Chapter 4 "The Gathering Storm"

Chapter 4


From the founding of the first colony in North Carolina, the British Parliament had ruled the province with an iron hand. Its laws were made in England, its governors were appointed by the crown. Crops raised on the plantations of the colonists must be shipped to England and sold for whatever prices English buyers would pay. As English oppression grew, so, too, did the smouldering hatreds of the oppressed. Riots flared up in Wilmington. Soon the hatreds flamed into fiery revolt.

ON March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed a Stamp Act, requiring that "all deeds, law papers and all legal documents must bear the stamp of the Crown." In itself this act was not unjust, but the colonist was so ensnared by previous legislation that he could hardly move without securing some type of legal paper. Gradually the news of the Stamp Act reached North Carolina.

On the evening of October 19 an angry mob gathered in the streets of Wilmington, carrying large banners which boldly proclaimed, "LIBERTY AND NO STAMP PAPER!" With colors flying and drums beating, they marched into the public square and ceremoniously hanged in effigy a "certain honorable gentleman friendly toward the Stamp Act." Afterwards the figure was cut down and tossed on a roaring bonfire while the crowd drank a toast to "Liberty, property and no stamp paper!" and "Confusion to King George and his adherents!"

One evening a month later while Dr. William Houston, the royal stamp agent, was dining at the mansion of Governor William Tryon in nearby Brunswick, a riotous mob of 400 colonists surrounded the house and loudly demanded to speak with him. At first their request was refused, but a threat to set fire to the mansion brought results. Their leader was admitted.



"Will you attempt to discharge the duties of stamp agent for this colony?" he demanded of Houston.

Over Governor Tryon's loud protests, the unsatisfied mob escorted Dr. Houston from the mansion and marched through the cold November night to Wilmington, where they burst into a meeting of the Mayor's council and demanded that an oath be administered to the doctor. Helpless against them, Houston swore that he would accept no stamp paper from England and that he would distribute none in the Province of North Carolina.

This promise quelled the wrath of the mob. They released the stamp agent and returned sullenly to their homes.

Such protests against the Stamp Act convinced Governor Tryon that something must be done. A council of the principal Cape Fear land holders was immediately called, thirty of whom gathered in the governor's mansion on the evening of November 18, Carefully Tryon outlined the situation to them.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I beg you accept the Stamp Act. I hope none of you desire to destroy dependence upon the mother country. To offer resistance to the Stamp Act will anger Parliament and destroy trade relations with England."

The squires listened in silence. When the Governor finished speaking, their spokesman arose majestically. "Governor Tryon," he said, "we shall never stand for this unjust taxation. We will resist it with blood and death!"

One week later, on November 26, His Majesty's warship the Diligence sailed into Brunswick harbor, escorting a British sloop and its cargo of stamp paper. At the pier General Hugh Waddell and Captain John Ashe met the British captains with a force of 500 men and refused to permit the stamp paper to be landed.

News of these coastal riots soon began to drift back into the Piedmont. Backwoods farmers had not dared to resist their government before, but the news from Wilmington now encouraged them. The Stamp Act had lighted the fuse for a mighty internal explosion-the Battle of Alamance.

Herman Husband

A cause must have a leader. The inhabitants of Orange County had a cause-corrupt officials and unjust government at



Hillsborough. They soon found a vivacious and able leader-Herman Husband.

Born in Maryland, Husband became a Quaker in his youth. He visited North Carolina several times in his early manhood and finally came here to settle in 1762. He married Mary Pugh, the daughter of his neighbor, and joined the Cane Creek Friends Meeting. Two years later his fellow Quakers disowned him "for making remarks on the actions and transactions of this meeting and publicly advertising the same."

No longer able to express his intrinsic opinions in the church, Husband took up the fight against political vitiation. He began writing pamphlets and petitions against the evils of local and colonial government, and he found much material for complaint.

In the year 1766, Governor Tryon, escorted by 100 troops and servants, led a 17-day expedition into western North Carolina to run a boundary between the colony and the Cherokee nation. The trip cost taxpayers 15,000 pounds sterling-$75,000. In November of the same year the General Assembly ratified a proposal to tax the colonists 20,000 pounds to build a new palace for the Governor at New Bern.

Such government extended into Orange County also. The county clerk charged 15 pounds-$75-for a marriage license. Tax collectors frequently took a farmer's horse from the plow to satisfy exorbitant taxes. On one occasion, the Orange County sheriff, failing to find a farmer at home, reportedly ripped the homespun dress from the farm wife's back and sold it to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, Childs and Corbin, Lord Granville's agents, continued to swindle property owners by forcing them to purchase a second deed to their lands.

Governor Tryon issued two proclamations on June 25, 1766 -one announcing the repeal of the infamous Stamp Act by Parliament, and the other requiring that county officers adhere strictly to the established rates in collecting taxes and fees. In Orange County the latter proclamation was ignored, and office holders continued their extortion.

On October 10, 1766, a number of men entered a session of Inferior Court at Hillsborough and requested the clerk to read a petition written by Herman Husband.



The petition called for a meeting of county officials and citizens "judiciously to inquire whether the free men of this county labor under any power of abuse . . . 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."

Nine years earlier one Reuben Searcy had submitted a similar petition to the Granville County Court and had been jailed for libel. Husband, however, worded his "advertisement" in vague terms, and the court complied with his proposal and set a meeting for October 10 at Maddock's Mill, two or three miles west of Hillsborough, "a suitable place where there is no liquor."

On the appointed day the hopeful planters left their unharvested crops and rode to the mill. After waiting several hours they sent a millboy into Hillsborough to see why no officials had appeared, and late in the afternoon a lone horseman arrived at the mill.

Colonel Edmund Fanning and Thomas Lloyd, the Orange County delegates to the General Assembly, had intended to come, said the rider-but Colonel Fanning noticed the word "judiciously" in Husband's petition. Since the men gathered at Maddock's Mill had no judicial authority, it seemed obvious that they were insurrectionists, and the delegates refused to meet with them.

Unsuccessful and dissatisfied, the farmers broke up their meeting and returned to their homes. Their grievances, however, had become stronger.

During the following spring further action developed.

The Regulators

On March 22, 1767, several hundred Orange County citizens met at Sandy Creek to discuss the situation. The courthouse ring refused to deal with them; the governor would not answer their petitions; it was time for action. Finally they agreed to organize.

"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



that they are agreeable to law, and applied to the purposes therein mentioned, unless we cannot help it, or are forced.

"2nd 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.

"3rd. That we attend our meetings of conference as often as we can, and it 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, Sic 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 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 of 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 in a true regulation, according to the true intent and meaning hereof, in the judgment of a majority for us all."

Those who signed these resolutions soon became known as "the Regulators," and their sympathizers grew daily. Sandy Creek was then a part of Orange County, now Randolph. There was a second organization in this section headed by Reverend Shubal Steams and known as the Associators, who opposed the violence of the Regulators but sympathized with their beliefs. The Sandy Creek Association passed a resolution stating "if any of our members shall take up arms against the local authority or aid or abet them that do, he shall be excommunicated." Such a rule probably discouraged many from joining the Regulators, yet the movement flourished.



A few days after the Sandy Creek meeting, a Regulator named Peter Craven rode quietly into Hillsborough to arrange a conference with county officials. The sheriff's deputies at once seized his horse for nonpayment of taxes.

Like wildfire the news spread, and on April 8 a mob appeared in the county seat, armed with clubs, sticks and a few muskets. Sheriff Tyree Harris was seized and bound, and the Regulators then marched to the home of Colonel Fanning, their chief enemy. Finding that Fanning was away at the Halifax County court, the mob fired several shots into his roof and broke a number of windows.

Five days later the news reached Fanning. Beside himself with rage, he ordered that enough militia be raised to "check the spirit of riotousness and rebellion," and sent a warrant to Hillsborough for the arrest of William Butler, Peter Craven, and Ninean Beal Hambleton, three leaders of the riot. One hundred and twenty militiamen rallied to the call, but upon learning they were to be used against the Regulators, all but thirty openly declared themselves in favor of the riotous citizens.

Salley's place on Rocky RJiver was the scene of the next Regulators' meeting on Saturday, April 30. Herman Husband was elected one of twelve delegates to attend a meeting with officials in Hillsborough on May II. Instructions to the delegates were to:

"1. Procure for us a list of the Taxables for the years of the late two Sheriffs with a list of the names of the insolvents and delinquents they returned.

"2. Procure us a fair account of the money paid and to what uses applied with a citation for every law for the same.

"3. Procure us a copy of all the several particulars of the tax for 1767 with a citation precisely for every law for the same, and endeavor to be satisfied in your judgment that it is agreeable to the intent and meaning of it so far as you may be able to satisfy us.

"4. Procure also an account of the County and Parish Tax for the same year, endeavoring in the same manner to inform yourselves of its agreeableness in every particular.



"5. Examine the true costs by law for recording and proving deeds.

"6. Examine the true cost by law for letters of administration, letters testamentary, indentures and fees in common law."

The following night, Sunday, May I, Edmund Fanning gathered a motley crew about him in Hillsborough. Among his two dozen "trusted men," there were a murderer, a local tavern keeper, Sheriff Tyree Harris, and a handful of militia under the command of Captain Thomas Hart. With Colonel Fanning at their head, this small company travelled forty miles to Sandy Creek, where they drew rein shortly before daybreak.

Captain Hart rode ahead to the home of Herman Husband, broke in the back door without a warrant and took Husband into custody. The next step was the nearby home of William Butler, who was also aroused from his sleep and placed under arrest.

As the first light of dawn appeared in the eastern sky, the militia rejoined Colonel Fanning with the prisoners.

"Why have you not been to see me?" Fanning asked Husband. "I knew no call," said Husband. "Well, come along now." "I suppose I must."

Sometime next day the party returned to Hillsborough and placed Husband and Butler in the newly-completed stockade under heavy guard. Later the prisoners were taken before a Justice of the Peace and charged with conspiring to stir up an insurrection.

At midnight on May 2, Fanning's men took Husband from jail again and tied his feet beneath the belly of a horse and bound his hands. Fearing that he would be hanged by his captors, Husband asked that Fanning be sent for. By the time the Colonel was awakened, a crowd had gathered about Husband, some of whom were his own fellow-Regulators. When Fanning arrived, Husband began to plead desperately for his life. In exchange for his freedom he promised that he would return home and concern himself no longer with Fanning's business. The silent men on the outskirts of the crowd pushed forward a little closer, and, fearing that



someone might attempt to break through to rescue Husband, Fanning agreed to bail.

In the following week hundreds of Regulators poured into Hillsborough to attend the trial. Court opened on Monday, but due to the tension gathered, the cases of Husband and Butler were postponed until the following March term.

Ninian Beal Hambleton, an aged Scotchman, led an army of some 700 Regulators toward Hillsborough on May 3, not aware that Husband had been released. At the Eno River crossing they met Colonel Fanning, who waved a whiskey bottle at them and asked for a horse on which he might cross the river to talk with them.

"Ye're nane too gude to wade!" shouted old Hambleton.

With humiliation Fanning splashed across the stream. He told the Regulators that Husband had been released and pleaded with them to disband and not to enter Hillsborough. Soon another figure appeared on the east bank of the river, Isaac Edwards, secretary to Governor Tryon, waving a message from the Governor. If the Regulators would return to their homes peacefully, it stated, their grievances would be considered by Tryon and amends made accordingly.

"Agreed!" exclaimed a Regulator. "That's all we want."

At last with some assurance that their complaints would be heard, the small army turned their horses and rode toward home without entering the county seat.

Elections took place in Orange County in July, 1769, and to no one's surprise, Herman Husband and John Pryor, both Regulators, defeated Fanning and Lloyd for seats in the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, on May 21, the Regulators met again and drafted a petition which proclaimed their loyalty to King George and asked Governor Tryon to pardon any act of the Regulators which "might be construed to the dishonor of the Crown or in derogation of the public peace." Late in June, James Hunter and Rednap Howell, acting as emissaries for the Regulators, laid a copy of this document before the Governor at Brunswick.



Tryon's reply was brief:

"The grievances complained of by no means warrant the extraordinary steps you have taken; in consideration of a determination to abide by my decision in council, it is my direction, by the unanimous advice of that board, that you, from henceforward, desist from any further metings, either by verbal appointments or advertisement. That all titles of Regulators and Associators cease among you. As you want to be satisfied what is the amount of the tax for the public service for 1767, I am to inform you it is seven shillings a taxable, besides the county and parish taxes, the particulars of which I will give to Mr. Hunter. I have only to add, I shall be up at Hillsborough the beginning of next month."

As he had promised, the Governor arrived in the Orange county seat in early July, and his first official action was to dispatch Sheriff Harris to collect the taxes owed by Regulators west of Haw River . . . Unable to collect anything, Harris returned shortly with reports that his life had been threatened and that the Regulators planned to march on Hillsborough. Tryon assembled the local militia but the attack failed to materialize.

Proceeding to Mecklenburg county on August 17, Governor Tryon recruited an army of 1,100 men and returned to Hills-borough with them on September 21. The next day His Majesty's Justices Martin Howard, Maurice Moore and Richard Henderson, attended by three sheriffs with drawn swords, marched into the Orange County courthouse to open court. About thirty Regulators surrendered their arms and attended the trial-while an estimated 3,700 others camped half a mile from town.

Under the Governor's watchful eye, Herman Husband was acquitted of charges of participating in the riots, but William Butler and three other Regulators were convicted and sentenced to six months in jail in addition to heavy fines. Colonel Fanning, himself, was indicted on five different charges of extortion in office, and although he pleaded not guilty, was convicted in each case and sentenced to a ridiculous fine of one penny for each offense.

In answer to such a miscarriage of justice, two of the imprisoned Regulators broke down the door of the Hillsborough jail



and walked out, but the third refused to leave until Tryon pardoned all of them.

Within a few days pardons were issued for all persons concerned except Husband, Hunter, Hambleton, Peter Craven, Matthew Hamilton, Isaac Jackson, Malachi Fyke, William Moffat, Christopher Nation, Solomon Goff and John O'Neal. Since these leaders of the Regulators were not pardoned, the rioting continued as soon as Tryon was en route back to Brunswick.

When Judge Richard Henderson opened the fall term of court for Orange County on September 24, 1770, the Regulators were present in great force. Events of the day are well described by Judge Henderson himself:

"Early in the morning the town filled with a great number of these people, shouting, hallooing and making a considerable tumult in the streets. After eleven o'clock the Court was opened, and immediately the house filled as close as one man could stand by another, some with clubs, others with whips and switches, few or none without some weapon. When the house became so crowded that no more could well get in, one of them (whose name I think is Fields) came forward and told me he had something to say before I proceeded to business. Upon my informing Fields that he might speak on, he proceeded to let me know that he spoke for the whole body of people called Regulators. That they understood that I would not try their causes, and their determination was to have them tryed, for they had come down to see justice done and justice they would have, and if I would proceed to try these causes it might prevent some mischief. . .

"After spending upwards of half an hour in this disagreeable situation the mob cried out, 'Retire, retire, and let the court go on.' Upon which most of the Regulators went out and seemed to be in consultation in a party by themselves. . .

"In a few minutes Mr. Williams, an attorney of that court, was coming in and had advanced near the door when they fell on him in a most furious manner with clubs and sticks of enormous size, and it was with great difficulty he saved his life by taking shelter in a neighboring Store house.

"Mr. Fanning was next the object of their fury, him. they seized and... dragged by the heels out of doors, while others engaged in dealing out blows with such violence that I made no



doubt his life would instantly become a sacrifice to their rage and madness. However Mr. Fanning by a manly exertion miraculously broke holt and fortunately jumped into a door that saved him from immediate dissolution. During the uproar several of them told me with oaths of great bitterness that my turn should be next. . .

"Messrs. Thomas Hart, Alexander Martin, Michael Holt, John Litterell (Clerk of the Crown) and many others were severely whipped. Col. Gray, Major Lloyd, Mr. Francis Nash, John Cooke, Tyree Harris and sundry others persons timorously made their escape . . .

"In about four or five hours their rage seemed to subside a little and they permitted me to adjourn court and conducted me with great parade to my lodgings. Col. Fanning, whom they made a prisoner of war in the evening, was permitted to return to his own house on his word of honour to surrender himself by the next day. At about ten o'clock that evening, I took an opportunity of making my escape by a back way. . ."

Next morning when Judge Henderson's escape was discovered, Fanning was again whipped by the mob. Surging on to the despicable clerk's home, they burst in the door, hacked the furniture to pieces, carried Fanning's clothing and papers into the street and burned them, and proceeded to the wine cellar, where they poured out all of the stock they could not drink. That afternoon they wrecked several other hordes in Hillsborough, including the house of Isaac Edwards, the Governor's secretary.

At the courthouse the Regulators set up their own court and pronounced ridiculous sentences with mock gravity. By Wednesday, their escapade ended, the group had left the town as quickly as they had entered.

In the following December the Assembly duly convened at New Bern, and when the name of Delegate Herman Husband was called, he strode to the speaker's table and threw down a money bag.

"Here are the taxes which were refused to your sheriff," he said. "We pay to honest men, not to swindlers!"

Hardly was the session underway before a mysterious letter written by James Hunter appeared accusing Husband of promot-



ing the Orange County riots. As a result Husband was dismissed from the Assembly and placed under arrest in the New Bern jail. A grand jury found him not guilty, and again he was released.

The General Assembly was reaching adjournment in late January, 1771, when word reached Governor Tryon that a large force of Regulators had gathered at Cross Creek (now Fayetteville), intent on burning the governor's new palace. Once more, however, the Regulators dispersed when they learned of Husband's freedom. Once more bloodshed was narrowly averted.

The fuse was burning shorter now. Thousands had joined the Regulators. Many of them were law-abiding people who abhorred mob violence and who had no part in the disreputable rioting. Yet they and their forefathers had fought oppression for centuries. They had come to a new land with a new dream-the dream that here there was justice for all. For this dream they were willing to fight and to die.

On the fourteenth of April, 1771, Governor Tryon marched out of New Bern with an army, prepared for war. To divide the growing Regulator strength, the Assembly had created three new counties from Orange-Wake, Chatham and Guilford. Along Alamance Creek the settlers resisted a boundary survey for the new county, and the Governor had been asked for the aid of militia.

Concurrently General Hugh Waddell received orders to raise all of the existing militia west of Salisbury and to meet Governor Tryon a few miles west of the Great Alamance Creek.

On May 14, General Tryon pushed across the Haw River.

This time there would be no diversion. This time there would be war.



Chapter 6

Chapter 11

Chapter 16

Chapter 21

Chapter 1

Chapter 7

Chapter 12

Chapter 17


Chapter 2

Chapter 8

Chapter 13

Chapter 18

Book Index

Chapter 3

Chapter 9

Chapter 14

Chapter 19

Chapter 5

Chapter 10

Chapter 15

Chapter 20