The Paxton Boys
and the Regulators; frontier vigilantes

1763 and 1771

As the colonies became more populated, pioneers moved into a region called the Old West. It consisted of the Piedmont, the valleys of the Appalachians, and the back country of New England. In the Old West, fur traders offered Indians weapons and tools in exchange for deer hides, beaver pelts, and other skins and furs. Cattle owners in the Southern Colonies found ample grazing lands in the Piedmont for their expanding herds, and cowboys led roundups and cattle drives. Farmers followed the fur traders and cattle ranchers into the Old West, settling in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and in the fertile hills and valleys of North and South Carolina.

Many kinds of people came to the Old West. Some owned small farms in the coastal lowlands but sought better land to the west. Others were the landless younger sons and daughters of established families in the East. These colonists were joined by new arrivals from Europe. For example, many German and Scotch-Irish immigrants fled hard times and religious persecution in Europe and settled in Pennsylvania during the early 1700's.

Settlers from different lands brought their own customs and way of life to the frontier. In the process, they helped create American culture. For example, Scandinavian settlers brought the log cabin to America. Other settlers copied the log cabin throughout the Old West. German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania adapted a European rifle to pioneer needs. The result--the Kentucky rifle--proved essential on the frontier for shooting game and for defense against wild animals.

As each frontier became settled, tensions developed between western settlers and colonial governments in the east and between Indians and the frontiersmen in the west. The westerners resented paying taxes to distant governments that provided them with few benefits. The easterners viewed the west as a backwoods inhabited by people incapable of governing themselves. At times, disputes between the groups turned violent. In 1763 Pennsylvania frontiersmen known as "the Paxton Boys" massacred all of the people of a peaceful Conestoga village.

In 1764, these same vigilantes marched on Philadelphia, the colony's capital, but Pennsylvania statesman Benjamin Franklin persuaded them to turn back. In the Carolinas, a group of westerners known as the "Regulators" assembled to protest high taxes, insufficient representation in colonial government, and other injustices. A battle was narrowly avoided at the Saluda River in South Carolina in 1769.

In 1771 Alamance Battlefield, near Burlington North Carolina, was the scene of a historic battle shortly before the Revolutionary War. About 2,000 Regulators, rebelled against the eastern planters. The Regulators suffered a heroic defeat on May 16.

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