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John Spencer Bassett, 1867-1928
The Regulators of North Carolina (1765-1771)
[Washington]: [Govt. Print. Off.], [1895].


John Spencer Bassett (1867-1928), professor of history at Trinity College (later Duke University), wrote extensively about North Carolina history, including the Regulation movement, about which he published a lengthy article in the 1894 American Historical Association Report. The Regulators were a large group of North Carolina colonists who opposed the taxation and fee system imposed by colonial officials in the late 1760s. This political argument led to a battle between the colonial militia and the Regulators in 1771. Following this battle, a few Regulators were hanged and the majority pardoned, bringing the movement to an end.

Prior to Bassett's investigation, North Carolina historians had seen in North Carolina's War of Regulation the beginning of the American Revolution in the colony, in part spurred by the religious beliefs of backcountry settlers. John Spencer Bassett argues in his frequently cited text that North Carolina's Regulation movement was not a revolution and that it was only slightly tied to the unrest in other parts of the North American colonies. Bassett's view is that the Regulators did not wish to change the form or principle of their government, but simply wanted to make the colony's political process more equal. They wanted better economic conditions for everyone, instead of a system that benefited the colonial officials. Bassett interprets the events of the late 1760s in Orange and surrounding counties as "a peasants' rising, a popular upheaval" (142).

Bassett notes that this upheaval was not religious in nature, but rather was opposed by four of the five leading denominations in the area. Indeed, Presbyterians were instrumental in helping raise troops to fight the Regulators, and a portion of Baptists excommunicated those who had taken part in the unrest. Bassett also downplays the role played by Herman Husband, the Quaker pamphleteer who is often identified as one of the movement's leaders. To Bassett, Husband was a moderate, simply attempting to bring the various sides together, but because of his prominence as a writer and a correspondent of Benjamin Franklin, government officials continually identified him as a leader of the disgruntled faction. Bassett's analysis of the Regulators' uprising remains the predominant understanding of these events, although today Herman Husband is still generally recognized as a leader of the Regulators.

Kevin Cherry

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