Battle of Alamance

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Battle of Alamance
Part of the War of the Regulation
Battle of Alamance Postcard.jpg
"Alamance, The First Battle of the Revolution, Burlington, N.C." From the original drawing by J. Steeple Davis, written on a postcard, circa 1905-1915
DateMay 16, 1771
Result Decisive government victory
North Carolina Provincial Militia North Carolina Regulators
Commanders and leaders
Royal Governor William Tryon Herman Husband, Captain Montgomery, Captain Benjamin Merrill, others
appx. 1,000 appx. 2,000
Casualties and losses
Between 9 and 27 killed
61 wounded
9 killed
Unknown number injured
7 later executed for treason
The site of the Battle of Alamance, including red flags, to the right, marking militia positions and an 1880 commemorative monument, in the distance, to the far left. AlamanceBattleground.jpg
The site of the Battle of Alamance, including red flags, to the right, marking militia positions and an 1880 commemorative monument, in the distance, to the far left.

The Battle of Alamance was the final battle of the War of the Regulation, a rebellion in colonial North Carolina over issues of taxation and local control. Some historians in the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries considered the battle to be the opening salvo of the American Revolution, [1] and locals agreed with this assessment. [2] Yet, this has been questioned by present-day historians arguing that the Regulators (though viewed in the eyes of the royal governor and his allies as being in rebellion against King, country, and law) were not intending a complete overthrow of His Majesty's Government in North Carolina. They were only standing up against those certain local officials who had become corrupt and unworthy tools of the King, and they only turned to riot and armed rebellion as a last resort when all other peaceful means through petitions, elections to the Assembly, etc. had failed to redress their grievances. Many surviving ex-Regulators became loyalists during the Revolution, and several anti-Regulators [e.g. William Hooper, Alexander Martin, and Francis Nash] became patriots during the Revolution. [3] [4] Named for nearby Great Alamance Creek, the battle took place in what was then Orange County and has since become Alamance County in the central Piedmont about 6 miles (9.7 km) south of present-day Burlington, North Carolina.

War of the Regulation uprising in the Carolina colonies

The War of the Regulation was an uprising in the British North America's Carolina colonies, lasting from about 1765 to 1771, in which citizens took up arms against colonial officials, whom they viewed as corrupt. Though the rebellion did not change the power structure, some historians consider it a catalyst to the American Revolutionary War. Others like John Spencer Bassett view that the Regulators did not wish to change the form or principle of their government, but simply wanted to make the colony's political process more equal. They wanted better economic conditions for everyone except slaves and Native Americans, instead of a system that benefited the colonial officials. Bassett interprets the events of the late 1760s in Orange and surrounding counties as "a peasants' rising, a popular upheaval.”

Province of North Carolina former colony in North America, part of Great Britain

The Province of North-Carolina was a British colony that existed in North America from 1712 to 1776, created as a proprietary colony. The power of the British government was vested in a Governor of North-Carolina, but the colony declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. The Province of North-Carolina had four capitals: Bath (1712–1722), Edenton (1722–1743), Brunswick (1743–1770), and New Bern. The colony later became the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, and parts of the colony combined with other territory to form the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

American Revolution Colonial revolt in which the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain

The American Revolution was a colonial revolt that took place between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies won independence from Great Britain, becoming the United States of America. They defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) in alliance with France and others.


Events prior to the battle

In the spring of 1771, Royal Governor William Tryon left New Bern, mustering and marching approximately 1,000 militia troops west to address a rebellion that had been brewing in western counties for several years, but which had included only minor, scattered acts of violence, followed by refusals to pay fees, disruptions of court proceedings, and continued harassment of government officials. About 2,000 so-called "regulators" had gathered, hoping to gain concessions from the Governor by intimidating him with a show of superior force. Funded by council member and wealthy merchant Samuel Cornell for £6,000, [5] on May 11, Tryon left the county seat of Hillsborough with his militia to confront the Regulators, who had made camp south of Great Alamance Creek in western Orange County (present-day Alamance County). [6]

William Tryon British general and governor of North Carolina and New York

William Tryon was a British general officer and a colonial official who served as the 39th Governor of New York from 1771 to 1780, assuming the office after having served as the eighth Governor of North-Carolina from 1765 to 1771.

New Bern, North Carolina City in North Carolina, United States

New Bern is a city in Craven County, North Carolina, United States. As of the 2010 census it had a population of 29,524, which had risen to an estimated 30,242 as of 2013. It is the county seat of Craven County and the principal city of the New Bern Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Rebellion act of rebelling; aim: resistance, generally seeks to evade an oppressive power; refusal of obedience or order; open resistance against the orders of an established authority; defiance of authority or control

Rebellion, uprising, or insurrection is a refusal of obedience or order. It refers to the open resistance against the orders of an established authority.

Course of the battle

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. He formed two lines, and divided his artillery between the wings and the center of the first line. The Regulators remained disorganized, with no leadership no officer ranked higher than captain and no anticipation of an attack, expecting that their superior numbers would frighten Tryon's militia.

Tryon sent one of his aides-de-camp, Captain Philemon Hawkins II, and the Sheriff of Orange County with a proclamation:

Philemon Hawkins II was a planter, an officer in the North Carolina militia during the American Revolution, and a public officeholder in North Carolina.

Alamance Camp, Thursday, May 16, 1771.

To Those Who Style Themselves "Regulators": In reply to your petition of yesterday, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the interests of your County and to every individual residing therein. I lament the fatal necessity to which you have now reduced me by withdrawing yourselves from the mercy of the crown and from the laws of your country. To require you who are now assembled as Regulators, to quietly lay down your arms, to surrender up your leaders, to the laws of your country and rest on the leniency of the Government. By accepting these terms within one hour from the delivery of this dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of blood, as you are at this time in a state of rebellion against your King, your country, and your laws.

(Signed) William Tryon.

While the terms were being read, Tryon's troops began to move forward. Shortly after that, Tryon was informed that the Regulators had rejected his terms. Herman Husband, a Quaker, realizing violence was about to take place, left the area.

Herman Husband (1724–1795), also known as Harmon Husband, was a farmer, radical, pamphleteer, author, and preacher. He is best known as a leader of The Regulators, a populist rebellion in the Carolinas in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War. He was born in Cecil County, Maryland and raised as an Anglican. One of the many to be inspired to the Great Awakening after hearing George Whitefield preach, he became disenchanted with his original faith and became a "New Light" Presbyterian and then a Quaker. Husband was twice elected the North Carolina assembly, being expelled during his second term.

By midday the hour had expired. Tryon sent one final warning:

Gentlemen and Regulators: Those of you who are not too far committed should desist and quietly return to your homes, those of you who have laid yourselves liable should submit without resistance. I and others promise to obtain for you the best possible terms. The Governor will grant you nothing. You are unprepared for war! You have no cannon! You have no military training! You have no commanding officers to lead you in battle. You have no ammunition. You will be defeated!

Some of the Regulators petitioned the Royal Governor to give up seven captured Regulators in exchange for two of his men that they had captured the previous day. Tryon agreed, but after a half an hour, the captured officers did not appear. He became suspicious that his positions were being flanked and ordered the militia to march within 30 yards of the Regulators. [7] Shortly thereafter, a large crowd of Regulators appeared in front of the militia, waving their hats and daring the militia to open fire.

At about this time, two men who had been attempting to negotiate a peace between the two sides left Tryon's camp: Reverend Caldwell and Robert Thompson. Caldwell made it to the field between the two lines, but was warned by the Regulators, who saw that the Governor was about to open fire. Thompson was detained by Tryon as a prisoner. Tryon, in a moment of anger, took a musket from a militiaman and shot Thompson dead. Realizing what he had done, he sent a flag bearer named Donald Malcolm with a white flag in hopes of calming things quickly. The flag bearer was himself fired upon by the Regulators, who called out, "Fire and be damned".

The Regulators lacked the leadership, organization, and ammunition that Tryon had, but the early course of the battle went well for them. They employed what was referred to as "Indian style" fighting, hiding behind trees and avoiding structure and lines. This allowed two of the Regulators, brothers named McPherson, to capture one of Tryon's three cannons. Unfortunately for them, the Regulators had no ammunition and it could not be used. [8]

A man considered one of the principal military leaders of the Regulators, Captain Montgomery, was killed by a shell at about the same time a bullet hit Tryon's hat. The Governor sent a second white flag, but the aide-de-camp was killed while regulator Patrick Muller called for his fellow insurgents to cease fire. Outraged at the disregard of a second white flag, the Governor rallied his troops against the insurgents, whose ammunition was running out. Many of the Regulators fled the field. Delays prevented the 300 reinforcements under Captain Benjamin Merrill from arriving in time. Some of the Regulators remained behind to continue firing upon the militia. Tryon then ordered the woods to be set on fire. [8]

Losses for both sides are disputed. Tryon reported nine dead and 61 wounded among the militia. Other historians indicate much greater numbers, between 15 and 27 killed. [9] Both sides counted nine dead among the Regulators and from dozens to over one-hundred wounded.

Tryon took 13 prisoners. One of them, James Few, was executed at the camp, and six were executed later in nearby Hillsborough. Many Regulators traveled on to frontier areas beyond North Carolina. The Royal Governor pardoned others and allowed them to stay on the condition that they pledge an oath of allegiance to the royal government. [8]

The battle took place in what was then Orange County. During the American Revolution a decade later, the same section of Orange County (subdivided into Alamance County in 1849) saw several minor skirmishes, including the infamous Pyle's Hacking Match in 1781. Recent archaeological studies at the site have shown that the area now known as Alamance Battleground was also the site of another skirmish in the revolutionary war and of a civil war era Confederate encampment. [10]

Participants in the battle

Colonial Militia

According to Tryon's journal, the following men served under his command:


The following individuals were numbered as members of the Regulators:

The following were excepted from pardons by Tryon:

Six men were found guilty of treason, but were pardoned at Tryon's behest:

Six men were found guilty of treason and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, although in practice, they were only hanged:


Visitors to Alamance Battleground State Historic Site may view the field of battle, memorialized in 1880 with a granite monument and a second monument in 1903. Today the site contains exhibits, period cannon, and colored flags representing troop positions. The visitors' center offers exhibits, artifacts, and a presentation on the battle. Visitors may also tour the onsite Allen House, a restored frontier farmstead of the period.

Reenactment of the Battle of Almanance AlamanceSoldiers.jpg
Reenactment of the Battle of Almanance


The Battle of Alamance is further memorialized through an annual battle reenactment.

See also

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The Rutherford County Regiment was authorized on October 30, 1779 by the Province of North Carolina Congress. It was created at the same time that Rutherford County, North Carolina was created out of the western part of Tryon County, North Carolina when Tryon County and its regiment of militia were abolished. Officers were appointed and commissioned by the Governor. The regiment was engaged in battles and skirmishes against the British during the American Revolution in North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina between 1779 and 1782. It was active until the end of the war.

Benjamin Merrill was a captain in the militia of Rowan County, North Carolina who sided with, and fought with, the Regulators. He was captured following the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771, and shortly after ordered executed as a rebel and traitor by Governor William Tryon.


  1. Lutie Andrews McCorkle, "The North Carolina Booklet", Vol III, No. 7, p. 29, 1903
  2. "First Battle of the Revolution". The Historical Marker Database.
  3. Sadlier, Sarah (November 2012). "Prelude to the American Revolution? The War of Regulation: A Revolutionary Reaction for Reform" (PDF). The History Teacher. The Society for History Education (SHE). 46 (1): 97–126. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  4. Howard, Joshua B. (October 2009) [August 2009]. "The Battle of Alamance: A Reanalysis of the Historical and Documentary Records". North Carolina Division of Archives and History Report (Revised ed.): 1–67.
  5. "Colonial Williamsburg's latest buy: Money" [ permanent dead link ], Virginia Gazette, October 31, 2010
  6. "Alamance Battleground: Overview". North Carolina Historic Sites website.
  7. Patrick O'Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter: Military Operations and Order of Battle of the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Vol 1, 1771–1779, pp. 15–23
  8. 1 2 3 "Some Neglected History of North Carolina", by William Edward Fitch, first edition, published 1905
  9. Williamson's History of North Carolina, Vol. 2, p. 150
  10. "Search of Alamance Battleground yields archaeological jackpot". Times-News. December 3, 2010.

Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina by Marjoleine Kars.