Tryon’s March

Militia Roust the Regulators

Background

Drawing of Gov. Tryon and army
A fanciful 1901 depiction of Gov. Tryon and militia (who did not have uniforms)

Four years before the American Revolution, Royal Gov. William Tryon of the Province of North Carolina marched an army against protesters who called themselves “Regulators.” After defeating them at the Battle of Alamance near modern Burlington, Tryon continued west with his force to rescue a corps trapped near Salisbury, and then looped back east by a different route.

This page traces their march. Except as footnoted, the itinerary is combined from Tryon’s daily general orders; orders to specific officers; letters; and journal written after the campaign, collected in a state-published book.[1] Some context is added from relevant AmRevNC pages.

When this story begins, the Regulators have been protesting for five years, first with petitions, and then with increasing violence as their complaints were largely ignored. (Read more). At Tryon’s request, the colonial legislature agreed to pay for the county part-time defense forces known as “militia” to put down the rebellion. To do so, most would have to march from eastern counties to the hotspots of the movement in what today is the central part of the state.

March 1771

Photo of a fancy two-story brick mansion behind fence with brick gate-posts
Tryon Palace in New Bern (AmRevNC photograph)

On Tuesday, March 19th, 1771, Tryon writes to the “Commanding Officers of the Militia” from New Bern. He sends letters to each with minor variations of the following—the 1700s version of a form letter—to call for volunteers from the county militias:

  • “Every Man to be allowed forty shillings for an Encouragement to serve in this Expedition and to be intitled (sic) to receive two Shillings a day while on Service… each Man will also have a pair of Leggings a Cockade and a Haver Sack given him which you are to furnish,” for which the colonels would be reimbursed. (The leggings protected the lower legs like boots do, and cockades were fabric badges for their hats to identify the soldiers, since they didn’t have uniforms. These are instead provided by the British army, along with other supplies that arrive in April.)
  • “The Ration of provisions to each Man per day is one pound of pickled pork and one pound of Wheat Flour or one pound and a half of fresh Beef instead of pork and one pound and a half of Corn Meal instead of Flour, when ordered.” The units were allowed one (two-wheeled) cart per company, or one wagon per two companies, to carry baggage. Later letters indicate two ammunition wagons, a hospital wagon, and Tryon’s personal baggage wagon also went on the campaign.
  • No horses were allowed for the men, “as the whole will march on foot.” This likely was to reduce the amount of food needed. The militia were not to leave their homes before April 20th. Some companies later were ordered to gather at Col. William Bryan’s plantation in Johnston County on April 30th, instead of coming to New Bern. Bryan likely lived about two miles west of present-day Smithfield, his land running as far east as the Neuse River.[2]

Tryon arranges for more supplies to be gathered at Hillsborough.

At some point Tryon placed the militia from the western counties (Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Tryon) under the command of Gen. Hugh Waddell. He ordered Waddell to rendezvous with the eastern units under Tryon at an unknown location. To prevent the Regulators from learning where, in case a messenger (“express rider”) was caught, he does not write that down. The messengers must have conveyed the location verbally. Receipts indicate express riders were well paid for the danger they faced: They earned 5–7 pounds per ride, roughly $900 to $1,250 in modern money.[3]

April 1771

  • Sunday, April 14: A ship arrives in New Bern with supplies Tryon had requested from Gen. Thomas Gage in New York City, the commander of British forces in North America. These include two relatively small three-pounder cannons (referring to the size of cannonball they fired), flags, drums, leggings, and cockades.
  • Sunday, 21: Carteret County’s company arrives in New Bern from Beaufort. (Sources also refer to the county units as “regiments.” Strictly speaking, they were company-sized units of volunteers from the existing regiments, so “company” will be used here to refer to the army’s units.)
  • Monday, 22: The Craven County Company arrives, as do five wagons from Orange County, apparently loaded with flour (based on later statements). Ironically, Orange is home to many of the Regulator leaders.
  • Tuesday, 23: The two cannons are moved from the ship to Tryon Palace with “Pomp,” according to a letter Tryon writes Gage on the 26th. (Visit New Bern for details.)
  • Wednesday, 24: The two companies march west with the cannons, 16 wagons, four carts, and ammunition and provisions for the entire army.
  • Thursday, 25: In a letter, Tryon orders Col. Edmund Fanning of Hillsborough—one of the county officials most hated by the Regulators—to send 20 men plus officers to protect Hart’s Mill. Provisions would be kept there for the army. (The mill was northwest of town, immediately northwest of where US 70 crosses the Eno River today.)
  • Saturday, 27: Tryon leaves New Bern, to catch up to the companies that left on the 24th.

May 1771

  • Wednesday, May 1: The governor arrives at Bryan’s Plantation, apparently having passed the army. He was at a Mr. Miller’s place on the Neuse the day before. He issues an extensive list of, “Orders for the Observation of Good Discipline, and preventing Disorders on the March and in the Camp.”[4] Among other points within 78 numbered paragraphs, he says the companies are to camp in two lines 200 yards apart. Tents in each are to be as close as possible, with five paces allowed between each company.
  • Thursday, 2: The companies that left New Bern, and others coming separately from the Cape Fear region to the south, arrive at Bryan’s on the same day.
  • Photo of a grassy area with a mobile home and shed on the back left and low trees in the background
    Possible training ground near Smith’s Ferry (AmRevNC photograph)

    Friday, 3: In what he calls “Union Camp,” Tryon holds a review at noon at Smith’s Ferry (modern Smithfield), in a meadow on the west side of the Neuse River, probably on Bryan’s land. His order book shows them drawn up in two lines by company. Half-pound swivel cannons brought from Fort Johnston by the Cape Fear companies are in the middle of the first line, and the two larger cannons are on its ends. They are practicing the formation they will use if there is an open battle with the Regulators. Apparently matching the order used in the camp layout, this arrangement of the companies is reflected in his references to the “first line” and “second line” for the rest of the campaign (and on this page).

  • Saturday, 4: The army marches nine miles to Johnston County Courthouse in Hinton’s Quarter, now Clayton. (The courthouse would be moved later that year to Smith’s Ferry.)
  • Photo of a playing field in the distance behind winter grass and trees
    Field below Spring Hill House (AmRevNC photograph)

    Sunday, 5: They leave at 9 a.m. for “Hunters Lodge Camp,” marching 13 miles. Presumably this is Maj. Theophilus Hunter’s Spring Hill Plantation, surrounding the Spring Hill House built later by his son, which still stands near Barber and Umstead drives in Raleigh. Over time this became part of the Dorothea Dix Campus, and now is owned by North Carolina State University.

  • Monday, 6: Tryon reviews the Wake County Company and finds it lacking. There were only 22 volunteers out of 50 expected, “owing to a Disaffection among the Inhabitants of the County.” The county regiment of 400 is assembled, but only one in five have guns. Tryon calls for more volunteers. When none step forward, he orders his army to surround the regiment. He then has three of the colonels from other regiments draft from Wake the 40 “most Sightly & Most active Men, which Maneuver caused no small panic in the Regiment…” It still takes two hours to get the full complement of 50 men. The 40 draftees are allowed to go home on condition of bringing weapons back the next day for the volunteers who didn’t have any. As night falls, the rest are dismissed, “much ashamed both of their Disgrace, & their own Conduct which occasioned it.”
  • Photo of a playing field of brown grass with trees silhouetted in the background
    Cedar Fork District Park, with NC 54 behind it, Crabtree Creek to left (AmRevNC photograph)

    Tuesday, 7: The army leaves at 10:30, going to “Jones Camp” on Crabtree Creek with the Wake Company that joined them the day before. They march 12 miles, likely on or near the route of today’s NC 54. (If so, that puts them around Cedar Fork District Park, near Morrisville-Carpenter Road in Morrisville.) He says it, “Rained hard most part of the Night.”

  • Wednesday, 8: They reach “New Hope Camp,” by the mill of John Booth (probably on New Hope Creek around where NC 54 crosses it in Durham, between NC 751 and I-40). He sends a detachment to arrest a Regulator, Turner Tomlinson, at his home.
  • Thursday, 9: He writes from “Eno Camp,” south of the Eno River a half-mile short of Hillsborough (whether southeast or south is unstated).
    • He orders, “No soldier to go into the Town of Hillsborough without leave from the Commanding Officer of his Detachment.”
    • Friday, units are to collect from a Mr. Hogan “a quantity of ticking Gartering Thread and Needles” for the company tailors “to make Shott (sic) Bags,” used to hold bullets.
    • The carts are to be replaced by wagons, he orders, because the former are slowing the army down on what he describes later as the “Stony and rugged Roads.”
  • Friday, 10:
    • Tryon writes to Waddell at Salisbury. He says he will not reach the unnamed “place of Rendeazvous (sic) until the 13th at earliest,” and suggests Waddell not leave until he has to.
    • Tomlinson escapes.
    • Part of the Orange Company is at Hart’s Mill to guard the provisions.
  • Saturday, 11: The army decamps at noon for “Lodge Farm Camp” near Hart’s Mill, marching through town to get there. He forms a company of “Pioneers” to go with the vanguard, the front of the army when marching, to fix roads and bridges.
  • Sunday, 12:
    Photo of a grassy area flowing away toward a road embankment in the background, with trees on either side
    Likely High Rock Ford campsite (AmRevNC photograph)

    There is a discrepancy here between his orders and his later journal: The former says this night was spent at Lodge Farm, moving on to “Haw River Camp” the next day; the journal says they marched at 7 to Haw River Camp today, on the west side of “the Banks,” and then four miles to “O’Neals” on Monday. (The “banks” likely refers to High Rock Ford at the modern town of Haw River, near the route marked today by US 70 and Business 70 between Hillsborough and the Moravian towns in today’s Winston-Salem. That area of high ground on either side of the river had a mill, so they probably camped in what now is Red Slide Park. O’Neal’s Plantation included modern Burlington City Park.) Regardless:

    • Tryon had expected the crossing at the river to be opposed by Regulators. He believes they assumed he would stay in Hillsborough until the next day, due to a special election to be held there to replace Herman Husband. Husband, an outspoken supporter of the Regulators, had been kicked out of the Provincial Assembly.
    • Some “Gentlemen Volunteers” come in offering to form a “Troop of light horse,” meaning lightly armed cavalry, and he accepts them.
  • Monday, 13: Another discrepancy here: His orders say they marched at 7 to “Great Alamance Camp,” near modern Alamance, which better fits the route change described below. But the journal suggests they made that move the day before, and did not march today. (The primary source of the discrepancy is that the journal has two consecutive entries for Monday—with entries for Sunday and Tuesday as well, so these aren’t just mislabeled.) The following items are combined from the two journal entries and day’s orders:
    • Wherever they are, he gives orders for soldiers to remain silent and form their lines quietly “in case of alarm.” Cannons are pre-positioned on the flanks of the camp, and fires are set 200 yards from each line of tents. He reiterates his orders not to disturb people or property on the march, having heard of “outrages” from the day before.
    • Spare wagons are sent to Hillsborough for supplies.
    • Tryon learns by an express rider that Waddell was forced back across the Yadkin River, probably at the Trading Ford, by 2,000 Regulators east of there. The message was verbal, the rider “not daring to take a Letter for fear of its being intercepted.” Tryon holds a “war council” including members of his Council of State and the top officers of the army. They decide to change their route southward to the Hillsborough-Salisbury Road through Michael Holt’s Plantation, to try to relieve Waddell.
    • They march immediately to the west side of Little Alamance Creek (which runs through Burlington City Park), sending a detachment ahead to secure a position across Great Alamance Creek near today’s town of Alamance.
    • At some point a set of dispatches arrive from Waddell, in which he says he is pulling back near Salisbury, and building defensive trenches to await Tryon’s orders.
    • Tryon receives “Intelligence” that the Regulators are gathering at (James) Hunter’s land on Sandy Creek and, in a separate message, that they intend to attack his force. He orders that a third of the men be armed at any given time, in two-hour shifts, and the others are to sleep near their weapons. (Based on his march orders mentioned under May 1, weapons were normally stacked up overnight.)
  • Tuesday, 14: The men sleep in a state of readiness again.
  • Wednesday, 15:
    • Tryon receives a letter from “the Rebels.” The war council decides to send a response and attack the next day if its demands are refused (see the Battle of Alamance for details). The Regulators’ messenger had orders from them to return within four hours. So Tryon sends him off at 9 in the evening with a messenger from Tryon, to escort him through colonial lines and continue with the council’s response to the Regulators. He demands an answer by noon the next day.
    • The Light Horse are ordered to keep their horses in tack all night, and 10 of them serve as pickets a half-mile out, across the Salisbury Road. He lays out the order of battle as shown on the Sauthier map mentioned on the battle page.
    • Two officers go to reconnoiter the Regulator lines, but are captured.
    • Again the army sleeps “under Arms.”
  • Thursday, 16:
    • Photo of a shallow, treeless valley with trees on both sides
      View north to where the south flanks of the two armies faced off (AmRevNC photograph)

      Before the battle: They march at 7 a.m., leaving the tents up. Three wagons go with them, for food, ammunition, and the surgeon. The rest are left in camp in a “hollow Square,” with the pork and flour barrels used to reinforce the square as a barricade. Presumably some guards are left behind. The army halts two miles from the Regulators and forms into a single line to ensure each company is in the right place. That confirmed, they re-form into a column and continue. (He doesn’t state whether they just stayed in the road, or spread out across it. See the battle page for what happens next.)

    • After the battle: He orders that the wounded be brought to his tent, presumably a large one typically used by commanders called a “marquee.”
  • Friday, 17: Tryon thanks the men, expresses sympathy for lost comrades, and gives the burial orders described on the battle page. He also issues a proclamation offering a pardon to all Regulators who come into camp, give up their weapons, swear allegiance to the King, pay their back taxes, and submit to the law.
  • Saturday, 18: He says men can keep clothes, food, and saddle bags they captured, but everything else must be turned in. That includes weapons, horse tack, and papers. The second line is ordered to march “as soon as possible with two of the swivel guns and some of the light horse, under Col. (Samuel) Ashe.” They go to Lowe’s Mill eight miles west (probably that of Samuel Low or Lowe, location unknown). That night, 300 Regulators approach within the detachment’s firelight.
  • Sunday, 19: The first line leaves early enough to arrive at the mill camp by noon, called “Royal Camp.” The Regulators there had kept the second line surrounded overnight, wounded one sentry, and taken another prisoner. The whole army continues to Lowe’s Plantation, where they “Cut down a large Fruit Orchard to open the Communication between the Lines.”
  • Photo of a mannequin in kilt and a broadsword under glass behind him
    Exhibit, Museum of the Cape Fear, Fayetteville, 2020 (AmRevNC photograph)

    Monday, 20: Tryon converts the Cumberland Company, most of them Scotch Highlanders, into a light infantry unit. This term refers to men considered able to move quickly and live off the land, typically used to scout, raid, and screen an army’s movements.

  • Tuesday, 21: He says they will march at 6 a.m., and warns, “Officers and others who have their Baggage not ready loaded to March off the ground with the Army, will have it left behind.” After they move:
    • Five miles out, they burn James Hunter’s house, barn, and other buildings. Hunter was the best-known leader of the Regulators.
    • That night they encamp in their standard lines at “Sandy Creek”—Herman Husband’s plantation.
    • He sends a requisition to Dixon’s Mill (near modern Snow Hill) for six wagons of flour, and apparently sent another to Lindley’s Mill further east, near today’s Eli Whitney.
  • Wednesday, 22—Tuesday, 28: See the “Herman Husband Homesite” page.
  • Tuesday, 28: They march west at 2 p.m., the Pioneers leading to fix roads, and camp overnight at “Hayne’s” five miles away. The men suffer another “very heavy thunder Shower this afternoon.”
  • Photo of a creek with lightly wooded flats on both sides
    Likely Polecat Creek ford (AmRevNC photograph)

    Wednesday, 29: The army leaves at 8 a.m. and goes four miles to Polecat Creek, a “deep and ugly Ford.” They down a large tree across the creek to help the men cross in an “Indian File,” presumably meaning one at a time over the trunk, or using it to steady themselves. The crossing took five hours. Then they went two more miles to the northeast banks of the Deep River, on the near side. (The ford is probably behind the last few houses on the left of Riveroaks Drive, off New Salem Road near Redcross, marked by the remains of a later bridge there. The army was using the Trading Path, a route blazed by Native Americans from modern Pennsylvania to the Charlotte region.)[a]

  • Photo of a heavily wooded hill, with a cut leading away from the right side
    “Heights” of the Uwharrie; possible road cut to right (AmRevNC photograph)

    Thursday, 30: Wagoners are ordered to cross the Deep at daybreak and go to “Kaiway Camp” (perhaps meaning Carraway, for that river). He orders the Rangers and light infantry to “take possession of the Heights” across the more distant Uwharrie River. He says there are “Craggy Cliffs” over a ford, and tells of a Native American battle here: When the Catawba tribe campaigned against the “Northern Indians,” he said, the former took this position and surprised the Northern men as they crossed back, defeating them. The rest of the army follows, crossing the Deep and Carraway rivers, but stopping two miles short of the Uwharrie.

  • Friday, 31: They march 12 miles to Flat Swamp Creek, north of today’s Denton. At noon Waddell shows up, saying his force is crossing the Yadkin to join them. Tryon gives more explicit orders to his own force regarding the order of march, because over the previous two days the baggage wagons have been “breaking in between the Lines of the Army.” He sends the Light Corps ahead to “Miller’s” on Abbot’s Creek (somewhere toward modern Southmont).

June 1771

  • Saturday, June 1:
    • In the early morning, Fanning returns with Capt. Benjamin Merrill, a militia officer who had joined the Regulators. Fanning had led a detachment to surround Merrill’s house and capture him in the middle of the night.
    • Photo of a two-lane road coming down a hill, with houses on the left
      Possible Merrill hill (AmRevNC photograph)

      The army left at 7 a.m., and crossed Abbot’s Creek to camp on Merrill’s farm in Jersey Settlement, so named because its founders came from New Jersey, including Merrill. A later source says the house was roughly four miles south of modern Lexington and two miles east of the settlement church, on a hill above a small stream.[5] Tryon calls it a “Valuable Tract of Land and well Cultivated.” (This movement is a northwest shift, suggesting Tryon may have planned to cross the Yadkin further south, but that Waddell’s force had crossed at the Trading Ford further north. Jersey is east-northeast of that ford.)

    • Waddell heads back to his army at the “Forks in the Road” two miles from the river on the Salisbury side (location unknown). The Light Corps joins them.
    • Tryon relates a funny incident. Some of the men raided nearby bee hives around midnight and knocked several over. The enraged bees spread among the army’s 100 horses in the adjacent pasture. The horses panicked and charged straight for the camp. Sentinels, hearing horses approach, yelled to the camp to “stand to your Arms.” Tryon says this caused greater “Horror on the Waking Imagination” than any other incident of the entire campaign! Things finally calmed down when one of the honey seekers ran back to explain what happened.
  • Sunday, 2: More Regulators come to obtain the pardon.
  • Monday, 3: Another discrepancy here, as the journal reports no movement. It says many more Regulators come in, and that Waddell’s army is camped a half-mile away along with the Light Corps. However, the orders are placed at “Reedy Fork Camp,” and the army had to have marched a significant distance this day to reach the next location on Tuesday. Reedy Fork Creek is north of modern Lexington, within the needed range.
  • Photo of grassy square with foundation on left, bell under a small roof, and log wall in the back
    Bethabara town square (AmRevNC photograph)

    Tuesday, 4: The army and Waddell’s men arrive before 5 p.m. in “Moravian Camp,” meaning the village of Bethabara, now in Winston-Salem.

  • Wednesday, 5—Saturday, 8: Visit Bethabara for events there.
  • Sunday, 9: The army marches out of town at 6 a.m., to “Black Jack Swamp Camp” at “Mr. Simmonds” (location unknown), 20 miles toward Hillsborough.
  • Monday, 10: It marches 15 miles to “Mr. Campbell’s Store” and sets up “Buffalo Camp.” (The mileage from Bethabara aligns with the point where South Buffalo Creek crosses US 70 east of Greensboro. As mentioned before, the route of the “upper road” to Hillsborough is roughly followed by US 70 today.)
  • Tuesday, 11: The next march is 10 miles to Dunn’s Plantation, called “Bigg Troublesome Camp” for unknown reasons. (There is a Troublesome Creek today, too far to the north to be this location. The mileage along US 70 puts this in the vicinity of Back Creek, around today’s Alamance County line and Elon.)
  • Wednesday, 12: Another ten miles they go, to one mile west of their former camp at High Rock Ford near the town of Haw River, which Tryon says is “on the upper Road to Hillsborough.” He calls it “Watson’s Creek Camp,” but no modern stream in the region bears that name.[6]
  • Thursday, 13—Wednesday, 19: On Thursday they march to Hillsborough. See that page for the dramatic climax to this story.
  • Thursday, 20:
    • Photo of open woods with a creek on the left and barely visible ditch center right
      Likely “Stone Creek Camp” with possible roadbed right-center (AmRevNC photograph)

      Still in Hillsborough, Tryon gathers the officers in his tent, and informs them he has received orders from the king by way of, coincidentally, the Earl of Hillsborough in London. All had known he was to become the governor of New York once arrangements were made for a new N.C. governor. That apparently done, the Earl has ordered him to report immediately. With their agreement that the campaign is over, Tryon says, he will leave the army after the next day’s march. They agree. Ashe will be in command to get the army home.

    • The army marched five miles toward New Bern to “Stone’s Creek Camp.” (This is likely Stony Creek, which crosses US 70 by the Eno Substation northwest of Durham.)
  • Friday, 21: Tryon writes, “Soon after the Troops got on their march, they halted, & drew up in two Ranks facing inwards. The Governor then rode between the Ranks, and took an affectionate and painful Leave of those brave Men, through whose Spirit, Obedience, and Attachment, he surmounted all Difficulties.” All then continued toward New Bern, Tryon riding ahead.

Visit New Bern for a few final scenes.


[1] All from: Powell, William Stevens, ed., The Correspondence of William Tryon and Other Selected Papers (Raleigh, N.C.: Division of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources, 1980). <http://archive.org/details/correspondenceof1981tryo> [accessed 16 November 2020].

[2] ‘Geni – Col. William Bryan (1724-1781)’ <https://www.geni.com/people/Col-William-Bryan/6000000007240517458#name=Col.%20William%20Bryan?> [accessed 5 December 2020]>.

[3] Nye, Eric, ‘Currency Converter, Pounds Sterling to Dollars, 1264 to Present’ <https://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm>.

[4] See Powell 1980, p. 679.

[5] History of the Liberty Baptist Association by Elder Henry Sheets, 1907, Edwards & Broughton of Raleigh, N.C. (quoted in McKeehan, Wallace, ‘Captain Benjamin Merrell & The Regulators’ <http://www.sonsofdewittcolony.org/mckstmerreg.htm> [accessed 7 December 2020]). The hill in the picture is exactly two miles east along Jersey Church Road from Jersey Baptist Church, which is on the original church property. (The cemetery has Merrill graves with birthdates in the 1770s.) A steam runs a short distance behind the camera.

[6] A writer in the 1800s introduced some confusion in later sources by assuming the army used a different High Rock Ford, near today’s Reidsville. However, the straight-line distance from Reidsville to Thursday’s destination is 37 miles, far further than the army ever marched in a day. The distance from the High Rock Ford in the town of Haw River, near US 70, is 15 miles.

[a] Dixon, W., Pugh, H., and M. Whatley, “Tryon’s march locations,” E-mail thread, 2/2021 (also the source for the next day’s Uwharrie location). Three low rock piles of apparently late-1700s construction are to the left of the photo. A mill of that period or early 1800s is behind the camera (upstream), and another set of bridge supports from a later-1800s bridge are downstream. Part of the Trading Path may be visible in the form of a trail down a rise on the east side of Riveroaks.