Bassett on the grievances of the Regulators (1895)


Writing in 1895, the historian John Spencer Bassett summarises the causes of the Regulators, a rebellious movement in North Carolina in 1766-71:


“The people who led this movement were of pioneer lineage. While still in Europe they had behind them a century of frontier life. Early in the seventeenth century James I moved many Scotchmen to Ireland, with an idea of converting the country to Protestantism… [But] the country was not a home for them. The soil was poor, and consequently many of them turned their faces to the New World. From their association with the two countries they were called Scotch-Irish. They made ideal frontiersmen. While others came in their rear and settled close upon them, they were still usually the ones to push on to the next stop, ever restless and fearless…

The grievances of the Regulators were excessive taxes, dishonest sheriffs, and extortionate fees. Each of these was made more intense by the scarcity of money. The Stamp Act trouble does not seem to have had any immediate influence on this movement. That the people of the back country sympathised with the Sons of Liberty, and could have been aroused to help them had the discontent spread inward is undoubtedly true, but this whole movement passed over before the Regulation came into existence.

The charge of excessive taxation was only relatively true. Taxes were apportioned by the poll. A taxable [citizen] was an adult white man or an adult black man or woman. A rich man thus paid no more than a poor man in actual money. This injustice was emphasised as between the east and the west by the fact that the wealthy gentlemen of the former section relied on slave labor, while slaves were comparatively few in the west.

The manner of collecting taxes made the burden still heavier. The tax bills, although questioned by the Regulators, seem to have been correct. In a frontier region, where money was scarce and local trading was confined almost entirely to barter, it was not always convenient for the farmers to keep money in their homes…

It has been stated that the tax [to fund] the governor’s palace, which was erected in Newbern in 1765-1770 at a cost of £15,000, had much to do with working up the discontent that culminated in the Regulation. There is, however, no evidence that the palace deserves so much distinction. Among all of their complaints the Regulators refer to it only rarely. They seem to have considered this a slight abuse as compared with other matters.

Another very prominent grievance was the dishonesty of the sheriffs, who failed to pay into the hands of the public treasury the money they had collected. The public accounts were most inefficiently kept. There was a prevalent opinion among all classes that there was fraud just here. In 1767 Governor Tryon declared it as his opinion that “the sheriffs have embezzled more than one-half of the public money ordered to be raised and collected by them”.”