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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 In 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.

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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. In the spring of , 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 at Joara have confirmed the settlement.

In , Elizabeth I granted a charter to Sir Walter Raleigh , for whom the state capital is named, for land in present-day North Carolina then part of the territory of Virginia. Raleigh established two colonies on the coast in the late s, but both failed. The fate of the " Lost Colony " of Roanoke Island remains one of the most widely debated mysteries of American history. As early as , settlers from the Virginia colony moved into the area of Albemarle Sound.

He named it Carolina in honor of his father Charles I.

North Carolina

In , owing to disputes over governance, the Carolina colony began to split into North Carolina and South Carolina. The latter became a crown colony in In the s, 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.

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. In , 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. 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 before the Revolution. 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. The economy's growth and prosperity was based on slave labor, devoted first to the production of tobacco. On April 12, , 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, , a force of mountain men from western North Carolina including what is today the state of Tennessee and southwest Virginia overwhelmed a force of some 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, , in an attempt to engage General Morgan's forces during a tactical withdrawal.

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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 The Patriots' victory there guaranteed American independence.

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On November 21, , North Carolina became the twelfth state to ratify the Constitution. In , 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.


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They placed their interests above those of the generally non-slave-holding "yeoman" farmers of western North Carolina. 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. 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, , construction began on the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad [35] to connect the port city of Wilmington with the state capital of Raleigh. In 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 only one North Carolina town, the port city of Wilmington , had a population of more than 10, Raleigh , the state capital, had barely more than 5, residents. In addition, 30, free people of color lived in the state. Free African Americans were allowed to vote until , when the state revoked their suffrage in restrictions following the slave rebellion of led by Nat Turner. Southern slave codes criminalized willful killing of a slave in most cases.

North Carolina was known as a 'Slave State' by , in which one-third of the population was enslaved. This was a smaller proportion than in many other Southern states.

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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 penultimate 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, , preceded North Carolina's official secession on May 20, [38] [39] the Tennessee legislature did not formally vote to secede until June 8, Despite the State supplying the Confederacy with at least , troops, and Union with approx.

The supply of Confederate troops was by far the greatest number of any of the Confederate States, of which approximately 40, of those died: After secession, some North Carolinians refused to support the Confederacy. Some of the yeoman farmers in the state's mountains and western Piedmont region remained neutral during the Civil War, while some covertly supported the Union cause during the conflict. Two additional Union Army regiments were raised in the coastal areas of the state, which were occupied by Union forces in and Numerous slaves escaped to Union lines, where they became essentially free.

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. North Carolina's port city of Wilmington was the last Confederate port to fall to the Union, in February , after the Union won the nearby Second Battle of Fort Fisher , its major defense downriver.

During the Battle of Chickamauga , the 58th North Carolina Regiment advanced farther than any other regiment on Snodgrass Hill to push back the remaining Union forces from the battlefield. North Carolina is bordered by South Carolina on the south, Georgia on the southwest, Tennessee on the west, Virginia on the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east.

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