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North Carolina State History

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1524—Giovanni da Verrazano explores the Carolina coast for France

1585—England established a colony on Roanok Island

1711—The Tuscarora War

1729—North Carolina becomes a royal English colony

1776—Whigs defeat the Tories in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge

1789—North Carolina becomes the 12th state

1795—Univ. of North Carolina becomes the nation’s first state university

1861—Civil War begins; North Carolina secedes and joins the Confederacy

1868—North Carolina is readmitted to the Union

1915—The North Carolina State Highway Commission is established

1960—First sit-in by black students in Greensboro

Cherokee, Hateras, and Tuscarora Native American groups lived in North Carolina when European explorers first arrived in the early 1500s.  Giovanni da Verrazano was the first to explore Cape Fear for the French in 1524.  Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez established a colony near Cape Fear two years later, but those who did not die of disease and starvation left the area.

English explorers arrived in North Carolina in 1584.  They colonized Roanoke Island and appointed John White as their first governor.  White left to go to England for supplies that same year, but when he returned in 1590, the colony could not be found.  It later became known as the Lost Colony.  England again tried to colonize the area in 1629, but all attempts failed.

The first permanent white settlers of North Carolina were farmers from Virginia.  They arrived during the 1650s.  Later, European settlers arrived.  From 1663 to 1691 the colony of Carolina was divided into three counties with separate governors.  After several governors were driven from Albemarle County, in a revolt known as Culpeper’s Rebellion, one governor was appointed for the entire Carolina colony.  In 1712, the North Carolina region became a separate colony.

Several settlers moved into Carolina during the early 1700s.  Bath, the first town was established near the Pamlico River.  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).

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.  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.

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.

North Carolina’s delegates were the first to cry for independence to the Continental Congress in 1778 and ratified the Articles of Confederation that same year.  North Carolina waited to ratify the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was added to it.  On Nov. 21, 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state of the United States of America.

Growth was slow in the state until the constitution was revised in 1835.  Railroads and roads were built and the agriculture industry increased.  North Carolina depended much on slave labor to work cotton and tobacco plantations.  Before the Civil War began in 1861, many Southern states seceded from the Union.  North Carolina remained in the Union, but withdrew to join the Confederacy shortly after the war began.  

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.

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.

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.