Spanish colonial forces were the first Europeans to make a permanent settlement in the area, when the Juan Pardo-led Expedition built Fort San Juan in 1567. This was sited at Joara, a Mississippian culture regional chiefdom in the western interior; present-day Morganton developed near there. The fort lasted only 18 months as the natives killed all but one of the 120 men Pardo had stationed at a total of six forts in the area.
North Carolina became one of the English Thirteen Colonies, and was originally known as Province of Carolina, along with South Carolina. The northern and southern parts of the original Province separated in 1729. Originally settled by small farmers, sometimes having a few slaves, who were oriented toward subsistence agriculture, the colony lacked cities or towns. Pirates menaced the seacoast settlements, but by 1718 the pirates had been captured and executed. Growth was strong in the middle of the 18th century, as the economy attracted Scotch-Irish, Quaker, English and German immigrants. The colonists supported the American Revolution, as the Loyalists were weak.
Several efforts to establish a seat of government failed until 1766, when New Bern, the largest town, was selected. Construction of Governor Tryon Palace began in 1767 and was completed in 1771. This new structure served as the governor's residence and office, as well as a meeting place for the Upper House. When New Bern was threatened by enemy attacks during the American Revolution, the government took to the roads again, meeting in both coastal and inland towns of the state. The "palace" soon became neglected and in 1798 all but one wing burned to the ground. In 1788 Raleigh was chosen as the site of the new capital, as its central location protected it from attacks from the coast. Officially established in 1792 as both county seat and state capital, the city was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, sponsor of Roanoke, the "lost colony" on Roanoke Island.
North Carolina made the smallest per-capita contribution to the war of any state, as only 7800 men joined the Continental Army under General George Washington; an additional 10,000 served in local militia units under such leaders as General Nathanael Greene. There was some military action, especially in 1780–81. Many Carolinian frontiersmen had moved west over the mountains into the Washington District (later known as Tennessee), but in 1789 the state was persuaded to relinquish its claim to the western lands, ceding them to the national government so that the Northwest Territory could be organized and managed nationally.
After 1800, cotton and tobacco became important export crops. The eastern half of the state, especially the Tidewater, developed a slave society based on a plantation system and slave labor. Many free people of color migrated to the frontier along with their European-American neighbors, where the social system was looser. By 1810, nearly 3 percent of the free population was comprised of free people of color, who numbered slightly more than 10,000. The western areas were dominated by white families who operated small subsistence farms. In the early national period, the state became a center of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy with a strong Whig presence, especially in the West. The rights of free blacks were reduced in 1835 after Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831, and the legislature withdrew their right to vote.
On May 20, 1861, North Carolina was the last of the Confederate states to declare secession from the Union, 13 days after the Tennessee legislature voted for secession. Some 125,000 North Carolinians saw military service; 20,000 were killed in battle, the most of any state in the confederacy, and 21,000 died of disease. The state government was reluctant to support the demands of the national government in Richmond, and the state was the scene of only small battles.
With the end of the war in 1865, the Reconstruction Era began. The United States abolished slavery without compensation to the slaveholders, or reparations to the freedmen. A Republican Party coalition of black Freedmen, northern Carpetbaggers, and local Scalawags controlled state government for three years. The white conservative Democrats regained control of the state legislature in 1870, in part by Ku Klux Klan violence and physical intimidation at the polls to suppress black voting. Republicans were elected as governor until 1876, when the Red Shirts, a paramilitary organization allied with the Democratic Party that arose in 1875, helped suppress black voting.
Democrats were elected to the legislature and governor's office, but the Populists attracted voters displeased with them. A biracial, Populist-Republican Fusionist coalition gained the governor's office in the 1896 election. The Democrats regained control of the legislature in 1896, and passed laws to impose Jim Crow and racial segregation of public facilities. Voters of North Carolina's 2nd congressional district elected a total of four African-American US Congressmen through these years of the late nineteenth century. Political tensions were so high, that a small group of white Democrats in 1898 planned to take over the Wilmington government if their candidates were not elected. In the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, more than 1500 white men attacked the black newspaper and neighborhood, killed numerous men, and ran off the white Republican mayor and aldermen. They installed their own people, and elected Alfred M. Waddell as mayor, in the only coup d'état in United States history.
In 1899 the state legislature passed a new constitution with requirements for poll taxes and literacy tests for voter registration; it effectively disfranchised most blacks in the state. Exclusion from voting had wide effects: it meant that blacks could not qualify to serve on juries or in any local office. After a decade of white supremacy, many people forgot that North Carolina had thriving middle-class blacks. They essentially had no political voice in the state until after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed to enforce their constitutional rights. It was not until 1992 that another African American was elected as a US Representative from North Carolina.
As in the rest of the former Confederate states, North Carolina had become a one-party state dominated by the Democratic Party. Impoverished by the Civil War, the state continued with an economy based on tobacco, cotton and agriculture. Towns and cities remained few in the east. A major industrial base emerged in the late 19th century in the western counties of the Piedmont based on cotton mills established at the fall line. Railroads were built to connect the new industrializing cities. The state was the site of the first successful controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air flight, by the Wright brothers, near Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.
North Carolina was hard hit by the Great Depression, but the New Deal's farm programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt for cotton and tobacco significantly helped the farmers. After World War II, the state's economy grew rapidly, highlighted by the growth of such cities as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham. Raleigh and Durham are part of the Research Triangle, a major area of universities and advanced scientific and technical research. In the 1990s, Charlotte became a major regional and national banking center.
By the 1970s, passage of federal civil rights legislation, and other social changes led to many residents changing their party affiliation. Conservative whites began to vote for Republican national candidates, and gradually for more Republicans on the local level. Since gaining federal support under Lyndon Johnson to enforce their constitutional rights as citizens, African Americans have affiliated with and consistently elected officials of the Democratic Party.
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