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Revised 27 December 2010


The first explorations known to have occurred in North Carolina was with the exploration of the costal region by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524.  In the summer of 1584, Captain Arthur Barlow reported to his patron, Sir Walter Raleigh, that he had found a land ranking "the most plentiful, fruitful and wholesome of all the world."  Raleigh named this region "Virginia" in honor of Elizabeth, the virgin queen, but the land eventually was given its own identity as North Carolina.  The first English colony in America was built on Roanoke Island in 1586. 108 souls landed upon the shores of the island, but met with hostilities with the local Indians and left.  A second attempt to settle Roanoke Island occurred in 1587. At this settlement the first English baby to be born on American soil arrived and was named Virginia Dare.  These settlers disappeared entirely and no trace of them was ever found.  When Governor John White returned with supplies in 1590, he found only a single message, the word "Croatoan" carved into a tree.  White saw his chests had been dug up and his belongings ruined by the rain.  White assumed the settlers to have been destroyed by the Indians, but later historians believe the settlers may have been assimilated into the culture of the Indians from the village of Croatoan.   Groups of settlers came south from Virginia to occupy the area north of Albemarle Sound.  The population remained sparse in that area for the next 80 years during which time the English settlers battled against Indians, pirates and the climate to maintain their settlements.

Prior to the Revolution, Highland Scotch immigrants began settling North Carolina.  Most of them settled in the southeast section.  When large groups of Scotch-Irish left Pennsylvania down through the Shenandoah Valley to settle in Virginia, many of them continued into North Carolina.  Due to their strong Protestant views, they had been banished from Scotland.  Many came from Scotland via Ireland, in the Iredell county region.

The Germans came into North Carolina in the early days.  They appear to have settled in Forsyth and Guilford counties.  There was a colony of English speaking Quakers from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nantucket, Massachusetts.  These settled in Rockingham, Guilford and Chatham counties.  Because of their dislike for slavery, these people later moved on into Ohio and Indiana, but many of them remained.

Prior to the Revolution, the church of England was the major power in North Carolina and Virginia.  Only the ordained ministers of that church were permitted to perform marriage ceremonies.  Those wishing to marry, had their "banns" published or announced from the pulpit or they could purchase a license.  Those who sought a license had to post a fifty pound bond.  

In 1776, North Carolina became the first colony at the Continental Congress to vote for independence from England.  North Carolina became our 12th state on 21 November 1789.  North Carolina became a slave state and a land of beautiful plantations built from the labor of those enslaved peoples.  North Carolina was lacking many things which impeded its growth.  It lacked vital seaports, interstate transportation and had little actual commerce or industry.  By 1835, North Carolina was building public roads, railroads were being built and agriculture and manufacturing began to prosper.  However in 1861, North Carolina, no longer able to support the Union pressures to eliminate slavery, seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate cause, contributing more troops than any other state in the Confederacy and suffering almost a quarter of the known casualties of that war.  

North Carolina was re-admitted to the Union in 1868 and now came the period of Reconstruction.  North Carolina made tremendous progress during this period.  Hydro-electric power was introduced into the Piedmont area.  In 1903, the Wright brothers took off in the first airplane from Kitty Hawk.  The state economy reinvented itself into the tobacco empire of James Buchanan Duke. and in 1945 the Fontana Dam, the largest of the Tennessee Valley Authority, went into service.  Not all people prospered equally however.  More than 350,000 freed slaves were left behind as an aftermath of the Civil War.  These people were disenfranched by poll taxes and grandfather clauses, were relegated to inferior schools and often were saddled with sharecropping contracts from which they could not extricate themselves.  Three generations later, at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina on 1 February, 1960, the segregation movement was born.  Integration began and a new era was ushered in finally beginning the healing of years of hatred, anger and mistrust.  Although there are still carry-overs from the great strife of the pre-Civil War strife and the later years, North Carolina has perhaps progressed faster than any of the other Southern states in this regard.

Name Date formed Parent County County Seat
Alamance 1849 Orange Graham
Albemarle 1663 One of North Carolina's three original counties, Albemarle was abolished in1739  
Alexander 1847 Iredell, Caldwell & Wilkes Taylorsville
Alleghany 1859 Ashe Sparta
Anson 1750 Bladen Wadesboro
Ashe 1799 Wilkes Jefferson
Archdale 1705 Name changed to Beaufort in 1712  
Avery 1911 Caldwell, Mitchell & Watauga Newland
Bath 1696 Discontinued in 1739  
Beaufort 1712 Bath (Formerly Archdale) Washington
Bertie 1722 Chowan, Bath Windsor
Bladen 1734 New Hanover, Bath Elizabethtown
Brunswick 1764 New Hanover, Bladen Southport
Buncombe 1791 Burke, Rutherford Asheville
Burke 1777 Rowan Morganton
Bute 1764 Discontinued in 1779  
Cabarrus 1792 Mecklenburg Concord
Caldwell 1841 Burke, Wilkes Lenoir
Camden 1777 Pasquotank Camden
Carteret 1722 Bath Beaufort
Caswell 1777 orange Yanceyville
Catawba 1842 Lincoln Newton
Chatham 1771 Orange Pittsboro
Cherokee 1839 Macon Murphy
Chowan 1670 Preceding Albemarle Edenton
Clay 1851 Cherokee Brasstown and Hayesville
Cleveland 1841 Rutherford, Lincoln Shelby
Columbus 1808 Bladen, Brunswick Whiteville
Craven 1712 Preceding Bath County New Bern
Cumberland 1754 Bladen Fayetteville
Currituck 1670 Albemarle Currituck
Dare 1870 Currituck, Tyrell Manteo
Davidson 1822 Rowan Lexington
Davie 1836 Rowan Mocksville
Dobbs 1748 Johnston, discontinued in 1791.  
Duplin 1750 New Hanover Kenansville
Durham 1881 Orange, Wake Durham
Edgecombe 1741 Bertie Tarboro
Forsyth 1849 Stokes Winston-Salem
Franklin 1779 Bute Louisburg
Gaston 1846 Lincoln Gastonia
Gates 1779 Chowan, Hertford Gatesville
Glasgow 1791 Discontinued in 1799  
Graham 1782 Cherokee Robbinsville
Granville 1746 Edgecombe, Originally Glasgow Oxford
Greene 1791 Dobbs or Glasgow Snow Hill
Guilford 1771 Rowan, Orange Greensboro
Halifax 1758 Edgecombe Halifax
Harnett 1855 Cumberland Lillington
Haywood 1808 buncombe Waynesville
Henderson 1838 Buncombe Hendersonville
Hertford 1759 Bertie, Chowan, Northampton Winton
Hoke 1911 Cumberland, Robeson Raeford
Hyde 1712 Wickham, Preceding Bath County Swanquarter
Iredell 1788 Rowan Statesville
Jackson 1851 Haywood, Macon Sylva
Johnston 1746 Craven Smithfield
Jones 1778 Craven Trenton
Lee 1907 Chatham, Harnett, Moore Sanford
Lenoir 1791 Dobbs Kinston
Lincoln 1779 Tryon Lincolnton
Macon 1828 Haywood Franklin
Martin 1774 Halifax, Tyrrell Williamston
McDowell 1842 Burke, Rutherford Marion
Mecklenburg 1762 Anson Charlotte
Mitchell 1861 Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Watauga Bakersville
Montgomery 1779 Anson Troy
Moore 1784 Cumberland, Hoke Carthage
Nash 1777 Edgecombe Nashville
New Hanover 1729 Preceding Bath Wilmington
Northampton 1741 Bertie Jackson
Onslow 1734 Preceding Bath Jacksonville
Orange 1752 Bladen, Granville, Johnston Hillsboro
Pamlico 1872 Beaufort, Craven Bayboro
Pasquotank 1670 Preceding Albemarle Elizabeth City
Pender 1875 New Hanover Burgaw
Perquimans 1670 Preceding Albemarle Hertford
Person 1791 Caswell Roxboro
Pitt 1760 Beaufort Greenville
Polk 1855 Henderson, Rutherford Columbus
Randolph 1779 Guilford Asheboro
Richmond 1779 Anson Rockingham
Robeson 1787 Bladen Lumberton
Rockingham 1785 Guilford Wentworth
Rowan 1753 Anson Salisbury
Rutherford 1779 Burke, Tyron Rutherfordton
Sampson 1784 Duplin, New Hanover Clinton
Scotland 1899 Richmond Laurinburg
Stanly 1841 Montgomery Albemarle
Stokes 1798 Surry Danbury
Surry 1771 Rowan Dobson
Swain 1871 Jackson, Macon Bryson City
Transylvania 1861 Henderson, Jackson Brevard
Tryon 1768 Discontinued in 1779.  Parts went to Lincoln an Rutherford counties.  
Tyrell 1729 Preceding Albemarle Columbia
Union 1842 Anson, Mecklenburg Monroe
Vance 1881 Franklin, Granville, Warren Henderson
Wake 1771 Cumberland, Johnston, Orange Raleigh
Warren 1779 Bute (which was discontinued in 1779) Warrenton
Washington 1779 Tyrrell Plymouth
Watauga 1849 Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, Yancey Boone
Wayne 1779 Craven, Dobbs Goldsboro
Wilkes 1777 Burke, Surry Wilkesboro
Wilson 1855 Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash, Wayne Wilson
Yadkin 1850 Surry Yadkinville
Yancey 1833 Buncombe, Burke Burnsville