October 9, 1769 petition from the inhabitants of Anson County. Through the previous two decades, our Rudd family in Anson County has witnessed the French and Indian War in their “backyard”, the Anglo-Cherokee War in their “front yard”, and now the Regulators' Movement comes to their “doorstep”. The story is a captivating episode in our history, not just our family, but for our Nation. The French and Indian War had ended in 1763 and the British had established the Royal Proclamation Line intended to keep the Americans inside their colonial boundaries and the Indians in their reserve along the colonial western frontier. In 1764, the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act and the Currency Act. These taxing legislations prompted Samuel Adams to create the Committees of Correspondence. Then in 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act and the Stamp Act which was met with the Stamp Act Protests across colonial America. In 1767, the British passed the Townsend Acts which brought about the occupation of Boston by British troops and led to the Boston Massacre in 1770. All these well known causes of the American Revolution were taking place at the same time the Regulators’ Movement was unfolding and ultimately extinguished in the North Carolina backcountry.
There has been a lot written about the Regulators' Movement from various perspectives, some believe it to be the opening battle in the American Revolution, others disagree. Some believe the underlying cause was inspired by the Sons of Liberty and their successful protest against the Stamp Act, others disagree. And then there are those who characterize the men who were the Regulators in a variety of ways from criminals to fools. Now, knowing our Burlingham Rudd’s name is among the list of signatures of men from Anson County, I wanted to know why.
William Tryon became the royal governor of North Carolina after the death of Governor Arthur Dobbs in 1765. He was a professional soldier who rose through the ranks because he was “well-bred” and “well-married”, in spite of his lack of formal education. It is speculated he attained his position of governor due to his family relationship with Lord Hillsborough of the Board of Trade and Plantations. He was an ardent Anglican who imposed the Church of England as the official church of the colony and levied a vestry tax for the support of Anglican ministry. History has provided him with two faces. One is the efficient governor of North Carolina during trying times. The other is an aristocrat with high ambitions who put his self-interest first above the people. Given the times, both at likely true. His ultimate political ambition was to become governor of New York, which he achieved, a result of his brutal put-down of the Regulators’ Movement.
Even though there were no elected, designated or self-appointed leaders among the Regulators, William Butler and James Hunter are often referred to as having leadership roles among the backcountry farmers who participated in the Movement. However, there were agitators primarily in the persons of Herman Husband and Rednap Howell. Husband had been a successful farmer in Maryland who had visited Orange County, North Carolina and was so impressed with the potential of the Piedmont for farming that he relocated to the Sandy Creek area in 1762 at the age of thirty-eight. Husband had been a member of the Anglican Church who became disenchanted and converted to Presbyterianism and then to Quakerism by the time he moved to North Carolina. After living in the community for a few years he became enraged at what he saw as injustice and exploitation by the wealthy land owners against their workers and farming families striving to acquire land. He co-organized the Sandy Creek Association in 1766 as a way to address these injustices but the movement failed after two years. In 1768, the movement rose again when the Piedmont farmers reorganized as the “Regulators” and Husband became their chief spokesman, political thinker and negotiator ... and the nemesis of Governor Tryon.
Rednap Howell was a musician, songwriter and school teacher who is believed to have relocated from Delaware to Orange County, North Carolina around 1750 when he was about twenty-one years old. During the uprisings he taunted those who he saw as corrupt and oppressors by publishing and circulating about forty ballads and broadsides set to music which mocked government officials, lawyers and merchants who made up the aristocrat-class which undermined the influence and control they had on the common people and rallied public opinion to the Regulators’ cause. He was also one of the men who led the Hillsborough Riot in September 1770.
An old patched coat upon his back, An old mare he rode on.
Both man and mare wa’n't worth five pounds, As I’ve been often told,
But by his civil robberies, He’s laced his coat with gold.
What began as an attempt to exercise their constitutional rights as Englishmen, to assembly, and to petition their government for redress of grievances, was mischaracterized, intentionally or not, as an anti-government insurgency by Edmund Fanning. The Regulators’ claim was that corrupt officials appointed by the Governor and his Council were using their authority to extort unlawful fees for services and manipulating the tax collection system which often resulted in the illegal confiscation of property and the illegal incarceration of backwoodsmen.
The colonial records show that several attempts were made by different groups of Regulators in their respective counties to petition the governor, as well as, the Hillsborough District Court and the Salisbury District Court in an effort to open dialogue, and attain fairness, not as anti-government rabble-rousers, or traitors as they would eventually be condemned, but as men who saw injustice and sought to set it right.
The refusal of officials to heed what was a clarion call for equality and evenhandedness according to English law provided the spark that set the fire in the belly of the backwoodsmen and grew into a popular uprising involving several of the back counties of the Piedmont. As it escalated into intimidation on both sides, desperation grew on the part of the Regulators and sometimes pushed them into violent confrontations. And just when it appeared a compromise was in the works, fate took a cruel turn and the Movement became a War which ended with a showdown between about 2,000 Regulators gathered in the woods at Great Alamance Creek and 1,452 militia men, of which 1,068 were from eastern counties, in the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771 near Hillsborough in Orange County.
The next day, James Few, a twenty-five year old Orange County farmer, was hung without trial. His body was left swinging beside the road to Hillsborough as a warning to others. A few weeks later, fourteen Regulators were tried and twelve were convicted, of that, six were hung. The other six were released in an effort that North Carolinians would think the government generous and forgiving. All were accused as traitors and outlawed, when Governor Tryon issued amnesty to those who took an oath of allegiance to the King, the choices were 1) leave North Carolina, 2) be shot on sight, 3) swear allegiance to the British Crown. In the two weeks that followed, 6,409 swore allegiance and an estimated 1,500 fled the colony. But, as we will see the distrust of far away, centralized power of government over citizens only grew stronger.
To quote historian Milton Ready: “Backcountry freeholders had become Jeffersonian long before Jefferson in their belief that a government that exercises the least control over its people governs best.”
The results of this type of government structure ensured that a certain number of men in each county were in control of all the offices. The effectiveness of government depended too much on the personal honesty of the office holders.
To quote Professor John S. Bassett, Trinity College, North Carolina, from “The Regulators of North Carolina 1765-1771”, page 149:
“In many of the eastern counties this state of affairs seems to have worked well. But in the remote sections there is much evidence that the officers were selfish and mercenary, and that they were mutually leagued together to forward their own selfish ends. It was to try to clean out this Augean stable that Regulation had its existence.”
The farmers in the backcountry grew and raised what they needed to support their families, often using the barter system among their neighbors, few kept hard currency on hand. If they needed hard currency, they usually borrowed from neighbors and most areas had someone who was a lender. Professor John S. Bassett gives us an example of how dishonest county sheriffs took advantage of the situation and sometimes used the shortage of hard currency as a pretext to confiscate personal property for payment of taxes, page 151:
When the sheriff would come unexpectedly to the taxpayer, the latter would propose to get the money if the officer would accompany him to the home of this neighborhood banker. The officer usually refused to do this and proceeded to distrain on some property, taking a fee of 2s. 8d. for the same. The taxpayer would then hasten to his neighbor's, secure the needed money, and hurry after the sheriff. That officer would take a different route than the one he had promised to take, and the luckless pursuer would arrive in Hillsboro in time to see his property sold to some friend of the officer's for much less than its value. The Regulators charged that officers played into each others hands for this purpose, and that there were men in Hillsboro who had made large sums by dealing in such business.The first recorded incident that seemed to foretell things to come was in 1759 in Enfield, Granville District. In January 1759, a group of backwoodsmen seized Lord Granville's land agent, Francis Corbin, in Edenton and brought him to Enfield. There they forced Corbin to give bond to return illegal fees which had been collected. On May 14, 1759, a group of citizens in Enfield expressed the same sentiments against British tyranny. Several of the "rioters" were arrested and jailed. However, they were soon released when an irate group of citizens broke into the jail and freed them.
Then in 1764, groups of citizens in Anson, Orange and Granville counties banded together to create a number of local disturbances which prompted a response from the Board of Trade and Plantations with orders to publish a proclamation by the King strictly forbidding the collection of illegal fees.
In Mecklenburg County in 1765, there was an incident known as the Sugar Creek War. Farmers led by Thomas Polk attacked John Frohock and six surveyors on a tract of land said to be patented to absentee landlords, Henry Eustace McCulloch and George A. Selwyn, who had been partners in land speculation with former Governor Dobbs before he died. The conflict arose when McCulloch and Selwyn assembled a team of surveyors to lay out the boundaries of the land that had been settled by squatters so they would have to purchase the land from McCulloch and Selwyn. Many of them had been on the land for several years where they had built homesteads and improved the value of the property. They felt McCulloch and Selwyn’s claim to the land was no longer valid; the patent was a couple of decades old and the requirements laid out for retaining the land had not been met. The cost was assessed at “current value” instead of the original value with back rents. The older residents objected, the newer ones agreed. The older ones intimidated the newer ones into backing down. A violent conflict ensued. Frohock was lashed across his face and another man was said to have daylight cracked in his head. Governor Tryon interceded and appointed a commission which determined the proprietorships were null and void because they had not met the requirements to settle the land according to the original patent. Therefore, they had to relinquish their claim. The history of the incident is recorded in Minutes of the North Carolina Governor's Council, May 07, 1765 - May 09, 1765, Volume 07, pages 10-31
On June 6, 1765, a school master by the name of George Sims in Granville District published what became known as the Nutbush Address describing the “deplorable situations” the people suffer. How a poor man without cash resources who tried to do the right thing, provide for his family and meet his obligations, was victimized by the system and those who manipulated it. Professor John S. Bassett excerpts part of the address for us, page 160:
A poor man is supposed to have given his judgment bond for £5, and this bond is by his creditor thrown into court. The clerk of the county has to enter it on the docket and issue execution, the work of one long minute, for which the poor man has to pay the trifling sum of 41s. 5d. The clerk, in consideration he is a poor man, takes it out in work at 18d. a day. The poor man works some more than twenty-seven days to pay for this one minute's writing. Well, the poor man reflects thus: At this rate, when shall I get to labor for my family? I have a wife and parcel of small children suffering at home, and here I have lost a whole month, and I don't know for what, for my merchant is as far from being paid yet as ever. However, I will go home now and try and do what I can. Stay, neighbor, you have not half done yet. There is a d--d lawyer's mouth to stop yet--for you empowered him to confess that you owed this £5, and you have 30s. to pay him for that, and go and work nineteen days more; and then you must work as long to pay the sheriff for his trouble; and then you may go home to see your horses and cow sold, and all your personal estate for one-tenth part of the value, to pay off your merchant. And lastly, if the debt is so great that all your personal estate will not do to raise the money--which is not to be had--then goes your lands the same way to satisfy these cursed hungry caterpillars that will eat out the very bowels of our commonwealth if they are not pulled down from their nests in a very short time.In August 1766, in Orange County the Sandy Creek Association founded by Shubal Stearns, a Separate Baptists minister, joined with Hermon Husband and other Quakers to call for a meeting between taxpayers and county officials. Regulator’s Advertisement No. 1 was read at the Orange County Courthouse, inviting county neighbors to elect delegates to attend a meeting at Maddock’s Mill on the Eno River. The purpose of the meeting, the advertisement stated, would be...
"... to judiciously enquire whether the free men of this county labor under any abuses of power or not and let the same be notified in writing if any is found and the matter fully conversed upon and proper measures used for amendment; this method will certainly cause wicked men to tremble..."County officials were invited to attend, but Colonel Edmund Fanning, who had just been promoted from Attorney General to Assistant Judge of the Superior Court of Justice for the District of Salisbury, deemed the gathering “insurrectionary” and no county officials attended.
As land, personal property, farm animals and implements, even clothing, continued to be taken from the people for payment of taxes, fuel was added to the growing fire when Governor Tryon secured a $15,000 appropriation from his Governing Council to build a new combination statehouse-governor’s residence at New Bern to be paid for by an extra poll tax. The backcountry settlers gave it the name of “Tryon’s Palace” and many were furious, only to be made more furious when Tryon and his entourage undertook a very costly and luxurious march to survey the western boundary line of the Cherokee country, which would also be paid for by taxes. That was followed by an announcement by the Sheriff of Orange County that he would accept tax payment at only five locations in his huge county and that, if he were forced to visit the taxpayer to collect, he would levy the legal 2s8d additional fee for his "distress."
These things added to the feeling that the government did not care about the welfare of the citizens in the western counties and caused the unrest to spread. Soon the backcountry men of Orange County were joined by others who formed an association calling themselves “Regulators” and published their resolves. The Regulators in Anson County also took an oath:
The Regulation in Anson County ~ Rules and ResolvesTension grew when the Regulators of Orange County published a new advertisement demanding the sheriff show his tax lists, collection records and fees table. Local officials became furious and Fanning wrote a frantic letter to Tryon encouraging him to call out the militia “and do battle” referring to the Regulators as “the mob” and declaring they thought themselves to be “the sovereign arbiters of right and wrong”.
Whereas the Tax for the present year is very high part of which, unseen seem to many unlawful and unnecessary, that together with the great scarcity of Money that have put it out of our power to make payment of the same, and we the subscribers being in that circumstance and also willing to consider the Public, that we are sensible of oppressions and therefore have thought convenient to stay the payment of the Tax aforesaid, not but what we acknowledge ourselves true and lawful subjects to the crown of Great Britain and therefore have entered into a league with each other and have taken the following Oath & subscribed our name, being willing to pay four shillings for Kings Dues.
I [A. B.] do promise and swear that if any Officer or any other Person do make distress on any of the goods or other Estate of any Person sworn herein being a subscriber for the non-payment of the said Tax that I will with other sufficient assistance go take if in my power from the said Officer and restore it to the party from whom taken and in case any one concerned herein should be imprisoned or under an arrest or otherwise confined, or his Estate or any part thereof by reason or means of joining into this Company of Regulators for the non-payment of Taxes, that I will immediately do my best endeavour to raise as many of the said subscribers as will be of force sufficient and if in my power set the said Person and his Estate at liberty and I do further promise and swear that if in case this our scheme should be broke or otherwise give out our intention, any of our Company should be put to any expence or be put under any confinement that I will bear an equal share with those in trying to pay and make up the sufferer, all these things I do promise and swear and subscribe my name.
In a day or two the powder keg was lit by an incident. The sheriff seized a Regulators’ horse, saddle and bridle for tax payment. On April 8, 1768, eighty angry Regulators marched on Hillsborough armed with clubs, staves and cloven muskets; they captured and bound Sheriff Hawkins, then "rescued" the horse and tack. On the way out of town, some in the group fired shots into Fanning's house. He was in Halifax at the time and when he was informed, he ordered the arrest of the "ringleaders". He then called out seven companies of the Orange militia, hurried back to Hillsborough to take command and wrote again to Tryon asking for more authority to deal with the "traitorous Dogs . . ." Tryon's Council declared the Regulators guilty of insurrection. Fanning was authorized to call up militia from the surrounding counties.
Meanwhile, terrified officials in Orange agreed to meet with the Regulators to discuss grievances. While this was happening, Fanning rode with a posse to the Sandy Creek area and arrested William Butler and Herman Husband on a charge of "inciting to rebellion." The two prisoners were jailed in Hillsborough. When news reached the Regulators, they dropped plans for the meeting and 700 Regulators and supporters marched on Hillsborough. County officials released the two prisoners on bail. Isaac Edwards, the governor's private secretary, promised the Regulators if they would lay out their complaints in a petition to the governor, he would see that justice was done them. The Regulators agreed to the request. But on hearing this, Governor Tryon stated that his secretary had exceeded his authority, refused to deal with the Regulators as an organization, and demanded they immediately disband.
About three weeks later, on April 27, 1768, trouble erupted in Anson County when a “mob” marched to the Anson County Court House and disrupted the proceedings. They demanded the removal of local magistrates and clerk Samuel Spencer, Sheriff James Medlock and Anthony Hutchins. Samuel Spencer, a colonel for the Anson County militia, had purchased his position as clerk of the county court from John Frohock for one hundred and fifty pounds. Spencer wrote a letter to Tryon describing the scene and expressed that he believed the entire business had been instigated by someone trying to garner support for the next election. The Regulators had held a vote during the commotion and elected Charles Robinson to represent them in the Lower House of the Assembly.
The Anson County Regulators also wrote to Governor Tryon concerning the incident. The document is known as the Regulator Protest Paper, April 28, 1768 and is signed by ninety-nine men. They say, “we blame ourselves” but “being long under the growing weight of oppression became rash, and precipitate” and decided they would make those who are abusing their offices “wary of their employments”. So they organized themselves into “the opposite Party called a mob of about five hundred men”. They say to Tryon, surely you as governor have the good of your people at heart and would not want them “oppressed to gratify the errors and ambition of any particular Persons, who are Anthony Hutchins, Colonel Samuel Spencer, Charles Medlock and their Assistants the Justices and Sheriffs.” They did not believe these persons were capable of performing the duty of their offices and their character was “extremely doubtful and precarious” because they arrest citizens, put them in jail, causing a great expense, then let them go without a trial to cover up their corruption. Then they listed examples of the “unusual manner” of taxing.
First, Persons who commit capital offences are committed to the County Goal and there retained five or six months, a County Tax is laid to defray the expence when it is notoriously known it is a Province Expence, But Medlock the late Sheriff stop’t not there, but proceeded by Mr. Spencer the Clerk and Member for the County to have the same claim allowed by the Assembly, and were only prevented as we are informed by its being proved to the Committee of Claims that the Prisoners had made satisfaction themselves – These things were not unknown to Mr. Spencer when he laid Medlock’s claim before the Assembly. In the next place where the Justices are in possession of Public Ferries they establish them free at times pretending for the free passage of Courtiers a considerable Tax is laid for that Purpose. In the next place they tax considerable sums of money for particular Persons, who not having the right thereto, the Magistrates after receive back part, if not all to their own use. All these things can be made to appear, and we conceive that no People have a right to be taxed, but by the consent of themselves or their Delegates. But here the Magistrates assume it, then the Sheriffs who receive the Tax particularly Medlock and his Associates have made a constant practice to exact 2.8 for distress money, when no distress is made nor necessary to be made, and also have taxed different sums from the People according to their non acquaintance with the right Tax so that several different sums were received from the People in the same year surmounting the right Tax.They close by saying to Tryon, that if he will give them honest officials who are knowledgeable and capable of performing their duties, then it will ease the minds of the people who are willing to pay honest taxes for the support of their government. The names of those petitioners are at the above link. Burlingham Rudd’s name is not on this petition, but I think it likely these are the names of those who represented “the mob” that stormed the court house.
As to the Clerk his extortions are burthensome to all that fall in his power as he takes double and some times treble his due – And tho’ it is true he purchased his Office from Colonel Frohock and gave to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds for it yet it’s unreasonable we should bear the expence by way of extortion, Please Sir, to enquire of Mr. Edwards, touching the connection of Hutchins Spencer and Medlock, and their unreasonable method of proceeding by means of their influence over the ignorant Magistrates as he had doubtless made some observation on their behaviour. This and much more are the causes of the present disturbances which we humbly pray your Excellency will please to reconcile by discharging the most of the Magistrates from their seats, and appointing better men, more capable and willing to discharge that Office, and also the Clerk if it seems right to you.
In May 1768, Governor Tryon wrote back to Spencer. He tells him that he has issued a proclamation “requiring the Rioters to disperse, and return to a dutiful obedience to the Laws of their Country” and he hopes it will be effective. Tryon gives Spencer the authority to raise the Anson Regiment of Militia if need be in order to apprehend the ringleaders of the mob so they can be brought to trial to discourage future outbreaks. Tryon acknowledges receiving from Spencer the copies of the “rules and Oath of the Insurgents” and calls it “rash, inconsistent and illegal”. Tryon then tells Spencer if the people of Anson have any real grievances they should put them in a petition to the General Assembly or to him so they can be redressed. Tryon assures Spencer he does not form his opinion of the people of Anson based on “a few Incendiaries who are more desperate perhaps in their Fortunes than in their Courage” but he will not allow “the most dissolute part of the inhabitants of this Province to pay off their Public Taxes by Insurrections”. Then Tryon tells Spencer, “This contagion and disaffection has spread from Anson to Orange County”, that a similar confrontation had transpired in Hillsborough but Fanning and his officers through their firmness and with the assurances of Tryon’s secretary, Mr. Edwards, dispersed them through the same strategy … put your grievances in a petition. What that last statement reveals is that Fanning, evidently, did not want Tryon to know that the bulk of the unrest was in Orange County because it would be poor reflection on him; it was a cover-up of personal responsibility that would fan the flames in Orange County.
On July 6, 1768, Tryon arrived in Hillsborough with two purposes. First, persuade the Regulators to disband, and second, protect the September term of the Superior Court – the court that was about to put William Butler, Herman Husband, Samuel Devinney and John Hartzo on trial charged with inciting the recent Hillsborough Riot. On July 21, 1768, Tryon issued a new "Proclamation Against Charging Exorbitant Fees", ordering that fee tables be posted and that illegal practices be stopped. At this point, he began to exchange messages with the Regulators in an attempt to get them to disband. He ordered the Attorney General to initiate prosecutions against officers charged with taking illegal fees. One officer charged was Colonel Edmund Fanning.
The Regulators would not agree to disband, but they did agree to petition the Assembly for redress. They would not agree to make a bond to ensure their good behavior at the upcoming trials because it might limit their ability to restrain the more volatile members among them. Governor Tryon knew most of the backwoodsmen were sympathetic to the Regulators’ cause and he needed to raise county militias to protect the upcoming court session. He turned to the Presbyterian ministers for assistance and offered 40 shillings per volunteer.
Tryon did not respond to the Anson County Regulators’ Protest Paper of April until August 1768. Read it well. He tells them that the charges they make against county officials are so serious that it will require consultation of his Council at New Bern, but he’s away at Hillsborough at the moment. Anyone who feels they have been extorted should file a complaint with the Attorney General who will prosecute those who abuse the public trust. And by the way, nice of you to admit your guilt because there will be an investigation of the incident at Anson County Court House by the Salisbury District Superior Court and your acknowledgement of your rash and illegal behavior might bring you some leniency IF you behave yourselves and “dutifully submit to the law.”
On trial in the Hillsborough District Superior Court during the September term were four Regulators: Herman Husband, William Butler, Samuel Devinney, and John Hartzo. Husband was acquitted of the charge of inciting a riot. The other three were found guilty of the same charge, but Tryon suspended the fines and released the prisoners. Later, they received a full pardon from the governor.
Also on trial for extortion were three county officials: Edmund Fanning, Francis Nash and John Wood. About 800 Regulators were waiting outside Hillsborough for the outcome of the court trials. Also waiting were 1,461 militia members who had been raised from Rowan, Mecklenburg, Granville, and Orange counties with the help of the ministers. No Anson militia.
Fanning was found guilty on five counts of extortion, and fined one penny for each count. But the three judges, Martin Howard, Chief; Maurice Moore and Richard Henderson, Associates were unsure of the legality of judging Fanning guilty, and the case was referred to England. Fanning immediately resigned the office of Registrar and never fulfilled his five penny fine.
After the trials in Hillsborough, about eighty Regulators unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the court in Johnston County and in Edgecombe County about thirty Regulators tried to rescue a fellow Regulator from the Halifax jail but were routed. In Rowan County, the Regulators attempted to prosecute Judge John Frohock and three other officers for extortion in the Salisbury District Superior Court. When the Regulators arrived at court they discovered the grand jury was stacked with their enemies, all but three of the men were officers. They later found out that those sitting on the jury were not the first chosen. Not surprisingly, the juries refused to return "true bills" on the cases.
There was not another election for Assembly representation until July 18, 1769 with the next session scheduled to convene in October 1769. This election demonstrated the strong feelings against the officers throughout the province by the results. Carteret, Beaufort, Anson, Halifax, Bladen, Edgecombe, Tyrrell, Orange, Granville, and Hyde changed their entire delegations. In Orange, Granville, Anson, and Halifax, where the Regulator sentiment was strong, the change was complete. In Rowan, a strong Regulator county, Griffith Rutherford, considered a moderate friend of the people, was retained, but his yokefellow, John Frohock, was dropped and in his place Christopher Nation, an ardent Regulator, was elected. Out of the 78 members of the new Assembly, 43 were new men. Professor Bassett explains the change in political thinking on page 183:
The next step taken by the Regulators was in the line of practical politics. Until recently no suspicion had been cast upon the members of the assembly. The people were accustomed to leaders and willingly trusted their affairs in their hands. With no widely circulating newspapers and no political aptness, they formed themselves into no parties, but usually accepted the candidate put forward by the officeholders, who was generally either a member of or closely associated with the officeholding class. When they first began their agitation the Regulators had been content to aim at the local officers. They were told to apply to the courts, where justice should be done them. They complied, and found that the laws were in favor of the officers. They concluded that the laws should be changed. At the same time, since the issue had been sharply defined, they saw that the assemblymen were ranged on the side of the county officers. They now determined to attack this office, and here they were more successful than they had been in any of their other undertakings.At the fall session of the new Assembly, the Anson County Regulators submitted their petition dated October 9, 1769. It was signed by approximately 250 men, many of whom who had signed the 1768 Protest Paper after “the mob” took the court house. Orange and Rowan counties united in another petition that contained some of the same issues as the Anson petition, although not as extensive. A very noteworthy petition came from the Presbyterians in Mecklenburg. They declared themselves a thousand freemen, "who hold to the Established Church of Scotland, able to bear arms." They told Tryon they were ready and cheerful to support him during the recent trouble in Hillsborough and then demanded that he repeal the vestry and marriage acts in the counties of Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Tryon so that the Scottish church had the same footing with "our sister church of England."
This idea, as we have seen, had taken shape in Anson when the Regulators had nominated Charles Robinson as their candidate for the assembly, making, perhaps, the first political nomination in America.
It is true that freedom of non-Anglican worship was granted to colonials in America, the exception being the Catholic Church was banned in most all of them. But since the Church of England was the official church in the colonies and was supported by a vestry tax upon the people, it was the only Church allowed to perform legal marriages, register birth, baptisms, and burials. For those who were not Anglican, their choice was something like Quaker-style where they announced their marriage to their neighbors, or “jumped the broom” as was an old-world tradition, or common law marriages. The Presbyterians of the Church of Scotland wanted equal rights with the Anglicans of the Church of England.
The Assembly was working along, proposing legislation that addressed many of the problems that had been listed in the various petitions, when a situation developed between Tryon and the lower chamber which was represented by the freeholders that had come into the legislature during the last anti-establishment election. The issue prompted Tryon to dissolve the Assembly and schedule an election for a new Assembly in March 1770.
When the election was completed, many of the same freeholders were returned to the next legislative session which was described as having the “Regulator spirit”, with an additional representative seat for Hillsborough created by Tryon, to which Fanning was promptly elected, and therefore, returned to one of his previous offices.
Preparations for the next legislation session were underway when word came in September that there had been another riot at the Hillsborough District Superior Court. The Orange County Regulators had presented a petition to the justice requesting an investigation of extortion; a measure that had been previously recommended by Tryon. Judge Richard Henderson was the only justice on the bench and deferred the petition to the following Monday. When Monday came about 150 Regulators gathered outside the courthouse. The crowd inside included Hunter, Howell, Husband, Butler, Hamilton, and Devinney. Jeremiah Fields asked for permission to speak. Granted, he rose and said that the Regulators understood that the judge had decided not to try their causes at that term but they were determined to have them tried, and if the court would do it, it would prevent “mischief”. They insisted that the jury that had been selected be changed. While the judge was trying to pacify them on the inside, the group gathered outside was becoming restless. They were all carrying switches and sticks when a lawyer named John Williams started to enter the building. The crowd fell upon him, beating him severely until he made his escape. They rushed into the courthouse and found Fanning. They seized him by the heels and dragged him into the street and beat him mercilessly until he made his escape. They went after him, but allowed him to go home with the promise he surrendered himself the following morning. They also whipped several others that were there before they could make their escape. The next morning Fanning gave himself up to the Regulators and they told him they would release him if he agreed to take to the road running until he was out of sight. Which he no doubt did! Then they went to his pretentious new house, which represented to them all that Fanning had acquired with illegal fees. They tore it up, then demolished it.
The Regulators returned to the courthouse and allowed Judge Henderson to adjourn the court for the day on the promise he would take up their case the next day. He promised. About 10 o’clock that night the judge took a fast horse out of town. On November 12th, Judge Henderson’s barn and stables were burned to the ground, two nights later his house was burned to the ground. Regulators were suspected.
Tryon inquired of the attorney general if the Regulators involved in the second Hillsborough Riot could be tried for treason. The AG told him no, they could only be charged with rioting and the law required they be tried in their home district court. Tryon knew there would be too much sympathy for the Regulators in Orange County to raise a jury that would return his desired verdict. He ordered his officers to call for a muster of their militias to test the responsiveness of volunteers. Soon came rumors that the Regulators were going to march on the coming session of the Assembly in New Bern. The Governor's Council was panicked, offered rewards for the instigators and called the militias between Hillsborough and New Bern into readiness. The General Assembly finally had a quorum on December 5th and a report came from Pitt County that the Regulators of Bute and Johnston were marching on New Bern to stop Fanning from taking his seat for Hillsborough. The Council fabricated some charges against Husband, expelled him from the Assembly and had him arrested by the Chief Justice in mid-December. At the end of December word came that another group of Regulators were at Cross Creek preparing to march on New Bern. With that the Johnston Riot Act was passed into law giving the governor and attorney general extensive authority in suppressing riots with a one year expiration date.
The Assembly was making great progress with legislation addressing the grievances of the Regulators, perhaps the rumors of gathering Regulators preparing to march on the government was having some effect. They passed a bill to amend the act for appointing sheriffs and to direct their duty in office; a bill to ascertain attorneys' fees; an act more strictly to regulate officers' fees; an act for the more speedy collection of debts under £5; an act to grant the chief justice a salary, and acts to erect the counties of Wake, Guilford, Chatham, and Surry, all lying in the region infected with the Regulator spirit. All these laws contained reforms sought by the Regulators. Many of them are reflected in the 1769 Regulators’ Petition from Anson County that bears the name of Burlingham Rudd.
Tryon did not wait for the new laws to have effect on the unrest. The first law he signed was the riot law and at once had the leaders of the Hillsborough riot charged. He called for a special court at New Bern as the location of their trial. The new law gave the attorney general the power to change of venue, no longer was a sympathetic jury in Orange County an obstacle. On February 2, 1771, the grand jury took up the case of Hermon Husband who had been in jail since December 1770. The grand jury found “no bill” and Husband was released. Tryon was "unpleased with the discharge of Husband." He dismissed that term of the court and called another for March 11th. He instructed the county sheriffs to only select jurymen who were “gentlemen of the first rank, property and probity”. The witnesses were all one-sided and most were officers who testified before the grand jury which returned “a true bill” for all sixty-two counts. The riot law declared that the defendants would be considered outlaws if they did not appear for trial within sixty days.
Meanwhile, on March 7, 1771 in Rowan County, a committee of arbitrators had been formed to work out a resolution between the Regulators and representatives of the government including Hermon Husband, James Graham, James Hunter, and Thomas Person on the Regulators side and Matthew Locke, John Kerr, Samuel Young, and James Smith on the other side. Alexander Martin and John Frohock reported the progress to Tryon with great enthusiasm telling him the committee had planned to meet on the third Tuesday in May. Tryon wrote back that he did not approve of their entering into negotiations with insurgents and he was about to march with an army into the Regulators’ country. He believed this was a more effective resolution than a Rowan agreement.
On March 18, 1771, Tryon read to the Governor’s Council an intercepted letter from Rednap Howell to James Hunter:
Halifax Feb. 16th 1771.Tryon also read a letter to the Council from the Chief Justice of Hillsborough District Superior Court stating that he and his associates could not attend the March term of the Hillsborough court for fear of personal safety. Tryon’s strategy paid off. The Council resolved the governor should immediately raise a body of militia to march against the insurgents.
On my setting out for Hallifax my horse fell sick which detained me some time so that on my arrival here I had certain information that Herman was at liberty; so that I found it needless to raise the Country but I am satisfied it would be easily done if occasion required, however I have animated the people here to join the Regulation; on Saturday come 2 weeks they are to have a meeting for the purpose. If it once takes a start here it will run into the neighboring Counties of Edgecomb, Bute and Northampton and this will undoubtedly facilitate Justice to poor Carolina. I will now inform you of such things as I have learnt since I left home. At New Bern the Governor called a general muster of 1,100 men; after treating them at yours and my expence he tried to prevail on them to march against the rebels but on one man's absolute refusal he ordered him to turn out of the Ranks for a Traitor which he very readily did and all the Regiment followed or were following him; the Governor perceiving his mistake says Gentlemen you mistook me I only meant should they come down and destroy all your livings would you not fight them; they answered yes on which he dismissed them, they then gathered in Companys of 6, 8, 10 and 12 growling and swearing would the Mob come down they would join them. In Dobbs a general muster was called for the same purpose, but only seven men attended. I am informed the Clerk's places in the New Countrys are parcelled out among the Quality; one Cooper is designed for your Country but if you suffer any rascal to come there may eternal oppressions be your lot: as I cannot solely depend on the Irish ahead pray you will reserve that morsel for yours to serve; for as the whole province is in your favor you may do as you list in that respect. I understand Butler and you are to be outlawed; despise it laugh at it—We hear that the Governor has sent a proclamation to you importing as the French and Spaniards are now at war with us, it's a pity to breed a civil war among ourselves; that the Chief cause of the trouble was the counterfeit money for which the great men were to blame; artful V—n! if he could have raised the Province on us he would have told another tale. However if this be true the day is ours in spite of Lucifer—I give out here that the Regulators are determined to whip every one who goes to Law or will not pay his just debts or will not agree to leave his cause to men where disputes; that they will choose Representatives but not send them to be put in jail; in short to stand in defiance and as to thieves to drive them out of the Country. I leave the plan to your consideration from your sincere friend ~ Rednap Howell
General Hugh Waddell would take the Cape Fear militia and lead a second column to overcome the Rowan Regulators, raise the western militias, march to Salisbury, and then join Tryon at Hillsborough. Tryon’s regiment included 917 rank and file and 151 officers with detachments from Craven, Carteret, Orange, Beaufort, New Hanover, Onslow, Dobbs, and Johnston, and an artillery company. The Wake County militia showed up with no arms which appeared to have been a ruse to keep from having to serve in the conflict, but when a smaller detachment reported, Tryon ordered the sheriff to take the smaller detachment with him and collect taxes in Wake County.
Waddell’s regiment contained 236 rank and file and 48 officers and an artillery company. In addition to the Scots at Cape Fear, along the march he picked up militias from Anson, Rowan, Mecklenburg, and Tryon, but he met opposition along the way. First, on the way to Salisbury, his column was attacked by a group of Regulators who had disguised themselves with black-face, later they became known as “The Black Boys of Cabarrus”, they destroyed a power shipment coming from South Carolina by ambushing the wagons on Rocky River. Later, on the march to Hillsborough, Waddell’s camp was surrounded by about 2,000 Regulators in a daring and insolent attempt to push the regiment back, which they did without a fight. Waddell had no more than 300 men and he had his doubts they would be willing to engage, so he had no other option than to retreat over the Yadkin River.
On May 12th, Tryon and the Regulators received news of Waddell's rebuff. The Regulators issued a call for all men to assemble at James Hunter's plantation, to prevent Waddell and Tryon from linking forces. On Monday, May 13th, Tryon’s forces camped on the west bank of Great Alamance Creek. On the evening of May 15th, Tryon received a petition from the Regulators who were camped about five miles west of him. They asked if he was prejudiced against their cause and determined for bloodshed. They asked for a meeting to state their grievances. The next morning, May 16th, Tryon marched is column within a half-mile of the Regulator camp and dispatched his aide, Captain Malcom, with the Sheriff of Orange County who carried his response to their petition:
In answer to your petition, I am to acquaint you that I have been attentive to the true Interest of this Country, and to that of every Individual residing within it. I lament the fatal Necessity to which you have now reduced me, by withdrawing yourselves from the Mercy of the Crown, and the Laws of your Country, to require you who are Assembled as Regulators, to lay down your Arms, Surrender up the outlawed Ringleaders, and Submit yourselves to the Laws of your Country, and then on the lenity and Mercy of Government. By accepting these Terms in one Hour from the delivery of this Dispatch you will prevent an effusion of Blood, as you are at this time in a State of War and Rebellion against your King, your Country, and your Laws.The sheriff and aide returned to Tryon with the news that “the Rebels” rejected his offer with distain, saying they needed no time to consider his terms. About mid-morning, Tryon sent another message “cautioning the Rebels to take care of themselves, as he should immediately give the signal for action." According to traditional accounts, the Regulators' reply was "Fire and be damned". Tryon gave the order for the cannons to fire on the Regulators and the first line of militia fired a volley, kneeled to reload and the second line fired a volley. The Regulators scrambled for cover. They had no battle plan, officers, or discipline. They were crouching behind rocks and trees, each man waging his own private war against a unified militia. The militia began moving forward advancing through the trees, the Regulators began to flee. The battle lasted about two hours, fifteen Regulators were captured. Remarkably, only nine Regulators and nine militia were killed, many were wounded. Tryon took the prisoners and wounded back to his camp on Alamance Creek. The next day, May 17th, a captured Regulator named James Few was hung without benefit of military trial. His body was left hanging beside the road to Hillsborough as a warning to others. During the next few days, militia units scoured the countryside for Regulators. The main body of the army stayed at Alamance Camp.
Tryon issued a proclamation of pardon to all Regulators who would swear a loyalty oath to the government with the exception of those responsible for destroying General Waddell’s ammunition, the remaining fourteen prisoners and four others; Herman Husband, Rednap Howell, James Hunter, and William Butler, who had already fled the province. On May 21st the troops marched to James Hunter's farm at Sandy Creek were Tryon burned the dwelling and outbuildings. That evening he marched to Hermon Husband’s plantation and took possession of it.
After the hangings, Tryon hastened back to New Bern. Back in February he had been told his long sought for appointment as Governor of New York had final come true. He had proven his loyalty to the King and on June 30, 1771 he left for New York. Soon he sent for Edmund Fanning to come to New York as his personal secretary.
About two weeks after the hangings at Hillsborough ... 6,409 Regulators had taken the oath of allegiance and an estimated 1500 fled the colony.
Because the Regulators’ Movement followed on the heels of the Stamp Act Protests that swept across the American colonies, it gave some support to Governor Tryon’s claim that the unrest in the backcountry was directed at the British Crown and not at his own governing policies. Outside of North Carolina newspapers, such as, the Boston Gazette and Pennsylvania Journal published accounts and opinions about the Regulators' uprising. There were a few in support of Governor Tryon which were countered with others condemning his actions and laying the facts before the public. The most demoralizing one was a “Letter from “Atticus” to Governor Tryon” on November 7, 1771 in The Virginia Gazette. We now know it was anonymously penned by Maurice Moore, one of the Associate Justices of the Superior Court during the Regulators’ Movement. He was on the bench during the trial of Edmund Fanning when the guilty verdict was deferred to England for clarification and consequently not enforced, and he was on the bench during the trial after Alamance which resulted in the hanging of six Regulators for treason, one of the six was Benjamin Merrill, who certainly would have been pretty well known and respected in the province to be the Captain of the Rowan County Militia.
“Atticus” not only recounted the Regulators’ Movement from its origins and condemned Tryon’s actions, but also exposed the ruse Tryon created that the Regulators were in rebellion against the Crown when actually the upheaval was against Tryon’s government. Moore was especially critical of Tryon’s manipulation of the legislative process that created the temporary law, the Johnston Riot Act. There is so much detail and first hand knowledge in the Letter, it’s hard to imagine that Maurice Moore’s compatriots didn’t know he was Atticus.
When the Lower House convened in November 1771, the new governor, Josiah Martin had arrived. One of the first orders of business was a Bill proposed by Maurice Moore to indemnify those who had participated in “defence of the Government” and pardon “the misguided offenders”. In other words, Moore wanted those who had assisted Tryon in squashing the Regulators to be protected from law suits. The Bill was amended to exclude from pardon Hermon Husband, Rednap Howell and William Butler. Governor Martin told the Assembly he did not have the authority to issue a pardon, but would send the Bill on to England for approval. The Board of Trade and Plantations responded that the language in the Bill was too broad and indemnification was never approved. The Board also gave an opinion about the Johnston Riot Act …”said clause appears to us to be irreconcilable with the principles of the Constitution, full of danger in its operation, and unfit for any part of the British Empire …” Perhaps, Maurice Moore suspected that would be the results and could place those who acted on behalf of Tryon in legal jeopardy. During the session a compensation claim was approved for thirty-seven pounds ten shillings as payment to William Few, the brother of James Few who had been hung without trial by Tryon, for the field of wheat, barley and oats that had been destroyed on Tryon’s orders. A request made by Governor Martin to compensate Edmund Fanning for the loss of his property, destroyed by the Regulators of Orange County, was refused payment. The shift in allegiance among the men in the legislature appears to be beginning.
About a year later, the British Parliament passed the Tea Act in May 1773, which not only imposed a tax on tea, but gave a monopoly to the East India Company in an attempt to rescue it from bankruptcy. The move outraged the American colonists and tea shipments, just like the stamped paper from the previous Stamp Act, sat on ships in ports or at port warehouses where it rotted. And we all remember that on December 16, 1773, colonists disguised as Indians snuck aboard the ships in Boston Harbor and dumped the tea in to the harbor is what became The Boston Tea Party. This was met with a harsh response by the British with the passage of the Intolerable Acts and the occupation of Boston by British troops.
This aggression united the colonies. On July 21, 1774, a meeting was held in Wilmington, North Carolina by a group of freeholders. They took the lead and prepared a circular letter to the other counties condemning the oppressive acts taken against the Massachusetts Bay colony for having exerted itself in defense of the constitutional rights of America. They called for all counties of North Carolina to send representatives to a general meeting at the Johnston County Court House in August. In Anson, a meeting was held at the courthouse on August 15, 1774, Thomas Wade was selected Chairman.
Their language wasn’t as nuanced as Wilmington. It was more straightforward. Here’s an example:
Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Meeting, that the late arbitrary and cruel Acts of the British Parliament, and other unconstitutional and oppressive measures of the British Ministry, against the Town and Port of Boston, and province of Massachusetts Bay, are no other than the most alarming prelude to that yoke of slavery already manufactured by the said Ministry, and by them intended to be laid on all the Inhabitants of British America, and their Posterity for ever.Samuel Spencer and William Thomas were appointed representatives to the August meeting at the Johnston County Court House and empowered to “consult on the great and important Subject of American Freedom”… “to the preservation of the Rights and Liberties of this Colony and those of America in general”.
Thomas Dockery, Thomas Wade, Samuel Spencer, William Thomas, Charles Robinson, Charles Medlock, William Pickett and James Auld were appointed to a Committee of Correspondence and empowered to call meetings of the freeholders when they thought necessary.
On August 25, 1774, the First Provincial Congress of North Carolina opened at New Bern. Delegates selected to represent the freeholders of each county were in attendance and when it concluded they signed their name to the document they had drafted… “That therefore until we obtain an explicit declaration and acknowledgment of our rights, we agree to stop all imports, from Great Britain after the first day of January 1775, and that we will not export any of our commodities to Great Britain after the first day of October 1775.”
The following month, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. Twelve of the thirteen colonies sent representatives, absent was the Georgia colony (but a couple of individuals from Georgia did attend). Joseph Hewes, William Hooper and Richard Caswell were in attendance representing North Carolina. On September 9, the Suffolk Resolves of Massachusetts were unanimously passed by the leaders of Suffolk County and Paul Revere carried a copy to the Congress in Philadelphia where they were endorsed. The main outcome of the First Continental Congress was a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, a petition to George 3rd, and an agreement to form a Continental Association which would ensure the enforcement of the boycotts. They set a date for their next meeting on May 10, 1775 if the Parliament had not agreed to their demands.
On February 9, 1775, the British Parliament declared the American colonies in a state of rebellion and on March 30, 1775, Parliament passed, and George 3rd approved, the New England Restraining Act which targeted the northeastern colonies as the troublemakers. The following April, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina were added to the Restraining Act as a punishment for joining the Continental Association. North Carolina was not included in the expansion because Lord North was unaware that North Carolina had joined the Continental Association. But they were soon added to the Restraining Act. When the Second Provincial Congress of North Carolina convened on April 3, 1775, Hewes, Hooper and Caswell presented the oath of the new Continental Association for approval by the representatives. All those at the meeting signed the oath, except Thomas MacKnight, a delegate from Currituck County. He withdrew himself as a representative. Upon which the other members issued the following resolve and ordered it to be printed in the newspapers of the neighboring provinces.
Resolved, That it is the Opinion of this Convention that from the Disingenuous and equivical behaviour of the said Thomas Macknight, it is manifest his intentions are inimical to the Cause of American Liberty, and we do hold him up as a proper object of Contempt to this Continent, and recommend that every person break off all connection, and have no further Commercial Intercourse or Dealings with him.When the Second Provincial Congress of North Carolina adjourned on April 7, 1775, General Gage was undertaking a British troop build-up in Boston and had given orders to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Paul Revere made his famous ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams "that the British were coming" to arrest them. Hancock and Adams escaped. Jonas Parker with seventy-five Minutemen were waiting and met the British upon their arrival. On April 19, 1775, the British fired on the Minutemen … "The shot that was heard around the world”, at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 in Philadelphia, as had been planned. On that same day, the Green Mountain Boys led by Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold defeated a small garrison and captured Fort Ticonderoga, and Fort Crown Point the following day. Seven days later, Arnold and fifty men raided Fort Saint-Jean and seized the British’s largest military vessel on Lake Champlain. They took the armaments and cannons to Boston.
The first shots of the Revolutionary War had been fired by the time the Second Continental Congress came into session and the sentiment had begun to shift from reconciliation to independence, especially in Boston which was under occupation by the British military. The advocates for independence marshaled a resolution recommending that any colony that lacked a proper revolutionary government should form one.
On May 15, 1775, the Congress adopted John Adams’ preamble to this resolution which called for the colonies to throw off the authority of the Crown government and their oath of allegiance to Britain. The Virginia Convention gave instructions to their delegates to propose a resolution calling for a declaration of independence.
On May 20, 1775 a meeting was called in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina by freeholders led by Colonel Thomas Polk and others, some of whom had been involved in the Sugar Creek War, and the Mecklenburg Resolves were drafted, approved and posted calling for independence from England.
On June 13, 1775, the colonial leaders in Boston heard of a plan by General Gage to occupy the hills surrounding the city and lay siege to Boston. They took those cannons they had captured from that British ship on Lake Champlain with 1,200 colonial troops and fortified the area at the surprise of the British. On June 17th the colonial forces repulsed two assaults by the British, but fell on the third one and retreated to Cambridge. The British attained a victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but their losses were significant, 800 wounded, 226 killed, including a large number of their officers. The colonial forces had few losses, but more importantly they demonstrated they were willing to stand and fight the British army.
The Second Continental Congress stayed in session throughout the War and took on the role of our national government. Delegates communicated back to their Provincial Congress the instructions and recommendations and periodically reported back in person. On June 14, 1775 the Congress created the Continental Army and named George Washington the Commander in Chief on June 15th, he took command on July 3, 1775.
Over the course of the following year, Governor Martin’s communications with William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, reveals his success in convincing the British they had loyal supporters of the government among the majority population of the colony and that he could, not only regain control of his government, but with a show of force on the part of the British, he assured, those loyal to the Crown would rally to the King’s Standard and open a southern path to squelch the rebellion in the northern colonies.
As a consequence of the extinguishing of the Regulators’ Movement, more than 6,000 men had taken an oath of loyalty to the British Crown just four years earlier. Martin had been working in the backcountry to remind them of that oath. And once again, the loyalty of the Presbyterians ministers would be exploited by the Crown’s representative governor just as had been done a few years earlier when the Presbyterian ministers played a significant role in the squelching of the Regulators’ Movement by using their sermons to fill the ranks of the militias who not only guarded the courthouses during the trials, but also fought against the Regulators during the Battle of Alamance. After Josiah Martin replaced William Tryon as governor, he found a backlog of legislation that had been passed by both the General Assembly and the Governor’s Council during the session prior to the Battle of Alamance, but had not been forwarded to England for approval by the Board of Trade and Plantations. Among the items were three Acts that Tryon signed off on when he solicited the Presbyterian ministers as quid pro quo for their loyalty: 1) an Act for the establishment of Queen’s College in Mecklenburg, 2) an Act authorizing the Presbyterian ministers to solemnize the Rites of Matrimony according to The Church of Scotland, 3) an Act to suspend taxes for four years to a group of Highlanders who had settled in Cumberland County three years earlier. The Board of Trade disallowed these three Acts in April 1772, almost a year after the Battle of Alamance. But the historical ties between Scotland and England were stronger than the duplicity of Governor Tryon and Governor Martin used that loyalty to his advantage. Highlanders began arriving by shiploads and were required to take an oath of allegiance to Great Britain before he would issue their land grants. Soon, the propaganda war that was being waged in the backcountry by Martin upon those of the Presbyterian faith reached the ears of the Presbyterian ministers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who sent a circular letter to the inhabitants of North Carolina on July 10, 1775 explaining to them that what they have been told about the ministers in Pennsylvania is not true. That it was totally in keeping with the principles of their faith to demand their rights as Englishmen.
Listen not to them who abuse our General (Continental) Congress, or our poor distressed brethren at Boston, who are contending for American liberty, and now bear the burden and heat of the day; but above all listen not to their bloody Counsels who would excite you to draw your sword to enslave your fellow subjects in North Carolina and make your Province a field of blood. We conclude with hearty prayers for your temporal and everlasting welfare, and for a speedy and honorable decision of our contests with Great Britain on constitutional principles: and beg leave to subscribe ourselves, with great respect, your friends and brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ.Governor Martin also proposed to the Earl of Dartmouth to arm the slave population and turn them loose on the whites. He encouraged the British to use their influence with the Indians along the frontier to attack the backcountry settlers. On July 13, 1775, the Committee of Safety in Wilmington wrote to Samuel Johnston and told him the Committee of Intelligence had intercepted a letter from Legge to Martin that indicated a plan to use the Regulators, Indians and Negroes against them. They asked that the Provincial Congress be convened without delay because the time had come to raise the militia and put them on a payroll for the defense of the province. Only the Provincial Congress had the authority to do that. They also told him they had “a number of enterprising young fellows that would attempt to take the fort, but are much afraid of having their conduct disavowed by the Conventien.” In other words, they wanted orders to attack Fort Johnston. Governor Martin had already fled from the Governor’s Palace to Fort Johnston for security, but when heard of the talk about the attack on Fort Johnston, he fled to the safety of the British sloop-of-war Cruizer, anchored on the Cape Fear River, leaving Captain Collett at the fort. Because Martin had dismantled the guns at the fort and remounted them on the Cape Fear River to protect the Cruizer, Captain Collett could not protect the fort and abandoned it. On the night of July 18th, Colonel Robert Howe and his militia, with John Ashe and Cornelius Harnett, marched to the abandoned fort and burned it in full view of Governor Martin aboard the Cruizer. When Martin received a response from Legge, he was told that the King approved his plan.
Over the next few months, Britain recalled General Thomas Gage from his command as a result of the huge loss of men he had incurred at the Battle of Bunker Hill and put Major General William Howe in charge. By December 1775, General Howe gave the orders for resources to be put in motion with the intent of launching an invasion of the southern colonies at Wilmington, North Carolina.
North Carolina was in the crosshairs.