Primary Source: The Regulators Organize

By 1766, the colonial government’s actions had greatly upset farmers in Orange County.

The farmers were unhappy with dishonest judges and lack of representation in local affairs. They were also angry with abuses of power by Edmund Fanning. Fanning was a local Orange County official and land speculator. Prior efforts of the farmers to create organized resistance had failed. In 1768, a group called the Regulators formed officially. They organized because they didn’t agree with a decision the colonial Assembly made.

The Assembly agreed to build a “palace” for Governor Tryon. This palace would cost 15,000 pounds, or colonial money. The Assembly had already given the Governor 5,000 pounds to start construction in 1766.  He was going to receive another 10,000 pounds to complete the project. Money during that time  had a different value than now, so we don’t know how much that would be in dollars. But 15,000 pounds was a large amount of money back then. It was especially expensive from the perspective of backcountry farmers. The palace costs would be paid by increasing the “poll” tax. “Poll” meant “head.” Each male adult had to pay those poll taxes to the county, no matter how rich or poor he was. 

The Assembly approved the amount in January 1768. This news likely reached Orange County and nearby areas soon after. The unhappy farmers then formed an Association in the spring of 1768. They called themselves the Regulators. Many of them were Quakers from the area west of the Haw River.  The Quakers saw this protest as part of their moral and religious duty. The Regulators wanted members to join.  They asked people to sign a statement of support for the cause. The reformers most likely advertised in newspapers to gain new members. Word traveled over time and the Regulators grew in number. They gained new members from a wider area, from even as far west as Mecklenburg County. 

Below is one of the earliest advertisements the Regulators put in newspapers. It asked people to "subscribe to,” or join, the organization of Regulators. Subscribers agreed to not pay taxes and fees that they considered unlawful. They also petitioned, or wrote a formal request to, government representatives. This request asked officials to change laws the Regulators considered unfair. There were several subscription advertisements published by the Regulators at the time.

Where do records of these subscription advertisements come from? Newspapers or other print documents containing the subscriptions likely no longer exist. Our remaining records and documents are held in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. The texts of these original documents have been transcribed, or written down. These transcriptions are 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.