Alamance Hillsborough NC Historic Sites NC History Outlander North Carolina Pre-Revolutionary War Period Season 5 The Fiery Cross

The NC History Behind The Outlander Story

March 7, 2020

Episodes 502 & 503

I don’t know about you but I’m loving the new season of Outlander! There is so much HISTORY in this season, I can hardly contain myself. OK. OK, I confess. I have become a history nerd but it’s all Diana’s fault. When I fell in love with Outlander, I also fell in love with all of the wonderful history that surrounds the story. I’ve been watching the show, rereading the book and doing some research on my own. So, bear with me, as I share a few things that I’ve discovered as a result of Episode 502, Between Two Fires, and Episode 503, Free Will. Just consider it the Outlander North Carolina version of CliffsNotes. Hang on ’cause here we go! P.S. There are a lot of links in this article and they should all open in a new tab.

Hillsborough Riots

Did they actually occur? Yes! There were some pretty brutal mob riots by the Regulators in Orange County, North Carolina, more specifically in Hillsborough, in September, 1770. You’ll be interested to know that there is NO record of anyone being tarred and feathered during the riots. Edmund Fanning, the Crown Attorney, was dragged out of the courthouse by his feet with his head reportedly hitting each step on the way down plus they beat him and at least one other man with clubs and whips. Read more about the true story of the Hillsborough Riots and what ignited them here.

The Hillsborough Riots weren’t the beginning of violent hostilities. In fact, in 1765, there was a skirmish called the War of Sugar Creek in Mecklenburg County between the backcountry settlers and a survey crew. Once again, our friend, Edmund Fanning, is involved. He’s such a tattletale. 

Edmund Fanning

Not being willing to stay out of anyone’s business, Fanning reappears in 1766 after a meeting of Regulators at Hart’s Mill. I’m really beginning to not feel sorry for this guy. 

Sidenote to that last link, what is James Fraser doing at Hart’s Mill and why is he a reverend?

Historical Marker at Eno River Bridge Northwest of Hillsborough

Rowan County

Complete Map of NC by John Collet From Survey 1770

You may remember Jamie calling the men of Rowan County to form a militia in Episode 3. (Can someone please tell me what paper Fergus grabbed and was writing Jamie’s instructions on?) Anyway, did Rowan County actually exist? Yes, it did and still does today; however,  in 1770, Rowan County, North Carolina, was HUGE. Check out this map of North Carolina in 1770 which shows just how much territory comprised Rowan County in relation to the map above.  At  that time, the county would have encompassed at least 20 of North Carolina’s existing 100 counties today. Jamie would have had a wide pool from which to gather men for a militia as you can see. 

Brownsville, North Carolina

Brownsville, North Carolina was mentioned in Episode 3 and in the books. Did it really exist? No, not that I can find BUT you will be interested to know that there was a Brownsville Plantation (ca. 1800) in Granville County, North Carolina . Granville County in 1770 would have been two counties east of Rowan. Click here for map.  

From The Fiery Cross…

“Brownsville was the outer point of our journey, before turning back toward Salisbury, and it held the possibility of a pothouse—or at least a hospitable shed to sleep in—but Jamie thought better to wait.”

Diana Gabaldon~The Fiery Cross

“Brownsville was half a dozen ramshackle huts, strewn among the dying brush of a hillside like a handful of rubbish tossed into the weeds. Near the road—if the narrow rut of churned black mud could be dignified by such a word—two cabins leaned tipsily on either side of a slightly larger and more solid-looking building, like drunkards leaning cozily on a sober companion. Rather ironically, this larger building seemed to operate as Brownsville’s general store and taproom, judging from the barrels of beer and powder and the stacks of drenched hides that stood in the muddy yard beside it—though to apply either term to it was granting that more dignity than it deserved, too, Roger thought.”

Diana Gabaldon~The Fiery Cross

Brownsville Plantation was owned by Thomas Brown of Scotland. How about that? He was born in 1776 and died in 1856.  The plantation also had a post office, a store and a school. As thorough as Diana is, I wonder if she happened upon Brownsville Plantation in her research. Although Brownsville Plantation would have been outside of Jamie’s “jurisdiction” plus the time frame doesn’t match, it is interesting to think about and wonder, isn’t it?

Herman Husband

Historical Marker in Randolph County, North Carolina

We met Herman Husband with Murtagh very briefly in Episode 2. He didn’t look at all like I envisioned him. But did he actually exist? Yes! In fact, he was instrumental in the Regulator movement, stirring up tensions in the backcountry settlers who felt unfairly treated by Governor Tryon, the local sheriffs and the wealthier Eastern North Carolina landowners. Since Husband was a Quaker, his leadership in the Regulator movement was somewhat controversial, I think we will see more of good ole’ Herman (I say that with a wink) as the season progresses. 

One last thing on Husband from Episode 2, it appeared that the Regulators were assembled in a camp. Rocky Creek Baptist Church was the site of many meetings of the Regulators plus Herman Husband participated in the early history of the church. I think I’ll just imagine that’s where they were meeting in the show.  Wink. 

Historical Marker in Chatham County, North Carolina

Reward For Fighting For Tryon

Roger: Governor Tryon's orders. All able-bodied men are asked to join His Excellency's militia.
Mrs. Findlay: Poor men must bleed for rich man's gold and always will, eh? Their father has gone to his reward in heaven, or he'd join ye.
Roger: My condolences, Mistress Findlay.
Roger: Is there a reward for my sons? 40 shillings each from the governor's treasury and two shillings a day for as long as they serve.

From Outlander, Season 5, Episode 3

Thanks to our friends at Alamance Battleground State Historic Site Facebook Page for sharing the following cool bit of history with us: Circular Letter from William Tryon to commanding officers of the North Carolina militia.  Among other things, Tryon’s letter spells out what each man who volunteered would receive in terms of “reward”, as Mrs. Findlay put it. It’s a very interesting letter. If you haven’t already liked the Alamance Battleground State Historic Site Facebook Page, you might want to do so by clicking the link above. Season 5 will revolve around this battle to a large extent. 

Back To The Present

Welcome back to 2020! Did you enjoy your trip through time and the history as it relates to Outlander Episodes 502 & 503? I’m no scholar so I’d love to hear what you think. There are so many things I didn’t mention, either because of complete ignorance (probably) or because they might be spoilers, so I’m waiting for things to play out on the screen before I discuss them.  I’m really excited about the rest of the season though and I hope you’ll join me for some more history lessons!!

Want to come to North Carolina to see these places for yourselves? Check out the following:

You won’t regret it!! Until next time, I remain…

Yours truly in North Carolina,

Beth 

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8 Comments

  • Reply Lisa Margulies March 7, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Nice! I enjoyed reading the history comparison for these episodes. I was bothered by the riot changes in ep 502. I do like it when history and Diana’s work are played out on the series! Thanks for doing the research legwork and sharing your findings!

    • Reply Beth Pittman March 8, 2020 at 11:34 am

      Thanks Lisa! I love the history and enjoyed every second doing the research! Thank you for your comment!

  • Reply Dianne Braun March 7, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for the history lesson. I’m from Charlotte and grew up in Charlotte and Raleigh. Just retired to Southport after 25 years in California. Soooo glad to be home. I did not enjoy history in school but have found it so fascinating as an adult. Looking forward to your next post.

    • Reply Beth Pittman March 7, 2020 at 1:38 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments, Dianne! And thank you for reading. We’re glad to have you back here in North Carolina!! Nothing like it, is there?

  • Reply Pamela White March 8, 2020 at 12:21 am

    I have German ancestors that also settled Rowan County in the Salisbury area during that time. They got there approximately late 1750s-early1760s. It is thru them that I was able to join the NSDAR.

  • Reply Allen Holleman April 23, 2020 at 1:07 am

    How about some real history of this time period in Rowan County? My maternal 5th GGF Daniel Little, born Johann Daniel Klein, in Germany, migrated to PA with family and as an adult down to Rowan County, became a leading citizen, captain in the militia and was appointed High Sheriff by Gov. Josiah Martin in the 1770’s. I do get that while involved with the actions against the Regulators he seemed conflicted about it.

    We are ‘hunkering down’ at the coast and my documentation is back in Raleigh. I have been aware of the books and tv series but have not read nor seen these but my interest is up and hope to remedy that but don’t know where to start.

    • Reply Beth Pittman April 27, 2020 at 2:44 pm

      Hey Allen. That is so interesting about your 5th GGF! I love it!! You must start reading the books – to me, the books are so much more accurate than the show. The author really does her research! Thank you for reading and for sharing your interesting ancestor!!

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