Battle of Alamance – 16 May, 1771 – Rebellion Against Elite Official – The First Battle for Liberty in American Revolution

Battle of Alamance that took place  in 1771 saw a group of  frontiersmen who were mostly farmers  rebelling against the taxation policies and civil robberies of officials in Royal Kingdom. Many historians consider the Battle of Alamance as the first battle for liberty in American Revolution. However the war was not against the crown but it was to oppose the “elite officials” who were looting the lower class of the society.

Alamance, The First Battle of the Revolution, Burlington, North Carolina - From the Original Drawing by J. Steeple Davis

Alamance, The First Battle of the Revolution, Burlington, North Carolina – From the Original Drawing by J. Steeple Davis

Battle of Alamance – The factors that triggered the rebellion

The land was divided into the eastern “elite” part and western “working group”. Eastern part of the country was inhabited by aristocrats with English ancestry. They were the attorneys, officers and rich merchants with acres of plantation lands and servants.

On the other hand the western part such as Philadelphia had fewer means of income for its inhabitants. It was due to the small plantation lands and fewer opportunities to work as servants, people of west faced financial scarcity. They struggled hard to earn good income. Westerners mostly had Scottish, Irish and German ancestry.

British Government was infamous for imposing hefty amount of tax and penalties on the public. The rich from the east had no problems in paying the tax but the poor struggled to pay an equal amount of tax. Such everyday struggles resulted in corrupt and tyrannical officers who looted the locals. The locals in turn started harassing the “elite”.

The rebellion against unjust officers was first seen in 1764, Anson, Orange and Granville counties. The restless men gathered and expressed their plea for justice but they were termed as “mob”. The movement of rebellion took an interesting turn after four years from the “mob” incident. Men from many places with similar philosophies and ideas gathered to become “Regulators”.

There was not only an economic difference but there were racial and geological factors that made easterners indifferent to the problems of people in the west.

Battle of Alamance – The Role of Government officials

The Governor appointed by the King was the most powerful who controlled the armed forces and passing of any new bills along with the council. Regulators’ issues were not heard in the bureaucracy of Royal Kingdom for it was centralised. Regulators could not reach out to the concerned officers for redress. But the Government resisted the rebellion.

Battle of Alamance – The regulators

By 1766 many key figures had joined the ‘war of regulation’. The most known among the others are:

  • Herman Husband
  • James Hunter
  • Rednap Howell
  • James Few
  • Charles Harrington

The regulators were somewhat led by Herman Husband as he was the most educated among the men. He was religious and did not support violence. There was a lack of structure and leadership in regulators which could have caused the defeat in Battle of Alamance.

Battle of Alamance – The Battle Scene and Aftermath

In 1771, 11th May, approximately 2,000 men planned to pose a threat to gain relief from their grievances. All of them gathered in south part of the Great Alamance Creek in the western side of the Orange County. Upon hearing this, a strict and apathetic Governor William Tryon headed to clash with regulators with an army of 1,000 men.

On 16th May, Governor was inching towards the south camp of regulators. Before clashing he sent out a warning note that commanded the regulators to surrender. But Regulators rejected and the Governor sent second and final note which was also turned down by the regulators.

Site of Battle of Alamance - 16 May, 1771

Site of Battle of Alamance – 16 May, 1771

Regulators dared the army men to start the battle. However, the defeat was on the regulators’ side as they were not ready with appropriate ammunition and war plan. Tryon was the first to start firing and two attempts by the Governor to stop the battle were ignored by regulators.

The royal army had an upper hand with guns and canons and defeated the regulators. Several regulators fled the scene including Herman Husband while others died and remaining were captured by the royal army out of which some were executed and some were pardoned with an oath of Royal compliance.  Men from both the sides succumbed to the battle however the rebellion was crushed by the Governor.

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