North Carolina History

Historic Facts & Overview of North Carolina

Take a peek at North Carolina history. Discover an overview of North Carolina's rich history, heritage, historic events, and culture.

 The first European settlement in North Carolina is the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke Island that vanished sometime after 1587. North Carolina is the northern portion of the original 1629 land grant made by England's King Charles I, which was named in his honor (Carolus is Latin for Charles). North Carolina joined the Union in 1789 and is the 12th of the original 13 states. Today, North Carolina is a growing research center and banking state. The capital of the "Tar Heel State" is Raleigh, and the dogwood blossom is the state flower.

Overview of North Carolina History and Heritage

The first known European exploration of North Carolina occurred during the summer of 1524. A Florentine navigator named Giovanni da Verrazano, in the service of France, explored the coastal area of North Carolina between the Cape Fear River area and Kitty Hawk. A report of his findings was sent to Francis I and published in Richard Hakluyt's Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America. No attempt was made to colonize the area.

Between 1540 and 1570 several Spanish explorers from the Florida Gulf region explored portions of North Carolina, but again no permanent settlements were established.

Coastal North Carolina was the scene of the first attempt to colonize America by English-speaking people. Two colonies were begun in the 1580's under a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Walter Raleigh. The first colony, established in 1585 under the leadership of Ralph Lane, ended in failure.

A second expedition under the leadership of John White began in the spring of 1587 when 110 settlers, including seventeen women and nine children, set sail for the new world. The White Colony arrived near Hatteras in June, 1587, and went on to Roanoke Island, where they found the houses built by Ralph Lane's expedition still standing. Two significant events occurred shortly after the colonist's arrival: two "friendly" Indians were baptized and a child was born. Virginia Dare, as the baby was named, became the first child born to English-speaking parents in the new world.

The colonists faced many problems. As supplies ran short White was pressured to return to England for provisions. Once in England, White was unable to immediately return to Roanoke because of an impending attack by the Spanish Armada. When he was finally able to return in 1590, he found only the remnants of what was once a settlement. There were no signs of life, only the word "CROATAN" carved on a nearby tree. Much speculation has been made about the fate of the "Lost Colony," but no one has successfully explained the disappearance of the colony and its settlers.

The first permanent English settlers in North Carolina were immigrants from the tidewater area of southeastern Virginia. These first of these "overflow" settlers moved into the Albemarle area of northeast North Carolina around 1650.

In 1663, Charles II granted a charter to eight English gentlemen who had helped him regain the throne of England.

The territory was called Carolina in honor of Charles the First ("Carolus" is the Latin form of "Charles"). In 1665, a second charter was granted to clarify territorial questions not answered in the first charter. This charter extended the boundary lines of Carolina.

Between 1663 and 1729, North Carolina was under the control of the Lords Proprietors and their descendants, who commissioned colonial officials and authorized the governor and his council to grant lands in the name of the Lords Proprietors.

In 1669, John Locke wrote the Fundamental Constitutions as a model for the government of Carolina. Albemarle County was divided into local governmental units called precincts. Initially there were three precincts--Berkley, Carteret, and Shaftesbury--but as the colony expanded to the south and west new precincts were created.

By 1710, settlements spread along the entire coast of the Neuse River. That same year New Bern was established. Native Americans grew angry as white settlers took their lands. In Sept. 1711, Tuscarora Indians massacred hundreds of settlers, destroying most of the settlements along the Neuse River. This marked the beginning of the Tuscarora War (1711-1713).

Although the Albemarle Region was the first permanent settlement in the Carolina area, another region was developed around present-day Charleston, South Carolina. Because of the natural harbor and easier access to trade with the West Indies, more attention was given to developing the Charleston area than her northern counterparts. For a twenty-year period, 1692-1712, the colonies of North and South Carolina existed as one unit of government. Although North Carolina still had her own assembly and council, the governor of Carolina resided in Charleston and a deputy governor appointed for North Carolina.

Many conflicts were fought during the following years. The pirate Blackbeard was killed near Ocracoke Island in 1718, ending a series of pirate attacks along the eastern coast.

After a few years of peace and prosperity there came another attack upon the proprietors which culminated in the revolution of 1719 and the downfall of proprietary rule. Acting on the advice of Chief Justice Nicholas Trott (1663-1740) the proprietors adopted a reactionary policy, vetoed several popular laws, and refused to afford protection from the attacks of the Indians. The people rebelled, overthrew the existing government and elected their leader James Moore (1667-1723) as governor. The result of the revolution was accepted in England, and the colony at once came under royal control, although the rights of the proprietors were not extinguished by purchase until 1729. Theoretically South Carolina and North Carolina constituted a single province, but, as the settlements were far apart,there were always separate local governments. Until 1691 each had its own governors, from 1691 to 1712 there was usually a governor at Charleston and a deputy for the northern settlements, and after 1712 there were again separate governors. The first attempt to define the boundary was made in 1732, but the work was not completed until 1815.

The northern and southern areas were distinct. In the north, tobacco grew well, and pine forests provided shipbuilding products known as naval stores (pitch, tar, turpentine). In the south, the cash crops were rice and indigo (source of a blue dye). Increasingly, colonists and their assemblies feuded with the proprietors' agents. By 1729, there were a total of eleven precincts: six in Albemarle County and five in Bath County, which had been created in 1696.

In 1729, seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in North Carolina to the Crown and North Carolina became a royal colony. The eighth proprietor, Lord Granville, retained economic interest and continued granting land in the northern half of North Carolina. In 1729, North Carolina and South Carolina became separate royal colonies and in 1732 the southern portion of South Carolina separated and became Georgia a year later. All political functions were under the supervision of the Crown until 1775.

Troops from Carolina were sent to resolve colonial wars, including the French and Indian War (1754-1763). In 1761, an important victory over the Cherokee opened much of western Carolina to settlement.

North Carolina, on April 12, 1776, authorized her delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. This was the first official action by a colony calling for independence. The 83 delegates present in Halifax at the Fourth Provincial Congress unanimously adopted the Halifax Resolves.

Colonists in North Carolina were divided during the Revolutionary War. Tories remained loyal to Britain and those who opposed Britain were called Whigs. The Whigs won the first battle in North Carolina at Moore's Creek Bridge in 1776. Although much of the fighting left North Carolina, its soldiers continued fighting for both sides in Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina.

In early December, 1776, delegates to the Fifth Provincial Congress adopted the first constitution for North Carolina. On December 21, 1776, Richard Caswell became the first governor of North Carolina under the new constitution. In 1788, North Carolina rejected the United States Constitution because of the lack of necessary amendments to ensure freedom of the people; however, on November 21, 1789, the state adopted the constitution, becoming the twelfth state to enter the federal union.

North Carolina has had two permanent capitals, New Bern and Raleigh, and there have been three capitol buildings. Tryon Palace in New Bern was constructed in the period 1767-1770, and the main building was destroyed by fire February 27, 1798. The first capitol in Raleigh was completed in 1794 and was destroyed by fire on June 21, 1831. The present capitol building was completed in 1840.

In 1790, North Carolina ceded her western lands which included Washington, Davidson, Hawkins, Greene, Sullivan, Sumner, and Tennessee counties, to the federal government. Between 1790 and 1796 the territory was known as Tennessee Territory, but in 1796 it became simply Tennessee, the sixteenth state in the Union.

During the years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, North Carolina developed a system of state and local government to meet the needs of its people. During this same period, two North Carolina natives were elected to the presidency of the United States: Andrew Jackson, the seventh president (1829-1837), and James K. Polk, the eleventh president (1845-1849).

Although there was much division in the state concerning secession, North Carolina did secede on May 20, 1861. North Carolina was not considered a wealthy state, but during the Civil War North Carolina supplied more men and materials to the Confederate cause than any other state. The state also suffered the largest number of losses than any other Confederate state during the war. General Joseph Johnston surrendered the last major Confederate Army to General William Sherman near Durham on April 26, 1865.

Over 125,000 soldiers fought for the Confederacy from North Carolina and many battles occurred within the state. At the end of the war, most of the state lay in ruins. Reconstruction began. North Carolina was under military rule until a new constitution outlawing slavery was ratified. North Carolina was readmitted to the Union on June 25, 1868.

Serving as president during much of the difficult period of Reconstruction was Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth president (1865-1869), another North Carolina native. The years of reconstruction and the decades following were characterized by courageous readjustments.

In 1901 Governor Charles B. Aycock introduced a far-reaching program of education throughout the state, an event which marked an important turning point in the history of North Carolina.

In 1903 the Wright Brothers made the first successful powered flight by man at Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk. The Wright Memorial at Kitty Hawks now commemorates their achievement.

After the war, huge plantations were divided and sold to tenant farmers. Tobacco manufacturing grew rapidly in Durham while the furniture industry built factories in High Point. Textile mills flourished along the rivers. By the end of the 1920s, North Carolina led the nation in production of cotton textiles, wooden furniture, and tobacco products. State leaders improved education and created the State Highway Commission to expand roadways with a pioneer road building program was instituted which ultimately caused the state to be known as the "Good Roads State." .

The Great Depression (1929-1939) left thousands without work. North Carolina and the federal government created jobs expanding roads and cleaning up state parks. The state improved welfare and reduced state taxes. By the late 1930s, the economy was steadily improving. During the 1940s, construction began on Fontana and Kerr Dam. New medical centers were built and roadways continued to expand throughout the state.

During the 1890s, laws were passed that required racial segregation of schools, restaurants, and public facilities. In 1960, four black students in Greensboro held the nation's first sit-in, by refusing to leave a restricted lunch counter. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act banned the segregation of public facilities. During the 1970s, schools also became integrated.

Today, North Carolina continues to improve education and roadways. Traditional industries seem to be doing well, but state leaders are striving to attract new businesses to the state.

In recent years the state has emphasized education, industry, and agricultural technology and in each area has achieved many notable successes. Established in 1959 to enhance North Carolina's economic growth, the Research Triangle Park is a unique complex for organizations engaged in institutional, governmental, and industrial research. Three major research universities--Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill--are both the base and the capstone of the Research Triangle Park.

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