One of the most despised figures in North Carolina history, Edmund Fanning was born in Suffolk County, New York in 1737. Fanning, a Loyalist and colonial official between 1760 and 1771, held a variety of positions while living in Hillsborough. Because of his abuse of his office, Fanning became a prominent target of the Regulators. After leaving North Carolina in1771, Fanning served as a Loyalist commander, a General in the British army, and a Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.
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Fanning attended Yale University, graduating in 1757 before attending Harvard College and King’s College (present-day Columbia University). In 1760, he moved to Childsburgh, renamed Hillsborough in 1766, and soon thereafter was elected town commissioner, a position he held until 1771. Fanning developed mercantile partnerships and gained additional power in Orange County, beginning as a representative to the General Assembly. Slowly, Fanning supplemented his position as assembly representative with other positions, so that between 1766 and 1768 he served simultaneously as assemblyman, register of deeds, a Superior Court Judge and a Colonel in the militia.
The public was outraged at Fanning’s abuse of power, but probably more angered by his close personal friendship with Governor William Tryon. Fanning’s authority was challenged in 1768, when he was sued for taking excessive fees as the register of deeds. Although he was found not guilty on all charges, the acquittal did not assuage the rapidly growing ranks of Orange County Regulators. They fired warning shots through the roof of Fanning’s house, but did no further damage, dispersing after Governor Tryon called out the militia.
By 1770, the Regulator Movement again gained strength in Orange County, leading to riots in September of that year. The Regulators destroyed Fanning’s house, but his law offices were left unharmed and overran the courthouse, physically abusing members of the “Courthouse Ring,” which included Edmund Fanning. With Fanning’s urging, Governor Tryon again called out the state militia, who defeated the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance on May 16, 1771. Fanning led the left wing of Tryon’s army during the engagement.
Soon after the Battle of Alamance, Edmund Fanning left the state, following Governor Tryon to New York as his private secretary. He then served as a colonel in the Loyalist militia throughout the Revolutionary War, during which time he was wounded twice. After the conflict, Fanning was made a Colonel in the British army and appointed Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. In 1786 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island, a position he held until his retirement in 1805. Promoted to major general in the British army in 1793 and full general on April 25, 1808, Edmund Fanning died at his home in London in 1818.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 181-183—sketch by Mary Claire Engstrom
Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina, I (1954)
William Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Hugh T. Lefler and Paul Wager, ed., Orange County, 1752-1952 (1953)