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Early Settlement

by David Goldfield
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2005.
Reprinted with permission from The North Carolina Atlas Revisited. Managing editor: Alfred W. Stuart.

Development of the Frontier, 1657 - 1835

During the late 17th century, settlement in North Carolina proceeded from Virginia migration, first into the Albemarle region, then into the Pamlico district. By 1710, the new sparsely settled province had a capital at Edenton. But the migration caused growing alarm among the Indian populations resulting in a conflict that raged on and off for four years concluding in 1715 with the decimation of the Indians and the opening up of additional land to white settlement. The key event that affected the colony’s development until the time of the Revolution was King George II’s takeover of North Carolina from the heirs of the Lords Proprietors in 1729. The change generated a land bonanza in the colony as the Crown eased land purchase requirements and sent out the equivalent of real estate agents to drum up business. Their work, and the encouragement of royal governors, touched off a boom in North Carolina that lasted from 1730 to the American Revolution. Forests along the Coastal Plain were leveled for farms, settlers poured into the backcountry, and the line of settlement extended to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Avenues of Early Settlement

The origins of North Carolina’s 18th-century newcomers varied widely. South Carolinians moved north into the Lower Cape Fear region to establish pine plantations with African slave labor. As land grew scarce in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia after 1730, migrants trekked down the Great Wagon road which began near Philadelphia and extended southwestward to the Shenandoah Valley before veering east into the North and South Carolina Piedmont. These newcomers included a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Quakers, German Lutherans, German Moravians, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. Settling primarily in the Piedmont, they contrasted with the mostly English and African coastal areas and, in fact, had little contact with those areas. The rivers of the Piedmont flowed into the South Carolina colony and that is the route commerce and communication followed as well. By themed-eighteenth century residents of Piedmont North Carolina had more contacts with Pennsylvania than they did with the coastal district of their own colony.

European and African Settlement in 1730

In 1730, the colony’s population included 30,000 whites and 6,000 blacks, almost all of whom lived along the Coastal Plain; by 1775, the population had grown to 265,000 inhabitants, including 10,000 blacks, and settlement was scattered from the coast to the mountains. By that latter date, North Carolina was the fourth most populous of the thirteen colonies. The population was also among the most diverse with some estimates placing the German population as high as 30 percent.

Figure 4 European and African Settlement

References and additional resources:

Orr, Douglas Milton, and Alfred W. Stuart. 2000. The North Carolina atlas: portrait for a new century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens, and Jay Mazzocchi. 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens. 1989. North Carolina through four centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.



Dear Terry,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question. 

I would be happy to help you with this question.

Can you tell me more about the location of the Neal’s Creek you are interested in?  William Powell’s North Carolina Gazetteer  (published by UNC Press), lists the following entries associated with “Neal” and three are creeks/rivers.  Might it be one of these?  (click on this link)

Please feel free to post another comment here with additional information and we will take it from there to try to locate more history for you.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you again and best wishes,

Kelly Agan


I am trying to substantiate an ancestral claim that Hugh Black and children Sarah and Jeremiah along with Hugh's brothers James, Patrick and Joseph went with Daniel Boone to Kentucky in the party of 1779. The four were men where in Porter Company Troops in Tryon Co. in 1777. None of the men fought at Kings Mountain while all their neighbors did. The four men all appear in the very first records of Fort Logan and Herod in Kentucky 1783.


Hi Lee,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing your question.

I am going to connect you via email with Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A librarian will contact you to help you locate possible resources, if you are still investigating this.

Good luck and best wishes!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


I am trying to find the names of my ancestors, the parents of William Richardson, born around 1808 in Salisbury, Rowan Co., North Carolina. William moved with a party of 22, to Oatsville, Indiana in 1831. The group was led by two widow women, a widow O'Neal and widow Jones.


Hello Martha,

Thank you for using NCpedia and taking the time to leave your comment.

I am forwarding your comment to Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library. A librarian will contact you soon to help with your research about your ancestors.

Best of luck!

Laurie Reeves, NC Government & Heritage Library


I am trying to trace my ancestors in NC. I have gotten as far back as Seth King in Stump Sound in 1800. I have been unsuccessful in finding information about his parents, etc. Can you direct me to some good sources?


Dear Pat,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your question. 

I forwarding your question to Reference Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  A reference librarian will contact you shortly to help suggest resources if you are still searching for information.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library



looking for information on Gibraltar a settlement located in union county north carolina


Hi Paul,

The North Carolina Gazetteer (published by UNC Press) has an entry on Gibraltar that states: (and here is the link to the entry in NCpedia --

Gibraltar former community in central Union County between Richardson's and Crooked Creeks. Appears on the Shaffer map, 1886. Later known as Polk Mountain, but no longer recognized as a community.

And here is a link to the digitized Shaffer Map (online at NC Maps) --

Please let me know what additional types of information you're interested in and we'll try to help!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Does anyone know if there was any incentive type thing that would have been offered to those who settled here.

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