The SAR Magazine

Fall 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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12 SAR MAGAZINE 18 SAR MAGAZINE 250th Series The 1771 Battle of Alamance in the North Carolina Backcountry and the Regulator Movement It Defeated By Carole Watterson Troxler Professor Emerita of History Elon University, North Carolina I n the North Carolina Piedmont of the 1760s, a series of orderly meetings and petitions crescendoed into scattered riots and other violence during 1769-1771. This "Regulator Movement" aimed to "regulate," or bring under the law, the courthouse rings that controlled courts, militia and law enforcement in the interior. The movement ended when the North Carolina militia defeated a group of Regulators at Alamance Creek in May 1771. The movement and the battle provide substance for considering their connection with the American Revolution. Issues against which Regulators complained sprang from a partnership between local office holders and the eastern merchant-planters who dominated the North Carolina Assembly. County officials owed their appointments to the lower house, or Commons House of Assembly, elected by owners of at least 50 acres. The most powerful unit of government, it created new counties in the Piedmont in the 1750s and 1760s in response to rapid settlement. This "backcountry" was the fastest growing part of the colony and was the area with the largest concentration of white farmers. By creating only a few, but large, counties there, each with only two representatives, the Commons House assured continuity of eastern control. The older coastal counties were small, each with as many as five representatives. Farmers needed land, preferably with clear title, but that was not a realistic expectation in the rich lands the incomers were opening. Squatting, although precarious, could facilitate not only the growing of crops and free-range livestock but also chain migrations of families and Protestant congregations. Land was cheap, both from the Crown and from the Granville Proprietary land office, which administered land granting in the northern half of the colony. Travel to the eastern land offices was costly. Speculators roamed the backcountry with offers of land documents from absentee owners of large, vaguely defined tracts. Tensions rose when spurious sales gave buyers no more legal protection than squatting provided. Further, some agents for absentee owners settled in the backcountry and joined the courthouse rings. Typically, they and the lawyers who accompanied them had family and business connections with coastal planters and merchants. Resentment quickly focused on incoming lawyers and merchants as they introduced cosmopolitan business practices and encouraged the formation of towns at the new courthouses. The subsequent shortening of credit periods amid scarcity of currency served the interests of the lawyers and merchants and the minority of locals whose interests seemed to merge with theirs. Fee gouging and distrain of movable goods were frequent complaints. As the easterners fostered social and political structures favoring planters and merchants at the expense of farmer settlers, the following pattern arose. In counties where the Regulator Movement occurred, the justices of the peace owned 40 percent of both land and enslaved laborers. Officers in the county militia and overseers of roads also were among the wealthier residents. The governor, advised by the Commons House, appointed the top militia officers (usually justices of the peace) who appointed district officers. Musters and training required two weeks a year from able-bodied men of militia age, and roadwork required two more weeks, with exemptions for justices of the peace and overseers. Stresses arising from this closed circle of power were Drawing by Wayne Feamster depicting the Battle of Alamance fought May 16, 1771.

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