also illustrated the conflict that could arise when areas in the West grew more rapidly than those in the East.

Edgar, Walter. South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
Klein, Rachel N. Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760 1808. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Lefler, Hugh T., and William S. Powell. Colonial North Carolina: A History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.
Reich, Jerome. Colonial America. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

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