This Day in History 5/16: The 1771 Battle of Alamance

Site of the Battle of Alamance at Alamance Bat...

Site of the 1771 Battle of Alamance. Image via Wikipedia

For many years, many people in the Carolinas claimed that the first battle of the American Revolution did not take place on the Lexington Common, but rather in the rugged backcountry of North Carolina.

On May 16, 1771, a group of frontier farmers, known as “Regulators”, fought against the North Carolina colonial militia at Alamance Creek in North Carolina.  Since about 1760, The Regulators had waged a decade-long guerrilla war against the colonial government, claiming unfair taxation and corrupt practices on the part of colonial officials–many of which came from the wealthier tobacco plantations in the east.

The War of the Regulation, as it was called, was not a rebellion against British rule–a fact lost on many Carolinians who claim the Revolution began at the Alamance.  It was, in fact, a rebellion against local colonial government, which was perceived as corrupt, subjective and prejudiced against the poorer backcountry Scots-Irish farmers that flooded the western frontier.  By 1771, the Regulator army swelled to 2000, against the 1000-man militia of governor William Tryon.

The Regulators were confident, if poorly armed.  They had dragged the government into a long conflict it wanted to end quickly.  Yet Tryon’s massed artillery were no match for the frontier army.  After early promise, the relentless cannon overwhelmed the Regulators and the rest fled into the woods.

In a final act of savagery, Tryon ordered the forest burned with the remaining rebels inside.  It was a prelude to his better known act of arson: the 1777-1779 punitive campaigns against coastal Connecticut towns where every town from Greenwich to New Haven was plundered and burned.

Although the Alamance was not the start of the Revolution, it brought to a head many of the conflicts that would spark the bigger rebellion four years later.  Corrupt colonial officials, high taxation, the suppression and disenfranchisement of the poor: all these factors were dealt with in one way or another by all thirteen colonies.

It was in the backcountry of North Carolina, however, where these problems were first brought into sharp, deadly focus.

Attached is a video about the Battle of Alamance.  It gives a good narration of the battle itself and of the Regulator movement itself.

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