North Carolina: Exploration and Colonization

Exploration and Colonization

North Carolina's treacherous coast was explored by Verrazzano in 1524, and possibly by some Spanish navigators. Under Juan Pardo, the Spanish explored (1566–68) the interior of the Carolinas, establishing several short-lived forts. In the 1580s, Sir Walter Raleigh attempted unsuccessfully to establish a colony on one of the islands (see Roanoke Island). The first permanent settlements were made (c.1653) around Albemarle Sound by colonials from Virginia. Meanwhile, Charles I of England had granted (1629) the territory S of Virginia between the 36th and 31st parallels (named Carolina in the king's honor) to Sir Robert Heath. Heath did not exploit his grant, and it was declared void in 1663. Charles II reassigned the territory to eight court favorites, who became the “true and absolute Lords Proprietors” of Carolina. In 1664, Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia and one of the proprietors, appointed a governor for the province of Albemarle, which after 1691 was known as North Carolina.

By 1700 there were only some 4,000 freeholders, predominantly of English stock, along Albemarle Sound. There, with the labor of indentured servants and African- and Native-American slaves, they raised tobacco, corn, and livestock, mostly on small farms. The people were semi-isolated; only vessels of light draft could negotiate the narrow and shallow passages through the island barriers. Furthermore, communication by land was almost impossible, except with Virginia, and even then swamps and forests made it difficult. There was some trade (primarily with Virginia, New England, and Bermuda).

In 1712, North Carolina was made a separate colony. The destructive war with Native Americans of the Tuscarora tribe broke out that year. The Tuscarora were defeated, and in 1714 the remnants of the tribe moved north to join the Iroquois Confederacy. A long, bitter boundary dispute with Virginia was partially settled in 1728 when a joint commission ran the boundary line 240 mi (386 km) inland.

The British government made North Carolina a royal colony in 1729. Thereafter the region developed more rapidly. The Native Americans were gradually pushed beyond the Appalachians as the Piedmont was increasingly occupied. German and Scotch-Irish settlers followed the valleys down from Pennsylvania, and Highland Scots established themselves along the Cape Fear River. These varied ethnic elements, in addition to smaller groups of Swiss, French, and Welsh that had migrated to the region earlier in the century, gradually amalgamated. There has been little new immigration since colonial days, and North Carolina's white population is now largely homogeneous.

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