In the year 1700, around 200,000 people lived in the British colonies in North America. In the next 100 years, the population doubled roughly every 25 years (except that migration to the New World slowed during the French & Indian War (1754 ~ 1763). The majority of these new immigrants were Scots-Irish and German immigrants. Around 50,000 were English convicts. The only method of getting to the American colonies was by sea.
The Atlantic Passage
Discounting convicts and enslaved Africans transported against their will, there were essentially two classes of migrants to the American colonies: those wealthy enough to pay for their own passage (8 pounds sterling for an adult) and those who indentured themselves for transportation costs (estimated by some as 75% of the total number of migrants to the British colonies between 1700 ~ 1775). In many cases, the broker making such arrangements was the sea captain.
By any measure, no matter what the status of the traveler, the passage to the American colonies was treacherous. Ship’s passengers were crammed into small wooden ships that were subject to the turbulence of an angry Atlantic Ocean. Once aboard ship, they were trapped there until they reached their destinations. Men, women, and children endured unimaginable hardships: there was aboard ship the constant smell of human waste and vomit, sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, mouth rot, rotted food, food poisoning, and putrid water. Untold numbers of people died during the average of seven weeks passage. One passenger recorded body lice so thick the mites could be scraped off with a knife.
There was no time nor any inclination toward respectful burials at sea. Dead people were simply cast over the side into the sea — and if they suffered from the pox, they went into the sea while still alive. This wasn’t a heartless act; it was to prevent the spreading of the disease to others in those confined spaces. There were no “isolation rooms.” If a mother should protest such treatment of her child, she would likely accompany her child into the sea. On one ship bound for Philadelphia, a passenger recorded the deaths of 32 children — all of whom became food for the monsters of the sea.
Once the ships arrived at their destinations (there were several ports), their captain would only allow fully paid passengers to disembark. All others had to remain aboard ship until a client looking for indentured servants could inspect the passengers and decide whether to purchase their contract. Of course, the sick or infirm always fared the worst because no one looking for an indentured servant was much interested in someone who was sick or otherwise unable to perform their duties from the very first day. If someone was required to remain aboard ship due to illness, they would likely die aboard ship, never setting foot on America’s shore.
If a husband had lost his wife during the passage, the indentured husband would have to agree to serve indenture long enough to pay for his wife’s passage. The same was true for a wife who had lost her husband during the passage. Parents were often required to trade away their children like cattle — all children were required to work their indenture to the age of 21 years. If a child’s parents died at sea, the children must stand on their own in paying off the indenture. At the end of indenture, the servant was entitled to a new suit of clothing and, if stipulated, a man might receive a horse and a woman a cow.
Waves of Immigrants
In 1707, a new wave of Scottish immigrants began to make their way toward the Americas; it came as the result of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. In earlier times, Scots tended to settle near seaports because making a living from the sea was how they lived in their home country. People from the lowlands migrated to New York and the Carolinas. Two years later, high-born Germans began arriving as refugees from war-torn France and Germany. In 1717, the British Parliament legalized the transportation to the colonies of people convicted of felonies — the most common destinations were Maryland and Virginia. A year after that, disaffected Scots began migrating in larger numbers to escape the tyranny of landlords. These people tended to settle in western Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Migrations to the Carolina backcountry began in earnest in 1730; Colonial Georgia began in 1732. The British began sending Jews to the colonies, which was the reason for their Naturalization Act of 1740. After the Jacobite uprising of 1745, highlanders began migrating to the Carolinas in large numbers, most of whom found their way into the back (mountain) country.
Initially, Carolina was a province of England (1663 ~ 1707) and Great Britain (1707 ~ 1712) until it was partitioned into North and South Carolina on 24 January 1712. The Carolina province included the present-day states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and the Bahamas.
In 1669, the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina divided the colony of Carolina into two provinces: Albemarle in the north and Clarendon in the south. Due to popular dissension over the governance of the colony and the distance between northern and southern settlements, a deputy governor was appointed in 1691 to administer Albemarle province. In 1712, the two provinces became separate colonies: North Carolina (formerly Albemarle Province) and South Carolina (formerly Clarendon Province).
Carolina was the first of three English colonies in North America to develop a comprehensive organizational plan. Known as the Grand Model, it was composed of a well-founded guide for settlement and economic progress — titled Fundamental Constitution of Carolina. This remarkable instrument was drafted by none other than John Locke, working under the direction of Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury.
The disquiet that existed in Carolina between 1708 ~ 1710 was over two issues. First, whether to establish the Anglican Church in the Province. Second, Carolina citizens could not agree on a slate of elected officials — the result of which was that there was no recognized or legal government for more than two years. Within those two years, Governor Thomas Cary refused to relinquish his office to Edward Hyde, prompting an event called the Cary Rebellion. Political stability was challenged further by two major conflicts with native Americans: the Tuscarora Indians in North Carolina and the Yamasee Indians in South Carolina.
Although the partition of the Province of Carolina began in 1712, it did not officially take place until 1729 — after seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in Carolina to the Crown, making both North and South Carolina “Crown Colonies.” The Eighth Lord, Sir George Carteret, passed his interest to his great-grandson John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville. Carteret retained ownership of a sixty-mile-wide strip of land in North Carolina adjoining the Virginia border — known as the Granville District. Many land disputes erupted over this strip of land between 1729 and 1776 — quarrels that simply would not go away until finally, North Carolina’s revolutionary government seized the land.
A brief look at the seventh and eighth colonial governors of North Carolina is essential toward understanding the conditions under which migrants found themselves in new world settlements, particularly in relation to land costs, tax assessments, and the method of tax collection, debt, and debt-collection — all of which were issues that led to the Regulator War.
North Carolina Governor Arthur Dobbs (1689 ~ 1765) was a man of English stock born in Ayrshire, Scotland. He was the eldest son of Richard Dobbs of Carrickfergus, County Antrim, the Sheriff of Antrim, and Mary Stewart from Ballintoy. As an adult, Dobbs became an engineer and the Surveyor-General of Ireland. As such, his primary responsibility was to supervise the construction of the Irish Parliament building in Dublin. In 1720, Dobbs became the High Sheriff of Antrim and, in 1727, a member of Parliament for Carrickfergus — a seat he held until 1760.
Dobbs used his position as a member of parliament to purchase 400,000 acres of land in North Carolina at a very low price. It was Dobbs’ intention to sell this land to Scots-Irish immigrants, whose migration he encouraged. Following the death of North Carolina Governor Gabriel Johnson, Dobbs was confirmed to succeed him on 25 January 1753. Dobbs, however, did not arrive in North Carolina until the following year.
Upon arrival in North Carolina, Dobbs decided to settle in Brunswick Town, named in honor of the Brunswick-Luneburg territory of Germany, then ruled by Great Britain’s King George I. Brunswick Town became a busy port for exporting longleaf pine and the political center of the Cape Fear region and seat of the county of New Hanover. The term “capital” of North Carolina only meant that it was where the governor resided. Governor Dobbs wanted to establish a permanent capital in Honor of King George II, but his difficulties with the North Carolina Assembly impeded any progress in that regard.
Dobbs’ tenure as governor occurred during the French and Indian Wars — and, some argue, at the very beginning of the American Revolutionary War. It was the colony’s unsympathetic relationship with Native Americans and its expenditures on the French and Indian War that contributed to Governor Dobbs’ difficulty with the colonial legislature — that, along with several complaints about Dobbs’ caustic personality. Dobbs sought to resolve his problems with the assembly by dissolving it in 1760 and ordering new elections. Incensed, the assembly drafted charges against Dobbs and sent them to the King. It was only the succession of King George III that saved Dobbs from further conflict with the assembly.
In 1720, Arthur Dobbs married Anne Osborne, a widow. Together, they had three sons and a daughter. In 1762, the widowed 73-year-old married Justina Davis of Brunswick Town. Justina was 15 years of age. A few months later, Arthur suffered a stroke and relied on a wheelchair for mobility. He suffered another seizure on 28 March 1765 and passed away.
North Carolina Governor William Tryon was born in Surrey, England, on 8 June 1729. He joined the British Army in 1751 and was commissioned lieutenant and captain in the same year. In seven more years, he was a lieutenant colonel. During the Seven Year’s War, he fought on European soil and received wounds in combat.
As a result of his family connections, Tryon obtained the position of Acting Lieutenant Governor of the Province of North Carolina in 1764. William Tryon was a loyal Englishman and could not understand any man who aligned himself with the patriot cause in opposition to the Crown. He was born as an aristocrat — and he lived as one for all his life.
Among Tryon’s priorities as governor was establishing the Church of England in North Carolina. With Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, Tryon, having noted strong opposition, prevented the Colonial Assembly from convening until late November 1766. Tryon claimed to oppose the Stamp Act but called for troops to enforce the law. Ultimately, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act before the people could tear down the walls of British authority. Tryon’s other priority was the construction, at public expense, of a new governor’s mansion. The project required an increase in taxes.
Rebellions do have causes
The governments of the thirteen colonies in British America developed under the influence of the British Constitution. The experience of colonial rule would eventually form and shape the various state governments of the United States.
All colonial governments all had an executive branch led by a governor and a bi-cameral legislative branch consisting of a governor’s council and a representative assembly. But there were differences in the British-American colonies.
In Crown Colonies, the British government appointed a governor and council.
Charter Colonies operated under a corporate charter granted by the Crown. The colonies of Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Bay were, at one time or another, Charter Colonies. The Crown might revoke a charter and convert the colony to a Crown Colony. Charters established the rules under which the colony was governed. Charters issued to Rhode Island and Connecticut granted more political liberty than the other colonies. These two states used their colonial charters as the basis for their state constitutions following the American Revolution.
Proprietary Colonies belonged to the British monarch, bestowed and divided at his or her will, so all such colonies were partitioned by the Royal Charter as proprietary, joint-stock, covenant, or Crown colonies. These were mostly “commercial” grants to “proprietors,” who then selected the governor and other officials.
Colonial governors came from both military and civilian backgrounds, but they were all well-born aristocrats, wealthy in their own right, whose tenure in the colonies only made them richer. Of course, colonial governors were the senior law enforcement officer of their respective colonies, so every government had a military title, even if only temporary. Governors were also the most prominent people in the colony. They represented the British monarch. They spoke with the Crown’s voice. Of course, not everyone was suitably impressed with their governor — or his extraordinary authority — but every challenge was met with overwhelming force to restore order.
The distances separating England from its American colonies, the pressures exerted on royal officials by American colonists, and the inevitable inefficiency of any large bureaucracy combined to weaken royal power. During the 18th century, colonial legislatures began to exercise greater control over their own parliamentary prerogatives — including responsibility for legislation affecting taxation, defense, and the salaries paid to royal officials.
Provincial leaders also made significant inroads into the governor’s patronage powers. While the governor theoretically continued to control the appointments of local officials, he most often followed the recommendations of provincial leaders within their localities. Similarly, governor’s councils (theoretical agents of royal authority) came to be dominated by prominent provincial leaders — men who tended to support the interests of the leadership of the lower house rather than those of the British parliament.
By the 1750s, most political power in America was concentrated in the hands of provincial (rather than royal) officials. Social and political problems arose when provincial officials began focusing more of their attention on their own interests (and those of their cronies) than on the interests of their constituents. There was nothing new about this — selfishness is in the nature of mankind: economic standing determined the amount of one’s social prestige and political power, and in the American colonies, power (whether social, political, or economic) was controlled by a relatively few men.
The landowners, slave owners, and the so-called planter class dominated nearly every aspect of life in the middle and southern colonies. Such people existed in the lowlands and in the backcountry as well, but most people living in the backcountry were recent Scots-Irish arrivals who had no interest in slave ownership. They performed their own work, often struggling to make farming, dairy, or cattle ventures profitable. Whether their efforts were profitable might depend on how much the tax man decided these hard-working people owed the colonial treasury. It should be no surprise that the tax assessor was part of the cartel of wealthy planters, prominent merchants, bankers, and lawyers — men who dominated the two most influential government agencies: county courts and provincial assemblies.
This extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of a wealthy few occurred despite the fact that a large percentage of the free adult male population participated in the political process. It was a situation in which ordinary citizens deferred to those they considered their “betters” — to a point.
In the Carolinas, a small group of planters monopolized much of the colony’s wealth, and as in Virginia and Maryland, the planter class made up the social elite. But as a rule, Carolina planters did not share the same traditions of responsible government as did the ruling oligarchs in Virginia and Maryland. Many Carolina planters and officials were absentee landlords — choosing to pass most of their time in Charleston or in Wilmington/New Bern.
In the Carolina west, antagonism toward the eastern elite resulted in occasional armed uprisings. The arrival of so many people from Scotland, Northern England, Wales, and Ireland — people with nary a cent to their names, presented problems for colonial officials and established citizens alike. Following the French and Indian War, the population exploded in the inland section of the colonies. Merchants and lawyers began moving west, which upset the social and political structure of colonial society — particularly among the Scots-Irish, who — given the political and social corruption of county sheriffs, county judges, lawyers, and merchants — had little regard for any of those men.
Simultaneously, backcountry communities experienced severe droughts, suffering a loss of crops, reduced income, increased debt, and conspiracies among government officials, lawyers, and merchants to seize the properties of highly perturbed Scotsmen. Between 1755 – 1765, the number of court cases pitting debt-holders against debtors swelled sixteen-fold — an increase in the annual average of such cases from seven to 110.
In 1764, several thousand Carolinians began to display their dissatisfaction with the wealthy officials — people they considered cruel, arbitrary, tyrannical, and corrupt. The arrival of William Tryon in the following year only made matters worse. They were made worse by the fact that Tryon turned a blind eye to corruption in order to gain and retain the support of dishonest officials.
The Carolina Regulator Movement (also known as the Regulator Insurrection, War of Regulation, and War of the Regulation), was an uprising in Provincial North Carolina (1766 – 1771) in which citizens took up arms against corrupt colonial officials. The movement did nothing to change the conditions that caused the uprising — and some scholars argue that it only worsened colonial life. There is also the claim that the regulator movement was a precursor of the American Revolutionary War. That argument is still debated.
On 6 June 1765, George Sims, from Nutbush, North Carolina (Williamsboro), gave an address to protest provincial and county officials and the fees they charged for performing their services. Carolina scholars claim that the so-called Nutbush Address was the catalyst for the regulator movement in North Carolina.
The effort to eliminate this corrupt system of government became known by several names, but it was essentially the North Carolina Regulator War. The most heavily affected areas of contention were Rowan, Anson, Orange, Granville, Cumberland, and Dobbs Counties — a struggle between mostly lower-class citizens (who made up the majority of the Scots-Irish backcountry population in the Carolinas), and the roughly 5% of the affluent class who maintained almost total control of the government.
The regulators weren’t asking for much — just an honest government, fair court treatment, and reduced taxes. The wealthy class, viewing this lower-class uprising as a threat to their power, relied on the golden rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules.
In 1768, armed Carolina regulators broke up a colonial court in session and dragged into the street those whom they saw as corrupt officials and enablers (including Edmund Fanning and Francis Nash). The regulators intended to force the presiding judge, Richard Henderson, to proceed with the trial without the presence of the corrupt lawyers, but Henderson escaped before they could take him into custody. Meanwhile, regulators started a riot in town, which began with a good beating of Fanning. Henderson later testified that Fanning was beaten so severely that one of his eyes was nearly removed. Meanwhile, regulators destroyed the courtroom and Fanning’s home, his barn, all of his out-buildings, and worst of all, they drank all of his liquor.
The Battle of Alamance
Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In the Carolinas, small acts of violence had been taking place for over a few years — mainly out of resentment for their poor treatment. The first organized resistance occurred in Mecklenburg County in 1765. Many of the local settlers around Mecklenburg were squatters who responded to the presence of county surveyors in a very threatening manner. Such incidents were frequent in western Carolina, but the first serious clash occurred along Alamance Creek.
Motivated to end the regulator movement, Governor General William Tryon mustered 1,000 men at Hillsborough on 9 May 1771. At the same time, General Hugh Waddell supported Tryon with a contingent of 236 men. Enroute to Hillsborough, Waddell chanced upon a much larger force of men under regulator Captain Benjamin Merrill. Merrill’s larger force caused Waddell to fall back to Salisbury.
Two days later, on 11 May 1771, having received word of Waddell’s retreat Tryon sent a large force to support General Waddell. Tryon intentionally chose a path that would lead his forces through Regulator territory, but he was adamant that his men should not loot or damage any personal property. On 14 May, Tryon’s troops reached the location of Alamance Creek and set up camp. Leaving around 70 men behind to guard the bivouac, Tryon moved the balance of his force in search of regulators.
Ten miles distant, a regulator force of around 2,000 men — intended as a show of force rather than an armed force (although these men were armed — as all men were back then) haphazardly organized without a central leader. They simply wanted to “scare” Tryon out of his corrupt practices and urge him to treat all citizens of North Carolina (rich and poor) equally.
The first clash occurred on 15 May 1771. A rogue band of regulators captured two of the governor’s militia. Governor Tryon dutifully informed the regulators that by displaying open arms and rebellion, he was obligated to take action against them should they refuse to disperse.
Today, scholars argue that the regulators did not understand the severity of the crisis or the danger they were in. This is probably a valid point of view. These poor, uneducated clansmen may not have understood the scope of their predicament — but in any case, they essentially ignored the governor’s warning.
Despite hesitation from his own forces, Governor Tryon initiated the main battle the following day, 16 May 1771. When Tryon’s Redcoats shot and killed the rebel Robert Thompson, regulator resistance crumbled almost immediately. It wasn’t much of a battle, actually. Nine regulators died — including six men whom Tryon hanged as examples, three of whom were Captain Benjamin Merrill, Captain Robert Messer, and Captain Robert Matear. Governor Tryon pardoned every survivor who participated in the “battle” in exchange for their oath of allegiance to the Crown.
At the time of the regulator defeat at Alamance, most Carolinians viewed the regulators as outlaws and rabble-rousers, and Gov. Tryon was viewed as a hero for stamping out the rebellion. News articles spread the word of his victory from one end of the colony to the other. After the initial excitement, however, newsmen in other colonies began to question the reasons behind the regulator rebellion and investigated further. Several reasons were found to regard the destruction of the Regulators as an act of an oppressive government — most particularly admonished was Governor Tryon for his methods in putting down the “rebellion” and the lynching (murder) of citizens without due process of law. Reports also surfaced, reflecting the presence of battlefield misconduct. The allegation was that Governor Tryon gave rebels/farmers a two-hour advance warning period before starting the battle but then broke that agreement by bombarding them with artillery before the two-hour period had elapsed.
Many of the rebellion’s main leaders remained in hiding until 1772 when they were no longer considered outlaws. Governor Tryon was reassigned in 1771 to become the governor of New York. After the battle of Alamance, many Regulators moved further west into Tennessee, where they established the short-lived Watauga Association in 1772. Unhappy Carolinians were also involved in creating the Free Republic of Franklin in 1784, an unrecognized proposed state located in present-day East Tennessee (west of the Appalachian Mountains). In 1788, the government of Franklin collapsed, and the area reverted to the control of North Carolina. North Carolina ceded the area to the federal government in 1789 as the Southwest Territory — the precursor to the State of Tennessee.
- Haywood, M. D. Governor William Tryon and his Administration in the Province of North Carolina. Raleigh, 1903.
- Howard, J. B. The Battle of Alamance: A re-analysis of the Historical Record. North Carolina History Archive, 2009.
- Kars, M. Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
- Kay, M. L. The North Carolina Regulation (1766 – 1776): A Class Conflict. American Revolution, Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, Alfred Young, Ed., 1976.
- Kay, M. L. Class, Mobility, and Conflict in North Carolina on the Eve of the Revolution. Southern Experience in the American Revolution, Jeffrey J. Crow, Ed., University of North Carolina Press, 1978.
- Lefler, H. T. Colonial North Carolina: A History. Scribner & Sons, 1973.
- Sadler, S. Prelude to the American Revolution: The War of Regulation — A revolutionary reaction for reforms. The History Teacher, 2012.
- Stewart, C. J. The Affairs of Boston in North Carolina’s Backcountry during the American Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
- Waddell, A. A Colonial Officer and His Times, 1754 – 1773: A Biographical Sketch of Hugh Waddell. Edwards & Broughton, 1890.
 In modern value, 8 pounds sterling in 1700 would be worth $1,803.32 in 2022. Citation: Eric W. Nye, Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency.
 The Tuscarora War was fought in NC between September 1711 and February 1715. The Tuscarora were of the Iroquois Nation; the conflict involved territorial encroachment. Related to the Tuscarora War, the Yamasee War evolved several other tribes, each of which had its own reasons for hostilities toward the Carolina settlers. Eventually, European settlers overwhelmed local Indian tribes — but not without giving up hundreds of dead Carolinians.
 The Lord Proprietors were the eight Englishmen to whom King Charles II granted joint ownership of the entire area of Carolina. All of these men had remained loyal to the Crown or aided Charles’s restoration to the English throne. The Proprietors were William Berkeley (former governor of Virginia), John Colleton, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, William, Earl Craven, John Lord Berkeley, Anthony Ashley Cooper, and Sir George Carteret.
 North Carolina’s capital was fixed at New Bern in 1765 and at Raleigh in 1792.
 The succession of King George III actually increased the governor’s powers.
 Tryon was not advanced in rank through merit. The practice of Army promotions in his time involved paying money for promotions. Merit and seniority took second place to cash for commissions. This system was abolished in 1871. Tryon’s advancement to lieutenant and captain would have cost him (or his father) £2,500.
 On 6 June 1765, George Sims published his address to the citizens of Granville County, setting forth in graphic language the abuses of power that the people of the Piedmont Region were forced to endure under colonial rule. Sims specifically mentioned excessive taxes, high rents, unfair fees, and fraudulent accounting of public funds. Sims’ target was Sam Benton, a political kingpin of Granville County.
 Edmund Fanning was an American-born British Loyalist, military officer, attorney, colonial official, and supporter of Governor William Tryon. He and Francis Nash faced charges of extorting money from local Carolina residents and were found guilty but was only required to pay a fine of one penny per charge levied against him. Francis Nash later served as a Brigadier General in Continental forces and was killed in 1777. Francis Nash is the POS for whom Nashville, Tennessee, is named.
 Named in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of King George III of England.
 Hugh Waddell was an Irish-born provincial military officer in Rowan County. His career was well-served by close connections to several North Carolina governors.
 Although Spanish and French explorers mapped the Tennessee territory in the 1500s and 1600s, the first encroachment by Virginia and Carolina long hunters didn’t occur until around 1750. The Watauga Association (also the Republic of Watauga) was created in 1772 by Carolina settlers near present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee. It may have been the first attempt by British colonists to form an independent democratic government, but there is no evidence that the Watauga Association ever claimed its separation from Great Britain.
 David Crockett (1786 ~ 1836) was born in Green County, Franklin.