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Home North Carolina Orange County City of Hillsborough Historical Markers Regulators Hanged

Regulators Hanged

South Churton Street, Hillsborough, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 36° 3' 50.8032", -79° 6' 4.338"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"After the Regulators were defeated at Alamance, May 16, 1771, six of their number were hanged, 1/4 mile east, June 19, 1771."
In the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771, Governor William Tryon and his army defeated the Regulators, and as a result, six Regulators were executed by hanging in Hillsborough on June 19, 1771. The backcountry rebellion was inspired by grievances, including jurisdiction over their own affairs, and wide discontent with the practices of the British government. The Regulators sought the removal of the Currency Act of 1764 which denied use of legal tender. With higher taxation and depletion in sources for paper money, farmers urged the British government to accept commodities such as tobacco, corn, and wheat as forms of payment, but the request was denied, fomenting unrest. The Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed legal documents, newspapers, almanacs, college diplomas, playing cards, dice, and all customs papers, only fueled the fires of the Regulator movement.

The protests were centered in the counties of Anson, Dobbs, Halifax, Rowan, and Orange, with the last being home to 883 known Regulators. In August 1766, a petition was drawn up by the Regulators in Orange, presenting grievances to the Governor, but it went unacknowledged. In that same year, a second protest emerged and rioting began in the North Carolina backcountry. By the summer of 1768, there was open rebellion, and, as a result, Tryon prepared his militia to march across eight counties from New Bern to Orange County.

On May 14, 1771, Tryon and his 1,400 troops camped out on Alamance Creek and, on May 16, the Regulators sent another petition to Tryon in an attempt to avoid battle. Governor Tryon refused to accept the terms and ordered them to surrender, offering one hour to reach a decision. Tryon immediately negated his own terms and attacked the larger Regulator assemblage of 2,000. After two hours of battle, the Regulators retreated from the field.

The arrest and trial of twelve Regulators in Hillsborough began on June 15 and ended four days later, with the twelve condemned for high treason and execution. Tryon decided to pardon six of the men, while the other six were to be executed on June19. The site of the executions is marked by a large white marble slab. The six hanged were Benjamin Merrill, captain of the Rowan County militia; Captain Messer; Robert Matear; James Pugh; and two others whose names are unrecorded. The men were buried together in a single plot, with the exact location unknown, although it is believed that the unmarked grave lies near the Eno River in the vicinity of Cameron Park School.

Annie Sutton Cameron, Hillsborough and the Regulators (1964)
Marjoleine Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (2002)
William S. Powell, James K. Huhta, and Thomas J. Farnham, eds., The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776 (1971)
Marshall DeLancey Haywood, Governor William Tryon (1903)
Regulators Hanged Historical Marker Location Map, Hillsborough, North Carolina