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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:

North Carolina Atlas Revisited:

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.



Wonderful information for research hobbiests like myself! Also see the personal replies to comments--very nice touch! Keep up the good work here!

Comment response:

Thank you for the compliments! We're adding new entries every day, so keep checking back!

Michelle Underhill, Government & Heritage Library


Being from NC, I thought this was very interesting. Thanks a lot. Jim Black


the maps enriched my power point on north carolina.. from the early days up to now


Nice Maps!!


Do you have any information about the Dossett (Dossette)families that settled in North Carolina in the 1700's? I am starting a geneology research of my mother's maiden name.

Comment response:

Thank you for taking the time to post a comment to NCpedia. I am forwarding your inquiry to Genealogical Services at the NC Government & Heritage Library on this email. Their contact information may be found at Someone from there will follow up with you about your inquiry.

Good luck in your research.

Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


I am researching the earliest settlement at Catheys Creek new present day Ruth. Specifically the settlers along Cathey's Creek near the first and western most courthouse. The courthouse was located near Ferguson Hill (or Ridge). 1769-1779 Tryon County. Who settled this area before 1769? I have deeds dated April 1769 and would like to know more.

George Black was a Justice of the Peace and judge at the trial of the property owner, at Ferguson Hill,where the British camped going to and returning from the battle at Kings Mtn. This community area was know as Gilbert Town.

I am specifically researching George Black and where he came from.

Thank you for any help you can offer.

Comment response:

Thank you for taking the time to post your comment. I have forwarded it to the Reference Services section at the Government & Heritage Library. Their contact information may be found at:

Someone will be in touch with you soon.

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


Hey thanks for all the help with my project on NC this web site really helped me with it


do you have any idea what the early/first colonies were. im doing a project and this is the last thing i need so if you have any ideas id love to hear them. thank you and goodbye


Thank you for posting your question.

The following entries should help you:

Good luck on your project! If you need any additional information, Reference Services at the Government & Heritage Library would be happy to help you. Their contact information may be found at


Michelle Czaikowski, Government & Heritage Library


this is great and fun too learn aboout the place that my mom was born in!

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