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The Cary Rebellion: Definition, Causes & Timeline

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Cary Rebellion was a moment of civil unrest in the American colonies that helped shape the early 18th century. In this lesson, we'll explore this moment and see what rebellions looked like before the American Revolution.

Rebellions Before the Revolution

In 1776, the American colonists rebelled against the British Empire. That's a story you've probably heard by now. What we don't always talk about are the other rebellions, the many experiments with political dissent that occurred in the colonies before 1776. The colonies were always seen as places of greater freedom and opportunity, especially for minority or working class groups, and attempts to restrict these ideals were rarely unopposed. One of the earliest rebellions happened in what is now North Carolina, which was then simply known as northern Carolina. The Cary Rebellion didn't result in massive warfare or the toppling of empires, but it did demonstrate that discontent in the colonies wouldn't go unheard.

Quakers & Anglicans

Our story starts with the arrival of George Fox in the colony of Carolina in 1672. George Fox was a controversial figure in England, and the founder of a religious sect of Protestants who broke away from the Anglican Church, the official Church of England. This devoutly passivist organization called itself the Society of Friends; their detractors called them the Quakers.

George Fox
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George Fox came to the colonies to establish a place for his followers to worship without persecution, an idea already embraced by Puritans and Catholics. Quakers flocked to the remote Carolina colony, which began to grow in size. By the beginning of the 18th century, most of northern Carolina's people were Quakers, and most important political positions were held by Quakers. The Anglican minority didn't take that lightly.

The Oath of Queen Anne

Queen Anne ascended the English throne in 1702. By English tradition, all royal officials were supposed to swear an oath of allegiance to the new monarch, including the Quaker officeholders in northern Carolina. There was just one problem: the Quaker religion forbade them from swearing oaths. What the Quaker politicians did instead was promise to affirm their loyalties, demonstrating their fealty to the Queen without making a formal oath. Anglican officials refused the offer, likely motivated by the opportunity to get the Carolina government under Anglican leadership. The Quaker politicians were forced out of office and Anglican politicians took their place, declaring the Anglican religion as the official religion of the colony.

The Rebellion

In 1705, a new colonial official was appointed governor of Carolina. His name was Thomas Cary. Cary was an Anglican, and the Quakers of northern Carolina started petitioning for his removal from office. However, it eventually became clear that Cary wasn't as committed to this ideology as the other officials who often acted in his name. In 1708, Thomas Cary switched his allegiance to the Quakers, kicked the Anglican officials out of the colony, and reintroduced Quakers into power.

The Anglicans weren't about to let this slide and arranged for a new governor to be sent to the colony. In 1711, Edward Hyde arrived as the new governor of Carolina, but the Quakers refused to acknowledge his authority. Cary wouldn't give up his office, and his supporters started gathering near his house in the town of Bath. Hyde declared Cary and the town of Bath to be in open rebellion against the Crown.

Edward Hyde
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Hyde immediately set out to capture Cary and his supporters, but failed; Cary's supporters rallied to attack Hyde, and failed. There were a few more back-and-forth struggles between these armies, with neither gaining any significant victories, but still being successful enough to maintain momentum. It should be noted that the Quakers were passivists, so it's unlikely that many, if any, were actually fighting in this rebellion. Cary's soldiers were probably non-Quakers who simply supported the policies of the Quaker politicians.

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