Now Part of Popular ‘Outlander’ TV Series: NC’s Regulator Rebellion, Battle of Alamance

North Carolina was the setting for a significant prelude to the American Revolution, and has now gotten star treatment in the popular time-traveling TV series “Outlander.” The Fraser family and their associates become embroiled in the Regulator movement, a rebellion of farmers upset over high British taxes in the Carolina colony. The rebellion, which some historians believe was the match that lit the American revolution, took place mostly in North Carolina, particularly Hillsborough (in Orange County) and at the neighboring Battle of Alamance. Outlander author Diana Gabaldon herself in 2019 did a reading at the Alamance Battleground near Burlington for dozens of devoted fans.

From 1765 to 1771, a series of uprisings against British colonial officials known as the War of the Regulation took place, primarily in Orange (Hillsborough/Chapel Hill), but spreading to at least five other counties and into South Carolina.

In season five, Outlander depicts the central male character, Jamie Fraser, torn between his oath to the British crown and to British colonial governor William Tryon, who granted him huge land in the Western part of the colony, and loyalty to his godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, a regulator or early rebel against the British.

This drama culminates in episode seven of season five, when the regulator rebellion reaches a boiling point at the Battle of Alamance.

Spoiler Alert: Jamie (Actor Sam Heughan) on Outlander’s Devastating Loss.

Historical Background

As new Scots-Irish immigrants flooded into the colony at the same time the agricultural or farming community was experiencing a severe depression due to droughts, people were going hungry and falling into severe debt.  Planters were losing their homes and properties. A small clique of wealthy colonial officials allied with lawyers and seemed to be grabbing all the political power for themselves. Tax collectors and sheriffs seemed to be benefiting directly from tax collection. A huge, lavish home — Tryon Palace — was built for the colonial governor, William Tryon, a British officer, which outraged struggling taxpayers.

Groups of citizens calling themselves the regulators formed with the stated purposes of reducing taxation and making government honest, or at least less corrupt.

But these moderate and reasonable goals were undermined when the regulators organized in angry mobs and engaged in violence.

In 1868, fed-up regulators stormed into the courthouse in Hillsborough, where the colonial court met, disrupted the court and grabbed what they viewed as corrupt officials through the street. They attacked and severely beat Edmund Fanning, the British colonial administrator and attorney, and systematically vandalized the courthouse, along with shops and property in town. They burned a man’s house, barn and stable to the ground. They cracked the Anglican church bell in Hillsborough but stopped short of burning the church.

Acts of violence, most of them small, continued for nearly three years.  Finally, in 1771, between 2,000 and 6,000 regulators assembled near Alamance Creek and demanded that the governor agree to their demands of no taxation without representation and ending profiteering by a small clique of officials and their cronies. Yet the regulators did not have clear leadership, nor supplies. They did not see themselves as an army. Yet a rogue band of regulators captured two of the governor’s soldiers.

Governor Tryon declared he would not negotiate with an armed mob, and ordered them to disarm and disperse.  The regulators did not understand, and stood their ground. Governor Tryon’s forces fired on the mob, killing nine regulators. In turn, the regulators killed about nine of the governor’s militia before giving up, on an offer of pledging loyalty to the British crown. However, six regulators were hanged for their part in the uprising. (See Wikipedia for more details.)

Video on the Battle of Alamance

The Perpetual Sightseer on Youtube.com:
“In the mid 1700’s the Coastal and Piedmont regions of North Carolina were distinctly different and separate. Because the lifestyle of the Piedmont settler was primarily farming for their own family and barter of their crops and services with their neighbors, they didn’t produce a monetary income so had little to no cash when it came time to pay taxes. As a result, many of the farmers fell into significant debt. Many of these Piedmont settler farmers believed they were being overtaxed by the county and Colonial officials in Hillsborough and that too much was expected of their modest yeoman farms. Like their Virginia and Massachusetts counterparts, the farmers of Orange County resisted taxation without representation. Some of the unhappy farmers wrote their complaints in Articles known as the Regulator Advertisements. Hostility between the regulators and the government came to a head in 1771. In May, Governor Tryon marched more than 1,000 local militiamen to Hillsborough and then on to Alamance Creek, in the western part of the county, where 2,000 Regulators were meeting. On the evening of May 15, Tryon received word that the Regulators were camped about six miles away. The next morning, at about 8:00 am, Tryon’s troops set out to a field about one-half mile from the camp of the Regulators, and there engaged in the Battle of Alamance.”

President Carter’s Novel

In addition to the Outlander novels and TV series, the regulator movement was featured in a novel by former President Jimmy Carter, called The Hornet’s Nest. “Founding Bubbas,” NYT Review.

4 thoughts on “Now Part of Popular ‘Outlander’ TV Series: NC’s Regulator Rebellion, Battle of Alamance

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