Governor Tryon

While the people of Massachusetts were preparing to fight for their liberties, if necessary, those of North Carolina, far away from the seaboard, were in open insurrection because of the cruelty of oppressors. Before the stamp act excitement convulsed the northern provinces, rebellion had germinated there; and when Governor Tryon, who was sent to rule North Carolina in 1765, attempted to suppress free speech on the great question, he found that he had an obstinate people to deal with. Tryon was proud, haughty, fond of show, extravagant, extortionate, treacherous, and naturally tyrannical when in power, but cowardly when confronted by equal moral or physical forces. He tried to compel the people to take the stamps, but they compelled the stamp-officer at Wilmington to go to the market-place and publicly resign his commission. This tacit defiance of his authority by resolute men alarmed the governor, and he tried to conciliate the militia at a general muster in Hanover, by treating them to a barbecued ox--an ox roasted whole--and a few barrels of beer. The insulted people cast the ox into the river, poured the liquor on the ground, and mocked Tryon.

Soon after that, the rapacity of public officers in the province, from the governor down, drove the people to the verge of rebellion. They met in small assemblies at first and petitioned for relief. Their prayers were answered by fresh extortions. Finally, they resolved to form a league for mutual protection, and to take all the power in certain inland counties into their own hands. Herman Husbands, a strong-minded and resolute Quaker, drew up a written complaint and sent it by a few bold men to the General Assembly at Hillsborough, in October, 1766, who requested the clerk to read it aloud. It asserted that the "Sons of Liberty would withstand the Lords in Parliament," and set forth that great evils existed in the province. A general convention of delegates was recommended to consider public affairs, and two were afterward held. At the one held in April, 1767, on the banks of the Eno, not far from Hillsborough, it was resolved that the people in the more inland counties should regulate public affairs there, and by resolutions they almost declared themselves independent of all external authority. From that time they were called Regulators, and were a prominent and powerful body. The pride of Tryon induced him to covet a palace "fit for the residence of a royal governor." The blandishments and liberal hospitality of the governor's beautiful wife won the good-will of the representatives of the General. Assembly, and they voted seventy-five thousand dollars of the public money to build a palace at Newbern. That sum was equal to half a million dollars now. The taxes were thereby heavily increased, and the already overburdened people were very indignant. With the increase of taxation the rapacity of public officers seemed to increase, and the industry of the province was subjected to a most onerous tribute to feed the vultures. Among the most rapacious of these was Edmund Fanning, a lawyer of ability, whom the people soon learned to detest because of his extortionate fees for legal services, but who was a favorite of the governor. The chief justice, Martin Howard, was Fanning's accomplice, and prostituted his sacred office to the base purpose of private gain.

The Regulators, goaded by oppression, met in council and resolved not to pay any but lawful taxes and just dues, but with such a judge they were almost powerless. Fanning resolved to punish their leaders, and so overawe the people. He induced the governor to issue a proclamation full of fair promises, inviting the Regulators to meet the crown officers in friendly convention to settle all differences. They were betrayed. Those plain farmers trusted the fair promises, and relaxing their vigilance were preparing to meet the governor, when the sheriff, at the instigation of Fanning, appeared with thirty horsemen and arrested Husbands and some other leading Regulators, and cast them into the Hillsborough jail. This treachery aroused the whole country, and a large body of the people, led by Ninian Bell. Hamilton, a brave old Scotchman seventy years of age, marched upon Hillsborough with shot-guns, pikes, scythes and bludgeons, to rescue the prisoners.

Fanning was alarmed. He released the prisoners and hastened to appease the angry multitude who were assembled on the banks of the Eno, opposite Hillsborough. With a bottle of rum in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, he went down to the brink of the stream, and urging Hamilton not to march his host into the town, asked him to send a horse over that he might cross, give the people refreshments, and have a friendly talk. Hamilton would not trust the wolf in sheep's clothing. "You're nane too gude to wade, and wade ye shall if ye come over," shouted Hamilton. Fanning did wade the stream, but his words and his liquor were alike rejected. Then Tryon's secretary rode across the river, and assured the people that all their grievances should be redressed, when they marched away. They drew up a respectful petition to the governor, who, in imitation of his royal master, spurned it with disdain. He ordered the deputies who bore the petition to return to their homes, warn the people to desist from holding meetings, disband their association, and be content to pay taxes. We shall meet these Regulators and their oppressors again presently.

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