Learn more about the rich storied history of North Carolina.
Some historians date human settlement in North Carolina back to 8000 BC, but the first recorded discovery was made by a group of explorers led by Giovanni da Verrazona in 1524. Then in 1526, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon led a group of Spanish sailors and established a temporary colony, probably located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Hernando de Soto crossed through western North Carolina in 1540 before discovering the Mississippi River. The French and Spanish never developed a permanent colony, so the territory remained for the Indians and the English, who eventually established a permanent settlement. Scholars estimate that approximately 30,000 Indians lived in the area when the English arrived. Five of the main tribes were the Hatteras, the Chowanocs, the Tuscaroras, the Catawbas, and the Cherokee.
Sir Walter Raleigh sent out the first English colony in 1585, which settled in the New World on Roanoke Island. The colony began to encounter danger and starvation, so some of the settlers returned to get supplies. When they came back to Roanoke Island, the colony could not be saved. In 1587, Raleigh sent a second group to Roanoke Island under the leadership of Governor John White. White and his wife became the first English parents to give birth to a child in the New World, and they named her Virginia Dare. White later returned to England to get supplies and was unable to travel back to the colony until 1590. When he arrived, the colony had disappeared. This “Lost Colony” has remained a mystery ever since. Even though Raleigh’s plan to start and English nation failed, his idea survived, and he is called the Father of English America.
In 1622, Virginian settlers began visiting the area that is now North Carolina. And in 1629, Charles I gave Carolina to Sir Robert Heath, attorney general. Heath, however, was unsuccessful in establishing settlement. Finally, people coming from Virginia in search of fertile land in the late 1650’s or early 1660’s founded a settlement north of the Albemarle Sound. The new settlement gained the attention of a group in England. Charles II allowed 8 lords proprietors to have the area south of Virginia between 31º and 36ºnorth latitude, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the South Seas, or the Pacific Ocean. Later, the territory was increased to 36º 30’N to contain the Albemarle settlements, and south to 29º.
The Proprietary Period 1663 – 1729
The lord proprietors founded Albemarle County and separated it into four precincts. Each precinct selected representatives for a government assembly which, along with the appointed court, council, and governor, comprised the settlement’s ruling body. The proprietors, however, were unable to maintain a stable government.
The Charleston settlement of North Carolina located in the south was growing quickly. The two settlements of Albemarle and Charleston eventually became known as North and South Carolina. A governor was chosen in 1691 to rule over all of Carolina, but he lived in Charleston. Later, from 1712 to 1729, as separate colonies, North and South Carolina had their own governors.
The proprietary period was a time of much difficulty due to bad government, internal conflict, and slow progress. The first town, Bath, was finally founded in 1706 and was settled by Huguenots. New Bern was established in 1710 as the second town.
Royal Period 1729 – 1775
George II bought the shares of Carolina from seven of the lord proprietors in 1729. The royalization of Carolina did not bring about dramatic change in government, but the administration seemed more effective with increasing settlement and prosperity. The population grew from 30,000 in 1729 to 265,000 in 1775, and settlements had spread to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The expansion, however, was the beginning of conflict between the east and west. The east controlled the government, which burdened the west with high taxes and other corruption . As a result, the War of Regulation took place. The Regulators rose up against the government by refusing to pay taxes and by meddling with the courts. The western rebels were defeated by Governor William Tryon on May 16,1771 during the Battle of Alamance Creek.
The Formative Years 1776 – 1792
The people of the North Carolina colony were greatly involved in disputes leading to the American Revolution despite previous loyalty to Great Britain. They had grown to resent British rule and resisted enforcement of the Stamp Act in 1765 and 1766. Royal rule stopped in May of 1775 when Governor Josiah Martin fled from New Bern to a British ship. The Second Provincial Congress then created a state government and two regiments in 1775. The first battle of the Revolution fought in North Carolina was at Moore’s Creek Bridge in February of 1776, where the Scottish Loyalists were defeated. The Fourth Provincial Congress met on April 12 in Halifax and determined that delegates to the Continental Congress could vote for independence. This decision made North Carolina the first colony to officially announce its readiness for independence. North Carolina then provided ten regiments for the Continental army, as well as thousands of militiamen. During this time, the colony was practically engaged in civil war also as they defeated the Cherokee and held back many Tories.
North Carolina slowly recovered after the war as education, trade, and wealth were re-established. Deep conflict arose among conservatives and radicals concerning state government and currency. North Carolina was hesitant about union and gave little toward the movement for a stronger federal government. However, they did send delegates to the convention of 1787 to develop a federal Constitution. North Carolina was the 12th of the original 13 states to ratify the federal Constitution in November of 1789. The state also gave up its area to the west, now known as Tennessee, to the Union. Raleigh was determined as the capital in 1792.
Early 19th Century
North Carolina suffered from political and economic stagnation from 1815 to 1835. A convention held in 1835 granted control of the House of Representatives to the west and control of the senate to the east. Progress was made in the areas of education, transportation, tax reform, women’s rights, and agriculture. Eventually, however, the Civil War ensued, bringing progress to a halt.
Conflict increased between the North and South, and North Carolina was sympathetic to the South, but did not want to secede. Confederate firing on Fort Sumter forced North Carolina to choose sides in the war. North Carolina joined the Confederacy and seceded on May 20, 1861 . Among the important battles of the Civil War fought in North Carolina were Fort Hatteras, Plymouth, New Bern, Fort Fisher, Bentonville, Sherman’s invasion of 1865, and Johnston’s surrender to Sherman near Durham.
The war brought about much political conflict as satisfaction and wealth diminished. North Carolina lost 40,000 men in the war, slavery was destroyed, and future development was hindered. The states of the South had to adopt a new constitution ratifying the 14th amendment allowing male Negro adults to vote, in order to be readmitted to the Union. The Republican party developed the constitution of 1868, gained control of state government, and ensured re-entry to the Union. In 1870, the Democratic party took control of the government, removing Governor William W. Holden from office and electing Zebulon B. Vance in 1876, ending Reconstruction.
In 1880, North Carolina’s industrialization and urbanization began.. This industrialization was called the First Cotton Mill Campaign, and it increased jobs in the Piedmont, but produced only minimal wealth due to low wages. Cotton, tobacco, and furniture industries experienced rapid growth. Transportation expanded as miles of railroads were constructed. Farmers, however, experienced an economic depression because of favoritism toward new businesses and industries.
The 20th Century
Charles B. Aycock became governor in 1900, and the Democratic party regained control as a new era began. Political conflict declined as industrialization and urbanization continued to grow. Transportation, education, and agriculture also improved. World War I helped promote the economy and introduced significant military basses such as Fort Bragg. In the 1930’s, the Depression caused widespread problems, but the state recovered quickly with help from the federal government. During World War II, Fort Bragg and over 100 other military establishments were located in North Carolina.
After the war, improvements were made in health, education, the court system, administration, and agriculture. The manufacturing and tourism industries expanded while the number of farms in the state greatly diminished. The population of North Carolina has seen dramatic growth since the 1970’s. Much emphasis has recently been placed on education, industry, and agricultural technology, especially with the development of Research Triangle Park in 1959.