The Year: 1653
By 1729, there were settlements on each of North Carolina’s major river systems, but the largest settlements were on the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
North Carolina almost became the first of the permanent English colonies in America. In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I, granted a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh for land in present-day North Carolina (then Virginia). Five voyages were made under the Raleigh charter with the view of planting a permanent colony on the soil that became North Carolina. Raleigh established two colonies on the coast in the late 1580s, both ending in failure.
The first settlements in North Carolina that were destined to succeed were made by Virginians in 1653, on the banks of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers, in a district called Albemarle from the Duke of Albemarle.
A few years later men from New England made a settlement, which they soon abandoned, on the Cape Fear River. In 1665, Sir John Yeamans, an English nobleman, came from Barbados with a company of planters and joined the few New Englanders who had remained on the Cape Fear River. This district was called Clarendon.
In 1663, King Charles II issued a charter, granting to eight of his favorites the vast territory south of Virginia, and two years later the charter was enlarged and the boundaries defined and made to extend from the southern boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to the Pacific Ocean on the west. The grant embraced nearly all the southern portion of the present United States.
The new country had been named Carolina a hundred years before in honor of Charles IX of France, and the name was retained in honor of Charles II of England.
In 1667, then Governor Samuel Stephens called an assembly to frame laws and the settlement grew steadily. A law was passed to attract settlers. It exempted all newcomers from paying taxes for a year, outlawed any debts they may have contracted elsewhere, and provided that for five years no one could be sued for any cause that might have arisen outside the colony.
This plan attracted many of a worthless class, and the Albemarle settlement came to be known in Virginia as Rogues’ Harbor. Governor Stephens and his successor made strenuous but fruitless efforts to put the Fundamental Constitutions in force. The people were heavily taxed, and in 1678, they broke out in an insurrection led by John Culpeper, who seized the government and held it for two years.
Because of incompetent governors – appointed through favoritism and not fitness for the office – and attempts to introduce the Fundamental Constitutions on an unwilling people, the Albemarle colony struggled to survive. In 1693, the population was but half what it had been fifteen years before, and the Clarendon colony planted by Yeamans on the Cape Fear had been completely abandoned.
Meanwhile, another colony had been planted at the mouths of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. This new settlement and the Albemarle Colony, several hundred miles apart, began to be called North Carolina and South Carolina. Their governments were combined into one, and better times were now at hand. In 1695, John Archdale, a good Quaker, became governor of both Carolinas, and from this time the settlements were much more prosperous than before.
But in 1704, North Carolina was again in turmoil, caused again by bad governors and continued attempts to establish the Church of England at the expense of the dissenters, more than half of whom were Quakers. Yet, during the first decade of the eighteenth century, settlers came in increasing numbers.
Huguenots came from France and settled at Bath, near Pamlico Sound. Germans from the Rhine founded New Berne at the junction of the Trent and Neuse Rivers. The white population was now about five thousand, and the Albemarle settlement had extended many miles into the forest, in the process encroaching on the soil of the native red man.
In the autumn of 1711, a terrible Indian massacre took place in North Carolina. Hundreds of settlers were killed, primarily the inoffensive Germans at New Berne, where one hundred and thirty people were slaughtered in two hours.
The people of North Carolina were for the most part honest and well meaning. It is true that there were many who had fled from other colonies to escape debts or the law, but a large portion of society was composed of sturdy Christian men and women. Religion soon found a footing here as in the other colonies, though there was no resident clergyman in the colony before 1703. The Church of England was supported by taxation, but the Dissenters were in the majority.
A Royal Colony
By 1729, all the proprietors except one had sold their interests to the Crown, and North Carolina and South Carolina were separated and each became a royal colony. Of the royal governors sent out, several were tyrannical or worthless, but the population increased rapidly.
During the first sixty-six years, the people of North Carolina had clung to the seaboard. But now the eastern slope of the Alleghenies was rapidly peopled, chiefly by Scotch-Irish and Germans.
The settlement of the back counties had little connection with those of an earlier date on the coast, and the colony was practically divided into two distinct settlements, with a broad belt of forest between them. The conditions of life were very different in the two. The back country was non-slaveholding, and the economic conditions were similar to those of the northern colonies; while the coastal settlements were slaveholding and were marked by all the characteristics of southern life, except the aristocratic feature.
The products of the colony were at first tobacco along the Virginia border, rice on the Cape Fear River, with grain, cattle, and swine in both these sections. But the great pine forests soon began to yield their wealth, and before the Revolution, tar, turpentine, and lumber became the chief products of North Carolina.
Of all the thirteen colonies, North Carolina was the least commercial, the most provincial, the farthest removed from European influences, and its wild forest life the most unrestrained. Every colony had its frontier, its borderland between civilization and savagery; but North Carolina was composed entirely of frontier. The people were impatient of legal restraints and averse to paying taxes; but their moral and religious standard was not below that of other colonies.
Here truly was life in the primeval forest – there were no cities, scarcely villages. The people were farmers or woodsmen, living apart, scattered through the wilderness. Their highways were the rivers and bays, and their homes were connected by narrow trails winding among the trees. Yet the people were happy in their freedom and contented with their lonely isolation.