Primary Source: The Regulators Organize

In 1766, farmers in Orange County had become increasingly frustrated and agitated by what they saw as government corruption. These included corrupt local magistrates, the brazen abuses of power by local Orange County official and land speculator Edmund Fanning, and the lack of represenation they had in local affairs. Although earlier efforts to sustain organized resistence had been largely unsuccessful, by 1768 a group had officially organized as "Regulators."  One of the "straws that broke the camel's back" spurring them to organize was the recent approval given by the colonial Assembly to build a "palace" for Governor Tryon at a cost of 15,000 pounds. In 1766 the Assembly had given the Governor 5,000 pounds to begin construction. In January 1768, an additional 10,000 pounds had been approved to complete the project, at a total cost of 15,000 pounds. We can't really say how much that would be in dollars today since it is difficult to compare the colonial era to the modern day, but we know it was a lot of money and would have been considered so by modest farmers living in the backcountry. The cost to build the palace would be paid for by increasing the "poll" tax.  "Poll" means "head", and poll taxes were taxes paid to the county for each male adult, regardless of wealth. 

News of the cost and approval by the Assembly would have reached Orange County and surrounding areas not long after. And by March the Regulators officially organized in response to the mounting grievances. Many of them were Quakers from the area west of the Haw River, and they saw this civic protest as part of their moral and religious duty. In January of 1768, they organized themselves into an "Association" and began calling themselves "Regulators". They solicited "subscriptions" -- this meant that those who joined would be subscribers to the cause and would sign a statement about the cause. The effort to gain supporters -- and subscriptions -- would have been advertised and likely appeared in newspapers. Eventually as word traveled, supporters to the Regulator cause were gathered from a wider area in the Piedmont, reaching as far west as Mecklenburg County. 

Below is the text of one of the earliest advertisements of a subscription to join the organization of Regulators. Subscribers agreed to resist paying taxes and fees they considered unlawful and to petition their representatives to change laws they considered unfair. There were several subscription advertisements published by the Regulators at the time.

You may wonder where these subscription advertisements record has come from! It is likely the newspapers or other print documents that contained the subscriptions no longer exist. Today our remaining record of these documents are contained in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. At some point in time, the texts of these original documents were transcribed and included in the published volumes of the State's records.  

We the under written subscribers do voluntarily agree to form ourselves into an Association to assemble ourselves for conferences for regulatingThe "Regulators" took their name from the idea that they were trying to "regulate" the government. Here, regulate means to make regular or correct -- so, the subscribers intended to correct the grievances and abuses of power suffered by colonists. publick Grievances & abuses of Power in the following particulars with others of like nature that may occur

  1. That we will pay no Taxes until we are satisfied they are agreeable to Law and Applied to the purposes therein mentionedHere, they say that they will refuse to pay taxes "until we are satisfied they are agreeable to Law" -- until only the legal amount is collected, and until all taxes they pay go for their intended purpose and are not taken by local officials. This is really where the Regulation began -- with organized refusal to obey local officials of the colonial government. Are the Regulators stating an intention to break the law, or to uphold it? Since they talk about regulating grievances, they seem to consider their actions to be within the law. But as you might guess, colonial officials wouldn't see it that way. You might also ask why the author of the pledge used the word until and not unless. If they had refused to pay taxes unless they were "agreeable to Law," they would be saying that some taxes were collected properly and could justly be paid. But by saying until, they implied that all tax collection was corrupt, and wouldn't be fixed until some time in the future. It's a small word, but it makes a big difference in the meaning of the sentence! unless we cannot help and are forced.
  2. That we will pay no Officer any more fees than the Law allows unless we are obliged to it and then to shew a dislike to it & bear open testimony against itIn the first two items, the men say they will refuse to pay unlawful taxes or fees unless they are forced (or "obligated") to do so. They don't say how much they would resist or how much force would be required to make them pay. They do say that if they are forced to pay, they will "shew a dislike to it & bear open testimony against it." How do you suppose they might do that? What sorts of interactions do you imagine took place when tax collectors knocked at the Regulators' doors? What do you think of this civil disobedience -- how serious do you think they were about standing up for their rights?.
  3. That we will attend our Meetings of Conference as often as we conveniently can or is necessary in order to consult our representatives on the amendment of such Laws as may be found grievous or unnecessaryThey intend to pressure their representatives in the colonial Assembly to change the laws -- and, if their representatives won't help them, they'll vote them out. and to choose more suitable men than we have heretofore done for BurgessesThe colonial house of representatives was also called the house of burgesses. (The lower house of Virginia's legislature was also called the House of Burgesses.) and Vestry menVestrymen were public officials who oversaw the affairs of the Church of England. Before the Revolution, the Church of England was the official, government-supported church of the colony of North Carolina. and to Petition His Excellency our Governor the HonbleHonorable the Council and the Worshipful House of representatives His Majesty in Parliament &c. for redress of such Grievances as in the course of this undertaking may occur and to inform one another & to learn, know and enjoy all the Priviledges & Liberties that are allowed us and were settled on us by our worthy Ancestors the founders of the present Constitution in order to preserve it in its ancient Foundation that it may stand firm & unshakenThe English Constitution is the collection of all important laws passed by crown and Parliament, especially Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights of 1689. Many of the "liberties" -- what we would call "rights" -- that Englishmen held dear came from these documents. Two of those rights are mentioned (and used!) here -- the right to petition their representatives and governor for redress of grievances (to ask them to change unfair laws or to correct abuses of power) and the right to assemble peacefully. It may be difficult to imagine being jailed for gathering together in a group with a political purpose or for writing a polite letter to a member of Congress, but the English had only recently won these rights, and the colonists were proud of their heritage as Englishmen and aware of how easily their liberties could be taken away..
  4. That we will contribute to Collections for defraying necessary expencesWhat sort of "necessary expenses" do you suppose the Regulators might have had in carrying out their pledge? attending the work according to our abilities.
  5. That in Cases of differences in Judgment we will submit to the Majority of our Body.

To all which We do solemnly swear or being a Quaker or otherwise scrupulous in Conscience of the common Oath do solemnly affirm that We will stand true and faithful to this cause until We bring them to a true regulation according to the true intent & meaning of it in the judgment of the Majority.


Credit text

Regulators Advertisement No. 4, January 1768, from the The Colonial Records of North Carolina, ed. William Saunders, Vol 7, 1765-1768. (Raleigh, NC: Josephus Daniels, Printer to the State, 1890), pp. 671–672.