“Regulators” Resist Tax Collectors in North Carolina

The Colonial Williamsburg site has posted many issues of the Virginia Gazette, which was published in America during that included events like the French & Indian War, the Regulator rebellion, and the American Revolution. Today I’ll summarize some of its coverage of the first stage of the Regulator movement:

1768

Virginia Gazette,
A dispatch dated is the earliest mention of the Regulators I found, but it starts off matter-of-factly about “the diſturbances in our back ſettlements” and “all the prudent ſteps that have or can be taken by the government to ſupreſs them” so the trouble had evidently been brewing for a while. The article describes “the people called regulators” as vigilantes who have taken justice into their own hands, and describes a gun fight between John Bowels and a Mr. Woodward (described as “one of the leaders of the people called regulators”). Bowels shot first, but Woodward’s shot hit its mark.
Virginia Gazette,
A dispatch dated tells of “the diſtreſſed ſituation of [North Carolina], occaſioned by the reſtrictions on their trade, and the arbitrary conduct of ſome, who were intruſted with the liberties of their country, [which] had cauſed great commotions,” for instance, “that great numbers of the inhabitants in the back parts [of the province] had aſſembled together in order to get their aggrievances redreſſed, and that they had ſent an expreſs to the Governour, who is gone to inquire into the cauſe of their complaint.”
Virginia Gazette (supplement),
This issue quotes from a letter dated that reads, in part:

The regulators have fixed upon to have a meeting here [Camden, South Carolina], to draw up their grievances, in order to be laid before the new assembly, 2500 or 3000 of them, from St. Mark’s and St. David’s pariſhes, are to rendezvous, on , at Eutaw, and thence proceed to Charles-Town, to purſue the proper meaſures for redreſs. The regulators from the Congaree, Broad and Saludy rivers, are not to proceed to town, unleſs ſent for by their brethren; but 1500 of them are to hold themſelves in readineſs, in caſe they ſhould be wanted. They do not intend the leaſt injury to any perſon in town, deſiring only proviſions and quarters till their complaints ſhall be heard. The confuſion in North-Carolina is ſtill greater than in this province [South Carolina], where the people of Orange county again threaten Col. Fenning, and refuſe paying any taxes till an act granting an enormous ſum for building a houſe for the Governor be repealed; ſo that Governor Tryon has been obliged to draught 2000 men from Mecklenburg and Dobbs counties to overawe them, who are to march from the town of Mecklenburg . Two of their leaders have been ſecured, but it[’]s apprehended they will be releaſed before they can be brought to trial, as the people in general complain loudly of the above mentioned act as a great grievance, as well as of that laying a duty on paper, glaſs, &c. which will ſoon drain from them the little ſpecie they have. Their paper currency being moſtly ſank, and a poll tax of eleven ſhillings proclamation money does not fail to add to the diſtreſſes of the country.

Virginia Gazette,
This issue quotes from a letter dated that reports on the “diſturbances” in North Carolina, which it says were “occaſioned by ſome late act or acts of Aſſembly, impoſing taxes that are very diſagreeable.” It notes that Governor Tryon has called out the militia.
Virginia Gazette,
This issue quotes from a letter from North Carolina dated , as follows:

In one of our weſtern counties we have had a very dangerous mob. A number of armed men, calling themſelves Regulators, and refuſing to pay any debts of taxes, declaring no court ſhould be held, nor any executions levied by the ſheriff, put all buſineſs to a ſtand for ſome time. The militia were called, to the amount of 1500 men, with the Governour, and ſeveral of his Council, at their head, and encamped in the town of Hillſborough, where they threw up ſome breaſtworks. The Regulators encamped about three miles from the Governour and his party, and it is ſaid their numbers were nearly equal to his. After lying in this manner for a conſiderable time, on ſome remonſtrances made to the Regulators they diſperſed, giving up ſome of their headmen; and although no blood was ſhed, it is looked upon as a ſerious affair, and by an eſtimate lately made it is thought will coſt the province 10,000l. The greateſt grievance complained of by theſe deluded people is the want of a paper currency, or ſome medium to anſwer the trade of the country. Where theſe matters will end I know not, but this ſpirit of regulating ſeems too general, which makes property in this country very precarious.

Virginia Gazette,
On the Governor addressed the colonial Assembly, which address was reprinted in this issue. The first item on his agenda was “the late diſturbances in the back frontier ſettlements in this province” which he described as “licentuous and tumultuous meetings, that have been ſo frequently held, by a large body of inſurgents in thoſe parts.” He notes that he has received “ſeveral petitions, papers and addreſſes” from them, and promises to do something about it, “should it appear upon enquiry, that the inhabitants labour under actual grievances, not within the remedy of the laws in force,” but he is more concerned with praising the militia and urging the Assembly to authorize more force (and to authorize funds to pay for the militia’s recent adventure).
Virginia Gazette,
The Assembly replied to the Governor , saying that they “have the fulleſt conviction of the neceſſity there was for marching a body of militia into Hillſborough, to oppoſe the intentional outrages of a ſet of men, who, forgetful of the duty they owed their Sovereign, inſenſible of the happineſs of your Excellency’s adminiſtration, and in defiance of the laws under which they lived, were purſuing meaſures deſtructive to the felicity, and dangerous to the conſtitution of their country.” They went on to kiſs a great deal of aſs, and to agree with the governor on every point… except to say that they’ll have a hard time raising funds to pay off the militia if they cannot get something done about the currency crisis. The governor in turn responded to this, and gave some more insight into how the lack of currency was causing trouble on the ground:

Tho’ your petition to his Majeſty for the emiſſion of a paper currency has not met with the deſired ſucceſs, I ſincerely hope no impending ruin awaits this province from its failure. From the information I received in ſeveral parts of this province through which I have travelled, I am inclined to believe many of the inhabitants are great ſufferers, from the heavy burden of their private obligations, which, by the ingenuity of their creditors, can only be diſcharged with caſh: This puts it out of the power of the former to extricate themſelves from the load under the preſent great ſcarcity of money.

Virginia Gazette,
A dispatch dated covers what I think were the same disturbances from described above, but gives this description of how the clash between the Regulators and the militia was averted: “they came to a parly, and upon aſſurances given the regulators by the Governor, that methods ſhould be taken for their relief, they ſeparated, and returned to their ſettlements.” The paper praises Tryon for using the militia to confront the rebellion rather than calling out the redcoats (rebellious Boston, Massachusetts, in contrast, was being occupied by British troops at the time).

1769

Things seemed to have quieted down, but nothing was really resolved. The Governor apparently said some reassuring and sympathetic things to the rebels, enough to dissuade them from risking a bloodbath, but then he came home full of bluster and without much enthusiasm for doing anything concrete about their grievances. The Assembly fell all over itself in gushing praise for the Governor and militia, and didn’t seem much to care about the troubles of the “back parts” of the colony either. The Regulators had reason to believe that they had been right all along to try to take justice into their own hands.

Virginia Gazette,
A brief, undated note in this issue reads: “They write from North Carolina, that the body of Regulators, ſtill continue to increaſe, and exceeded 5000 men.”
Virginia Gazette,
This issue gave these updates on the Regulator movement:

. …we have been amuſed with a variety of reports, not unalarming, in conſequence of the arrival of an expreſs from the weſtern frontiers, repreſenting affairs in thoſe parts again in ſo critical a ſituation as to have rendered an application for aſſiſtance from hence [Charlestown] neceſſary, to bring to town ſome of the people ſtiled Regulators, who had been taken up by virtue of warrants iſſued from the court here. Upon the ſuppoſition that thoſe repreſentations might be juſt, we hear his Excellency the Governour, by the advice of his Council, was pleaſed to inquire what voluntary aſſiſtance could be expected from the Charlestown militia, when, to the honour of the Artillery Company, commanded by Captain Owen Roberts, who have diſtinguiſhed themſelves upon former occaſions, that corps, being aſſembled moſt readily, agreed to go upon this ſervice. A conſiderable number of Gentlemen, of rank and property, alſo offered themſelves as volunteers, and every thing was preparing for their ſetting out on next; but this evening a ſtop was put to their further proceeding, by the arrival of the priſoners, conſiſting of five men, viz. Rudolph [illegible], John Fulman, Bartholomew Cogman, Chriſtopher Smith, and Thomas Trap, who have been conducted [illegible] under a guard of only eight men, without the leaſt attempt having been made to reſcue them. John Frazer, another of the [illegible], was left behind on the road, having been dangerouſly wounded in the head in taking of him.

. On a party of the militia arrived [illegible], with five of the people ſtiled Regulators, who had been [illegible] up as mentioned in our laſt [letter]. After examination they were committed to jail, to take their trials at the next court of general [illegible], which begins on . Their arrival [rendered?] the marching any body of men from town unneſſary; for which ſervice the Artillery Company, commanded by Capt. Owen Roberts, and ſeveral other volunteers, ovvered themſelves. The regulating work, as they term it, is not however at an end: Thoſe people will not ſuffer any proceſs, civil or criminal, to be executed; and frequent accounts are received of their exerciſing their aſſumed authority, by whipping ſuch as they deem delinquents, and of other diſturbances.

1770

Virginia Gazette,
This dispatch, dated is, unfortunately, nearly impossible to read. It concerns the “preſent inſurrection, or rather rebellion” in Orange county, caused by people who for a “long time oppoſed paying all manner of taxes” and seems to describe a violent attack of some sort.
Virginia Gazette (supplement),
Contains a brief note that “[t]here have been freſh diſturbances in North Carolina, by the people who ſtile themſelves Regulators. Col. Fanning, of Orange county, who had his houſe demoliſhed, and all his furniture broke to pieces, [illegible] ripped open, &c. by theſe regulating gentry.”
Virginia Gazette,
In this issue we finally get to hear the viewpoint of the Regulators, in the form of an open letter, dated , from James Hunter:

To the Hon. Maurice Moore, Eſq. at Newbern.
Sir,

The other day I received an open letter from you, by the hand of Mr. John Butler, and obſerve the contents. You ſay it is an anſwer to a letter you received from a perſon who ſtiles himſelf A True Regulator, and ſuppoſe it to be from Mr. [Herman] Huſbands and me. As to the letter I know nothing about it, or the author, I having always ſubſcribed my name to all the letters I ever wrote; however, as your anſwer relates to the regulation, I ſhall chearfully undertake to anſwer it, eſpecially as you have charged us with what we are wholly innocent of, and ſome things we are wholly unacquainted with. You charge Huſbands and me with being the eſſence of that regulation, which has produced ſo much irregularity in the province. If you would only turn yourſelf round, and view the many enormities, extortions, and exactions, daily practiſed on us by lawyers, clerks, regiſters, ſheriffs, &c., I am ſure you could not in truth count us the eſſence of it.

As to charging you with writing friendly to Col. Fanning, I never charged you or any other man about it, except Col. Fanning himſelf, for expoſing your private letter. However I obſerve you plead on his behalf, to excuſe his extortion, even to the calling our laws and table of fees intricate and confuſed; ſo that no two judges can agree in the conſtruction of them, and then recommend us to uſe charity on his plea of ignorance &c. Pray, Sir, uſe that ſame charity towards us and our ignorance, and I am ſure you will not wonder the people are confuſed alſo under ſuch laws, eſpecially as we have ſo many ſimilar caſes of convulſions and confuſions daily publiſhed in every news-paper. But pray, Sir, obſerve, by the way, Fanning had not one ſimilar caſe in the whole province, not even his prececeſſors; and it is obſervable alſo that he could not poſſibly raiſe ſuch a fortune from nothing in a few years, and maintain ſuch extravagance as he did, but by extortion, and grinding the face of the poor. Beſides, he endeavoured to engage the regiſters in ſome other counties to follow his example, but none of their conferences proved large enough. As to Tyrel’s caſe, I always through his crime did not deſerve to take his life, nor indeed all his fortune, And as to Mr. Huſbands’s caſe, almoſt every man in the whole country was eye and ear witneſs to it themſelves; and ever ſo much ſcholaſtic ſtating of facts, that you or any other can contrive, will not beat us out of a known truth. How were Milner and Naſh ſtrangers to them that impriſoned Huſbands? You ſay Huſbands, you believe, was impriſoned at the ſuit of the Crown; but I believe the Crown had commenced no ſuit againſt him til after the giving them bonds. He was impriſoned by guards, procured by lawyers, clerks, and other extortionate officers, collected for that purpoſe; and ſuch officers got his bonds, and was there in company with them. How is the caſe then juſt as you have ſtated it? Everybody believes there was a joint confederacy of extortionate officers to cow him from bringing their extortions to light; and I believe, had evidence been allowed, it would have appeared ſo to the jury. How could it appear otherwiſe? He was firſt taken without a warrant, not by any ſheriff or civil officer, but by a banditti of lawyers, clerks, tavern keepers, &c., ſent to gaol without a mittimus, then taken out at midnight, put under guard, tied his feet under the horſe’s belly, a gallows fixed in the gaol, and his trial to be under the mouths of cannon, and could not even walk within the limits aſſigned him, but bayonets thruſting at him, and other weapons of war; and, after all, not one jot or tittle could be proved againſt him. You ſay Mr. Hooper well knew that no ſuch allegation as dureſs could be proved againſt Mr. Milner. It was not poſſible Mr. Hooper could well know any ſuch thing. Huſbands had ſeveral meſſages ſent him before the court that 300l. was the ſum agreed on for him to pay. This firſt put it in his head that that ſum would pacify them, for it was no matter to whom it was paid, ſo it went among the fraternity; and I verily think, on the whole, it would have appeared dureſs to every man who had the ſmalleſt degree of candour or humanity in their compoſition. So much for that caſe: And now I will endeavour to anſwer in order every queſtion you have aſked, that I am, or ſo far as I am concerned. And as to your firſt queſtion, I can take God to witneſs that it was for the ſake of public juſtice that we proſecuted every officer, and not for reſentment, ſpite, malice, nor gain; but the motive that ſtirred me up, was the repeated cries of the poor oppreſſed people.

2dly, It was for the reformation of Magiſtrates, and other officers, that we ſued on the penal laws, and not for the ſake of the penalty. We had bound ourſelves up not even to bear expences with the money, but to apply it to pay off extortionate fees. You took care, however, among you, that we ſhould get little money that way, or let many of them be reformed, but they were rather eſtablished in their curſed evil extortionate practices.

3dly, In anſwer to your third queſtion, Solomon ſays: “Oppreſſion will make a wiſe man mad, and if you tread upon a worm it will turn and fight.” We were wholly deprived of juſtice. I dare ſay, try it when you will, three fourths of the people in this country will ſay, even on oath, that they verily believe we were deprived of juſtice.

4thly, As to the ambuſcade being laid for Mr. Henderſon and Fanning, the report is entirely groundleſs, at leaſt as far as I know.

5thly, I can truly ſay it is out of pure love to ourſelves, our neighbours, and our poſterity, that we contend unwearied for our conſtitutional rights and privileges, and not to protect any particular or private property whatſoever.

6thly, It is in ſupport of government that we chuſe to keep our money until we have ſome probability or aſſurance that it will be applied towards the ſupport of government.

Can any juſt man blame us for this, or ſay we have not a juſt cauſe to withhold it, when we have had but one ſheriff theſe thirteen years who have ſettled their public accounts.

As to the 7th queſtion, I am not concerned to anſwer it, having never beat a ſheriff in my life; and as to Demoſthenes, Cicero, or the P.S. of the letter, I know nothing about, nor who they was: And I ſhould think it the happieſt day I ever ſaw, if I could with ſecurity to my property betake myſelf to a quiet and honeſt induſtry, it is all my heart’s deſire. And as to running the country to 7 or 8000l. coſt, it is aſtoniſhing to think that any government ſhould run to ſuch coſt purely to [illegible] and uphold a lawleſs pack of unjuſt extortionate officers, inſolvent ſheriffs, roguiſh bombs, &c., and as to quelling us by a military force, rather than allow us the juſt execution of that confuſed law you ſpeak of; for that, juſtly executed, would ſatisfy every one. But if we muſt fall a ſacrifice to that military force, we ſall not be the firſt, but muſt bear it, for death itſelf is better than ſuch ſlavery. Is it poſſible you cannot know our juſt complaint, or are you wilfully blind and deaf to our calamities? Some for a debt of 43s. has paid 36l. coſt, and 148l. more. Another lent a horſe to an Attorney, and for aſking him again was put in priſon and ruined. But what am I going to undertake? It would take a large folio volume to contain our complaints of that nature. You ſay if any perſon has been unjuſtly dealt by, let him apply to the law, and he ſhall be redreſſed. Alas! Sir, ſome of us have attended court, court after court, this two years and upwards, with our complaints, to your knowledge, and has almoſt brough ourſelves to the brink of ruin, by attending court, and paying the coſt of malicious proſecutions; and are no nearer redreſs than we were at firſt. I ſhall now in return aſk you a few queſtions, and ſhall be glad to receive diſtinct anſwers to them. 1ſt When the Governor had promiſed us the Attorney General’s aſſiſtance, ſignifying the King hated nothing more than extortion in his officers, why did you put off the trials, except a few againſt Col. Fanning, the firſt court, court after court, till the evidences were tired out, and then ſhew ſuch a diſlike to our proſecuting them as you did, both perſonally in court, and by this your letter? 2dly, Why was you ſo careful on every of the ſaid trials, except the firſt, as to hide from us the juſt fees? Was not this to keep us juſt where we were, at an uncertainty what they ought to take, that they might ſtill carry on their extortion? 3dly, Why was the ſuit againſt Mr. Huſbands, continued from court to court, and never ſuſſered to come to trial? Was it not becauſe the laws are ſo clear in their favour, that they would certainly be cleared, and the country then would be afraid no longer to proſecute officers? Many of theſe queſtions I might aſk, but leaſt I ſhould tire your patience I conclude, and ſubſcribe myſelf

Sir,
Your humble ſervant,
James Hunter.

P.S. There is one queſtion occurs, which I think too material to be omitted; that is, when you ſhewed ſo much earneſtness to proſecute rioters, on the ſide of the country, and yet when Fanning and [Hart?], who were officers, were indicted for a riot, and the bill found, why was them ſuits never ſuffered to come to trial at all?

J.H.

Herman Husband is a major player in the Regulator phenomenon, and was at the time a member of North Carolina’s colonial assembly, representing part of what was then considered the “back parts” of the colony. The government didn’t take kindly the insolence of Hunter and Husband, as is shown in…
Virginia Gazette,
This issue reprints the resolution of the North Carolina Assembly to expel Hermon Husband, as passed on . Excerpts:
  1. Reſolved, That it appears to this committee, that Hermon Huſband, a member of the committee, is one of the people who denominate themſelves Regulators, and that he hath been a principal mover and promoter of the late riots and ſeditions in the county of Orange, and other parts of this province.
  2. Reſolved, That it appears to this committee, that a letter publiſhed in the North-Carolina gazette, of , directed to the Honourable Maurice Moore, Eſq., at Newbern, and ſigned by James Hunter, is a falſe, ſeditious, and malicious libel.
  3. Reſolved, That it appears to this committee, that the above named Hermon Huſband, was the publiſher of the ſaid label.
  4. Reſolved, That it appears to this committee, that the ſaid Hermon Huſband was guilty of groſs prevarication and falſhood on his examination before the committee of propoſitions and grievances, relative to the ſaid libel.
  5. Reſolved, That it appears to this committee, that the ſaid Hermon Huſband hath inſinuated in converſation, that in caſe he ſhould be confined by order of the Houſe, he expected down a number of people to releaſe him.
  6. Reſolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that ſuch an inſinuation is a faring inſult offered to this Houſe, and tending to intimidate the members from a due diſcharge of their duty.
, the Assembly put an exclamation mark at the end of it, by resolving “[t]hat in caſe the inſurgents ſhould be inſolent, and deſperate enough to make any attempts againſt the honour and dignity of government, or the peace or ſafety of the community, that this Houſe will, to the utmoſt of their power, ſupport his Excellency in any meaſures he may think neceſſary to take on ſuch an important occaſion” — the sort of open-ended authorization for use of military force that is so popular with frightened governments everywhere.
Virginia Gazette,
Backing up a bit, chronologically speaking, a brief note in this issue shows that the Governor was already on the case:

The Regulators of North Carolina having threatened, we hear, to pay the Aſſembly a viſit at Newbern, in order to force them to enact what laws ſuit their notions of government, his Excellency Governour Tryon has ordered the militia of ſeveral counties to repair to that place, and to remain there during the ſeſſion.

Virginia Gazette,
This issue reprints the address with which the Governor opened the Assembly session that he’d called out the militia to defend and that would expel Herman Husband. The address was delivered on . He chastised the government of the colony, and particularly “the Officers of the Revenue” for sloppy bookkeeping, leading to loss of funds and of public trust. Then, referring to the Regulators directly, he recommended that the colony raise an army, march on the areas in insurrection, put down the rebellion, and punish the “Ringleaders.” He confidently predicted success: “Government has already ſhown itſelf able to controul them, and, when armed with your manly Determinations, has ſufficient Force, under the Providence of God, effectually to ſuppreſs theſe dangerous Commotions.” He then thanked the Assembly for voting to build him such a nice house — “a Palace that is a publick Ornament and Credit to the Colony… a Laſting Monument of the Liberality of this Country.” (The Assembly, in its reply, put it this way: “We are not ignorant how much the Publick is indebted to your Excellency for adopting the Plan and Conſtruction of a Palace which will remain as a Monument equally expreſſive of their Bounty and of your Excellency’s correct and judicious Application of it.”!)

In the Regulator rebellion became a hot war, but that story will have to wait for another day…

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