Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Regulation Reconsidered: Shared Grievances in the Colonial Carolinas

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Regulation Reconsidered: Shared Grievances in the Colonial Carolinas

Article excerpt

HERMAN HUSBAND AND CHARLES WOODMASON HAVE captivated historians since the eighteenth century. Both were charismatic, dynamic religious leaders. Both were, for their time and place, prolific writers. Both became the media through which inland agrarian uprisings in the Carolina colonies, whose followers dubbed themselves "Regulators," found their voice. Beyond these similarities, though, it is hard to imagine the two men being any more different. Historians have spent more time studying Husband because not only was he an outspoken anti-slavery, egalitarian, democratic pacifist but he also spoke his mind freely against oppression during two of the great crises of the late colonial and early Republic periods (first, the North Carolina Regulation, and later, the Whiskey Rebellion of western Pennsylvania). He was raised by an Anglican family in Maryland, but his spiritual drive led him away from the established church, towards the Presbyterians, and eventually to the Society of Friends. Husband turned out to be too radical for the Quakers, so he went in search of his own millennially inspired inner light. He took up residence in Orange County, North Carolina, in the 1750s, and by the late 1760s, his incendiary writings had made him a major menace in the eyes of the eastern provincial elite during the Regulator crisis in that colony.

As far as Husband was, in our parlance, "radical," Charles Woodmason was "conservative." A native of England (where he probably descended from the gentry), Woodmason migrated to the South Carolina low country in the early 1750s and took up planting. In 1766 he was ordained as an Anglican minister and began a preaching itinerancy in the backcountry of the province. Believing the ordered, hierarchical Anglican Church to be the path to heaven, Woodmason wrote in disgust of the evangelicals then pouring into the western Carolinas. According to Woodmason, Presbyterians were "a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing." Social order of the proper eighteenth-century English style, structured around deference towards one's betters, was one of Woodmason's ultimate goals during his years in the backcountry. "Rogues," "whores," and "filth" were everywhere he traveled, along with irreverence to authority, which Woodmason thought himself due as a cleric of the established church and member of the landed proto-gentry. The Baptists, in particular, challenged the traditional social order, and Woodmason saw them as the greatest threat in the colony.1

This philosophical divergence between the worldviews of Husband and Woodmason (and the social motivations they attached to the movements as a result) is one of the main reasons why historians tend to think of the North Carolinians as "radical" and the South Carolinians as "conservative." But if the uprisings and the grievances cited by their followers are separated from both the social outlooks of the two men who spoke most convincingly on their behalf and the larger goals historians have assigned to each movement based in part on their readings of Husband and Woodmason, then significant similarities between the two Regulations emerge.

Another factor complicating historians' perception of Regulator activity is geography. The North Carolina and South Carolina Regulations have heretofore largely been studied as wholly separate movements, though they overlapped in time and were spatially contiguous, straddling both sides of the disputed border between the colonies. The Carolinas developed quite differently in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. These contrasting developmental trajectories, principally due to the rational decision making of settlers in differing physical environments, shaped the grievances addressed in the two revolts, yet it seems as if a somewhat artificial barrier has been built up between interior portions of North Carolina and South Carolina by historians along virtually imagined political boundaries. If the border is allowed to fade into the background, then additional commonalities between the northern "radicals" and the southern "conservatives" come to the fore. …

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