A Brief History of the State of North Carolina

The first known European exploration of North Carolina occurred during the summer of 1524. A Florentine navigator named Giovanni da Verrazzano, in the service of France, explored the coastal area of North Carolina between the Cape Fear and Kitty Hawk. A report of his findings was sent to Francis I, and published in Richard Hakluyt's "Divers Voyages touching the Discoverie of America"; however, no attempt was made to colonise the area.

Between 1540 and 1570 several Spanish explorers from the Florida Gulf region explored portions of North Carolina, but no permanent settlements were established.

Coastal North Carolina was the scene of the first attempt to colonise America by English-speaking people. Under a charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Walter Raleigh, two colonies were begun in the 1580's. The first, in 1585 under the leadership of Ralph Lane, ended in failure.


A second expedition under the leadership of John White began in the spring of 1587 when 110 settlers, including seventeen women and nine children set sail for the new world. The White colony arrived off Hatteras in June, 1587 and went on to Roanoke Island, where they found the houses built by the previous expedition still standing. Shortly after the arrival of the colony, two significant events occurred--the baptism of two "friendly" Indians, and the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child of English-speaking parents born in the new colony. As supplies ran short problems beset the colonists, and White returned to England for provisions. Due to an impending attack by the Spanish Armada, he was unable to return until 1590, when he found only remains of what was once a settlement. Many have speculated as to the fate of the "Lost Colony" but none have ever explained it.

The first permanent English settlers to North Carolina came from the tidewater area of Virginia around 1650. These overflow immigrants moved into the Albermarle area of NE North Carolina. In 1663 Charles II granted to eight Lords Proprietors a charter for the territory. In 1665 another charter was granted, extending the limits of Carolina to 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude on the north and 29 degrees north latitude on the south, and both of these lines extended westward to the South Seas.

Between 1663 and 1729 North Carolina was under the control of the Lords Proprietors and their descendants who commissioned colonial officials and authorised the governor and his council to grant lands in the name of the Lords Proprietors. In 1669 John Locke wrote the Fundamental Constitutions as a model for the government of Carolina. Albermarle County was divided into local governmental units called precincts. Initially there were three precincts--Berkeley, Carteret and Shaftsbury--but as the colony expanded to the south and west new precincts were created. By 1729, there were a total of eleven precincts--six in Albermarle County and five in Bath County which had been created in 1696.


Although the Albermarle Region was the first permanent settlement in the Carolina area, another region was developed around present-day Charleston, South Carolina. Because of the natural harbour and easier access to trade with the West Indies, more attention was given to developing the Charleston area than her northern counterparts. For a twenty-year period, 1692-1712, the two colonies of North and South Carolina existed as one unit of government. Although North Carolina still had her own assembly and council, the governor of Carolina lived in Charleston and a deputy governor was appointed by him for the northern colony. On December 7, 1710, Carolina was divided into two distinct colonies; however, it was not until May 1712 that a governor was appointed for North Carolina.

Colonial government in North Carolina was essentially the same during both the propriety and royal periods. The major difference being who appointed colonial officials. Government was conducted by two distinct groups--the governor and his council, on the one hand, and the popularly-elected colonial general assembly on the other. There were colonial courts, but unlike today they were rarely involved in the formulation of governmental policy. All colonial officials were appointed by either the Lords Proprietors prior to 1729, or the crown afterwards. Members of the colonial assembly were elected from the various precincts and from certain towns which had been granted representation. The term precinct as a geographical unit ceased to exist after 1735 and these areas became known by the term county as they are today. About this same time Albermarle County and Bath County ceased to exit as governmental units.


North Carolina, on April 12 , 1776, authorised her delegates in the Constitutional Congress to vote for independence, and on December 18, 1776, adopted a constitution. Richard Caswell became the first governor under this constitution. On November 21, 1789, the state adopted the United States Constitution, being the twelfth state to enter the Federal Union. North Carolina, in 1788, had rejected the Constitution on the grounds that certain amendments were vital and necessary to a free people.

A Constitutional convention was held in 1835 and among several changes made in the constitution was the method of electing the governor. After this change the governor was elected by the people for a term of two years instead of being elected by the Legislature for a term of one year. Edward Bishop Dudley was the first governor elected by the people.
In 1868 a second constitution was adopted which drastically altered government in North Carolina. For the first time all major state officers were elected by the people. The governor and other executive officers were elected to four-year terms; while the justices of the supreme court and the judges of the superior court were elected to eight-year terms. The members of the general assembly continued to be elected for two-year terms. Between 1868 and 1970 numerous amendments were incorporated into the 1868 constitution, so that in 1970, the people voted to adopt a completely new constitution. Since then several amendments have been ratified, but one in particular is a break from the past. In 1977 the people voted to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run for reelection successively for one additional term.

North Carolina has had two permanent capitals--New Bern and Raleigh--and there have been three capitol buildings. Tryon's Palace in New Bern was constructed in the period 1767-1770, and the main building was destroyed by fire February 27, 1798. The first capitol in Raleigh was completed in 1794 and was destroyed by fire on June 21, 1831. The present capitol was completed in 1840.

In 1790 North Carolina ceded her western lands, which was composed of Washington, Davidson, Hawkins, Greene, Sullivan, Summer and Tennessee counties, to the Federal Government. Between 1790 and 1796 the territory was known as Tennessee Territory, but in 1796 it became the fifteenth state in the Union.

When North Carolina adopted the Federal Constitution on November 21, 1789, she was authorised to send two senators and five representatives to the Congress of the United States according to the constitutional apportionment. In 1792, when the first federal census had been completed and tabulated, it was found that North Carolina was entitled to ten representatives. It was then that the General Assembly divided the state into ten congressional districts. In 1812, the state had grown and increased in population until it was entitled to thirteen representatives in Congress. Between 1812 and 1865, however, the population decreased so much in proportion to the population of other states of the Union that North Carolina was entitled to only seven representatives in Congress. The 1970 census showed that the state had more than a half million more people than in 1960, but this increase was not nearly as much in proportion to that of other states. North Carolina is now entitled to only eleven representatives in Congress.


Source: Time magazine Almanac - State of North Carolina.

Note - Scotland County is a relatively recent administrative area, formed in 1899.

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