In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, a Florentine captain in French employ, first explored the North Carolina coast near Cape Fear, writing descriptive journals of the unexplored lands. Sir Walter Raleigh financed several unsuccessful expeditions between 1584 and 1590 to settle the Roanoke Colony, on the Outer Banks, in the name of England. Yet North Carolina would receive its first permanent European settlers from the Virginia colony, established first at Jamestown in 1607. The settlers moved south into the Currituck and Albemarle Sound regions in the mid-seventeenth century.
In 1663, King Charles II granted Carolina land to eight noblemen proprietors. These men had survived the civil wars with their property intact; they generally supported the king and were rewarded by an appreciative Charles II. North and South Carolina became separate colonies in 1691. Factions and squabbles developed between the proprietary forces and the antiproprietary residents and became so divisive that, in 1729, both colonies abandoned their proprietary claims and became royal colonies.
Unlike its neighbor to the south, which grew wealthy raising rice and importing slaves, North Carolina grew slowly and modestly. Most of the residents were subsistence farmers, living on dispersed farms and raising moderate amounts of tobacco, corn, cattle, and swine. The most profitable products in colonial North Carolina were naval stores (tar, pitch, and turpentine) and lumber. Only a very few wealthy planters lived along the rivers near the coast. Although the tempestuous Outer Banks along North Carolina’s coastline and the lack of natural harbors prohibited much sea travel, early port cities such as Bath and New Bern were established in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The myriad coves and stormy waters served as havens for pirates, most famously Blackbeard, who eventually died at the hands of the British navy in Pamlico Sound in 1718.
Early colonial expansion beyond the coast led to a conflict, known as the Tuscarora War, with the native Tuscarora between 1711 and 1715. The Tuscarora and various other tribes had lived along the coast of North Carolina before being challenged by the encroaching Europeans. Their defeat in the war led them to move to New York. European settlers would encounter other proud tribes, such as the Cherokee and Catawba, in the Piedmont and mountainous regions of the colony to the west.
Although most of the early settlers were English, several came from other parts of Europe. Christopher von Graffenreid settled the town of New Bern with many Swiss and German Palatine immigrants in 1710. Highlanders fleeing unrest and economic crisis in Scotland settled along the Cape Fear River in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. Beginning in the 1730s, Scots-Irish and German immigrants began coming down the frontier trails all the way from Philadelphia and settled along the North Carolina frontier, in the plains of the western Piedmont and mountains and valleys of the Appalachians. North Carolina also became a haven for unique religious sects, as Quakers settled along the Eastern seaboard and Moravians clustered in the Piedmont. In the years leading up to the Revolution, economic and social differences between the settlers in the western regions and the predominantly English settlers in the east led to conflict. The centralized system of government favored the eastern aristocrats and prompted western outrage at what they deemed unfair taxes, fees, and lack of judicial redress. Calling themselves Regulators, several disgruntled farmers marched east to demand their rights. After years of threats and conflict, Governor William Tryon crushed a Regulator army on May 14, 1771, at Alamance Creek, near Hillsborough, effectively ending the movement.
When Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, North Carolina’s Sons of Liberty, led by Cornelius Harnett, instigated protests and forced the governor to refuse the stamps. North Carolina patriots continued to be active in protests in the early 1770s, often coming into conflict with Josiah Martin, the new royal governor; in 1775, they forced Martin to take refuge aboard a British warship. As the Revolutionary War began, 3,000 loyalist Scottish Highlanders rallied and marched from Cross Creek (modern Fayetteville) toward Wilmington to rendezvous with a British army en route by sea. Patriot militia routed them at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. British leaders abandoned their plans to defeat the Southern colonies for several years. On March 15, 1781, the Redcoat army of Lord Cornwallis fought to a bloody draw with a colonial army under General Nathaniel Green at Guilford Court House. This battle and subsequent lack of supplies and support forced Cornwallis to abandon North Carolina and move to Yorktown, Virginia, where he would be forced to surrender his army.
After the war, North Carolina’s independent-minded population vigorously debated the Constitution and initially rejected it, fearing a strong central government. But after the promise of a Bill of Rights, the state finally joined the new nation by ratifying the Constitution on November 21, 1789 becoming the twelfth state to do so. Judkin Browning See also: New Bern; North Carolina (Chronology); Ship’s Stores. Bibliography Connor, R.D.W. The Colonial and Revolutionary Periods, 1584â€“1783. In History of North Carolina, vol. 1. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1919. Powell, William S. North Carolina: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977. Powell, William S. North Carolina Through Four Centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.