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Description by Morgan Edwards of the North Carolina Baptists in the Battle of Alamance [Extracts]
Edwards, Morgan, 1722-1795
Volume 08, Pages 654-657

[Reprinted from Morgan Edwards' MS. History of the Baptists in North Carolina.1 ]

“Next to Virginia Southward is North Carolina, a poor and unhappy province where superiors make complaints of the people,

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and the people of their superiors, which complaints if just, shows the body politic to be like that of Israel in the house of Isaiah “from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head without any soundness, but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores.” These complaints rose to hostilities at Alamance Creek May 16th 1771, where about 6,000 appeared in arms and fought each other 4,000 Regulators killing three Tryonians and 2,000 [Tryonians] killing twelve Regulators besides lodging in the trees an increditable number of balls which the hunters have since picked out and killed more deer and turkies than they killed of their antagonists.”

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“Very remarkable things may be said of the church [Sandy Creek Church] worthy a place in Gilles's ∗ ∗ ∗ It begun with 16 souls [1755] and in a short time increased to 606 spreading its branches to Deep River and Abbots Creek which branches are gone to other provinces and most of the members of this church have followed them; insomuch that in 17 years it is reduced from 606 to 14 souls. The cause of this dispersion was the abuse of power which too much prevailed in the province and caused the inhabitants at last to rise in arms and fight for their privileges; but being routed May 16th, 1771 they despaired of seeing better times and therefore quitted the province. It is said 1,500 families departed since the battle of Alamance and to my knowledge a great many more are only waiting to dispose of their plantations in order to follow them. This is to me an argument that their grievances were real and their oppression great, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary.”

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“Governor Tryon is said to have represented ‘the Regulators as a faction of Quakers and Baptists who aimed at overturning the church of England.’ If the Governor said as here suggested he must be misinformed for I made it my business to inquire into the matter and can aver that among 4000 Regulators there were but 7 of the denomination of Baptists; and these were expelled from the societies they belonged unto, in consequence of the resolve of the Baptist Association held at Sandy Creek the Second Saturday in Oct. 1769, “If any of our members shall take up arms against the legal authority or aid and abet them that do so, he shall be excommunicated,” &c. When this was known abroad, one of the four chiefs of the Regulators with an armed company broke into the

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assembly and demanded if there were such a resolve entered into by the Association? The answer was evasive, for they were in bodily fear. This checked the design much; and the author of the Impartial Relation is obliged to own, page 16, “There (in Sandy Creek) the scheme met with some opposition on account that it was too hot and rash and in some things not legal,” &c. One of the seven Baptists by the name of Merrill was executed; and he, at the point of death, did not justify his conduct, but bitterly condemned it and blamed two men (of very different religion) for deceiving him into the rebellion.

“His speech at the gallows was as follows:

“‘I stand here exposed to the world as a criminal. My life will soon be a change. God is my comforter and supporter. I am condemned to die for opposing Government. All you that are present take warning by my miserable end when I shall be hung up as a spectacle before you. My first seducers were Hunter and Gelaspie. They had often solicited me, telling that a settlement only was contended for with regard to publick officers who they said had oppressed the people; and that unless these measures were taken there would be no remedy or redress hereafter. Thus they pressed me on by assuring me the disputes (as they called them) then existing might be settled without shedding of blood. I considered this unhappy affair and thought possibly the contentions in the country might be brought to some determination without injury to any, and in this mind I joined the Regulation. After I had entered under the banner of the Regulators I was ever after pressed to be made a leading man among them, and was one of the number who opposed Colonel Waddell with his troops; information prevailing that the Governor was on his march to lay waste the country and destroy its inhabitants, which I now find to be false, and propagated to screen old offenders from justice. As to my private life, I do not know of any particular charge against me. I received, by the grace of God, a change fifteen years ago; but have, since that time, been a blackslider; yet Providence, which is my chief security, has been pleased to give me comfort, under these evils, in my last hour; and altho’ the halter is now round my neck, believe me, I would not change stations with any man on the ground. All you, who think you stand, take heed lest ye fall. I would be glad to say a few words more to you before I die. In a few moments, I shall leave a widow

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and ten children; I entreat that no reflection may be cast upon them on my account; and if possible, shall deem it as a bounty, should you, gentlemen petition the Governor and Council, that some part of my estate may be spared for the widow and fatherless; it will be an act of charity, for I have forfeited the whole, by the laws of God and man.”

“The man bore an excellent character, insomuch that one of his enemies was heard to say, ‘That if all went to the gallows with Capt. Merrill's character, hanging would be an honourable death.’ All pitied him and blamed the wicked Hunter, Gelaspie, Howell, Husband, Butler, and others who deceived and seduced him. Upwards of 70 bills were found at the time, but Merrill was the only Baptist found among the number. The four principals in the Regulation are well known to be of other religious denominations.

“I thought it necessary to say so much, lest the Governor's words should in time make the North Carolina Regulation another Muster tragedy.”


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1 Note.—Morgan Edwards made a tour through North Carolina in 1772, gathering the material for his history of the Baptists in the province. The extracts given are reprinted from Benedict's “General History of the Baptist Denomina tion in America,” edition of 1813. Benedict printed from Morgan Edwards' works in manuscript.—Editor.]