Season 2, Episode 2
“even the wildest of the men”:
The Regulator Movement Comes to Bethabara
By Stuart Marshall
The “Regulators” organized to regulate corruption in government, which seemed to be steadily increasing in mid-1760s North Carolina. This grassroots reform movement began with debates over land, taxes, and representation, and evolved into a rebellion with the Regulators meeting the Governor in open battle in 1771. The Regulator movement gained a widespread following in the western backcountry, and so the Moravians in Wachovia got caught up in the conflict despite their best efforts to stay out of it. In this episode we’ll cover the visits of Regulators to Bethabara, the Moravians’ opinion of the Regulators, the Moravians’ relationship with Governor William Tryon, the collapse of the movement after the Battle of Alamance, and the encampment of Tryon’s militia forces at Bethabara.
Announcer/Reader 1: James Landolf
Reader 2: Maggie Pelta-Pauls
Transcript for “even the wildest of the men”:
The Regulator Movement Comes to Bethabara
Announcer: This is Moravian Mornings, a podcast discussing the history of the Moravians who settled in Wachovia.
Kait: Two hundred and fifty years ago, the Moravian town of Bethabara endured one of the most chaotic times in its history. Over the span of a few days in 1771, the Moravians saw many people pass through their otherwise quiet town: men with gunshot wounds… others on the run, describing a bloody battle they had lost… a man in disguise, followed closely after by bounty hunters… the Governor’s army of hundreds of militiamen… around seventy prisoners, with over a hundred more coming to beg the Governor for pardon. This was the outcome of the Regulator movement in North Carolina—one of the largest conflicts in colonial America in the years before the Revolution.
Casey: As the Moravians started their lives in North Carolina, they believed in pacifism as a general guiding principle, and justified defensive action only. Their beginnings in North Carolina occurred during some of the most turbulent decades of early American history. They were ultimately able to remain neutral and survive both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Even during peacetime, however, their views on warfare and attempted neutrality made their circumstances difficult. Another one of the most difficult periods for the Moravians in Wachovia was the Regulator movement, or the War of the Regulation, which is sometimes described as a civil war. While the Moravians hoped to avoid the conflict altogether, it ultimately came to their front door. Grab your coffee everyone, and let’s learn about this conflict.
Kait: The Regulator conflict in North Carolina started as a political reform in the mid-1760s, a grassroots movement led mostly by farmers who wanted to regulate corruption in government. The leading spokesman of the Regulators, Herman Husband, was a religious pacifist–not so different from the Moravians– but stirred up a rebellious spirit across North Carolina. As Regulators grew more bold and aggressive, the movement quickly spiraled out of control, eventually resulting in the 1771 Battle of Alamance between the Regulators and the militia forces of Governor William Tryon. The Regulator movement has been described as the beginning of the American Revolution, but most historians today argue it was something different—though it shaped the beginning of the Revolution, it was a unique movement that was inspired by the need to reform colonial government, not overthrow it. To the Moravians, however, it was a form of political action that was at odds with their desire for peace. Even as the Moravians tried to maintain a good relationship with the Governor, many of their neighbors became Regulators, leaving the Moravians in an uncomfortable position. To their surprise, they found themselves caught up in the center of the conflict. Though the Moravians were sometimes sympathetic to the injustices that caused the trouble, they could not support the movement and mostly hoped the conflict could be resolved without violence. Though they were not active participants in the Regulator movement, the Moravians left behind some of the most important and detailed sources about the subject. Traugott Bagge’s memoir captures the conflicted feelings of the Moravians at the time:
Reader 1: “In the years 1769, 1770 and 1771, there was great unrest in North and South Carolina among the common people. They thought, and sometimes not without reason, that the sheriffs, lawyers and court officers defrauded them, and did not do their duty; and as always and everywhere there were those who stirred up the mob, and added to their anger, so all kinds of base men gathered together in these Provinces, called themselves Regulators, and undertook to call the officers of the land to account, and to force them to redress all fancied or real injustice. To this end they formed Committees, before which men whom they suspected were summoned, and at their instigation many were severely whipped.… Regulators came often to Bethabara, and disturbed the residents with threats and abusive words, and the like. Once when the Brethren had received an order from the Government, and sent two wagon-loads of bread to Hillsborough for the Militia who had been assembled there, these men were much displeased. They let this be known on all occasions, and especially … [in] October, 1770, when Bethabara was in real danger, and experienced special protection from on High…. [some of] these men raged about in the town, and forced one Brother to leave his house and go with them to the Tavern, where they made him remain for an hour, but then allowed him to depart in peace, and the troublemakers left.”
Kait: Here, T. Bagge is referring to an event recorded in the Bethabara diary. On October 10th, 1770, a group of Regulators gathered at Bethabara to organize a militia company and conduct drills. The leader of these Regulators was Heinrich Herrman, who was a member of a family from the New River Valley, and had taken refuge in Bethabara through the years. The Moravians were disappointed to learn that Herrman was becoming active in the Regulator movement. They became uncomfortable when the Regulators drilled and marched through town, firing their guns and shouting “hurrah.” In the evening, the Moravians hoped for peace and quiet, but the Regulators remained in Bethabara’s tavern. Two of the Regulators took the time to reassure the Moravians that all was well and that they appreciated the hospitality. However, more trouble came as darkness approached. The Moravians canceled their singstunde service. The Regulators in the tavern “kept up a disturbance all night, and neither a Justice nor the officers could control them,” according to the Bethabara diary.
Most left in the morning, but Herrman stayed until the afternoon. He had someone beat a drum throughout the day, hoping to signal other Regulators in the area. None came, and the Moravians were thankful for that.
Casey: This event reveals the tension within Bethabara, as Moravians sought to maintain peace within their own town while still inviting business from outsiders. The tavern became a favorite meeting place for many local Regulators as they joined together to discuss politics and even organize their militias. The Moravians would not turn customers away, but also saw it as their duty to support the Governor and supply his militia as they set out to enforce order. Throughout the fall of 1770, circumstances remained chaotic throughout Wachovia. In late November, some Regulators drove 150 hogs into Wachovia, trespassing and disturbing neighbors. When one spoke up, the Regulators threatened to take action against him. In what seemed like another strange miracle, some bears attacked the hogs, scattering the herd and defusing the argument. This is not the only time Regulators started arguments in Wachovia.
Reader 2: “In the spring of 1771 ….[Regulators] came to see about certain pieces of land, adjoining Wachovia, which had been bought by the Brethren after the men who first took them up in Lord Granville’s Land Office had….The visitation had been much dreaded, but it ended well, for the men were advised to take their claims to court, and there prove their rights, and they finally left in a good humor.”
Casey: Here we can see one of the main motives of the Regulators: simply to secure a clear claim to land. While the Moravians were secure with their title to all the land in Wachovia, many independent settlers found it more difficult to afford and keep their farms. Across North Carolina, and especially in the backcountry, many had bought land, only to lose it when they couldn’t pay debts or taxes, or, even worse, have it taken from them due to the schemes of corrupt lawyers, sheriffs, or land speculators. This confusion over land disputes was especially pronounced in the Granville District, where corruption became widespread. Though the Moravians were able to purchase and claim almost 100,000 acres in the Granville District, many others struggled to secure clear title even for small farms. So, by the spring of 1771, the Regulator movement came to the boundaries of Wachovia, as some attempted to dispute Moravian land ownership there.
Even though the Moravians had been successful at negotiating neutrality, the Governor’s militia prepared to meet the Regulators in the field, and this led to increased tensions.
Reader 1: “When the Regulators heard that Gov. Tryon, with a considerable body of Militia, was marching into this territory to suppress them they became very angry… Again Bethabara was protected more than once, for daily they came noisily into the town, especially to the tavern and the store, and generally had to be supplied with food and drink, and their blows and boasting were almost unbearable.…”
Kait: The Bethabara records from this period confirms the fact that some Regulators had threatened the Moravians. According to the Bethabara diary, some Regulators claimed that, once they had defeated Governor Tryon, they would “let Bethabara feel their resentment.” The next day, others threatened to seek revenge on the Moravians, but in the evening, news came that the Regulators and the Governor’s militia had met in battle.
Reader 2: “they marched hurriedly against Gov. Tryon. He completely defeated them, in May, 1771, on the Allemance, in Guilford County, and those who were not killed or captured took to flight. Many of those who fled came to Bethabara, but quickly left again. Among these was H[e]rman Husbands, their political leader, but he was not recognized, though it was later learned who he was. It was reported to Gov. Tryon that the Brethren had helped this man to escape…but when two of the Brethren waited upon the Governor in his camp and denied the report the matter was dropped.”
Kait: Here we can see how difficult it was for the Moravians to maintain neutrality. Governor Tryon had heard that the Moravians had helped Herman Husband, the Regulator leader, and some suggested that the Governor’s militia should burn Bethabara. In reality, the Moravians could not confirm whether or not Husband had actually been there, but bounty hunters following Husband had been in Bethabara’s tavern. Luckily, Governor Tryon trusted the Moravians, and told them they “were the only ones who had shown themselves loyal subjects; that if there were only such people in the land there would be no rebellion.” Even so, the Moravians still could not avoid being wrapped up in the conflict. As the Regulator movement unraveled, Bethabara became the center of activity.
Reader 1: “Yet Bethabara had a good deal to endure, for on the 4th of June, quite unexpectedly, a messenger arrived with the word that the Governor and his army were marching to Bethabara, and would camp there. He came at noon…. The army came soon after, and camped between the town and the mill…Everybody had enough to do to furnish this crowd of guests with all they needed…The third day of their visit they celebrated as a Day of Rejoicing, with a parade, firing of cannon, and salutes, our musicians being called on to assist….”
Kait: Governor Tryon dined in the Single Brothers’ Saal and stayed in the Tailor’s House until his own tent was prepared. As for the militia, they were all hungry after days of being on the march. The Bethabara diary shows the desperate situation:
Reader 2: “Our town was full of soldiers, and guards were set at the Tavern, and next day at the bakery, kitchens, and wash-houses. The men complained much of hunger, and soon not a bit of bread remained in the bakery nor in any house.”
Casey: While the residents of Bethabara set about supplying the militia, and Tryon’s men celebrated the birthday of King George the Third, the Moravians prepared an address to again express their loyalty and thankfulness for the return of peace:
Reader 1: “May it please your Excellency,
Upon this solemn Occasion …the United Brethren in Wachovia…. With hearts full of the warmest Sentiments of Allegiance[,] give us leave Sir, to lay before your Excellency our most fervent Wishes to the Lord, by whom princes rule[,] to pour down his choicest Blessings….
May the Troubles which have of late unhappily torn this Province, be the last, that shall ever give any Uneasiness to the paternal Breast of the best of princes, & may this very Day be the very period from which this Province shall date the future Happiness through the good Success of your Excellency’s measures, as well as in Reward of the Dangers your precious life was eminently exposed to in his Majesty’s Service. The kind protection this Settlement has enjoyed during your Excellency’s happy administration will ever leave the deepest Impression of gratitude in the minds of the thankful people & combine their prayers with those of all wellwishers to this Province for your Excellency’s prosperity in your future Government.”
Casey: While this address was appreciated by Governor Tryon, it was arguably just a formality, as Tryon trusted that the Moravians had taken no part in opposing his authority. As for many others who came to Bethabara, however, they were more desperate. Regulators, as well as any people thought to have supported the Regulators, came to beg the Governor for pardon. Because the Governor had hanged some leading Regulators after the Battle of Alamance, many people traveled to Bethabara to meet the Governor, hoping he would spare them. While the Moravians had hoped to avoid the conflict, they were eager to take an active role in trying to restore peace.
Reader 2: “Many of the Regulators were brought in as prisoners, others surrendered themselves, and each was forced to swear allegiance to the King before he was released. Through this event many learned to know the Unity of Brethren, and often afterwards this was of service to us, as even the wildest of the men were convinced that we were an orderly people, of worth to the country, and loyal. Many people, who had unwisely mixed themselves in the matter, came to ask that the Brethren intercede for them with the Governor, and they had opportunity to return good for evil. ….”
Casey: Thank you so much for joining us for this week’s episode. Next week we are going to be discussing a topic that some find difficult to learn about, but we think this history is crucial to understanding the Moravians and the development of Wachovia.
Kait: The Moravains rented and purchased enslaved labor and held specific views on enslavement and race. We are going to dive into this topic next week, and we are looking forward to our listeners joining us.
Announcer: This has been an episode of Moravian Mornings, a Historic Bethabara Park podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Auf Wiedersehen.
 See Thorp, Moravian Community, 168.
 Vol 1, Oct. 10., 1770
 See Kars, Breaking Loose Together, 53.
 Salem Diary, May 16, 1771, in Moravians, 1: 442.
 Bethabara Diary, May 17, 1771.
 Bagge Manuscript.
 Vol 1, 460.
 Bagge Manuscript.
 Vol 1, 462.
 Vol 1, 464.
 Bagge Manuscript.
Bassett, John Spencer. The Regulators of North Carolina (1765–1771). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1895.
Fries, Adelaide L., ed. Records of the Moravians in North Carolina. Volumes 1 & 2.
Kars, Marjoleine. Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-revolutionary North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Stewart, Bruce E. Redemption from Tyranny: Herman Husband’s American Revolution Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2020.
Troxler, Carole Watterson. Farming Dissenters: The Regulator Movement in Piedmont North Carolina. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2011.
Allegretto (green pastures) by Dee Yan-Key (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/)
Grand Piano Theme – Echo – Loopable by Lobo Loco (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)
On my Way to Work by Lobo Loco (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)