North Carolina’s Regulators, the Battle of Alamance, and Public Memory

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Jeremiah DeGennaro, Historic Site Manager for Alamance Battleground

In the summer of 1773, Josiah Quincy made a trip to North Carolina. A well-known lawyer and Son of Liberty in Boston, Quincy headed south with the aim of gauging support for a coming revolution, and establishing correspondence with those who were “warmly attached to the cause of American freedom.” Quincy was received by many of the movers and shakers of North Carolina politics. The same men who hosted him—Cornelius Harnett, William Hooper, Robert Howe, and others—later became influential figures in the American Revolution. But upon his arrival, Quincy was quite curious about a different group of North Carolinians: the Regulators. Years before, this group of poor and middling farmers in backcountry North Carolina organized a grassroots movement that called for an end of government corruption, reformation of the rigged justice system controlled by elite “courthouse rings,” and progressive taxation in which citizens paid according to their wealth. At their peak they had thousands of supporters. Their detractors called it a rebellion. In 1773, it had been less than two years since they had been defeated at the Battle of Alamance by Governor William Tryon and his volunteer militia, the movement abruptly crushed. Quincy must have been curious about the motives of former Regulators as potential allies to what he called the “Cause of America.” How warmly attached to the cause of American freedom were they?

He spoke to three different sources, all with firsthand knowledge of events. He sat through a 3-hour lecture against the Regulators by Robert Howe, who commanded the artillery that devastated the Regulators at Alamance. The next day, Quincy met Colonel William Dry for breakfast. Quincy identified Dry as “a friend to the Regulators…he gave me an entire different account of things.” After hearing a few different accounts of the now-defunct Regulators, Quincy abandoned the topic, noting in his journal: “I am now left to form my own opinion.”

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