North Carolina is a state in the Southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west, Virginia to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. North Carolina is the 28th most extensive and the 9th most populous of the 50 United States. North Carolina is known as the Tar Heel State and the Old North State.
North Carolina is composed of 100 counties. North Carolina's two largest metropolitan areas are among the top ten fastest-growing in the country: its capital, Raleigh, and its largest city, Charlotte. In the past five decades, North Carolina's economy has undergone a transition from reliance upon tobacco, textiles, and furniture-making to a more diversified economy with engineering, energy, biotechnology, and finance sectors.
North Carolina has a wide range of elevations, from sea level on the coast to at Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern US. The climate of the coastal plains is strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the state falls in the humid subtropical climate zone. More than from the coast, the western, mountainous part of the state has a subtropical highland climate.
Before A.D. 200, residents were building earthwork mounds, which were used for ceremonial and religious purposes. Succeeding peoples, including those of the ancient Mississippian culture established by A.D. 1000 in the Piedmont, continued to build or add onto such mounds. In the 500–700 years preceding European contact, the Mississippian culture built large, complex cities and maintained far-flung regional trading networks. Historically documented tribes in the North Carolina region included the Carolina Algonquian-speaking tribes of the coastal areas, such as the Chowanoke, Roanoke, Pamlico, Machapunga, Coree, Cape Fear Indians, and others, who were the first to encounter the English; Iroquoian-speaking Meherrin, Cherokee and Tuscarora of the interior; and Southeastern Siouan tribes, such as the Cheraw, Waxhaw, Saponi, Waccamaw, and Catawba.
Spanish colonial forces were the first Europeans to make a permanent settlement in the area, when the Juan Pardo-led expedition built Fort San Juan in 1567 at the site of the Native American community of Joara, a Mississippian culture regional chiefdom in the western interior, near the present-day city of Morganton. The fort lasted only 18 months; the local inhabitants killed all but one of the 120 men Pardo had stationed at a total of six forts in the area.
North Carolina became one of the English Thirteen Colonies and with the territory of South Carolina was originally known as the Province of Carolina. The northern and southern parts of the original province separated in 1729. Originally settled by small farmers, sometimes having a few slaves, who were oriented toward subsistence agriculture, the colony lacked cities or towns. Pirates menaced the coastal settlements, but by 1718 the pirates had been captured and killed. Growth was strong in the middle of the 18th century, as the economy attracted Scots-Irish, Quaker, English and German immigrants. The colonists generally supported the American Revolution, as the number of Loyalists was smaller than in some other colonies.
During colonial times, Edenton served as the state capital beginning in 1722, and New Bern was selected as the capital in 1766. Construction of Tryon Palace, which served as the residence and offices of the provincial governor William Tryon, began in 1767 and was completed in 1771. In 1788 Raleigh was chosen as the site of the new capital, as its central location protected it from attacks from the coast. Officially established in 1792 as both county seat and state capital, the city was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, sponsor of Roanoke, the "lost colony" on Roanoke Island.
North Carolina made the smallest per-capita contribution to the war of any state, as only 7,800 men joined the Continental Army under General George Washington; an additional 10,000 served in local militia units under such leaders as General Nathanael Greene. There was some military action, especially in 1780–81. Many Carolinian frontiersmen had moved west over the mountains, into the Washington District (later known as Tennessee), but in 1789, following the Revolution, the state was persuaded to relinquish its claim to the western lands. It ceded them to the national government so that the Northwest Territory could be organized and managed nationally.
After 1800, cotton and tobacco became important export crops. The eastern half of the state, especially the Tidewater region, developed a slave society based on a plantation system and slave labor. Many free people of color migrated to the frontier along with their European-American neighbors, where the social system was looser. By 1810, nearly 3 percent of the free population consisted of free people of color, who numbered slightly more than 10,000. The western areas were dominated by white families, especially Scots-Irish, who operated small subsistence farms. In the early national period, the state became a center of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy, with a strong Whig presence, especially in the West. After Nat Turner's slave uprising in 1831, North Carolina and other southern states reduced the rights of free blacks. In 1835 the legislature withdrew their right to vote.
On May 20, 1861, North Carolina was the last of the Confederate states to declare secession from the Union, 13 days after the Tennessee legislature voted for secession. Some 125,000 North Carolinians served in the military; 20,000 were killed in battle, the most of any state in the Confederacy, and 21,000 died of disease. The state government was reluctant to support the demands of the national government in Richmond, and the state was the scene of only small battles.
With the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, the Reconstruction Era began. The United States abolished slavery without compensation to slaveholders or reparations to freedmen. A Republican Party coalition of black freedmen, northern carpetbaggers and local scalawags controlled state government for three years. The white conservative Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1870, in part by Ku Klux Klan violence and terrorism at the polls, to suppress black voting. Republicans were elected to the governorship until 1876, when the Red Shirts, a paramilitary organization that arose in 1874 and was allied with the Democratic Party, helped suppress black voting. More than 150 black Americans were murdered in electoral violence in 1876.
Democrats were elected to the legislature and governor's office, but the Populists attracted voters displeased with them. In 1896 a biracial, Populist-Republican Fusionist coalition gained the governor's office. The Democrats regained control of the legislature in 1896 and passed laws to impose Jim Crow and racial segregation of public facilities. Voters of North Carolina's 2nd congressional district elected a total of four African-American congressmen through these years of the late 19th century.
Political tensions ran so high that a small group of white Democrats in 1898 planned to take over the Wilmington government if their candidates were not elected. In the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, more than 1,500 white men attacked the black newspaper and neighborhood, killed numerous men, and ran off the white Republican mayor and aldermen. They installed their own people and elected Alfred M. Waddell as mayor, in the only coup d'état in United States history.
In 1899 the state legislature passed a new constitution, with requirements for poll taxes and literacy tests for voter registration which disfranchised most black Americans in the state. Exclusion from voting had wide effects: it meant that black Americans could not serve on juries or in any local office. After a decade of white supremacy, many people forgot that North Carolina had ever had thriving middle-class black Americans. Black citizens had no political voice in the state until after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed to enforce their constitutional rights. It was not until 1992 that another African American was elected as a US Representative from North Carolina.
As in the rest of the former Confederacy, North Carolina had become a one-party state, dominated by the Democratic Party. Impoverished by the Civil War, the state continued with an economy based on tobacco, cotton and agriculture. Towns and cities remained few in the east. A major industrial base emerged in the late 19th century in the western counties of the Piedmont, based on cotton mills established at the fall line. Railroads were built to connect the new industrializing cities. The state was the site of the first successful controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air flight, by the Wright brothers, near Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. In the first half of the 20th century, many African Americans left the state to go North for better opportunities, in the Great Migration. Their departure changed the demographic characteristics of many areas.
North Carolina was hard hit by the Great Depression, but the New Deal programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt for cotton and tobacco significantly helped the farmers. After World War II, the state's economy grew rapidly, highlighted by the growth of such cities as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham in the Piedmont. Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form the Research Triangle, a major area of universities and advanced scientific and technical research. In the 1990s, Charlotte became a major regional and national banking center. Tourism has also been a boon for the North Carolina economy as people flock to the Outer Banks coastal area and the Appalachian Mountains anchored by Asheville.
By the 1970s, spurred in part by the increasingly leftward tilt of national Democrats and rightward tilt of national Republicans, conservative whites began to vote for Republican national candidates and gradually for more Republicans locally although Democrats have held the governors office in all but three elections since 1901. The Greensboro Sit-ins played a crucial role in the Civil Rights Movement to bring full and equal equality to American blacks. Since the 1965 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnsonin which no Senators or Congressmen from North Carolina voted in favor for, black Americans have affiliated with and consistently elected officials of the Democratic Party.
Native Americans, lost colonies, and permanent settlement
North Carolina was inhabited for thousands of years by succeeding cultures of prehistoric indigenous cultures. Before 200 AD, they were building earthwork mounds, which were used for ceremonial and religious purposes. Succeeding peoples, including those of the ancient Mississippian culture established by 1000 AD in the Piedmont, continued to build or add on to such mounds. In the 500–700 years preceding European contact, the Mississippian culture built large, complex cities and maintained far-flung regional trading networks. Its largest city was Cahokia, located in present-day Illinois near the Mississippi River.
Historically documented tribes in the North Carolina region include the Carolina Algonquian-speaking tribes of the coastal areas, such as the Chowanoke, Roanoke, Pamlico, Machapunga, Coree, and Cape Fear Indians, who were the first encountered by the English; the Iroquoian-speaking Meherrin, Cherokee, and Tuscarora of the interior; and Southeastern Siouan tribes, such as the Cheraw, Waxhaw, Saponi, Waccamaw, and Catawba.
Spanish explorers traveling inland in the 16th century met Mississippian culture people at Joara, a regional chiefdom near present-day Morganton. Records of Hernando de Soto attested to his meeting with them in 1540. In 1567 Captain Juan Pardo led an expedition to claim the area for the Spanish colony and to establish another route to protect silver mines in Mexico. Pardo made a winter base at Joara, which he renamed Cuenca. His expedition built Fort San Juan and left a contingent of 30 men there, while Pardo traveled further, and built and garrisoned five other forts. He returned by a different route to Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina, then a center of Spanish Florida. In the spring of 1568, natives killed all but one of the soldiers and burned the six forts in the interior, including the one at Fort San Juan. Although the Spanish never returned to the interior, this effort marked the first European attempt at colonization of the interior of what became the United States. A 16th-century journal by Pardo's scribe Bandera and archaeological findings since 1986 at Joara have confirmed the settlement.
As early as 1650, settlers from the Virginia colony moved into the area of Albemarle Sound. By 1663, King Charles II of England granted a charter to start a new colony on the North American continent; it generally established North Carolina's borders. He named it Carolina in honor of his father Charles I. By 1665, a second charter was issued to attempt to resolve territorial questions. In 1710, owing to disputes over governance, the Carolina colony began to split into North Carolina and South Carolina. The latter became a crown colony in 1729.
In the 1700s, a series of smallpox epidemics swept the South, causing high fatalities among the Native Americans, who had no immunity to the new disease (it had become endemic in Europe). According to the historian Russell Thornton, "The 1738 epidemic was said to have killed one-half of the Cherokee, with other tribes of the area suffering equally."
Colonial period and Revolutionary War
After the Spanish in the 16th century, the first permanent European settlers of North Carolina were English colonists who migrated south from Virginia. The latter had grown rapidly and land was less available. Nathaniel Batts was documented as one of the first of these Virginian migrants. He settled south of the Chowan River and east of the Great Dismal Swamp in 1655. By 1663, this northeastern area of the Province of Carolina, known as the Albemarle Settlements, was undergoing full-scale English settlement. During the same period, the English monarch Charles II gave the province to the Lords Proprietors, a group of noblemen who had helped restore Charles to the throne in 1660. The new province of "Carolina" was named in honor and memory of King Charles I (Latin: Carolus). In 1712, North Carolina became a separate colony. Except for the Earl Granville holdings, it became a royal colony seventeen years later.
Differences in the settlement patterns of eastern and western North Carolina, or the Low Country and uplands, affected the political, economic, and social life of the state from the 18th until the 20th century. The Tidewater in eastern North Carolina was settled chiefly by immigrants from rural England and the Scottish Highlands. The upcountry of western North Carolina was settled chiefly by Scots-Irish, English, and German Protestants, the so-called "cohee". Arriving during the mid- to late 18th century, the Scots-Irish from what is today Northern Ireland were the largest non-English immigrant group before the Revolution; English indentured servants were overwhelmingly the largest immigrant group prior to the Revolution. During the American Revolutionary War, the English and Highland Scots of eastern North Carolina tended to remain loyal to the British Crown, because of longstanding business and personal connections with Great Britain. The English, Welsh, Scots-Irish, and German settlers of western North Carolina tended to favor American independence from Britain.
Most of the English colonists had arrived as indentured servants, hiring themselves out as laborers for a fixed period to pay for their passage. In the early years the line between indentured servants and African slaves or laborers was fluid. Some Africans were allowed to earn their freedom before slavery became a lifelong status. Most of the free colored families formed in North Carolina before the Revolution were descended from unions or marriages between free white women and enslaved or free African or African-American men. Because the mothers were free, their children were born free. Many had migrated or were descendants of migrants from colonial Virginia. As the flow of indentured laborers to the colony decreased with improving economic conditions in Great Britain, planters imported more slaves, and the state's legal delineations between free and slave status tightened, effectively hardening the latter into a racial caste. The economy's growth and prosperity was based on slave labor, devoted first to the production of tobacco.
On April 12, 1776, the colony became the first to instruct its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from the British Crown, through the Halifax Resolves passed by the North Carolina Provincial Congress. The dates of both of these events are memorialized on the state flag and state seal. Throughout the Revolutionary War, fierce guerrilla warfare erupted between bands of pro-independence and pro-British colonists. In some cases the war was also an excuse to settle private grudges and rivalries. A major American victory in the war took place at King's Mountain along the North Carolina–South Carolina border; on October 7, 1780, a force of 1000 mountain men from western North Carolina (including what is today the state of Tennessee) overwhelmed a force of some 1000 British troops led by Major Patrick Ferguson. Most of the soldiers fighting for the British side in this battle were Carolinians who had remained loyal to the Crown (they were called "Tories" or Loyalists). The American victory at Kings Mountain gave the advantage to colonists who favored American independence, and it prevented the British Army from recruiting new soldiers from the Tories.
In the Battle of Cowan's Ford, Cornwallis met resistance along the banks of the Catawba River at Cowan's Ford on February 1, 1781, in an attempt to engage General Morgan's forces during a tactical withdrawal. Morgan had moved to the northern part of the state to combine with General Greene's newly recruited forces. Generals Greene and Cornwallis finally met at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in present-day Greensboro on March 15, 1781. Although the British troops held the field at the end of the battle, their casualties at the hands of the numerically superior Continental Army were crippling. Following this "Pyrrhic victory", Cornwallis chose to move to the Virginia coastline to get reinforcements, and to allow the Royal Navy to protect his battered army. This decision would result in Cornwallis' eventual defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, later in 1781. The Patriots' victory there guaranteed American independence.
On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the twelfth state to ratify the Constitution. In 1840, it completed the state capitol building in Raleigh, still standing today. Most of North Carolina's slave owners and large plantations were located in the eastern portion of the state. Although North Carolina's plantation system was smaller and less cohesive than that of Virginia, Georgia, or South Carolina, significant numbers of planters were concentrated in the counties around the port cities of Wilmington and Edenton, as well as suburban planters around the cities of Raleigh, Charlotte, and Durham in the Piedmont. Planters owning large estates wielded significant political and socio-economic power in antebellum North Carolina, which was a slave society. They placed their interests above those of the generally non-slave-holding "yeoman" farmers of western North Carolina. In mid-century, the state's rural and commercial areas were connected by the construction of a 129-mile (208 km) wooden plank road, known as a "farmer's railroad", from Fayetteville in the east to Bethania (northwest of Winston-Salem).
Besides slaves, there were a number of free people of color in the state. Most were descended from free African Americans who had migrated along with neighbors from Virginia during the 18th century. The majority were the descendants of unions in the working classes between white women, indentured servants or free, and African men, indentured, slave or free. After the Revolution, Quakers and Mennonites worked to persuade slaveholders to free their slaves. Some were inspired by their efforts and the language of the Revolution to arrange for manumission of their slaves. The number of free people of color rose markedly in the first couple of decades after the Revolution.
On October 25, 1836, construction began on the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad to connect the port city of Wilmington with the state capital of Raleigh. In 1849 the North Carolina Railroad was created by act of the legislature to extend that railroad west to Greensboro, High Point, and Charlotte. During the Civil War, the Wilmington-to-Raleigh stretch of the railroad would be vital to the Confederate war effort; supplies shipped into Wilmington would be moved by rail through Raleigh to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.
During the antebellum period, North Carolina was an overwhelmingly rural state, even by Southern standards. In 1860 only one North Carolina town, the port city of Wilmington, had a population of more than 10,000. Raleigh, the state capital, had barely more than 5,000 residents.
While slaveholding was slightly less concentrated than in some Southern states, according to the 1860 census, more than 330,000 people, or 33% of the population of 992,622, were enslaved African Americans. They lived and worked chiefly on plantations in the eastern Tidewater. In addition, 30,463 free people of color lived in the state. They were also concentrated in the eastern coastal plain, especially at port cities such as Wilmington and New Bern, where a variety of jobs were available. Free African Americans were allowed to vote until 1835, when the state revoked their suffrage in restrictions following the slave rebellion of 1831 led by Nat Turner. Southern slave codes criminalized willful killing of a slave in most cases.
American Civil War
In 1860, North Carolina was a slave state, in which about one-third of the population was enslaved. This was a smaller proportion than in many Southern states. The state did not vote to join the Confederacy until President Abraham Lincoln called on it to invade its sister state, South Carolina, becoming the last or second-to-last state to officially join the Confederacy. The title of "last to join the Confederacy" has been disputed; although Tennessee's informal secession on May 7, 1861, preceded North Carolina's official secession on May 20, the Tennessee legislature did not formally vote to secede until June 8, 1861.
North Carolina was the site of few battles, but it provided the Confederacy with at least 125,000 troops, which is far more than any other state did. Approximately 40,000 of those troops died: more than half of disease, the remainder from battlefield wounds and from starvation. North Carolina also supplied about 15,000 Union troops. Elected in 1862, Governor Zebulon Baird Vance tried to maintain state autonomy against Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond.
Confederate troops from all parts of North Carolina served in virtually all the major battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederacy's most famous army. The largest battle fought in North Carolina was at Bentonville, which was a futile attempt by Confederate General Joseph Johnston to slow Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's advance through the Carolinas in the spring of 1865. In April 1865, after losing the Battle of Morrisville, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Bennett Place, in what is today Durham. North Carolina's port city of Wilmington was the last Confederate port to fall to the Union, in February 1865, after the Union won the nearby Second Battle of Fort Fisher, its major defense downriver.
Note: North Carolina was one of the 13 original States and by the time of the 1790 census had essentially its current boundaries. In 1790 census coverage included most of the State, except for areas at the western end, parts of which were not enumerated until 1840. The population for 1810 includes Walton County, enumerated as part of Georgia although actually within North Carolina.. Total for 1810 includes population (1,026) of Walton County, reported as a Georgia county but later determined to be situated in western North Carolina. Total for 1890 includes 2 Indians in prison, not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to North Carolina family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.
NORTH CAROLINA REGION FORMATION; 1664 – 1911 Excellent list of counties and their parent regions!
Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 This book contains history of the First Census, the geography covered and the statistics gathered. It shows in tabular form how the various counties are placed into larger districts. It is well indexed by name at the back of the book, so one can check by area or by surname. It covers heads of families only, both male and female, but no spouses or children are listed, only by how many in each category. It is sometimes helpful to see by the listing who the immediate neighboring families were.
The categories are: 1) Free white males of 16 and over including the heads of families 2) Free white males under 16 3) Free white females any age including heads of families 4) all other free person 5) Slaves