The Royal Colony of South Carolina

The War of Regulation - The Regulators



A Regulator movement developed in the 1760s in western South Carolina among groups interested in establishing law and order. Outlaw gangs had formed in the area and the Commons House of Assembly failed on several occasions to provide funding for peace officers and local courts.

Organizations of citizens were formed to "regulate" governmental affairs and eventually operated the courts in some districts. The governor and Assembly realized the legitimacy of Regulators' cause and in 1769 enacted legislation providing for the necessary reforms.

After the Cherokee War, large numbers of new settlers poured into the South Carolina backcountry. By 1765, bands of brigands and marauders began to operate in the area. Since no assistance was received from the government in Charles Town, the local settlers formed vigilante groups to drive out this dangerous criminal element. Furthermore, the backcountry people were grossly under-represented in the South Carolina Commonas House of Assembly and although they paid much money in taxes, they received little support from the government of any sort. A group of the vigilantes began to organize into an anti-government group that called themselves The Regulators. The Regulators demanded more equal representation as well as the benefits of law enforcement, courts, jails, roads, schools, and judicial districts.

The year 1768 stands out in South Carolina's settlement history for several reasons. In that year, South Carolina's effort to attract new settlers by offering payment of passage came to a close in July of 1768, with the expiration of the General Duty Act. Also, the Provincial Government in Charles Town successfully confronted backcountry "Regulators" and averted a civil war. After heated debate, and a threatened march on Charles Town by these backcountry men, the Circuit Court Act was passed, authorizing a system of seven Judicial Districts. These districts, activated in 1769, for the first time provided local courts to serve the backcountry.

By the end of the 1760s, South Carolina was divided into two distinct cultural groups. In the coastal tidewater, large plantations owned by a "gentlemanly" leisure class but worked by slaves predominated; the cultural focus was the city of Charles Town and the prevailing religion was that of the Anglican Church. Conversely, the inhabitants of the backcountry, above the Fall Line, were mostly hard-working, small farmers who owned few if any slaves; their religion, if any, was primarily Presbyterian or Baptist.

The Circuit Court Act of 1768 notwithstanding, the backcountry people were still grossly under-represented in the Commons House of Assembly and there was no love lost between the two cultural groups. As the colony drifted toward Revolution in the early 1770s, the backcountry tended to be predominantly Loyalist in sentiment, while the tidewater planters leaned toward the Patriot cause.

The Regulator movement in North Carolina was quite different and for different reasons.

Farming interests in western North Carolina resented the actions of local court officials. This feeling was particularly strong in Anson, Granville, Halifax, Orange, and Rowan counties.

Efforts to reform the assessment of taxes and fees were unsuccessful; the courts and House of Burgesses were not responsive and seemed to favor the causes of the wealthy tidewater elements. North Carolina Regulator groups arose to close down local courts (which in this era were analogous to county commissions) and suppress tax payments; rioting broke out in several counties. In May of 1771, Governor William Tryon led colonial militia forces against the Regulators and defeated them handily at Alamance Creek.

Most of the rebels were pardoned, but seven of the leaders were hanged. The movement did not survive, but tensions between east and west remained.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved