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Session 1: Settlement and Migration


The area that is now North Carolina had a lot to offer early settlers, both American Indian and European: a comfortable climate, fertile land, a wide variety of natural vegetation for food and forest products, coastline and rivers for transportation and fish, and a varied landscape. The area’s geography, though, also created obstacles to settlement. The coast, known still as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” was dangerous and offered few adequate harbors for boats. Fast-running rivers impeded inland travel. The mountains hindered westward exploration and isolated the area from lands to the west.

People did come, however, from such diverse places as Africa, Europe, and Siberia. Over the centuries, though, many also left the area. Europeans forced many American Indians off their land in the 1800s. African Americans left in the early to mid 1900s due to social inequality and a hostile political environment. During the last five decades, however, large numbers of people from other states and countries have come to live in North Carolina. Through all of these changes, the small, rural North Carolina colony grew from 400,000 in 1790 (the year of the first census) to over eight million in 2000.

Settlement and Migration, and the Five Themes of Geography
The theme of Movement is critical to understanding the movement of people into, out of, and within North Carolina. The other themes play important roles as well.

  • Location: Settlement and migration patterns reveal relative locations not only in North Carolina but world wide, and exercises on absolute locations can be easily incorporated into the topic.
  • Place: A knowledge of the physical characteristics of North Carolina is essential to understanding settlement and migration patterns. The human characteristics of North Carolina both affect and are influenced by the settlement and migration of different groups.
  • Human Environment Interactions: Settlers and migrants have always depended on North Carolina’s rich natural resources. They have adapted to their physical surroundings, even when much different than what they’re accustomed to. They have also modified their environments by building roads, cities, dams, factories, farms, and more, with both positive and negative effects.
  • Movement: Settlement and migration is all about the movement of people and their ideas and ways of life. Technological advances in transportation greatly improved people’s options for movement to, within, and from North Carolina. The political, economic, and social environment in the state has, throughout the decades, drawn some groups, forced others to move in or move out, and prompted some to leave voluntarily. Over time, there has also been much movement within the state, sometimes between rural and urban areas.
  • Regions: The physical features of North Carolina’s three main regions have affected people’s movement into, within, and out of the areas throughout history. The people who have lived in each area have shaped—and continue to influence—the distinct culture of the region.

In addition, the topic of settlement and migration incorporates United States and North Carolina history, economics, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, geology, government and politics, and technology.

The following six articles appeared in Tar Heel Junior Historian 34 (spring 1995).

First Immigrants: Native American Settlement of North Carolina
by Stephen R. Claggett

Over four hundred years ago, English colonists trying to settle on Roanoke Island encountered many American Indians along the coast. At that time more than thirty American Indians tribes were living in present-day North Carolina. They spoke languages derived from three language groups, the Siouan, Iroquoian, and Algonquian.

None of the prehistoric American Indians who lived in North America had developed any sort of written language. They relied instead on oral traditions, such as storytelling, to keep records of their origins, myths, and histories. Our present knowledge of prehistoric inhabitants of this state depends on rare early historical accounts and, especially, on information gained through archaeology.

Prehistoric American Indians
Archaeologists can trace the ancestry of American Indians to at least twelve thousand years ago, to the time of the last Ice Age in the Pleistocene epoch. During the Ice Age, ocean levels dropped and revealed land that had previously been under the Bering Sea. American Indians ancestors walked on that land from present-day Siberia to Alaska. Evidence suggests that their population grew rapidly and that they settled throughout Canada, the Great Plains, and the Eastern Woodlands, which included the North Carolina area.

Conjectured migration routes of the first Americans. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Click on map for a larger image, or click here for a printable Adobe Acrobat version.

The climate on the eastern seaboard was wetter and cooler twelve thousand years ago. Many species of animals roamed the forests and grasslands of our area, including now extinct examples of elephants (mastodons), wild horses, ground sloths, and giant bison. Other animals, now absent from the Southeast, included moose, caribou, elk, and porcupines.

Paleo-Indians, as archaeologists call those first people, hunted for these animals in groups using spears. They used the animals’ meat, skins, and remaining parts for food, clothing, and other needs. They also spent considerable time gathering wild plant foods and may have caught shellfish and fish. These first inhabitants of North Carolina were nomads, which means they moved frequently across the land in search of food and other resources.

Descendants of the Paleo-Indians are called Archaic Indians. They occupied eastern North America from about 9000 to 2000 B.C. As the Ice Age ended, the types of forests in the Southeast gradually changed and became more like those of today. Archaic Indians adapted their techniques of gathering, hunting, and fishing to the environments of this new Holocene epoch.

Archaic people, like their ancestors, were nomads. They traveled widely on foot to gather food, to obtain raw materials for making tools or shelters, and to visit and trade with neighbors. Some Archaic people may have used watercraft, particularly canoes made by digging out the centers of trees.

These Archaic Indians did not have three things that are commonly associated with prehistoric Indians—bows and arrows, pottery, or an agricultural economy. In fact, the gradual introduction of these items and activities into North Carolina’s Archaic cultures marks the transition to the Woodland culture, which began around 2000 B.C.

Woodland Indians followed most of the subsistence practices of their Archaic ancestors. They hunted and fished and gathered food when deer, turkeys, shad, and acorns were plentiful. But they also began farming to make sure they had enough food for the winter and early spring months, when natural food sources were not available. They cleared fields and planted and harvested crops like sunflowers, squash, gourds, beans, and maize.

The Woodland Indians also developed bow-and-arrow technology. With a bow and arrow, Indians could hunt more efficiently, using single hunters instead of groups of hunters.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Woodland Indians were much more committed to settled village life than their ancestors had been. Though remains of their settlements can be found throughout North Carolina, these Indians tended to live in semi-permanent villages in stream valleys.

Reconstruction of a burial hut built 600 years ago at Town Creek Indian Mound, today a state historic site. Indians of the Pee Dee culture established a political and ceremonial center on a low bluff overlooking the confluence of Town Creek and Little River. In addition to being a major habitation spot, the Town Creek site served as a place for discussion of matters important to the collective clans of the tribe. Photo courtesy of Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site.

Evidence also suggests that some American Indians adopted religious and political ideas from a fourth major prehistoric culture, called Mississippian. Ancestral Cherokee Indian groups in the Mountains adopted some of the Mississippian ways. In prehistoric times, the so-called Pee Dee Indians were Mississippian Indians. The Pee Dee built a major regional center at Town Creek in present-day Montgomery County.

Mississippian Indians were more common in other parts of the Southeast and Midwest. They had a hierarchical society, with status determined by heredity or exploits in war. They were militarily aggressive and fought battles to gain and defend group prestige, territories, and favored trade and tribute networks. The surviving, often flamboyant artifacts from Mississippian Indian sites reflect the need that those individuals felt to show their status and glorify themselves.

Measuring the involvement of historic North Carolina Indians with those large, powerful Mississippian groups is very difficult. Some minor elements of Mississippian culture can be found in various parts of our state, particularly in pottery types or religious or political ornaments. The Algonquian-speaking Indians met by the Roanoke Island colonists reflected some Mississippian influence, as did the later Cherokee.

Historic American Indians
Most of the Indian groups met by early European explorers were practicing economic and settlement patterns of the Woodland culture. They grew crops of maize, tobacco, beans, and squash, spent considerable time hunting and fishing, and lived in small villages.

American Indian groups in North Carolina, ca. 1600–1700

Data from Tom Ross, American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations (Southern Pines, N.C.: Karo Hollow Press, 1999).

In 1550, before the arrival of the first permanent European settlers, more than one hundred thousand American Indians were living in present-day North Carolina. By 1800 that number had fallen to about twenty thousand.

Unlike Europeans, American Indians had no resistance, or immunity, to diseases that the Europeans brought with them. These diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and influenza, killed thousands of natives throughout the state.

Settlement by European Americans also pushed many American Indians off their land. Some made treaties with the Whites, giving up land and moving farther west. Others fought back in battle but lost and were forced to give up their lands. These battles, as well as war with other American Indians tribes, also killed many.

The fates of the three largest American Indians tribes—the Tuscarora, the Catawba, and the Cherokee—are examples of the fates of the other tribes in North Carolina.

In the Coastal Plain Region, most of the smaller Algonquian-speaking tribes moved westward in the face of growing numbers of white settlers. But the Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora stayed, living in villages along the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers.

Tensions between White settlers and the Tuscarora increased as White settlements in the Coastal Plain grew. European settlers would not let the Tuscarora hunt near their farms, which reduced the Tuscarora’s hunting lands. Some White traders cheated the Tuscarora. Some settlers even captured and sold Tuscarora into slavery.

The settlement of New Bern in 1710 took up even more of the Tuscarora land and may have provoked the Tuscarora Indian War (1711–1714). In 1711 the Tuscarora attacked White settlements along the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. They were defeated in 1712 by an army led by Colonel John Barnwell of South Carolina. Later in 1712 the Tuscarora agreed to a peace treaty. According to terms in that treaty they were to move out of the area between the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers.

After this peace, the North Carolina Assembly refused to reward Barnwell and his South Carolina troops. The Assembly felt the army had not completely destroyed the Tuscarora’s power. As a result, while returning to South Carolina, Barnwell’s troops killed some Tuscarora, captured about two hundred Tuscarora women and children, and sold them into slavery for the money. The Tuscarora retaliated by attacking more towns. The Tuscarora were defeated in a 1713 battle at Fort Noherooka (in present-day Greene County). Up to one thousand four hundred Tuscarora had been killed in the war. Another one thousand had been captured and sold into slavery. Many of the surviving Tuscarora left North Carolina and settled in New York and Canada.

In the Piedmont Region, the Siouan-speaking Catawba Indians were friendly to the settlers. But disease, especially smallpox, killed many. War with neighboring tribes also reduced their number. Of the five thousand Catawba estimated to have been living in the Carolinas in the early 1600s, fewer than three hundred remained in 1784.

In the Mountain Region lived the Cherokee. At the start of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), they joined the British and the colonists in fighting the French. But when some Cherokee were killed by Virginia settlers, the Cherokee began attacking White settlements along the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers. They were defeated and made peace in 1761.

In return for this peace, the British promised that no White settlements would be allowed west of the Appalachian Mountains. But land-hungry Whites ignored this promise and continued to settle on Cherokee land.

During the American Revolution (1775–1783), the Cherokee sided with the British. They thought that if the British won, the British government would protect their land from further settlement. They also hoped to gain back some of the lands they had lost to the Whites. During the war, Cherokee and Creek Indians attacked White settlements. Colonists sent troops that defeated the Indians. In a 1777 treaty, the Cherokee gave up all lands east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Conflicts continued into the 1790s. A 1792 treaty created a boundary between Cherokee and White settlers. The United States government promised to protect the Cherokee land from further settlement. But as White settlement continued, the federal government began thinking about removing the Cherokee and other American Indians living east of the Mississippi River. In 1838 President Martin Van Buren acted on a policy established earlier by Andrew Jackson and sent federal troops to forcibly remove the Cherokee to the newly established Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. About twenty thousand Cherokee were forced to leave. The path they took has been called the Trail of Tears because so many died on this journey west.

Some Cherokee avoided the troops and stayed behind in North Carolina. They joined the Oconaluftee Cherokee Indians, who, because of an 1819 treaty, were allowed to stay in North Carolina. Together, their descendants make up the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and now live in the Qualla Boundary, a reservation in five different counties in western North Carolina. Several other modern American Indians groups live in North Carolina. They are direct descendants of prehistoric and early historic inhabitants. About 100,000 American Indians now live in North Carolina. The federal government recognizes one tribe in the state—the Cherokee—and the state recognizes eight tribes—the Coharie, Cherokee, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, Sappony, and Waccamaw-Siouan.

Current state-recognized American Indian tribes

At the time of the article’s publication, Stephen R. Claggett had been a state archaeologist with the North Carolina Division of Archives and History for ten years. He has degrees in history from the Centre College of Kentucky and in anthropology from Wake Forest University.

Click here for more information on the current state recognized tribes.

Arrivals in the East: Settlement of the Coastal Plain, 1650 to 1775
by Alan D. Watson

From the 1650s to the 1770s, the Coastal Plain Region of the land we now call North Carolina changed greatly. European American settlers began arriving, pushing back the Native Americans who had lived there for thousands of years. Against their will, many Africans and African Americans were forced to settle in the area as slaves. They came with European settlers from other colonies or were imported from other countries.

Southeastern United States at the turn of the 17th century. This map, drawn by Jodocus Hondius and titled "Virginiae Item et Floridae, Americae Provinciarum, nova Descriptio" , was based on the 1590 White and 1591 Le Moyne maps. It was published in 1606. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.


The North Carolina Coastal Plain stretches from the present-day Virginia border to the present-day South Carolina border. It reaches inland from the Atlantic Ocean to the fall line, which roughly follows the western edges of present-day Northampton, Halifax, Nash, Johnston, Harnett, Hoke, and Scotland Counties. The Coastal Plain can be divided into three subregions: the Albemarle, the middle Coastal Plain, and the Cape Fear. Each of these subregions has a different geography and a different history of settlement.

The Albemarle
The first part of North Carolina to be settled by European Americans was the Albemarle. The Albemarle extends from the border with Virginia to the north shore of the Albemarle Sound.

After the failed Roanoke colonies in the 1580s, the English focused on colonizing present-day Virginia. But in the mid-1600s, Virginians began exploring and acquiring land in the Albemarle area. Most hoped to find better farmland and to make money by trading with the Native Americans. By 1655 Nathaniel Batts, a trader with the Indians, became at least a temporary resident of Carolana. The first permanent inhabitants were probably John Harvey and his family, who were living in the area by 1659. As more Virginians moved into the Albemarle, its population grew to several hundred settlers by the 1660s.

In 1663 King Charles II granted Carolina to eight prominent Englishmen, who were called the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. Settlement was slow in the first decades of the Lords Proprietors’ rule. High taxes, uncertainty about land titles, attacks by Native Americans, and inefficient government all discouraged immigration and settlement.

The difficulty of traveling into Carolina also discouraged immigration. The Outer Banks, which are barrier islands along the coast, were dangerous to ships and discouraged immigration by sea. Many ships ran aground in the shallow waters near these islands. The Great Dismal Swamp, poor roads, and rivers that were difficult to navigate also made traveling difficult.

But settlers did find ways to migrate into the area. Many from Virginia traveled by land or journeyed up the Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers and down the Chowan River. Others may have come to Carolina by ship, sailing from other colonies along the Atlantic coast and passing through the Outer Banks at Currituck and Roanoke Inlets.





Expansion and settlement in the Albemarle region by 1733. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Click on map for the complete image, or click here for a printable Adobe Acrobat version.





The Middle Coastal Plain
In the late 1600s some settlers began crossing the Albemarle Sound to settle in the middle Coastal Plain, which stretches from the Albemarle Sound to present-day Duplin and Onslow Counties. By 1691 they had settled along the Pamlico River in Bath County.

More settlers traveled down the coast to settle in present-day Craven County by 1703, Carteret County by 1708, and Onslow County by 1714. These settlers included people from the Albemarle, Virginia, Maryland, and New England as well as immigrants from England. Like those who settled in the Albemarle, these people hoped to profit by farming the colony’s fertile land and by trading with the Native Americans.

French, German, and Swiss people also settled in the middle Coastal Plain. Many French Huguenots had settled in Virginia. But as the population in Virginia grew, land became more scarce. As a result, some Huguenots moved to Carolina. One group settled at the head of Pamlico Sound in 1690, and another settled along the Trent River around 1707 or 1708.



Baron Christoph von Graffenried
Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.



Swiss people and Germans from the Palatinate also came to present-day North Carolina. The Swiss were fleeing religious persecution, and the Germans were fleeing war, cold winters, and poverty. In 1710, under the direction of Baron Christoph von Graffenried, the Swiss and Germans created and settled the town of New Bern and other areas near the joining of the Neuse and Trent Rivers.

The settlement of New Bern may have sparked the Tuscarora Indian War (1711–1714), in which the Tuscarora Indians were defeated. Immigration to the middle Coastal Plain increased afterward because the war reduced the threat of Indian attacks on settlers.

The Cape Fear
In the mid-1720s, the first permanent settlers arrived in the area around the lower Cape Fear River. Their arrival was due mainly to the efforts of South Carolina planter Maurice Moore and North Carolina governor George Burrington. Moore had come to North Carolina to help fight the Tuscarora Indians. He became interested in settling in the Cape Fear area and encouraged others in South Carolina to settle there as well. Burrington ignored South Carolina’s claim to land on the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Instead, he granted this land to settlers who left South Carolina to settle in North Carolina.

The settlers from South Carolina were fleeing economic depression, high taxes, and political unrest in their colony. Other settlers came from England, Scotland, and Ireland as well as the colonies of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Some traveled on a new one-hundred-mile road between the Neuse River and the Cape Fear River.

Most settlers were attracted to this region by vast amounts of unclaimed land that were available and by commercial opportunities offered by the Cape Fear River. Since the Cape Fear River was the only deep river in the Coastal Plain that emptied into the ocean, large ships could travel it to the ports of Brunswick and Wilmington. As a result, settlers could send their goods to market and could trade with other colonies and with Europe more easily.

In the 1730s Welsh and Scotch-Irish began settling in the Cape Fear area. Around 1730 a group of Welsh settled along the Northeast Cape Fear River. In the mid-1730s Swiss from South Carolina and Scotch-Irish also settled in the area. The Scotch-Irish were fleeing high rents, heavy taxes, and famine in Ireland. The Swiss soon departed, but the Scotch-Irish remained on land along the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Lowland Scots, often merchants, also came to North Carolina. While some went north to the Albemarle, many went to Wilmington to improve their fortunes.

Highland Scots immigrated to North Carolina as well. The first group arrived in 1739. Many more came in the following years, especially in the 1760s and 1770s. They settled in the upper Cape Fear Valley in present-day Fayetteville and in present-day Anson, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, and Scotland Counties.

Some of the Highland Scots may have been political refugees fleeing Scotland after a failed uprising against the English. But most wished to escape the high rents, unemployment, and poverty in their country.





Expansion and settlement in the Cape Fear region by 1733. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Click on map for a larger image, or click here for a printable Adobe Acrobat version.




African American Settlement
African Americans, most of whom were slaves, greatly added to the population of the colony. By the time North Carolina was settled, slavery had developed in Virginia and South Carolina. White Virginians and South Carolinians who immigrated to North Carolina often brought slaves with them. Slaves were also brought from abroad.

Available records of slaves imported from 1749 to 1775 show that 68.6 percent came from the West Indies and 15.6 percent from Africa. 11.6 percent of slaves imported during this time came from other mainland colonies. The origin of the remaining 4.2 percent is unknown.

Atlantic slave trade routes, ca. 1600-1800. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History. Click on map for a larger image, or click here for a printable Adobe Acrobat version.

Most slaves lived in the lower Cape Fear area, where early immigrants from South Carolina brought the plantation culture with them. Though most settlers lived on small farms, some settlers owned large tracts of land and large numbers of slaves. These plantations produced most of the colony’s rice, indigo, and exportable naval stores. The fertile land in this area and the closeness of the Cape Fear River made trade with other colonies and with Europe profitable. These factors encouraged the plantation culture here.

Slaves were not as common in the Albemarle and middle Coastal Plain for a number of reasons. First, just as the Dismal Swamp and poor roads made travel and immigration by land difficult, they also made importing slaves by land difficult. Also, the dangerous Outer Banks and the absence of a deepwater port discouraged importing them by sea.

Second, getting goods to market was difficult. The rivers in these areas emptied into sounds, not the ocean, and ports along the rivers were located far inland. This meant that boats required more time to reach port, to pick up or deliver cargo, and to return to the ocean. Because getting goods to market was so difficult, most settlers could not make money by raising crops for export and did not need slaves. Though some did grow wheat and tobacco for export, many lived as subsistence farmers.

Development and Conflict
Differences in geography, economic interests, and settlement patterns divided the Coastal Plain and helped make each subregion different. Swamps, rivers, and poor roads made transportation, trade, and contact between them difficult. North Carolina lacked a unifying, common urban center such as Williamsburg in Virginia or Charleston in South Carolina.

Few economic ties bound coastal inhabitants together. The Albemarle counties tended to resemble Virginia. Early residents came from Virginia, used Virginia ports for trade, and used Virginia money. On the other hand, the Cape Fear, with its plantation culture, large number of slaves, and concentration of wealth, resembled South Carolina’s Low Country.

At times, these differences caused political conflict. In the 1740s and 1750s, for example, the Albemarle counties opposed the southern counties’ demand for equal representation in the colonial legislature. They also opposed the southern counties’ desire to place the colony’s capital in New Bern. After resolving these conflicts, however, the counties in the Coastal Plain became more united. In the 1770s, they worked together to oppose the demands of the newly settled and growing area called the backcountry, or Piedmont Region.

At the time of the article’s publication, Alan D. Watson was a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He earned his doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

Expanding to the West: Settlement of the Piedmont Region, 1730 to 1775
by Christopher E. Hendricks and J. Edwin Hendricks

North Carolina settlers from Europe or of European descent remained mostly in the Coastal Plain Region until about forty years before the American Revolution (1775–1783). The fall line, with its waterfalls and rapids, made traveling on rivers difficult and discouraged migration into the Piedmont from the Coastal Plain. But once settlers began arriving in the Piedmont, they came in great numbers and helped make North Carolina’s population grow rapidly. The colony’s population more than doubled in the decade from 1765 to 1775.

The Piedmont stretches from the fall line westward to the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. This colonial backcountry differed from the low-lying Coastal Plain. Its limestone and clay soils supported forests and grasslands. Its swift-flowing, shallow streams and narrow rivers were not good for boat traffic, but they offered excellent sites for mills and farms.

Though few roads ventured into the backcountry, two were vital to settlement of the region. The Great Indian Trading Path began in Petersburg, Virginia, and traveled southwest through the Piedmont to present-day Mecklenburg County. American Indians used it for centuries, and in the mid-1700s settlers began using it to travel into North Carolina. The second major road used by settlers was the Great Wagon Road, which stretched from Pennsylvania through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and into North Carolina.

European Migration
Initially the push for European settlement of the Piedmont came from English colonists living in the east. But Piedmont rivers such as the Broad, Catawba, and Yadkin/Pee Dee flowed south into South Carolina. That made communication and trade with the eastern part of the colony difficult and discouraged settlers from the Coastal Plain.

For this reason, only a few came inland from coastal towns, and by the 1730s Piedmont North Carolina was just starting to grow. Early Piedmont settlers were primarily Scotch-Irish and German people who were descendants of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia settlers. These settlers came down the Great Wagon Road. Many left their home colonies because suitable land in those colonies had become scarce and expensive.

The Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots, were descendants of Scots who had moved to Northern Ireland. They had prospered in Ireland until changes in English policies led many to migrate to America, where most settled in Pennsylvania. They began to arrive in North Carolina in the 1730s, leaving Pennsylvania after crops were harvested in the fall and arriving in the Piedmont in time to plant winter crops and seedlings that they brought with them.

On small farms these Scotch-Irish settlers grew corn for home use and wheat and tobacco for use and for export. They raised livestock and drove them in large numbers to northern markets. Settlers built stores, gristmills, sawmills, and tanneries. Blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, potters, rope makers, wagon makers, and wheelwrights established many local industries. Brewers, distillers, weavers, hatters, tailors, and others practiced their trades either in isolated homes or in shops in towns.

Germans of Lutheran or German Reformed faiths came to Pennsylvania and then to the Piedmont for many of the same reasons as the Scotch-Irish. Most of the Lutherans settled in the area drained by the Catawba and Yadkin Rivers. Some joined members of German Reformed congregations in settling all across the backcountry.

This dish in the museum's collection, made between 1775 and 1820, is probably Moravian. Moravians were well known for their pottery, which today is highly collectible. Courtesy of the N.C. Museum of History.

Moravians, also from Germany and then Pennsylvania, arrived in present-day Forsyth County in 1753. They began building a well-planned, tightly controlled congregational community. Land was held in common, and crafts, occupations, and even marriages required approval from community boards. Salem and its outlying settlements prospered and provided neighbors with mills, tanyards, shops, crafts, medical care, fine music, and other economic and cultural amenities.

Many of the German settlers clustered together and preserved their native language in homes, churches, and schools. German publishers prospered in Salisbury and in Salem. Gradually many of the settlers adopted English-sounding names and switched to speaking the English language.

With very different cultures and religious beliefs, the Scotch-Irish and German groups established neighboring settlements and towns but had little contact with each other. They came in such numbers that six new counties were created in the Piedmont between 1746 and 1763.

Settlers of English descent also came into the Piedmont. Two groups concentrated in the northern part. By 1754 English Quakers had organized the New Garden Monthly Meeting. This congregation attracted settlers from several counties in the Piedmont. The other English group included settlers from central Virginia, mostly Baptist, who arrived during and after the French and Indian War (1754–1763).

African American Settlement
Americans of African descent came to the Piedmont in small numbers during the colonial period, usually accompanying their masters from other areas. Many groups who had not previously owned slaves acquired slaves as their wealth increased and as neighboring slaveholders made the practice appear more acceptable. Rarely did colonial slaveholders in the Piedmont own more than a dozen slaves. In 1775, only fifteen thousand of the fewer than seventy thousand slaves in North Carolina lived west of the Coastal Plain. Most of the settlers in the Piedmont were small farmers and did not own slaves.

Hezekiah Alexander House (1774), Mint Museum of History, Charlotte. Hezekiah Alexander owned as many as thirteen slaves, a number that placed him in the top 1 percent of slaveholders in late eighteenth-century Mecklenburg County. Alexander's labor force was the simple fact that accounted for the difference of scale between his "Rock House" and the more modest dwellings of nonslaveholders. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

Development and Conflict
The ebb and flow of settlement in the Piedmont was influenced by two key events. The French and Indian War interrupted settlement when threats of Indian attacks frightened backcountry settlers into leaving their farms and fortifying their towns.

Then, in 1766, local conflicts erupted when backcountry settlers in the Piedmont, calling themselves Regulators, tried to fight government corruption, unclear land laws, and problems in the court system. They also opposed paying taxes to help build a governor’s palace in the Coastal Plain at New Bern.

Eventually colonial royal governor William Tryon raised an army that fought the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance Creek in 1771. The Regulators were defeated, but their movement was an example of worsening tensions between the older eastern settlements and the rapidly growing backcountry to the west.

As the population of the Piedmont grew, so did its towns. While the majority of backcountry immigrants settled on farms, others settled in and established towns. Many towns were established along the two main roads in the region. The Moravian villages of Bethabara (1753), Bethania (1756), and Salem (1766) were not far from the Great Wagon Road. Hillsborough (1754) and Charlotte (1766) were established on the Great Indian Trading Path. Salisbury was established in 1753 where the two roads crossed.

Most of these towns had stores, taverns, craft shops, churches, and schools. Salisbury, Hillsborough, and Charlotte were places for county courts to meet. On court days, people came into towns to trade, buy supplies, and socialize with friends.

Also in towns, as well as at large farms and crossroads stores, farm and craft products were gathered together for shipping to the coast. Once there, they were traded for goods and supplies that backcountry settlers could not produce for themselves. In a similar manner, flocks or herds of livestock were gathered to be driven to distant markets.

Because of the geography of the Piedmont, much of this trade flowed outside the colony. Few roads connected the Piedmont with the Coastal Plain. Around Hillsborough, for example, many settlers sent goods up the Great Indian Trading Path into Virginia instead of to North Carolina ports such as Edenton. People living in the northwest Piedmont still found it easier to send goods north along the Great Wagon Road. Other goods from the Piedmont traveled on rivers that flowed into South Carolina.

Colonial and county officials were concerned about the destinations of goods from the Piedmont. They built or improved roads to courthouse towns, mills, and stores to make trade with the east easier. Their efforts proved successful, and by 1760 Piedmont settlers were sending goods overland toward the coast. A 1773 pamphlet reported that “40 or 50” wagons filled with “beef, pork, and flower [flour] in barrels, also their live stock, Indian corn, raw hydes, butter, tallow, and whatever they have for market” were arriving daily in the small town of Cross Creek (present-day Fayetteville). These and other products, including wheat, deerskins, tobacco, naval stores, and flaxseed, were then loaded onto rafts and floated down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

By the 1770s, settlers in the North Carolina Piedmont occupied the best land. Seeking new land, other settlers began migrating to the Mountain Region of North Carolina and beyond.

Christopher E. Hendricks has a bachelor’s degree in history from Wake Forest University and a doctorate in history from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. At the time of the article’s publication, he taught history at Armstrong State College in Savannah, Georgia. His father, J. Edwin Hendricks, holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Furman University and a doctorate in history from the University of Virginia. He taught history at Wake Forest University.

Click here for a handy chart on North Carolina’s colonial settlement (Adobe Acrobat required).

North Carolina’s Final Frontier: Settlement of the Mountain Region, 1775 to 1838
by Ron Holland

With some of the oldest and most complex geographical formations on earth, the Mountain Region of western North Carolina has many of the highest summits in eastern America. In fact, Yancey County’s Mount Mitchell, in the Black Mountain range, is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The Mountain Region consists of many mountain ranges, including the Blue Ridge, Black, Great Smoky, Balsam, and Nantahala Mountains. This beautiful land of peaks and valleys and forests and flowers was the last area of North Carolina to be settled by European Americans.

European Migration
The most prominent Native Americans to settle in the mountains of western present-day North Carolina were the Cherokee Indians. Their first known contact with Europeans occurred in 1540, when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men came to the mountains in search of gold. Following this brief encounter, the Cherokee and Europeans had limited contact until the late 1600s. A thriving trade developed between the Cherokee and White settlers in the early 1700s.

Many Whites passed through the northwestern mountains and became permanent residents of the Watauga settlements (now in Tennessee) in the 1770s. But perhaps some of the earliest permanent White settlers in the North Carolina Mountain Region came to the Swannanoa area of what is now Buncombe County about 1784.

As more Whites immigrated into the area just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the late 1700s, the Cherokee who were living there moved west. As a result, White migration into present-day Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania Counties grew rapidly for a while.

The new settlers in the Mountains found it difficult to travel the steep, rough, and muddy roads back and forth to their county seats in Rutherford, Burke, and Wilkes Counties. They had to go to these county seats to pay taxes, buy or sell land, go to court, or carry on other business. The settlers began to ask the legislature to establish new counties so they would not have to travel so far to county seats. In response, the legislature established Buncombe and Ashe Counties in 1792 and 1799 respectively. Morristown, or Moriston (present-day Asheville), was founded as the county seat of Buncombe County because it was centrally located at a major crossroad. Jefferson was named the county seat in Ashe County.

The settlers who came to the Mountains were primarily of English, Scotch-Irish, and German descent. They came to buy, settle, and farm the cheap, fertile bottomlands and hillsides in the region. Some migrated from the North Carolina Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. They came by foot, wagon, or horseback, entering the area through gaps such as Swannanoa, Hickory Nut, Gillespie, and Deep Gaps.

Other English, Scotch-Irish, and German settlers came from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. They traveled down the Great Wagon Road to the Piedmont Region of North Carolina and then traveled west to reach the mountains.

African American Settlement
A small number of African American slaves were brought into the Mountain Region to work some of the larger farms. Robert Love of Haywood County, for example, owned one hundred slaves. But his case was an exception. Most farms were small and self-sufficient. Largely because traveling and getting crops to market were difficult and expensive on the rough, muddy roads, most farmers did not grow excess crops for trade and did not need slaves.

The Buncombe Turnpike and Gold!
Problems with travel and trade changed with the completion of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1827. The turnpike followed the French Broad River north of Asheville to reach Greeneville, Tennessee. South of Asheville, the turnpike continued to Greenville, South Carolina. The turnpike was a better road than previous roads in the Mountain Region, which usually had been steep, narrow paths. It connected the North Carolina Mountain Region with other, larger markets.

Drovers were now able to drive surplus hogs, geese, or turkeys to markets outside the Mountain Region. Farmers could now use their wagons to transport crops to market. Tourists could now reach the mountains more easily. They could come in wagons, carriages, or stagecoaches, rather than on foot or horseback. Asheville and Warm Springs (now Hot Springs) became popular tourist destinations. Flat Rock attracted many summer residents from the Low Country of South Carolina, including Charleston.

The discovery of gold in western North Carolina brought an economic boom to the region in the 1820s and 1830s. Burke and Rutherford Counties experienced a gold rush in the mid-1820s when hundreds of miners arrived looking for gold. During this time, North Carolina became the leading gold-producing state. However, with the discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s, most of the miners left for California.

Principal gold mining locations in North Carolina in the first half of the nineteenth century. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. Click on map for a larger image, or click here for a printable Adobe Acrobat version.

Development and Conflict
During the first three decades of the 1800s, economic and political conditions were poor. A steady stream of emigrating North Carolinians passed through the Mountain Region headed for points west.

North Carolina political conditions were affected by sectionalism, or conflict between the eastern and western sections of the state. At the time, each county, regardless of population, elected one representative to the state senate and two representatives to the North Carolina House of Commons. The east had more counties and, as a result, more representatives who could outvote representatives from the west.

By 1830 the western part of the state had more people, but the east continued to control the government. Calls for a constitutional convention were defeated repeatedly until 1834 when western counties threatened to revolt and secede from the state if a convention was not called.

Fortunately, a convention was called in 1835. The convention reformed the state constitution and created a more democratic government. The east would continue to control the senate, whose members were now elected from districts. These districts were created according to the amount of tax paid to the state. Because the east was wealthier and paid more taxes, it had more districts. But the west would control the population-based house because it had more people. Since neither the east nor the west could now control the entire government, the two sections were forced to cooperate. These changes benefited the western part of the state.

It was also during this period, in 1838, that the federal government forced a majority of the Cherokee in the region to move to present-day Oklahoma. Thousands of Cherokee died in the journey west. Although some Cherokee were able to stay behind, Whites soon began to settle on the Cherokee land, which was fertile and cheap.

By the 1830s, transportation in the Mountains had improved and conflict between the east and west had decreased. But the Mountain Region remained relatively isolated for another fifty years until railroad lines reached the area.


North Carolina circa 1839 in "A New Map of Nth. Carolina with its Canals, Roads & Distances from place to place, along the Stage & Steam Boat Routes. by H. S. Tanner...Engraved by W. Brose. Philadelphia." The Gold Region and the area around New Bern are shown as insets, and a Table of Distances and a Profile of the Dismal Swamp Canal are included. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History.


Ron Holland is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has a master’s degree in history from North Carolina State University. At the time of the article’s publication, he had worked for the North Carolina Division of Archives and History for twenty-seven years.

Searching for Greener Pastures: Out-Migration in the 1800s and 1900s
by Donald R. Lennon and Fred D. Ragan

Frederick Marryat, an English visitor traveling through the Ohio Valley in 1838, was “surprised at the stream of emigration which appears to flow from North Carolina to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Every hour you meet with a caravan of emigrants from that sterile but healthy state. Every night the banks of the Ohio are lighted up with their fires.”

Marryat’s observations were not unusual during the first half of the 1800s. North Carolina was the third most populous state in the Union in 1790, but by 1860 it had dropped to twelfth in population. Hundreds of thousands of White North Carolinians fled the state during those years, seeking cheap, fertile land in Tennessee, western Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, and other trans-Allegheny states and territories. Thirty percent of North Carolina’s native-born population, amounting to more than four hundred thousand persons, was living outside of the state in 1860.

European American Out-Migration
The migration west actually began before the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), as adventurous North Carolinians followed Daniel Boone in search of new frontiers beyond the mountains. After the war, veterans of the Revolution were rewarded with free land in what became Tennessee. Land speculators also rushed into that area in search of wealth.

Among these speculators were members of the Polk family of Mecklenburg County. By 1806 Samuel Polk and his young family joined their kinsmen on the Tennessee frontier. Sam’s oldest child was eleven-year-old James K. Polk. Born in North Carolina, he went on to become the eleventh president of the United States.

After the War of 1812, the caravans of wagons moving west increased, but the reasons were different. North Carolina had become known as the Rip Van Winkle State. State leaders opposed spending tax money on schools, roads, agricultural reforms, or any other form of economic advancement. Their opposition hurt the state’s people. Without good roads to get crops to market, farmers could not make profits. Without progressive leadership in agricultural reforms, farmers did not learn about the importance of crop rotation. Instead, they continued old farming practices that used up nutrients in the soil and exhausted the land. Although newspapers and reformers pointed out the high degree of ignorance and poverty in which people lived, state leaders seemed to pay no attention to the needs of the people.

Disgusted by the state’s do-nothing policy, farmers gave up on their exhausted lands and moved west, where they could find cheaper, more fertile land to farm. In 1834 a Raleigh newspaper reported that “our roads are thronged with emigrants to a more favored Country.” As late as 1845, a Greensboro newspaper proclaimed, “On last Tuesday morning nineteen carts, with about one hundred per-sons, passed this place, from Wake County, on their way to the West.”

Marryat, the English visitor, wrote

these caravans consist of two or three covered wagons, full of women and children, furniture, and other necessaries, each drawn by a team of horses; brood mares, with foals by their sides, following; half a dozen or more cows, flanked on each side by the men, with their long rifles on their shoulders; sometimes a boy or two, or a half-grown girl on horseback.

Young, energetic, and ambitious citizens were leaving. Many of these talented North Carolinians later became presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet members of the United States government, as well as governors and congressmen for their adopted states. Presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson were among the future leaders who left.

Conditions in North Carolina did not begin to improve until a progressive political leadership gained control of the state in 1835. The state constitution was rewritten to create a state and local government that was more democratic and responsive to the people. Even then, progress was slow.

In 1840 the first public school was established. Soon railroads were introduced, with tracks stretching across the state. Plank roads and other internal improvements developed. Manufacturing began to flourish. At last North Carolina could shake its Rip Van Winkle image. Once White North Carolinians felt they could prosper at home, the massive emigration of White citizens out of the state began to decline.

Vehicle ticket for the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road. During the 1850s farmers and merchants agitated for the construction of a system of all-weather roads that would reduce the difficulty of transporting their goods to market or the nearest rail connection. The legislature chartered numerous private companies to construct "plank roads" with the modest financial backing of the state. Although such roads were built in almost every part of the state, Fayetteville served as a focal point for their development. Six plank roads converged at this thriving market center, the longest being the Fayetteville and Western, which ran 129 miles northwest through Salem to the Moravian town of Bethania, in Forsyth County. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History.

African American Out-Migration
The out-migration of African Americans increased after the Civil War (1861–1865). The war brought freedom for former slaves but did not satisfy their desire for a better life. Faced with poverty and a political environment that was becoming more and more repressive, many North Carolina Blacks moved north, where they could find better opportunities. During the last quarter of the 1800s, approximately 100,000 African Americans emigrated from the Tar Heel State.

An extreme example of North Carolina’s repressive political environment is represented by the 1898 Wilmington race riot. In the 1890s farm prices had declined, which meant that farmers were making less money by selling their crops. Farmers protested by forming a new political party, the Populist Party, that challenged the Democratic and Republican Parties. In the 1896 state elections, Populists and Republicans elected a number of African American officials. A Republican governor also was elected. Democrats charged that the state had fallen under “Black domination.”

Two years later, in the 1898 election, Democrats tried to frighten White voters by saying that African Americans were going to rule the state if the Democrats lost. Red Shirts paraded on horseback with weapons in full view to intimidate Black voters. Some Blacks rejected the threat and spoke out. Alex Manly, the militant and progressive editor of the Wilmington Daily Record, was among them.

Democrats won the election. Soon afterward a mob of four hundred Whites demolished Manly’s newspaper office, shot up the African American section of town, killed and wounded a large number of Blacks, and drove hundreds from their homes. Hundreds more, including Manly, fled Wilmington.

On the right: Alexander Manly, 1890s

In 1900, White voters changed the state constitution by requiring that anyone who registered to vote had to pay a poll tax and take a literacy test. The voters also passed a “grandfather clause.” This clause stated that if a person failed the literacy test, that person could still vote if he, his father, or his grandfather had voted before January 1, 1867. African Americans who had been slaves were not able to vote before 1867. Even free Blacks had lost the right to vote in 1835. As a result, these changes in the constitution disfranchised Blacks much more than Whites. The Tar Heel State also began to pass Jim Crow laws that required segregation on buses, in theaters, at restaurants, and in other public places. African Americans also had to attend separate schools, which were usually underfunded. In addition, job discrimination was rampant.

A separate drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In response to all of these problems, large numbers of Blacks left the South. Between World War I (1914–1918) and the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of African Americans left southern states. So many left that the movement was called “The Great Migration.” Between 1910 and 1950, approximately 280,000 Black citizens left North Carolina. Their destinations varied, but large numbers went to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Many of the same reasons that encouraged earlier Blacks to leave continued to influence these citizens. Discrimination, low wages, and inferior housing and schools exerted a powerful push to leave.

Other factors also contributed to their emigration. In the 1920s and 1930s, the devastation of cotton crops by boll weevils and the gradual replacement of farm workers with machines left many Black farm workers unemployed. New Deal farm policies tried to help farmers by driving up the prices of farm goods. These policies limited the number of acres that a farmer could work and limited how much of a crop a farmer could grow. But these changes eliminated agricultural jobs and left many unemployed. These unemployed people often went north to find work.

During World War II (1941–1945) the military draft and increased job opportunities in the North also pulled at Blacks. Those who were drafted to fight in the war often were sent north, with other soldiers, to train for battle. While there, many saw better opportunities and decided to remain after the war. Others went to the North to work in growing defense industries.

Ambitious and talented Black families were among those leaving. Many native North Carolinians made significant contributions to their new states. For example, lawyer, publisher, and journalist Robert L. Vann founded the Pittsburgh Courier. Wilson Goode became mayor of Philadelphia. John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Roberta Flack made important contributions to music.

With the advances made by the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the end of segregation, and the growth of jobs in the Sun Belt region in the 1970s, North Carolina’s African Americans have received much less of a push out of the state than in earlier times. Barriers to better economic and educational opportunities are falling in North Carolina. With improvements at home, many now feel that they can prosper and have the full life promised by the American dream in North Carolina.

At the time of the article’s publication, Donald R. Lennon was coordinator of Special Collections in the J. Y. Joyner Library at East Carolina University in Greenville and taught history at the university. He holds a master’s degree from East Carolina University. Fred D. Ragan was a professor of history at East Carolina University specializing in constitutional and twentieth-century history. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

Contemporary Migration in North Carolina
by Alfred W. Stuart and Laura Baum

Did you know that, until recently, more people emigrated out of North Carolina than immigrated in? In the early 1800s, hundreds of thousands of European Americans left. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, more than 380,000 African Americans emigrated out. This trend of out-migration continued until the last decade. Between 1950 and 1960, 327,838 more people left North Carolina than moved in. Between 1960 and 1970, this drain fell to just over 94,000 people. Between 1980 and 1990, North Carolina actually had a net in-migration of 374,354 people.

What caused this population tilt, or reversal of past trends? The main cause is the creation of new jobs, primarily in factories, offices, and stores in the state’s cities. The growth of industries in and around Charlotte, the Piedmont Triad, and the Research Triangle has attracted workers from across the country and even from around the world.

Growth through Immigration
Who are these people who are immigrating to North Carolina today? Many are African Americans whose families once left the state and are now returning to find jobs, to retire, or to improve their quality of life. The end of segregation in the South in the 1960s has made more of the new jobs available to African Americans. A lessening of racial tension has also made life in the South more attractive. Meanwhile, racial problems, crime, violence, a decline in jobs, and disappointment with the quality of life in urban areas of the North have led many Black North Carolinians to return home. Many African Americans say that they are returning to be with family members they left behind, to find work, and to find safer schools and communities than they could find in the North.

People of other races are also coming to North Carolina from the North and Midwest to find work. In the past twenty years or so, jobs in those areas have declined, while jobs in North Carolina, especially near its cities, have increased.

Still other people are coming to North Carolina from other countries to find work or to escape persecution in their home countries. The fastest growing segment of these in-migrants has been Asian, with their population more than doubling between 1980 and 1990 from 21,168 to 52,166 people.

More than 8,000 Asian people came to North Carolina as refugees from Southeast Asian countries that were affected by the Vietnam War (1964–1975). Many South Vietnamese fled their country as America withdrew from the area in 1975.

Thousands of Cambodians left their country after the Khmer Rouge overthrew their American-backed government.

More than 400 Dega men, who had helped American forces fight the highlands of South Vietnam, came to North Carolina in 1986 and 1994 and now live in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte.



To the left: Rooster hat of traditional Hmong design, worn during Hmong New Year's celebrations. A Hmong woman living in North Carolina purchased the hat in 1982 while visiting family in Minneapolis, a large Hmong population center, to wear during local New Year festivities. Courtesy of the N.C. Museum of History.


Lao and Hmong refugees now living in North Carolina helped fight a North Vietnamese-backed Communist movement in Laos. They fled Laos in 1975 when communist forces gained power and began persecuting them. Many resettled elsewhere in the United States before coming to North Carolina to get away from the crime and unemployment they found in larger inner cities.

In the last thirty to forty years, other Asians, including Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, have come to North Carolina to go to school and to work. Many Japanese and Koreans came when their companies in Japan and Korea opened branches or started factories in the state.

People from other countries such as India and countries in the Middle East have also come to North Carolina to go to schools here and to find work.

Another group of people who have come to North Carolina are people of Hispanic heritages. In 2010, the percentage of Hispanics living in the state reached 8.4%, a 111.1 percent jump over 2000. Though some Hispanics have come from Cuba and South and Central America, the majority of Hispanics in North Carolina are from Mexico.

The first Hispanics to come to North Carolina in the twentieth century were Cubans. In the 1960s they came to America fleeing the socialist revolution in Cuba that had put Fidel Castro in power.

In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, a recession hit Mexico. Many Mexicans left their country to look for jobs in the United States. Many went to California looking for agricultural work. Soon, there were more immigrants looking for work in California than there were jobs available for them.

At the same time, North Carolina farmers began looking for migrant labor to help them harvest tobacco and crops such as sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Mexicans in California and throughout the United States heard about the jobs through family and friends who had already migrated to North Carolina. They began moving to the state and to other states on the East Coast where they could find jobs.

In 1985 the federal government passed a law that offered amnesty to agricultural workers who could prove they ad worked ninety consecutive workdays in the field. Those who applied for amnesty became legal residents and could apply for permanent citizenship. They could not be deported. The law helped Mexican migrants already working in the United States and may have encouraged others to come as well. This law lasted for only a limited time.

In recent years, professional workers have from Mexico and Central and South America to North Carolina hoping to earn more money in their jobs. Many other Hispanics have come to North Carolina fleeing civil war in their home countries. These people include emigrants fro El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru. People from Columbia and Venezuela have come fleeing economic and political problems in their countries.

Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management.

Change through In-State Migration
Most of the state’s population growth has occurred in urban areas. Net in-migration of all people between 1980 and 1990 was led by the larger metropolitan counties, especially Wake (Raleigh), with 94,890 in-migrants, Mecklenburg (Charlotte), with 68,881, and Durham (Durham), with 19,166. The total growth rate of the state’s thirteen metropolitan counties was more than double that of the rest of the state.

Though many of the people are immigrating to North Carolina’s cities from other states or other countries, many are coming from North Carolina’s rural areas. They, too, migrate looking for work. Many of those leaving rural areas are African Americans.

All of these migrations have enriched the culture of North Carolina. Restaurants and grocery stores featuring Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic foods are becoming more popular. Many local businesses now carry items that these new citizens need. Different languages are heard on city streets and college campuses and in bilingual school classes. People from different backgrounds live near each other, go to school together, and work together.

The people immigrating to North Carolina today are only the state’s latest arrivals. They are a continuation of the flood of people who first started migrating here hundreds and even thousands of years ago.

At the time of the article’s publication, Laura Baum was an editor with the North Carolina Museum of History. She is a graduate of Duke University in Durham and was pursuing a master’s degree in English literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Alfred W. Stuart is a professor emeritus of geography at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; see Special Session 3 for a brief biography.

These graphs show population changes in North Carolina beginning with the first United States census in 1790. Courtesy of the North Carolina Atlas Revisited.

Related Web Sites

ERIC Digest: Geography in History: A Necessary Connection in the School Curriculum

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

History of Old Salem

North Carolina Census Information

North Carolina State Demographics: County/State Population Projections

The Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture Presents: In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans: The Trail of Tears: The Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation

Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site

The Way We Lived in North Carolina

U.S. Census Bureau: North Carolina QuickFacts

Assignment 1

Complete one of the following assignments:

Develop a lesson plan in which your students record an oral history with a current North Carolina resident who moved from another state or country. Each interview should establish why and when the resident moved to the state as well as his/her perceptions of the state before and after moving and plans to stay or relocate to another state or different part of North Carolina. Include a time to share the interviews in class and discuss what they reveal about contemporary immigration and migration in North Carolina. Students may work independently, in groups, or as a class, and may record the interviews on a tape recorder or video recorder or through notes, as best fits your class.

Option 2:
Research one of the following population trends of the last ten years and record your findings in an outline or narrative:

  • Increasing net in-migration
  • Increasing Latino and/or Asian populations
  • Increasing urbanization
  • Predictions for the future

Option 3: (If you are seeking reading credits, choose this option.) 
Create a reading list appropriate for your students focusing on immigration and migration in North Carolina. Briefly discuss how you could use the materials to improve reading skills and boost students' interest in reading. Resources can include essays, nonfiction books, historical fiction, biographies, Web sites, children’s books, short stories, government documents, diaries, letters, etc. Include at least two primary sources.

Submit your completed assignments via e-mail to:

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