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Letter from Richard Henderson to William Tryon
Henderson, Richard, 1735-1785
September 29, 1770
Volume 08, Pages 241-244

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Letter from Judge Henderson to Governor Tryon.

Granville Sepr 29th 1770.


With the deepest concern for my Country I have lately been witness to a scene which not only threatened the peace and well being of this Province for the future, but was in itself the most horrid and audacious insult to Government, perpetrated with such circumstances of cruelty and madness as [I believe] scarcely has been equaled at any time. However flattering your Excellency's prospects may have been with respect to the people called Regulators, their late conduct too sufficiently evince that a wise, mild and benevolent administration comes very far short of bringing them to a sense of their duty. They are abandoned to every principle of virtue and desperately engaged not only in the most shocking barbarities but a total subversion of the Constitution.

On Monday last being the second day of Hillsborough Superior Court, early in the morning the Town was filled with a great number of these people shouting. hallooing & making a considerable tumult in the streets. At about 11 o'clock the Court was opened, and immediately the House filled as close as one man could stand by another, some with clubs others with whips and switches, few or none without some weapon. When the House had become so crowded that no more could well get in, one of them (whose name I think is called Fields) came forward and told me he had something to say before I proceeded to business. The accounts I had previously received together with the manner and appearance of these men and the abruptness of their address rendered my situation extremely uneasy. Upon my informing Fields that he might speak on he proceeded to let me know that he spoke for the whole Body of the People called Regulators. That they understood that I would not try their causes, and their determination was to have them tryed, for they had come down to see justice done and justice they wd have, and if I would proceed to try those causes it might prevent much mischief. They also charged the Court with injustice at the preceding term and objected to the Jurors appointed by the Inferior Court and said they would have them altered and others appointed in their room, with many other things too tedious to mention here. Thus I found myself under a necessity of attempting to soften and turn away the fury of this mad people, in the best manner in my

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power, and as much as could well be, pacifie their rage and at the same time preserve the little remaining dignity of the Court. The consequence of which was that after spending upwards of half an hour in this disagreeable situation the mob cried out “Retire, retire, and let the Court go on.” Upon which most of the regulators went out and seemed to be in consultation in a party by themselves.

The little hopes of peace derived from this piece of behaviour were very transient, for in a few minutes Mr Williams an Attorney of that Court was coming in and had advanced near the door when they fell on him in a most furious manner with Clubs and sticks of enormous size and it was with great difficulty he saved his life by taking shelter in a neighbouring Store House. Mr Fanning was next the object of their fury, him they seized and took with a degree of violence not to be described from off the bench where he had retired for protection and assistance and with hideous shouts of barbarian cruelty dragged him by the heels out of doors, while others engaged in dealing out blows with such violence that I made no doubt his life would instantly become a sacrifice to their rage and madness. However Mr Fanning by a manly exertion miraculously broke holt and fortunately jumped into a door that saved him from immediate dissolution. During the uproar several of them told me with oaths of great bitterness that my turn should be next. I will not deny that in this frightful affair my thoughts were much engaged on my own protection, but it was not long before James Hunter and some other of their Chieftains came and told me not to be uneasy for that no man should hurt me on proviso I would set and hold Court to the end of the term.

I took advantage of this proposal and made no scruple at promising what was not in my intention to perform for the Terms they would admit me to hold Court on were that no Lawyer, the King's Attorney excepted, should be admitted into Court, and that they would stay and see justice impartially done.

It would be impertinent to trouble your Excy with many circumstances that occurred in this barbarous riot, Messrs. Thomas Hart, Alexander Martin, Michael Holt, John Litterell (Clerk of the Crown) and many others were severely whipped. Col. Gray, Major Lloyd, Mr Francis Nash, John Cooke, Tyree Harris and sundry other persons timorously made their escape or would have shared the same fate. In about four or five hours their rage seemed to subside a little and they permitted me to adjourn Court and conducted me with

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great parade to my lodgings. Colo Fanning whom they had made a prisoner of was in the evening permitted to return to his own House on his word of honour to surrender himself next day. At about ten o'clock that evening, I took an opportunity of making my escape by a back way, and left poor Col. Fanning and the little Borough in a wretched situation.

Thus far may it please your Excellency with respect to what came within my own knowledge, since my departure many different & authentick accounts say that the mob not contented with the cruel abuse they had already given Mr Fanning in which one of his eyes was almost beaten out, did the next day actually determine to put him immediately to death, but some of them a little more humane than the rest interfered & saved his life. They turned him out in the street and spared his life on no other condition than that of his taking the Road and continuing to run until he should get out of their sight. They soon after to consummate their wicked designs, broke and entered his Mansion House, destroyed every article of furniture and with axes & other instruments laid the Fabrick level with its foundation, broke and entered his Cellar and destroyed the contents, his Papers were carried into the streets by armfulls and destroyed, his wearing apparel shared the same fate; I much fear his Office will be their next object. Have not not yet heard where Col. Fanning has taken shelter, the last advice was that he was a mile or two from Town on horseback, but the person by whom this came says that the Insurgents have scouting Parties constantly traversing the several roads and woods about Town and should he unfortunately fall into their hands the consequences perhaps would be fatal. The merchants and Inhabitants were chiefly run out into the Country & expect their Stores and Houses without distinction will we pillaged and laid waste.

The number of Insurgents that appeared when the Riot first began was, I think, about one hundred and fifty, tho' they constantly increased for two days and kept a number with fire arms at about a mile distance from Town ready to fall on whenever they were called for. This amount is contradicted by some and believed by others; certain it is that a large number of men constantly lay near the Town, whether they had arms or not is not yet sufficiently determined.

As the burden of conducting Hillsborough Superior Court fell on my shoulders alone, the Task was extremely hard and critical. I

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made every effort in my power consistent with my Office and the Duty the Publick is entitled to claim to preserve peace and good order, but as all attempts of that kind were ineffectual, thought it more advisable to break up Court than sit and be made a mock Judge for the sport & entertainment of those abandoned wretches.

This Express has been delayed two days in expectation of obtaining from Mr Fanning a more particular account of the damage done him as well as the rest of the Inhabitants of that desolate Borough, but as the persons whom I sent for that purpose are not yet returned, think it my duty to forward this with the utmost expedition. Should my conduct through the transactions merit your approbation it will greatly add to the felicity of Sir,

Your Excellcys most obedient and obliged humble servant
To his Excellency Governor Tryon.

P. S. My Express has this instant arrived from Hillsborough with the following accounts, Colonel Fanning is alive and well as could be expected. The Insurgents left the Town on Wednesday night having done very little mischief after spoiling Mr Fanning's House except breaking the windows of most of the Houses in Town, among which Mr Edward's did not escape. The merchants and others are taking possession of their shattered Tenements. Mr Fanning's House is not quite down, a few timbers support the lower story, but they are cut off at the sills and a small breeze of wind will throw down the little that remains. Everything else that we heard respecting Mr Fanning is true with this addition that he lost upwards of two hundred pounds in cash.

Inclosed is a Petition [For petition see page 231 ante—Editor] presented me on Saturday by James Hunter, that being the first day of the Court, the Answer was deferred till Monday. Your Excellency will best judge if that Paper may not be of service at a future day. There are many subscribers who are all without dispute Regulators.

I am as before
R. H.