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Antebellum Workshop Introduction


What images come to mind when you think about antebellum North Carolina? Do you picture Scarlett O’Hara flirting with her beaux against the backdrop of a lush plantation landscape? Few, if any, North Carolinians living in the antebellum era would have recognized this scene as one out of their daily lives.

Historians do not universally agree on when the antebellum era began. Some think it started when the Revolutionary War ended and the new government of the United States of America was established, around 1783. Others think it began at the conclusion of the War of 1812. But all historians agree that the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 signaled the end of the antebellum era.

Antebellum life in North Carolina was marked by political strife. Politicians divided into warring factions—those representing the western part of the state, who favored internal improvements, versus those representing the eastern part of the state, who opposed them. The state’s inadequate transportation infrastructure led to economic stagnation, and North Carolina came to be regarded as backward due to the refusal of state lawmakers to institute new reforms and embrace new technologies. The state constitutional convention of 1835 changed how representation in the General Assembly was determined and at the same time disenfranchised people of color.

North Carolina remained largely agrarian throughout the period, and many of its inhabitants depended on tobacco or cotton for their living. Social issues loomed large in the lives of North Carolinians. Evangelical Protestantism experienced renewed popularity throughout the state, and families started to consider the role education should play in their children’s lives. The rules that governed courtship and marriage  followed the more traditional values established in the Colonial era, but new social reforms were instituted during the antebellum era such as mental health reform.

Despite being called the “Rip Van Winkle State” for its sleepy-headed attitude toward progress, North Carolina did start to slowly transform itself into a more modern place. This workshop will examine the political, economic, and social changes that occurred.

The first session of the workshop examines who lived in antebellum North Carolina. The rich and the powerful of plantation lore are a small part of the story. The experiences of the Cherokee, people of color (both free and enslaved), poor whites, yeoman farmers, and the upper class (including planters) will be highlighted. The second session outlines how North Carolinians made a living and looks at the industries that provided the lifeblood of the state’s economy. The third session describes several pivotal political issues in North Carolina, including the rising tensions over slavery. The fourth session focuses on the fight over internal improvements, which greatly affected the state’s development before the Civil War. The workshop concludes with a look at some of the social, educational, and religious issues that dominated the period.

The workshop is a six-week self-paced program. You may progress through the sessions and activities at your own pace. Expect to spend approximately six to eight hours per week on the workshop and related assignments.

Submit assignments by e-mail. You will earn eight contact hours for each completed assignment (maximum of forty hours). After completing the workshop, you will receive a certificate of completion listing the contact hours earned.

System Requirements

To fully access this workshop, you will need a computer with Internet access and an e-mail address.

If you have difficulty navigating the workshop, please contact Sally Bloom at 919-807-7965 or at

Project History

The Division of State History Museums collects and preserves artifacts and other historical materials relating to the history and heritage of North Carolina in a local, regional, national, and international context to assist people in understanding how the past influences the present. The Division interprets the state’s history through exhibitions, educational programs, and publications available to the visitor on-site or through distance-learning technologies.

In 1998 the North Carolina Museum of History offered a pilot electronic teacher workshop, The Role of Women in North Carolina History, as a new way to serve educators across the state. Since that time, the museum has developed eight additional online workshops: Stories from the Civil War;American Indians in North Carolina, Past and Present; Legends of North Carolina; Civil Rights in North CarolinaNorth Carolina at Home and in Battle during World War IIBrother Can You Spare a Dime? The 1930s in North Carolina; African American Life and Culture in North Carolina History, and North Carolina Geography, as well as this course. All workshops are offered annually, and new ones continue to be created.

Online workshops are not meant to replace the museum’s traditional programs, but will supplement ongoing programs for students and educators. Based on evaluations from this project, the museum will develop future programs for educators using this web-based technology.


Thanks to members of the museum’s curatorial staff—Diana Bell-Kite, RoAnn Bishop, Emily Thomas, and Rebekah Velazquezfor their generous assistance with research.

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