The early history of what would become the United States is fraught with stories of folks breaking away out of want or need, in each case being built on Men ready for a fight. Never did such a move happen peacefully, even those relatively minor, normally with violence incurring nearly immediately. In each case, these moves were caused by little representation of economic interest from centralized power, weak or ineffectual defense by that power in their daily lives, or the notion that self-governance was more fit to the frontier than from a King afar.
Such is the fascinating history of pre-Revolution North Carolina and present day Tennessee. Not usually told outside of academic conversation among Historians, even then limited to footnotes, the story of the Regulators, later the Watauga Association, and the rise of the Overmountain Men Militia just prior to and early within the American Revolution provide a historical context not only relevant today, but also lessons of the cost incurred by effective, and conversely ineffective, movement formation and means to attain goals.
The Regulators and the Battle of Alamance
Around 1765, a large social rift was emerging amid the planters and urban aristocracy. A continuing drought made crops unprofitable and led to rampant poverty. In Orange County alone, arrests for debts increased tenfold, leaving many with few options. The local governance was largely ineffective. County Sheriffs and officers of the Court were increasingly viewed as corrupt, with the political apparatus providing little respite for the worsening conditions as a large immigrant population of Scots-Irish began to settle the western regions and further strain the already fragile situation. Small scale populist resistance ensued, and independent militias were formed. By 1770, tax resistance was encouraged, rhetoric galvanized to action, and the popularity of the Regulator movement was growing rapidly along the north central NC border, being the modern day Granville, Person, Caswell, Rockingham, Guilford, Alamance, and Orange counties. Their aim was not to break away, but rather draw attention to the increasingly disproportionate distribution of law concerning property rights. Being the financial stronghold known as the tobacco belt, the crisis had reached a tipping point, with Royal Governor Lord Tryon pleading with the leadership of the Regulators to disarm and diffuse while threatening force. The situation came to a head at the Battle of Alamance, with the NC colonial militia marching on the independent militia of Herman Husband and his fellow landowners in present-day Alamance County. Husband, a Quaker, departed. The theory of ‘Armed Nonviolence’ was proven to invite such violence, and his loss of control of subordinates was the result of his internal moral crisis in conflict with his pacifist beliefs.
The battle was over before it began. Outnumbered and outgunned with no plan beyond getting into a fight at a single point, the Regulators suffered nine dead with the Lord Tryon’s militia suffering the same. Once overrun, one Regulator was summarily executed in camp, with the remainder of the leadership taken into custody. Six were hanged, with the rest issued pardons for treason. Having captured the interest of several northeast newsmen, the rebellion became a sensational story, inspiring other acts of rebellion more famous. Also interestingly, several anti-Regulators became Patriot statesmen, most notably Richard Caswell, delegate to the Continental Congress and future Governor of NC.
The Watauga Association
On the heels of the War of Regulation, many settlers of early Appalachia had found governance from afar weak, restrictive, and not in their interest. Settlers within the Cherokee Nation boundary with North Carolina and Virginia. Needing expansion for economic survival, the inhabitants of the Watauga region defied the orders to abandon their settlements by Virginia Governor, Lord Dunmore, and led the settlers to negotiate independent terms of settlement with the neighboring Cherokee Confederation whom legally had claim to the territory. The Cherokee were torn on such a move. The local tribes saw economic benefit from their neighbors, while a rising, young Cherokee Chief known as Dragging Canoe who had proven himself as an effective Leader in the previous Anglo-Cherokee War only saw encroachment as an act of war.
Being largely out of the effective reach of Colonial Forces, the Wataugans formed a Compact for an Independent Republic having negotiated their own terms for existence with the Cherokee. Immediately the frontier stronghold constructed for protection was christened ‘Fort Caswell’ (after statesman Richard Caswell), later to be known as Fort Watauga, and came under attack by Dragging Canoe and those Cherokee loyal to him, likely instigated, understandably so, by Royal Agents. A Rifle Company was formed and successfully defended the stronghold, resulting in Dragging Canoe’s retreat and subsequent decline.
Amid the larger Revolution brewing in the Colonies, the Wataugans, coming to be known as the Washington Republic, sought integration into North Carolina’s borders and pledging support to the Patriot cause. Their model inspired the later Cumberland Compact which led the way to Tennessee’s formation as a state and many settlers who would move on to Kentucky and with them carried the ideals of self governance ingrained as a result of their experiences. Theirs was a story of fierce independence and the willingness to do what it took to carve it. Independence is not won from words, but from action, a concept understood by those with the courage to engage in it with both its rewards and ramifications.
The Overmountain Men
From the ranks of that early Wataugan Rifle company came the Overmountain Men Militia. The majority of the Appalachian region settlers were Whig Party members and generally opposed to the Monarchy of Britain. Sourcing fighters was easy to do among the Wataugans, rapidly building a capable light Infantry force on the natural skills required of living in the region.
By 25 SEP 1780, General Cornwallis’ invasion of North Carolina proved a grave threat to Patriot forces in the region and dire consequences should the rebellion fail. The decision to take action was made, and at the conclusion of a sermon by Reverend Samuel Doak, several hundred Overmountain Men started their movement southeast concluding in the battle of Kings Mountain on 10 OCT, the day after their fight at Cowpens, cornering Loyalist militia forces atop the mountain commanded by Loyalist Militia Major Ferguson. Consistently firing accurately at Loyalist positions, they managed an effective attrition, killing 157 and capturing over 600 of a 1,000 man strong force while only losing 28 of their own during the battle. Both a healthy knowledge of effective use of terrain and disciplined marksmanship played large roles to their advantage, winning quite literally an uphill battle. Of this militia came such notable figures as John Sevier and John Crockett, the former being a highly influential Tennessee statesman and the latter fathering David Crockett. Again, the measure of Men required for such feats did not come by accident, it was required not for simply for success but for survival.
A Modern Perspective
It would be easy for us, amid the facade of modernity and the normalcy bias of the past century to assume such turbulent times are behind us. Quite the contrary. The seeds of secession and the questioning of the status of government is perpetual, following the outcomes of elections. For the Left, the furthering of the Hegelian dialectic never stops no matter the outcome, it merely removes the facade in between failures. Texas grumbled of secession post-2008; many theorists have offered, to varying degrees of validity, models of balkanization of the American nation, and contemporary local level scizms are threatening from both the Left and the Right. California is moving, with the State of Jefferson yet again gaining steam amid more draconian laws, with the emerging State of Liberty seeking independence from Washington’s Seattle Communists and northern Colorado having one bad election cycle away from becoming two states. I assert that none of these moves, however welcome they may be, will occur without significant levels of violence and economic fallout.
Be that as it may, such movements are made by determined Men. Lip service and words are exactly that- with no demonstration of skill they contain no teeth. Without prior demonstration of useful skill in praxis that lip service serves no purpose and thus should be squelched. These movements described within this text were made by Men of skill, on both sides of that conflict, understanding that force is not something to be teased. The ‘patriot movement’ from the Right is in dire need of reform, and now is the prime opportunity. You have won nothing but time, and the Left’s effeminate facsimile, while at its outset humorous, should not be taken lightly. They will act, of that I’m certain. Marxists are, for all their faults, inherently predictable should you actually read their guiding texts. Take each of those tidbits of history above for the implied lessons contained; compare them to contemporary events, and the broader implications of those moves with the ones of today. Only then will the lessons of history remembered ring true, in both victory and defeat, erstwhile hardening yourselves for the road to come.