The first use of the term Regulators appears in 1768. After years of organization and in response to the perception that Royal Governor William Tyron was ignoring their perspectives and concerns, some of the Regulators began to attack sheriffs and other supporters of the Crown on the frontier. Following one of these assaults, two leaders of the Regulators were arrested. In response, other Regulators issued a threat: release the leaders or they would burn the village of Hillsborough.
Attempts to peacefully negotiate a settlement soon gave way to increased violence throughout the frontier. On May 16th, 1771, Regulators decided to attack the government directly in hopes of spurring a local revolution that would result in a new colonial government that was more friendly to the will of frontier settlers. Visitors to the battleground can see the approximate position of the Governor Tryon's men represented by red flags. The Regulators position are represented by the blue flags. The Battle of Alamance lasted only two hours and resulted in the Regulators being pushed back from the field.
While many accounts suggest that the Regulators were poorly organized and armed, historians emphasize the similarities between the militiamen on both sides in terms of training and leadership. The determining factor, according to historic site manager Bryan Dalton, was that Governor Tyron's forces had artillery that allowed them to push the Regulators to the defensive after the first thirty minutes of battle. As Regulators fell back to the trees to take a defensive position against the heavy fire, a growing number of men found self-preservation to be the better part of valor and abandoned the field.
As the Regulators fell back, the colonial militia advanced and forced the remaining rebels from the field. While the number of casualties for the colonial militia are known (9 killed and 60 casualties), Regulator casualties are unknown but believed to be two to three times as high. After the battle, the colonial government captures and executed nine of the leaders of the Regulator movement. This action led to simmering resentment that would resurface during the Revolutionary War.