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Alamance, Battle of

by George W. Troxler, 2006

"The Battle of Alamance," from the Neglected History of North Carolina by W.E. Fitch, 1905 (pp. 206-232). Image courtesy of Texas A&M faculty, Wallace L. McKeehan.The Regulator Movement, also known as the War of the Regulation, involved the violent actions of discontented North Carolinians from several western counties who were fighting what they viewed as corrupt and unfair practices of the colonial government. The uprising culminated in a battle three miles south of the town of Alamance in present-day Alamance County. In January 1771, responding to Regulator violence, the Assembly passed Johnston's Riot Act, which, among other stipulations, empowered royal governor William Tryon to call out the militia to maintain order and enforce the law. In March 1771 judges of the superior court at Hillsborough informed Tryon that they would be unable to hold court without protection from the provincial militia. In response, Tryon called out the militia to undertake an expedition against the Regulators.

Encouraged by a bounty of 40 shillings, the militiamen assembled at New Bern and on 22 April began marching toward Hillsborough. Other militia companies joined Tryon's force, and by 3 May, when the troops reached Smith's Ferry on the Neuse River in Johnston County, the army had grown to 1,068 men. Gen. Hugh Waddell commanded a second detachment that proceeded from Cape Fear to Salisbury, where he planned to enlist western militia, suppress Regulators in the Yadkin River Valley, and then join Tryon at Hillsborough. Unable to recruit men in the west, Waddell left Salisbury on 9 May and advanced toward Hillsborough. At the Yadkin River his army of approximately 300 men was met by a larger number of Regulators, who forced his troops to return to Salisbury.

On 11 May Tryon and his force left Hillsborough for Salisbury on a route through the heart of Regulator country. Three days later, they encamped on Alamance Creek. Meanwhile, three miles west of their position approximately 2,000 Regulators gathered on the plantation of Michael Holt. On 16 May 1771, after several failed attempts at communication to avoid bloodshed, Tryon directed the militiamen to move toward the Regulator encampment.

As his force approached the Regulators, Tryon sent a proclamation ordering the insurgents to disperse within the hour. Tryon's men, numbering approximately 1,000, advanced to an open clearing where their front lines were almost touching the front lines of the Regulators. Slowly these Regulators withdrew into a wooded area to join their main force, thereby leaving the provincial army in the clearing and within 25 yards of a Regulator line that had formed at the edge of the woods. After a final warning by Tryon and continued Regulator defiance, the battle began. Some contemporary accounts state that when Tryon gave the order to fire, the militia hesitated. The governor repeated his command, shouting "Fire, fire on them or on me!" and the troops turned their weapons on the insurgents.

Though greater in number, the Regulators, who did not have a true commander or sufficient ammunition for a lengthy engagement, were no match for Tryon's militia and artillery, which included two field pieces and four swivel guns. The Regulators' initial fire forced the provincial army to fall back. Some Regulators rushed forward and seized one of the cannons, but without ammunition or skill in firing it they were soon driven from their position by Tryon's force. Grapeshot from the two cannons was instrumental in dispersing the Regulators. In his report to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the American colonies, Tryon wrote that after about half an hour the Regulators "took to tree fighting" and that he then advanced his first line to force the Regulators from their cover and pursued them "a mile beyond their camp."

Tryon reported 9 militiamen killed and 61 wounded. Regulator casualties were more numerous: estimates range from 9 killed and an undetermined number wounded to as high as 300 killed and wounded.

Tryon took 15 prisoners, one of whom was hanged on the battlefield that evening. In trials at Hillsborough, 12 Regulators were found guilty of treason; 6 of these were executed and the others pardoned. On the day following the battle, Tryon offered to pardon all Regulators who would swear allegiance to the Crown. Within six weeks, more than 6,000 backcountry settlers had taken the oath and received pardons from the new royal governor, Josiah Martin.

References:

William S. Powell, The War of the Regulation and the Battle of Alamance, May 16, 1771 (1965).

Powell, James K. Huhta, and Thomas J. Farnham, eds., The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776 (1971).

Additional Resources:

"Alamance Battleground." N.C. Historic Sites, N.C. Office of Archives & History: http://www.nchistoricsites.org/alamance/alamanc.htm

Image Credit:

"The Battle of Alamance," from the Neglected History of North Carolina by W.E. Fitch, 1905 (pp. 206-232). Image courtesy of Texas A&M faculty, Wallace L. McKeehan. Available from http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/mckstmerreg4.htm (accessed June 4, 2012).

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

I believe my great grandfather, not sure how many, was a part of the regulators and was among those on trial in Hillsborough. His name was Peter Craven. How can I verify this information and find out more information on Peter Craven. He was a potter

Comment: 

Hi there,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia! I recommend consulting the following texts for information about Peter Craven's life, as well as his descendants:

-Scarborough, Quincy. The Craven Family of Southern Folk Potters: North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. Fayetteville, N.C: Quincy Scarborough Companies, 2005. https://ghl.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/record/10190724?locg=328

-Purvis, Mary Craven. Craven: Descendants of Peter Craven, Randolph County, North Carolina, USA. Asheboro, N.C.: M.C. Purvis, 1985. https://ghl.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/record/10119189?locg=328

If you have additional questions, please feel free to reach out to our library reference team at slnc.reference@ncdcr.gov.

Thanks!

Molly Goldston, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

After watching Outlander episode, I did some research and found relatives, James and Benjamin Braswell, fought with the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance.

Comment: 

My ancestor, John Farrar (1750-1830), of VA was hired to help put down the Regulator insurrection and later went into Kentucky as a gunman hired by Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company. In the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, John Farrar was enlisted in 1771 by Capt. Leonard Bullock to help put down the Regulator insurrection (Clark vol.22 pp 416-418). Farrar served for 78 days at 2 shillings per day in an Orange County Regiment commanded by Capt. Nathaniel Hart. His brother, William Farrar, was in the same company and served for 48 days. Can you provide any further information on the Farrar brother's role in the Regulator insurrection? My research was published "Captain John Farrar (1750-1830) of VA, NC, and TN and his Kentucky Connection with Daniel Boone” by Virginia Knobel Tschanz STIRPES vol 36 Number 2, June 2006 pp 30-51.

Comment: 

Hi Virginia,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia. I am forwarding your query to our Reference team who can assist you: http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/contact.html.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden, N.C. Government & Heritage Library.
 

Comment: 

Finished watching the latest episode on the show, "Outlander". They show both sides preparing for this battle, and I had to do some more research about it. I am from Salisbury, so found it very interesting to know that this happened not too far from here.

Comment: 

After watching Outlander episode, I did research and found relatives who fought with the Regulators at the battle of Alamance.

Comment: 

I'm in Spencer and watching "Outlander" S5 E8 and took a moment to do a bit of research. Did you happen to catch them mention Rowan County in an earlier episode?

Comment: 

My wife Cathy (Harrington)'s fifth grandfather was Charles Harrington and His son Philemon her fourth. We have recently retired in Smithfield. Is there any information on where either of these men were buried. Thanks

Comment: 

You may want to check with our digital collection on family records that include bible records and cemetery survey's for NC counties. https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/custom/family-records

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

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