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When the first Europeans arrived along the unexplored coastal areas of the Carolinas (north and south
) in the early 16th century, the only inhabitants were Native Americans. In what is now called North Carolina, they included the Algonquian, Iroquoian. Siouan, and Tuscarora tribes, and by mid-century, several Spanish
explorers had ventured further inland, but no settlements were established.
In the 1580's, Roanoke Island along the Outer Banks of North Carolina was the site of the first European colony in America
, but it was quickly abandoned. Other settlements were tried, but they also failed. Then, in 1587, a large expedition organized by Sir Walter Raleigh brought 150 settlers to this new world, and they also established their colony on Roanoke Island.
In time living conditions proved most difficult and with their supplies all but depleted, the colony's appointed leader, John White, and others were forced to return to England for much needed help. It took White more than two years to return, and once back on the island, all that remained of his colony was the word "CROATAN"
carved on a nearby tree. All men, women and children were gone without a trace, and the fate of that "Lost Colony," has never been determined.
Undaunted, the parade of settlers into the area continued. By 1670, after a land charter granted by England's King Charles II, the overall territory (north to south
) was named Carolina after King Charles, and it would later be divided into the British
provinces of South Carolina and North Carolina.
By the early 18th century European settlements stretched from the Abermarle Sound, south to what is now Charleston, South Carolina. Native Americans were being squeezed off of their long-held lands, and they soon fought back; settlers were killed by the hundreds and their churches and homes burnt to the ground. Indian uprisings continued for many additional years, but their understandable efforts proved futile.
To make matters worse for the new residents, pirates struck coastal settlements with impunity, facing little organized resistance. Finally, in 1718, Blackbeard the Pirate was killed, and for all practical purposes pirate attacks in the Carolina's were over.
Even before separated into individual British provinces, North and South Carolina
were quite different. On the large cotton plantations in South Carolina, black slaves outnumbered the white settlers, while in North Carolina, tobacco was king, but the predominate Quaker population was vigorously opposed to slavery, and subsequently black slave numbers remained low.
The British saw an opportunity to tax the new-found wealth of their colonies, including the Carolinas. Especially offended by taxation without representation, influential tobacco farmers and merchants rebelled to that tax, and in 1776, North Carolina voted for independence from Great Britain
Similar to some other southern colonies, citizens of North Carolina were on two sides during America's Revolutionary War; Tories remained loyal to Britain while others (Whigs
) passionately supported the war for freedom. Unlike South Carolina, North Carolina witnessed little fighting, but hundreds of its men fought and died on both sides in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.
At war's end North Carolina was free from Great Britain's financial repression, and after some hesitation in accepting all of the terms of the new U.S.
Constitution, it finally agreed, and on November 21, 1789, became the twelfth state to enter the new union. In 1794, Raleigh was declared the capital.
It took years for the land to reach its full potential, but by the mid-1830s, its agricultural and manufacturing industries began to prosper, anchored by tobacco. As the state's economy and influence continued to grow, two North Carolina favorite sons were elected President of the United States; Andrew Jackson
(1829-1837), and James K. Polk, (1845-1849).