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The Influence of Geography 
Upon Early North Carolina 

Cordelia Camp 

Formerly Professor of History 
Western Carolina College 

A Publication of 

The Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission 

Box 1881, Raleigh, North Carolina 


The Influence of Geography 
Upon Early North Carolina 

The Influence of Geography 
Upon Early North Carolina 

Cordelia Camp 

Formerly Professor of History 
Western Carolina College 

A Publication of 

The Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission 

Box 1881, Raleigh, North Carolina 



Hon. Francis E. Winslow, Chairman 

Henry Belk 

Mrs. Doris Betts 

Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson 

Mrs. Everett L. Durham 

William C. Fields 

William Carrington Gretter, Jr. 

Grayson Harding 

Mrs. James M. Harper, Jr. 

Mrs. Ernest L. Ives 

Dr. Henry W. Jordan 

Mrs. Kauno A. Lehto 

James G. W. MacLamroc 

Mrs. Harry McMullan 

Dr. Paul Murray 

Dan M. Paul 

Dr. Robert H. Spiro, Jr. 

David Stick 

J. P. Strother 

Mrs. J. O. Tally, Jr. 

Rt. Rev. Thomas H. Wright 


Dr. Charles F. Carroll, 
Superintendent of 
Public Instruction 

Robert L. Stallings, 
Director, Department of 
Conservation and Development 

Dr. Christopher Crittenden 
Director, Department of 
Archives and History, 

The Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission was established by 
the North Carolina General Assembly to "make plans and develop 
a program for celebration of the tercentenary of the granting of the 
Carolina Charter of 1663 . . ." As part of this program the Com- 
mission arranged for the publication of a number of historical 
pamphlets for use in stimulating interest in the study of North 
Carolina history during the period 1663-1763. This publication is 
part of that project. 

Raleigh, North Carolina, 1963 


Chapter Page 






From North Carolina History by D. J. Whitener, 1959 
(Courtesy of Harlow Publishing Company, Norman, Oklahoma 


Physical Features of the State 

North Carolina lies between 34° and 36° 30' north latitude, 
thus being located within the warmer part of the north 
temperate zone. The state is bounded on the north by Vir- 
ginia, on the west by Tennessee, on the South by South 
Carolina and Georgia, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. 
The extreme length of the state is over 500 miles and the 
greatest width is 188 miles. 

The topography may be described as one vast slope ex- 
tending from the mountains of the west, with altitudes of 
more than 6,000 feet, to the level of the Atlantic Ocean. The 
state is divided into three rather clear-cut physiographic 
regions: the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau and the 
Mountain Region. Each region has distinct physical features. 
The Coastal Plain with its subregions, making up almost 
half the state's area, extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the 
"fall line" of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. 
This region varies from 100 to 150 miles in width and 
ranges in elevation from sea level to approximately 400 feet. 
This extensive region is naturally divided into two sub- 
regions, the Tidewater and the western Coastal Plain. The 
Tidewater is low and relatively swampy. It includes many 
natural lakes, the largest of which is Lake Mattamuskeet. 
Most of the soil of the Coastal Plain is fertile and easy to 
cultivate. At its western edge is a rather large, hilly and 
sandy area known as the Sandhills. The soil in this area was 
not considered good for farming and not many people settled 
there in early days. Later, it was found that the winters were 
milder in this region than in many other parts of the coun- 
try. This led eventually to the development of such resort 
towns as Pinehurst and Southern Pines. The submountain 

2 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

or Piedmont Plateau extends from the fall line, which runs 
in a northeast-southwest direction through the present coun- 
ties of Northampton, Halifax, Wake, Lee, Hoke and Scot- 
land. From the mountain section to the Piedmont the transi- 
tion is very sharp, there being a drop of not less than 1,500 
feet within a very few miles. The Mountain Region is com- 
posed of a broad plateau bounded on the east by the Blue 
Ridge and on the west by the Great Smoky Mountains. The 
plateau is the culminating region of the Appalachian system 
and contains not only its largest masses, but also its highest 
summits. It is divided by a number of cross ranges and, con- 
sequently, into a number of smaller plateaus or basins, each 
bounded on all sides by high mountains. There are in this 
mountain area forty-three peaks which attain an elevation 
of over 6,000 feet and eighty-two mountains which exceed 
5,000 feet in height. Mount Mitchell, with an elevation of 
6,684 feet, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. 


Great bodies of shallow water, called sounds, lie between 
the Coastal Plain and the Atlantic Ocean. These sounds are 
Currituck, Albemarle, Chowan, Roanoke, Pamlico, Core and 
Bogue. Between the sounds and the Atlantic Ocean is a low- 
lying ridge of sand which extends along most of the North 
Carolina coast and reaches for miles into the ocean, at many 
places being largely covered with water. There are few pas- 
sageways for ships through this sand bank, and a hurricane 
may close a passage which has been open for years—The 
shallow waters, shifting sands and treacherous currents have 
helped to make the North Carolina coast line the most 
dangerous one on the entire Atlantic coast of the United 
States. The waters around Cape Hatteras have been called 
the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." 

Physical Features of the State 3 

The Coastal Plain is drained by six great rivers: the 
Chowan, Roanoke, Tar-Pamlico, Neuse, Trent and Cape 
Fear. These streams run in a southeasterly direction and all 
except the Cape Fear empty into the shallow sounds off the 
coast, tending to make them increasingly more shallow with 
sediment deposits. The Cape Fear flows directly into the 
Atlantic, but sediment deposited near its mouth forms Fry- 
ing Pan Shoals which make a dangerous entrance. The 
Chowan and the Roanoke originate in Virginia; the Tar- 
Pamlico, Neuse and Cape Fear rise in the Piedmont region 
of North Carolina; and the Trent rises in this state's Coastal 
Plain. The main rivers of the Piedmont, the Catawba, Yad- 
kin and the Broad, run in a southeasterly direction and flow 
through South Carolina before entering the ocean. These 
rivers are narrow and flow more swiftly than do those of the 
Coastal Plain. On these rivers have been developed the 
state's great water power which has been used for industrial 
development. More than eighty per cent of the state's present- 
day industrial plants are in the Piedmont area. The impor- 
tant rivers of the Mountain Region are the French Broad, 
Little Tennessee, Hiawassee and New. All of these streams 
rise west of the Blue Ridge and drain into the Tennessee 
River, eventually entering the Gulf of Mexico. Thus the 
Blue Ridge forms the divide of the land east of the Rocky 


Based on the discovery of the Cabots, England claimed all 
eastern North America for nearly a hundred years before 
making any effort to colonize the region. While Sir Walter 
Raleigh failed in his attempt to plant the first English 
colony in America, his efforts stimulated the efforts of the 
English people in the land and led to the planting of the 

4 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

Jamestown Colony in 1607. At the time this first English 
colony was planted, Virginia extended southward to the 
Spanish colony of Florida. As the Jamestown Colony grew, 
settlers from it made their way southward to the region 
around Albemarle Sound. A few of these early pioneers 
bought land in that region from the Indians. Outstanding 
among these purchasers was George Durant, who in 1661 
acquired from the Chief of the Yeopim Indians a tract lying 
along the Perquimans River and Albemarle Sound, which 
still bears the name of Durant's Neck. 

By 1663 the settlements on the Albemarle Sound had 
become of sufficient importance to attract attention in Eng- 
land. A group of English courtiers saw an opportunity to 
undertake on a vast scale a colonizing enterprise which 
promised large returns in wealth and power. They were not 
long in requesting such a grant from the King. In compliance 
with their request, Charles II issued his famous Charter of 
1663 by which he granted to eight noblemen, called the Lords 
Proprietors, all the region lying between thirty-one and 
thirty-six degrees north latitude, and extending westward 
from the Atlantic Ocean to the "South Seas," or the Pacific 
Ocean. When it was learned that the Charter did not in- 
clude the settlers on the northern border, a second charter 
was issued, in 1665, extending the boundary thirty minutes 
north. Thus began a colony which in a little over a century 
was to extend its settlement westward to the Great Smoky 

The physiographic features and other geographic factors 
of the territory played a major role in the settlement and 
early development of the state. Its story of development is 
largely a record of fighting a wilderness containing a great 
variety of forests, wild animals and Indians. The decided 
differences in geography, the ethnic elements and the diffi- 

Physical Features of the State 5 

culties of exchanging ideas caused a number of conflicts 
among the people of the various regions as settlement ad- 
vanced. The underlying cause of these struggles is found 
in the efforts of the colonists to overcome an unfavorable 
environment:' It has been said that our past is a record of 
using our good geography well and adapting ourselves to the 


The Coastal Plain 


The sand banks and shifting inlets on its coast, and its lack 
of a harbor, prevented North Carolina's colonization from 
the outside and caused it to be settled initially by an over- 
flow from the colonies in the north. Many of the early 
settlers came from Virginia. The Albemarle region, to 
which these pioneers came, has been described as "a loca- 
tion abounding in attractions for the hardy pioneers." The 
Albemarle Sound, while furnishing in its wide expanse a 
protection from the southern Indians, offered an unfailing 
supply of fish and game. For a while there was a rapid flow 
of population into this region. Among those who came were 
a number of men of large means, each of whom brought 
with him ten to thirty persons. The planters took up land 
along the water courses, since the land there was more fer- 
tile and the streams afforded a means of transportation. 
Within two years after the Charter was granted to the Pro- 
prietors, the population was sufficient for the settlers to or- 
ganize a government of their own. In 1665 they held their 
first assembly and the little settlement became a self-govern- 
ing community. Even with this step toward a democratic 
form of government, growth became slow. The Proprietors 
realized that unless people came and established homes, and 
began to make use of the resources the region contained, 
they could not make the profit which they expected. They 
held out inducements through advertising the riches and 
beauty of the region, the fertile soil and the healthy climate. 
When these inducements did not bring settlers in large 
numbers, the Proprietors offered specific advantages. A new 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 7 

settler would not be required to pay any taxes for the first 
year. He would be free for five years from trial for any debt 
or crime that had been charged against him before his ar- 
rival in Carolina. In spite of these promises, the colony 
grew slowly. Settlers found it hard to prosper in the region, 
since geographic conditions hindered easy trade with the 
outside world. However, as Virginia became more crowded, 
settlers drifted into North Carolina and by 1715 the popula- 
tion in that colony numbered about 11,000. 


Geographic factors determined that the economy of eastern 
North Carolina would be based on agriculture and forest 
products in its early years. The topography, soil and climate 
combined to make the region an ideal one for growing 
crops. The forests of the area formed the basis of an early 
naval stores industry. These two sources of wealth were 
closely related. 

When the planter first decided upon his tract of land, 
his greatest task was the clearing of a space in the woods 
and building a rude log house. Further clearing followed 
which was done in the crudest way. Often the trees were 
cut down but usually the trunks were girdled, leaving the 
trees to die, while crops were planted between them and 
cultivated with the hoe. The leading crops were Indian corn, 
wheat, oats, rye, tobacco and rice. John Brickell, writing 
about 1730, comments on the crops as follows: 

Indian Corn or maize is mostly planted with the Hoe and 
proves the most useful grain in these parts being in great plenty 
all over the Province. 

The wheat of this province is very good and fair . . . but the 
grain is not altogether as large as ours, yet it seldom yields less 
than thirty measures for one sown. 

Rice whereof there are several sorts ... is esteemed as good as 
any brought in from Europe. 

8 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

The writer lists potatoes among the crops grown for home 
use, also a number of vegetables. "Asparagus thrives in this 
province to a miracle . . ." 

One of the greatest handicaps to farming was the in- 
adequacy of the supply of tools. While this was generally true 
in the other seaboard colonies, the lack of trade with the 
outside world made it difficult for Carolina to get such as 
were brought into use elsewhere. Crude makeshifts were 
used for hoes, harrows, forks, spades and other implements. 
Bishop Spangenburg reported in 1752 that in a 140-mile 
journey he saw "not one wagon or plow." 

Corn was planted and cultivated with the "hoe," as 
Brickell says, and by the nature of its growth the harvesting 
was not too difficult. The planting and harvesting of small 
grain, however, was harder. Wheat was broadcast and covered 
with a bush harrow. It was cut with a scythe or a cradle and 
threshed with a flail. This method of threshing was used in 
all the colonies until long after the Revolution, since the 
"Ground" thresher and ordinary fanning mill were not 
patented until 1837. At first, the grinding of all grain was 
done by hand. Then windmills were tried, but this was a 
slow and unsatisfactory process. The flat country and slug- 
gish streams of the Coastal Plain afforded few sites for grist 
mills run by water power. Any suitable sites for such mills 
on the plantations were employed by the planters for their 
own private use. In 1715 the Assembly enacted a law stipu- 
lating that suitable mill sites be restricted for the use of 
public mills. Brickell says, "The stones for these mills are 
got just up the Neuse and at heads of other rivers." 

The early farmers raised horses, cattle, sheep and hogs. In 
the first decades horses were used chiefly for riding, while 
the slower, stronger and less nervous ox was used largely as 
a draught animal. The mule, a hybrid animal, did not come 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 


O "3 

10 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

into use until a much later date. Sheep were raised chiefly 
for their wool, most of which was used in the homes for 
making cloth. Hogs formed an essential factor in the farmer's 
economy; they were a principal export as well as a product 
used freely in home consumption. 

The forests of the Coastal Plain proved of no less im- 
portance in the lives of the pioneer settlers than did agricul- 
ture. R. D. W. Connor wrote, "It was the presence of an 
unlimited food supply in the forests that enabled the pioneers 
to push out into the wilderness and prepare the way for 
civilization." The dense forests sheltered a great variety of 
wild animals— rabbits, squirrels, possums, and deer. There 
were also many kinds of wild fowl, some of which were 
edible. These furnished both food and clothing, the skins 
and furs being used as leggings, gloves, caps, as well as for 
rugs and cover. From the forests came berries, fruits, grapes, 
and other edible foods. But the greatest value of the forests 
lay in their commercial worth. Their trees served as a money 
crop to supplement the agricultural crops of the farmers. 
The predominating trees were the longleaf and loblolly 
pine. Other trees of a commercial and domestic value were 
cypress, oak, maple, and walnut. From the pines came 
lumber, tar, pitch, turpentine, and staves. Statistics show 
that in 1753 the colony exported 61,528 barrels of tar, 12,055 
barrels of pitch, 10,429 barrels of turpentine and 762,000 

The vast amount of inland water navigable by small craft, 
plus the great abundance of shipbuilding materials and 
naval stores, led to extensive shipbuilding. White oak fur- 
nished the principal material for this type of industry. 

For nearly two centuries the forests of the region supplied 
abundant food for livestock, furnished material for domestic 
purposes and for shipbuilding, and afforded a considerable 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 11 

income for the planters. Just as poor and careless methods 

of farming depleted the soil of the area, likewise the forests 

were exploited by shortsighted methods of handling them. 

Brickell cites one example of exploitation as follows: 

The planters make their servants or Negroes cut large cavities 
on each side of the pitch pine tree. Then the turpentine runs 
and Negroes with ladles take it out and put it into barrels. A tree 
produced after being boxed for three years then dies and is used 
for fuel— called light-wood. 


While eastern North Carolina was favored with a surplus 
of agricultural products, as the forests furnished great quan- 
tities of salable materials, the geography of the region did 
not permit an outside market for the exportation of these 
products. The same factors— dangerous coast and shallow in- 
lets and sounds— that influenced the settlement of the colony 
handicapped trade with the outside world. 

There were only two inlets with access to the sea, Ocracoke 
and Cape Fear. Ocracoke would not admit water of deep 
draught, and even when ships entered the sound, navigation 
was difficult because of its shallow water. Between the Cape 
Fear and Ocracoke lay the Neuse and Tar region which had 
no good outlet to the sea. Moreover, communication between 
the sections of the Coastal Plain was difficult because the 
region was interlaced with swamps and rivers. These un- 
favorable conditions, therefore, sent much of the early trade 
of North Carolina overland into Virginia. In addition, small 
vessels, usually from New England, entered the inlets and 
shallow sounds, and came to the wharves of the planters to 
which the small farmers often brought their products. Here 
their vessels were loaded with products of the farmers and 
forests to be carried to the West Indies, or sometimes to Eng- 
land, and exchanged for rum, molasses, sugar, coffee, and 

12 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

such other articles as the planters needed. Often they would 
be taken to Boston, where the proceeds were invested in 
clothing, household goods, or slaves. 

The demand of the North Carolina people for trade was 
greater than could be met by the small vessels that entered 
the narrow inlets, so considerable trade was carried on by 
other methods. Chief among these was the commerce carried 
on overland with Virginia. The products sent to Virginia 
were mainly tobacco and livestock, especially hogs, which 
were driven overland by the thousands. The trade in tobacco 
brought trouble between North Carolina and Virginia. The 
latter colony had been somewhat displeased when North 
Carolina was carved from the Old Dominion and initially 
populated at her expense; now it offered keen compe- 
tition in the staple upon which Virginia's prosperity was 
founded. Virginia officials were outspoken in their poor 
opinion of their neighbors, and cooperation in respect of 
relations with the Indians was often lacking. The commercial 
interests in Virginia influenced the Assembly of that colony 
to pass a law in 1679 forbidding the importation of North 
Carolina tobacco into Virginia or its exportation through 
the ports of that colony. This blockade lasted until North 
Carolina became a royal colony in 1729. This action was 
a great hindrance to the progress of North Carolina. After 
the act was disallowed, North Carolina tobacco continued 
to find its way into the markets of the world, where it was 
known as "Virginia Bright." The long dependence on Vir- 
ginia for markets caused North Carolina to be subordinate 
to Virginia politically for years. 

Early in her history Albemarle had built up a flourishing 
coastwise trade with New England. As we have noted, skip- 
pers from that region, using small craft, entered the shallow 
waters and inlets and came to the wharves of the planters, 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 13 

where they picked up tobacco and other products. These 
traders brought goods needed or desired by the planters. 
Prior to 1672 this trade was free from restrictions and duties. 
In that year England passed trade laws, known as Navigation 
Acts, which required the colonists in America to trade only 
with English merchants and shippers. A tax was imposed on 
any goods not shipped directly to England and in English or 
colonial vessels. The purpose of this act was to foster Eng- 
land's strength by an increase of her sea power and com- 

The Act of 1672 permitted tobacco, which was subject 
to a heavy duty when imported into England, to be shipped 
from one colony to another free of duty. This practice 
enabled the colonial merchant to undersell his English com- 
petitors who paid duty. When the English merchants com- 
plained about this defect in the law, Parliament came to 
their rescue. In 1673 that body passed an act which levied 
export duties on certain articles when they were shipped 
from one colony to another. On tobacco this duty was fixed 
at a penny a pound. The act provided that the duties were 
to be collected by officials of the Crown. The passage of 
this act led in 1677 to a popular uprising in Albemarle. 
This insurrection, which lasted for about three years, is 
known in history as Culpeper's Rebellion. It was caused 
by the attempt to enforce a commercial policy in a colony 
where geography compelled the inhabitants to engage in a 
type of trade economically unfavorable to themselves.* 

The whole episode hindered the economic progress of 
Albemarle and slowed down immigration for nearly two 

* For an account of Culpeper's Rebellion, see Upheaval in Albemarle, 
by Hugh F. Rankin, a publication of The Carolina Charter Tercen- 
tenary Commission, Raleigh, 1962. 

14 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 


After the close of Culpeper's Rebellion, Albemarle en- 
joyed a period of prosperity under the administration of 
a group of capable governors. The population steadily in- 
creased. In 1690 a group of French and Swiss settled on the 
Pamlico River. In 1704 the town of Bath was laid off near 
the mouth of that river. It was incorporated the following 
year and became North Carolina's oldest town. By 1710, 
settlements extended from the Virginia border to Albemarle 
Sound and along the banks of the Roanoke, Pamlico, and 
Neuse Rivers. New Bern, the second oldest town, was 
founded in 1710 by people from Germany, along with some 
Swiss and a few English. Although in 1711 the settlements 
around New Bern were almost wiped out by the Tuscarora 
Indians, the eventual conquest of the Tuscaroras by the 
colonists opened the lands between the Neuse and Cape 
Fear Rivers for settlement. By 1715, as we have noted, the 
white population of Carolina numbered almost 11,000. 

About this time another instance of the influence of 
geography upon the affairs of North Carolina is seen. 
From the beginning of their administration of the govern- 
ment, the Proprietors had attempted to rule the wide ex- 
panse of the territory granted them by means of a resident 
governor. This territory, as we have seen, reached from the 
Virginia border on the north to the northern part of Florida 
on the south. As a convenient plan of governing it, the Pro- 
prietors had divided this territory into three distinct colonies 
—Albemarle, Craven, and Clarendon. Because of its good 
harbor, Clarendon, located in what is now South Carolina, 
outgrew the two districts in the north. In 1670 a colony was 
founded at the mouth of the Ashley River and a town called 
Charles Town was begun. Soon the settlement was moved 
to the present site of Charleston. The latter colony grew 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 15 

rapidly and was favored by the Lords Proprietors. Later, the 
seat of government for Carolina was moved here and a 
deputy governor was appointed for "that part of the 
Province of Carolina that lies North and East of Cape Fear." 
The government of the former county of Albemarle by a 
deputy, whose authority largely proceeded from that of the 
governor of Carolina at Charleston, lessened the importance 
and influence of the executive and increased the power of 
the people's Assembly. Realizing that a stronger executive 
was needed to check the influence of the people, and con- 
sidering the great distance separating the two parts of the 
colony, with the attendant difficulty of communication and 
travel, in 1710 the Proprietors decided to have two co-equal 
governors. This action provided greater autonomy for the 
northern section and made possible a government more in 
keeping with the natural environment of the region. Into 
the official records gradually crept the name of "North 
Carolina" for this northern area, and in 1711 Edward Hyde 
was appointed its governor. 

Settlement had been going on in North Carolina for some 
sixty years before the broad and fertile valley of the Cape 
Fear was reached. Two attempts at settlement of this region 
had failed because of the dangerous character of the coast, 
the menace of the pirates who found the region favorable to 
piracy, and because the Proprietors had devoted their atten- 
tion to other regions. By 1729 some of these causes had been 
removed. In 1718 two of the leading pirates, Edward Teach, 
or "Blackbeard," as he was called, and Stede Bonnet, were 
captured and put to death. In the same year many other 
pirates who had been operating along the North Carolina 
coast were captured and hanged in Virginia, and at Charles- 
ton. In 1724 Governor George Burrington reopened the land 
office in the colony which, because of an order of the Pro- 

16 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

prietors, had been closed for some time, thus preventing 
any sale of land in the colony. Now that the region was open 
for settlement, Maurice Moore took the lead and, in 1727, 
founded the town of Brunswick near the mouth of the 
Cape Fear River. In 1740 the town of Wilmington was be- 
gun sixteen miles up the river. This town soon became an 
important shipping point. For the first time the settlers had 
a port and a direct outlet to the ocean. Furthermore, boats 
could travel the Cape Fear inland eighty miles to the Pied- 
mont. Prosperous settlements grew up in this valley and it 
soon became the most progressive region of the entire 
northern colony. 

The commercial interests of the Cape Fear settlers, who 
enjoyed the advantages of direct trade with the outside 
world, began to conflict with those of the Albemarle Sound 
region where trade facilities were less adequate. Political 
leaders were naturally influenced by the conflicts between 
these two geographical regions. From the early days of the 
Colonial Assembly the Albemarle counties had had five rep- 
resentatives each. The newer counties had but two. With 
their large number of members, the northern counties easily 
controlled the Assembly. Governor Gabriel Johnston (1734- 
52) , who was unpopular with the Albemarle counties, under- 
took to lessen the power of this region by cutting down its 
membership in the Assembly. He also favored the removal 
of the capital from Edenton to a more central part of the 
colony— a move greatly desired by the southern colonists. In 
order to accomplish his objective, Governor Johnston called 
the Assembly of 1746 to meet in Wilmington in November. 
He knew that on account of the flooded rivers and wretched 
roads at that season, few of the northern members would 
make the long and toilsome journey to Wilmington. Just as 
the governor expected, the northern members did not attend. 

How Geography Influenced its Settlement 17 

Although a quorum was not present, Johnston declared it a 
lawful House. Thereupon laws were passed giving each 
county only two members and moving the capital to New 
Bern. The northern counties declared the acts unlawful and 
refused to be bound by them. For eight years they sent no 
members to the Assembly, paid no taxes, attended no gen- 
eral courts. At the close of the eight-year period the King's 
ministers ordered the full number of members to be re- 
stored to the northern counties. 

Such were the difficulties which were encountered by the 
early settlers in their attempt to carry on a government and 
trade in an unfavorable geographic region. These circum- 
stances hindered the economic and political progress of the 

By about 1735 the English or Coastal Plain population had 
moved westward to the fall line. The white population of 
North Carolina now numbered nearly 100,000. The English 
settlers had occupied the territory without interruption, 
thereby fastening the English political and social institutions 
upon the colony. English customs molded the form of local 
government, the system of judicature, and the whole body of 
legislation. So deeply embedded were these institutions that 
they endured despite the later coming of different ethnic 
elements into the colony. 


The Piedmont Plateau 


During the latter part of the first century of North 
Carolina's political existence, the east increased in popula- 
tion. Some improvement was made in agriculture and bet- 
ter houses were built, including some fine plantation homes. 
Considering the state as a whole, however, this period was 
characterized by the settlement of the Piedmont Plateau. 
By the close of the century in 1763, as we have noted, the 
settlements extended westward to the foot of the Blue 
Ridge Mountains. Because of its geographical features, this 
newly settled region had little connection with the eastern 
Coastal Plain. Since the rivers that water the east are at most 
navigable only to the fall line, while those of the Piedmont 
rise on the slopes of the western mountains and flow swiftly 
through narrow channels through South Carolina to the sea, 
there is no natural communication between these two re- 
gions. Thus geography decreed that the Piedmont, like the 
east, should be settled by people coming overland from the 

About 1735 two great streams of population began flow- 
ing into the province from the north and spreading out over 
the plains and valleys of the Piedmont section. Though 
flowing side by side, these streams of settlers originated in 
separate sources and throughout their courses had kept en- 
tirely distant from one another. One was composed of so- 
called Scotch-Irish immigrants, the other was of German de- 
scent. The name Scotch-Irish is a geographical, not an ethnic, 
term. They were in reality Scottish people or the descendants 
of Scots who had resided in Ireland for over a hundred years. 

The Piedmont Plateau 19 

Beginning in 1610, King James I of England, in a plan to 
stop the Irish rebellions against the throne of England, re- 
placed the natives of northern Ireland with Lowland Scots. 
These Lowlanders succeeded so well economically in their 
new home during the first century that they aroused the 
jealousy of the English merchants of that day. These mer- 
chants prevailed upon the English Parliament to pass laws 
restricting the manufacture and trade of the Scottish settlers, 
and curtailing their religious liberty. As a result, thousands 
of them left Ireland and emigrated to America, large num- 
bers of them finding their way to North Carolina. Of those 
who poured into the Piedmont from 1735 to 1775, a few 
landed at Charleston and moved up the banks of the Pee 
Dee and Catawba Rivers into the hill country of the two 
Carolinas. But the great majority landed at Philadelphia, 
whence they moved into North Carolina, following the 
Wilderness Road to the headwaters of the Yadkin, and grad- 
ually spread over the region drained by the Neuse, Cape 
Fear, Yadkin and Catawba, and their tributaries. 

Moving over the same route as the Scotch-Irish, and also 
coming from Pennsylvania, flowed a stream of German im- 
migrants, who came into North Carolina from 1745 to 1775. 
Various reasons prompted their migration into the colony, 
but search for good lands was their prime motive. They 
found land plentiful in North Carolina, and cheaper than in 
Pennsylvania. These Germans were somewhat inclined to 
settle in groups or villages for protection and for social con- 
tacts. Many towns and villages which dot North Carolina's 
Piedmont today had their origin in these German settle- 
ments. Some of these immigrants became hunters and trap- 
pers, and in the vast forests extending along the foothills 
and covering the mountainsides they chased the fox and 
the deer, hunted the buffalo and the bear, and trapped the 

20 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

otter and the beaver. When spring came, they gathered up 
their furs and skins and, in obedience to the dictates of 
geography, took them to some market in Fayetteville, 
Charleston or Philadelphia. Another class of Germans came 
to the colony in search of religious freedom and fields for 
religious activity. These were divided into three religious 
groups— the Lutherans, the German Reformed, and the 
Moravians. The last group planted a distinctive settlement 
at Wachovia in what is now Forsyth County. 

While the settlements of the Scotch-Irish and Germans 
over-lapped in the Piedmont area, the Germans predominated 
in the present-day North Carolina counties of Orange, Ala- 
mance, Stokes, Forsyth, Davie, Davidson, Randolph, Rowan, 
Cabarrus, Stanly, Burke and Lincoln. Much of the in- 
dustry which developed in the Piedmont in later decades can 
be traced back to the German element for its beginning. 
Likewise, the Scotch-Irish element has had a lasting effect on 
the state. They established schools and churches wherever 
they went and their descendants through the centuries have 
exerted a great influence on the history of the state. 

These immigrants into the Piedmont region entered a 
vast forest composed of hardwood trees— the oak, hickory, 
walnut, and maple. Pine also was abundant. While the 
hardwood forests had an undergrowth of berries and grapes, 
the species differed somewhat from the undergrowth of the 
eastern part of the colony. That there was a great variety of 
medicinal plants in the general region is evidenced by the 
fact that in later decades there grew up at Statesville the 
largest crude drug industry in the nation. The hardwood 
forests of the Piedmont sheltered a great variety of wild ani- 
mals and fowl. 

Although red clay predominates in the Piedmont, many 
types of soil are found in the region, thus making possible 

The Piedmont Plateau 21 

a variety of crops. Corn was planted on the bottom lands 
and on the more humus soil. Tobacco, which formed the 
principal money crop, grew best on the light, more siliceous 
types of soil. In time, experimentation with the soil best 
suited to this crop, and with better means of cultivating the 
plant, enabled the farmers in those counties best suited to 
tobacco-growing to develop a high quality of the weed. This 
in turn contributed to the growth of North Carolina's mod- 
ern great tobacco industry. Farming in the area was in- 
fluenced by the climate as well as by the soil. The climate 
of the Piedmont is mild, but the winters are more severe 
than in the Coastal Plain and the growing seasons are 

The streams of the region are narrow, shallow, and swift. 
They are not adapted to navigation and commerce, but are 
excellent for the development of water power. Almost from 
the start, then, this region developed a diversified economy 
despite its lack of means of transportation, and it is no ac- 
cident that during the nineteenth century the leading manu- 
facturing towns of North Carolina grew up in the Pied- 
mont. Manufacturing, which started on a small scale fairly 
early, developed steadily. By 1840 there were twenty-five 
cotton mills located in twelve different counties of the region. 
Today approximately eighty-five per cent of the state's in- 
dustry is located within this area. 


Like the early English settlers in the east, the Piedmont 
people had to grapple with Indian problems. The people of 
this region had been living in North Carolina less than two 
decades when they were called upon to defend their homes 
from Indian raids. 

22 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 


(Courtesy State Dept. of Archives and History) 

The Piedmont Plateau 23 

During the French and Indian War, 1754-1763, the Chero- 
kee Indians, who lived in the mountains of North Carolina, 
allied themselves with the French, fighting against Great 
Britain and the American Colonies. After the defeat of 
British General Braddock in July, 1755, Cherokee bands 
raided settlements in the North Carolina Piedmont, killing, 
scalping, burning, and stealing. For more than four years 
they kept the area of Morganton, Hickory, and Statesville in 
turmoil. To protect the area, Major Hugh Waddell of Wil- 
mington built Fort Dobbs near Statesville in 1755. Some of 
the settlers took refuge within the fort; others went to the 
Moravians at Bethabara; while some fled to South Carolina. 
In 1760, the Cherokees defeated a large army led by Colonel 
Archibald Montgomery near the present town of Franklin. 
The next year Lieutenant Colonel James Grant, a British 
officers, led a large force into the Cherokee country and de- 
feated the Indians in June, 1761. After their defeat, the In- 
dians asked for peace. This defeat broke the power of the 
Cherokees. The Catawba Indians, whose lands lay in the 
Piedmont, fought on the side of the British. At the close of 
the war they were settled on a reservation in South Caro- 
lina, south of Mecklenburg County. 


The settlement of the Indian problem removed a menace 
and brought safety to the Piedmont settlers, but it could not 
change the geographical factors which hindered their 
progress. With no natural outlet on the east or south, and 
with the mountains as a barrier on the west, the people of 
the Piedmont were virtually cut off from the rest of the state 
and from the outside world. Yet they cleared the land, built 
better log houses, erected grist mills and saw mills on the 
swift streams. Roads characteristic of that period were con- 

24 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

structed throughout the region. The main ones followed the 
river valleys or Indian trails. The roads were laid off and 
maintained by County Commissioners, who appointed a road 
overseer in each township. All able bodied men were re- 
quired to work the roads, usually four to six days a year. 
Big mudholes were drained and smaller ones were filled 
with pine brush covered with a few shovels of dirt. In winter 
such roads were often impassable. This red land was easily 
eroded, and after it was cleared, erosion took place very 
rapidly to the detriment of the region. 

The people living in the northern part of the region car- 
ried on trade necessary for a meager life with towns in 
Virginia or Pennsylvania, while those in the southern part 
traded at Fayetteville or in the South Carolina towns. Con- 
sidering the long distance to markets and the conditions of 
the roads, there was little incentive to grow more than was 
necessary for domestic purposes. Livestock, such as cattle and 
hogs and turkeys, were driven to market on foot. The aver- 
age farmer made two trips to market a year to buy coffee, 
salt, sugar, and other necessaries. These conditions con- 
tinued with but little improvement far down into the nine- 
teenth century. 


While two sections as divergent as the Coastal Plain and 
the Piedmont Plateau lived under the same political govern- 
ment, so great were their differences that the government 
brought little unity. In the east the plantation with slavery 
dominated the social and political society. In the Piedmont 
the small farm with an average of one or two slaves to a 
farm was the chief unit in the economic structure. Social 
classes followed the same pattern. The more aristocratic- 

The Piedmont Plateau 25 

minded colonists were found in the east. Ethnic factors and 
religion also played a part in the differences. The planters 
in the east had an English background, while the popula- 
tion in the Piedmont was composed largely of Scotch-Irish 
and Germans. The Anglican Church prevailed in the east, 
while in the Piedmont the Presbyterian and different 
branches of the German Reformed Church were predom- 
inant. Thus the two peoples had little in common in their 
backgrounds and traditions. 

The seat of government was in the east and the governor 
and high officials lived there; here, too, the Assembly met. 
The east controlled the Assembly, since representation in the 
House was based on the county, not on population, and the 
east had more counties than the Piedmont or western terri- 
tory. Counties could be created only by act of the Assembly 
and, since that body was controlled by eastern factions, it 
refused to create counties in the west as fast as population 
increases justified. 

The east not only ruled the Assembly, but through its 
power to appoint the leading county officers it also domi- 
nated the local government. Moreover, the Assembly levied 
the taxes for the colony and fixed the fees for public services 
rendered by the local officers. Under the poor economic con- 
ditions existing in the Piedmont area, the payment of taxes 
and fees often provoked hardship there. Then, too, the 
people were somewhat loath to pay taxes to help finance any 
projects in the section of the state of which they had little 
knowledge or interest. When, in 1768, Governor William 
Tryon succeeded in getting a tax levied for building a state 
capitol— "Tryon's Palace," a Mecklenburg County citizen, 
in protesting against the tax, said, "Not one man in twenty 
of the four most populous counties will ever see the famous 

26 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

house when built, as their connections of trade do, and ever 
will, center in South Carolina." 

Under these conditions a spirit of divisive sectionalism 
was bound to flourish. For a number of years the people in 
the back country nursed their grievances or suffered the ills 
they considered inflicted upon them by the east. About 
1766, however, an organization was developed with the pur- 
pose of ameliorating the existing economic and political 
conditions. The growth of this organization, known as the 
Regulator movement, resulted in the Battle of Alamance, 
which was fought between the Regulators and Governor 
Tryon's militia in 1771. In this action the Regulators were 
defeated. The east-west sectional conflict quieted down for 
a while, but the grievances of the Piedmont people were not 
permanently cured. Following the American Revolution and 
its aftermath, the earlier conflict was renewed. It would not 
reach its political climax until the Convention of 1835. 

After the Battle of Alamance, many of the Regulators 
joined the settlement which had begun across the mountains 
in the valleys of the Holston and Watauga Rivers in what is 
now Tennessee. In 1772, feeling that they were so removed 
from their native state, both by distance and by mountain 
barriers, these settlers organized a new and independent gov- 
ernment, calling their new region Watauga. This independ- 
ent area carried on for a period of six years, when the North 
Carolina Assembly interposed its authority and established a 
new county there. 

However, geography continued to have its influence in the 
region. The feeling of the mountain settlers that the Appa- 
lachian Mountains formed an insuperable barrier between 
the two sections which would always prevent the develop- 
ment of common interests was undoubtedly reflected in 

The Piedmont Plateau 27 

North Carolina's cession of the western territory to the 
United States in 1789. 

The American Revolution brought independence to 
North Carolina early in the second decade of its historical 
development. The necessity of unifying the people for par- 
ticipation in the cause for freedom tended to break down 
the pronounced sectionalism in the colony. 

During the Revolution a phenomenon of geography which 
had heretofore been a hindrance to progress proved bene- 
ficial to carrying on the war. Small vessels used the inlets and 
inland waters of the coast for carrying on an extensive trade 
with the French, Spanish, and Dutch West Indies, and even 
with France and the Netherlands. Soon after the war began, 
the harbors of Ocracoke, Edenton, Beaufort, New Bern, and 
Wilmington became white with the sails of merchantmen 
and privateers. British patrols found it difficult to capture 
these small, fleet vessels, which ran in and out of the nar- 
row inlets. They slipped through these inlets, ran down to 
the West Indies, or crossed the Atlantic to France or other 
countries, sold their cargoes, and brought back salt, rum, 
clothes, and articles of military value. General Washington 
received considerable supplies through this channel during 
his hard winter at Valley Forge. In January, 1778, former 
Governor Martin wrote: 

The contemptible port of Ocracoke has become a great channel 
of supply to the Rebels. They have received through it and con- 
tinue to receive at that inlet very considerable importations of the 
necessities they most want for the purpose of carrying on their 
warfare from the ports of France and the French West Indian 

This trade was a great stimulus to shipbuilding. Shipyards 
sprang up at all the seaport towns, which were busy through- 
out the war, building and launching almost every kind of 
river craft and seaeoine vessel. 


Settlement West of the Mountains 


By 1763, as we have noted, settlement extended to the foot 
of the Blue Ridge. Except for the Watauga Colony in the 
northwest, the transmontane region was still occupied by the 
Cherokee Indians. It was not until after the close of the 
Revolutionary War that anyone attempted to scale a bar- 
rier so formidable as the Blue Ridge. This mountain chain 
springs suddenly from the Piedmont Plateau to an altitude 
of 3,000 feet above it. Through this ridge there are few 
passes, the lowest of which is some 2,000 feet above the foot- 
hills. This mountain barrier has directly affected the history 
of North Carolina. Until this point in history the mountains 
had favored the settlers by protecting them from the power- 
ful, warlike Indians west of them. After the treaty of Long 
Island in 1777, by which the Cherokees surrendered their 
claims to the territory on the Watauga, Nolichucky, upper 
Holston, and New Rivers, white settlers pushed across the 
mountains into the region on the north, but the country 
at the south remained unsettled. It was not until about 1784 
that a few daring settlers from what is now Old Fort, the 
outpost on the west, undertook to cross the mountains into 
the Swannanoa Valley. Samuel Davidson, the first to under- 
take to live there, was killed by the Indians. However, his 
relatives and friends from the fort persisted in the under- 
taking. In 1785, by the Treaty of Hopewell, the Cherokee ^ 
claims were pushed westward from the line established by 
Governor Tryon in 1767, along the crest of the Blue Ridge, 
to a line running just west of the present town of Asheville 
and east of Hendersonville. In 1791 the population west of 

Settlement West of the Mountains 





30 The Influence of Geography upon Early North Carolina 

the Blue Ridge was sufficient to meet the requirements of a 
new county, and in that year Buncombe County was formed 
from Burke and Rutherford Counties. Buncombe County's 
boundary was not specified. 

As lands in the mountain region were opened for settle- 
ment by further treaties with the Cherokee Indians, settlers 
came rapidly and established homes there. The first comers 
to the region took up lands in the creek and river valleys, 
which varied from one to four miles in width. 

In the mountain region began a type of life similar to 
that experienced by the pioneer settlers of the other geo- 
graphic divisions of North Carolina. However, because of 
nearly insurmountable barriers, which hindered communica- 
tion with the outside world, the pioneer type of life in this 
region lasted longer than it did in other regions of the 
colony. The more prosperous class in the valleys soon re- 
placed their dirt-floored log cabins with more substantial 
log houses. The recently restored Zebulon B. Vance house 
in Buncombe County is an example of the better type of 
dwelling. However, the less ambitious settlers and the late 
comers, who took up their abode on the hillsides, continued 
to live in crude cabins far down through the years. Naturally, 
the pioneer settlers took to farming. Except for cotton, the 
products grown were much the same as those cultivated in 
the other sections of the state. In some places flax was grown 
and used as a substitute for cotton in home manufacturing. 


Not only were the mountain settlements isolated from the 
outside world by the surrounding mountains, but there was 
no means of communication between communities. Road 
building in the region was most difficult. In addition to en- 
countering the same type of sticky, red clay that character- 

Settlement West of the Mountains 31 

ized the soil in the Piedmont section, there were steep grades 
to contend with in the mountain section. However, the 
mountain settlers faced the problem and road building of 
a kind went forward slowly. Roads could best be built along 
ridges because timber on the crests was light and scattered 
and because the ridges were generally level on top. In places, 
however, the resulting roads were too steep for oxen or for 
horses to pull loads over the grades. While level lands along 
the creeks and rivers lent themselves to road building, these 
roads were subject to stream overflows. 

A meager trade was carried on with towns in upper South 
Carolina, with Augusta, Georgia, and with Greeneville, Ten- 
nessee. People pooled their marketable produce and wagons 
made the long trips to these towns, bringing back salt, sugar, 
coffee, molasses, and a variety of necessities. Cattle and hogs 
were driven on the hoof to markets. 

Because of the difficulty of building roads across the 
mountain barrier, adequate connection and communications 
between eastern and western North Carolina was delayed for 
many years. Even in more recent times the railroad across 
the mountain from the east did not reach the Tennesseee 
line until 1882. An adequate thoroughfare between the two 
regions did not become available until 1931, when the first 
highway from Manteo to Murphy was completed.