Primary Source: An Act to Encourage the Settlement of America (1707)

By the turn of the eighteenth century, the settler population in North America was nearing 300,000. The British had laid claim to land spanning from present-day Maine to present-day Georgia. Census data gathered by the British Colonial Government suggests that Virginia was home to 70,000 settlers in 1700, while estimates suggest that North Carolina was home to less than 10,000 10,000 is generous; some estimates put the population of North Carolina at only 5,000 in 1700. European settlers.

North Carolina's smaller population was a sticking point; it made communication, travel, and trade throughout the colonies more challenging. The natural geography of the state's coast combined with the sparse population created the perfect refuge for pirates and enemies of the crown. And so, in 1707, An Act to Encourage the Settlement of This Country [Carolina North] was passed in an effort to encourage more emigration into the territory, declaring that it was possible to be forgiven of crime or debts in many circumstances if one were willing to settle in North Carolina. A transcription of the resolution is below.

Whereas it hath pleased Allmighty God so to bless and prosper the English plantations on the maine Land of America That is, on the American continent, as opposed to the islands of the Caribbean. that all the Sea Coast from the most Easterne parts of New England to the Southermost part of Carrolina with all the Ports and Harbours thereon are possest by English under the dominion of our most gracious Soverreign Lady Ann by the Grace of God of England Scotland France and Ireland Queen Defender of the faith save only one Tract of land lying in this GovernmentThe preamble (opening passage) to this act points out, first, that England controls the east coast of North America from "the most Easterne parts of New England" (now southern Maine) to "the Southermost part of Carrolina," and second, that the only unoccupied piece of land on the coast is in North Carolina. You might guess that North Carolina's leaders found this embarrassing. which lying wasteWe think of "laying waste" to a country as a violent act, but "lying waste" simply means that the country is a wasteland. (The Indians who lived there might have been surprised to learn that their home was a "wasteland.") the Comunication of her Majties Subjects by land is not only interupted Communication among the colonies was difficult in 1707. Mail could be sent by ships from one port to another, and then carried up river; or it could be carried by horseback along the few roads that existed or, in many places, simply through the woods. Travel by horseback was slow -- the trip from North Carolina to Philadelphia took more than a week! Of course, riders would need to stop every so often, and since North Carolina had only a few white settlements, there were few places a traveller could safely spend the night. As a result, the General Assembly is saying, the sparse settlement of North Carolina affected colonists all along the seaboard. but the Enemy in time of Warr and Pyrates in time of Peace have hitherto made use of the Harbours therein to careen and fitt their vessells as also to Wood and Water to the great annoyance of her Majties Subjects trading along the CoastNorth Carolina has so many inlets, harbors, and barrier islands along its coast that enemy ships and pirates could easily hide there. During Queen Anne's War (1702–1713), French and Spanish ships harrassed the coast of North Carolina, and in 1706 they attacked Charleston. That attack was fresh in Carolinians' minds when they passed this law a year later. and the Place being inhabited (as has been lately discovered) only by some fugitive Indians under no manner of Government and living chiefly by Rapine who do murder or hold in Slavery all persons that either by Shipwrack or passing in small vessells so unhappily fall under their Power And whereas the Inhabitants of this Government by reason of their fewness are subject to the dayly Insults of the Heathen owing their Lives and safety's to the courtesy of the Heathen rather then their own strengthNorth Carolinians feared that they would be helpless if the Indians of the coastal plain attacked them. The Tuscarora War, a few years later, would prove them right., therefore for the more speedy peopling the said Tract of Land and for the uniteing her Majts Majesty's. There are several different abbreviations for "majesty" in this document. Empire in America and preventing the Enemy from Harbouring in those parts for the subdueing the Inhabitants and security of her Majties Subjects trading along the sea coast as also of the Inhabitants settled in this Government we pray that it may be enacted and it is hereby enacted by his Excell: the Palatine According to the Fundamental Constitutions, the eldest of the eight Lords Proprietors served as Palatine or chief proprietor. More generally, a palatinate was a region or country ruled by someone (called a palatine) who lacked the status of a king but had more or less the powers of one. The Palatinate was a region of present-day Germany ruled in this way, and many of the original settlers of New Bern came from there. They, too, were called Palatines. And if that isn't confusing enough, the English in colonial America frequently referred to all German immigrants as Palatines, even though many were from Switzerland or other parts of western Germany. & the rest of the true and absolute Lords Proprs by and with the consent & advice of this present grand assembly and the authority thereof. And it is hereby enacted that no person or persons whatsoever who from and after ratification of this act shall transport themselves into this Government and shall continue to be an Inhabitant or Inhabitants here to plant & inhabit shall be arrested sued or impleaded in any Court or imprison'd for any debtHere we get to the point of the law: Any person who moved to North Carolina would have his or her legal slate wiped clean. For five years after arriving in Carolina, migrants could not be sued or prosecuted for any crime committed or debt contracted before they moved there. This was a great offer not only to criminals but to people who owned money -- in the 1700s, people who could not pay their debts could be sent to prison. It's hard to imagine such a law being passed today, but the colonies came to accept criminals as a good source of cheap labor. In 1718, the British Parliament allowed courts to offer convicted criminals the option of "transportation to the colonies" -- that is, they could avoid execution by being shipped to America. (Under England's "Bloody Code," any crimes were then punishable by hanging, including not only arson, murder, and rape, but also burglary, robbery, animal theft, and the malicious maiming of cattle!) As many as 50,000 convicted felons came to America under this law -- as much as a quarter of all immigrants in the eighteenth century! You might think that opening the door to criminals would be dangerous for a young colony, but in fact, criminals who were transported to America rarely got into trouble here. Most were extremely poor and had committed crimes only out of desperation. Given the chance for a fresh start, they often flourished. See A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718–1775 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), and Last Mile Tours: The Execution of Capital Punishment in Eighteenth Century England, a student project from the University of Michigan. Roger Ekirch whither the same be by Bill BondThis is either an alternate spelling or a misprint of "bail bond," a contract signed by an accused person to guarantee his or her presence at trial. With a bail bond, the accused is set free until the trial date, but would have to pay a certain sum of money, specified by a judge, if he or she does not appear at trial. or other reckoning or acct whatsoever contracted before their arrival here till and after five years after their arrival Provided allways that this act nor anything therein contained shall in no wise be constructed to protect any person or persons Indebted to our Sovereigne Lady the Queen her Heires and successors or to the public account of the place or Government where they have lived or as Guardians & Trustees for Orphans EstatesOf course, there are exceptions. No one indebted to the Queen can avoid his debts by coming to Carolina -- obviously, the Queen would never permit that! People owing money to other governments are also excluded, to avoid international conflicts. Interestingly, people who owed money "as Guardians & Trustees for Orphans Estates" were excluded from the law. Poor health and rampant disease made orphans more common in the eighteenth century than they are today. Parents who had money wrote their wills to create a trust for their children -- to put thier estate (inheritance) into a special fund, managed under careful rules -- so that if the parents should die, the children would be taken care of. But the trustees who were assigned to manage those funds might manage them irresponsibly or even steal from them. At least one member of North Carolina's assembly apparently was concerned that trustees for orphans' estates would clean out the orphans' accounts and take off for America. nor any person or persons who shall transport him or themselves from our neighbouring Government her Majties Dominions and Colony of Virginia nor any persons indebted to any of her Majties Subjects living within the aforesaid Collony of VirginiaThe law also excluded Virginians and people who owed money to Virginians. This was a serious problem: Since the mid-1600s, indentured servants had been running away from their masters in Virginia into the relative wilderness of North Carolina. For that reason, Virginians had long been frustrated by the loose government of the Albemarle region. North Carolina wanted good relations with its northern neighbor, and so it didn't offer settlers protection from Virginia's laws and courts. who upon pretence of coming from any other place shall plead the benefitt of the said act nor any persons indebted for any wares, goods and merchandizes the effects whereof they shall bring into or otherwaise receive within this Government nor any person indebted for any debts contracted upon any account whatsoever within six months before their arrival hereThe law excluded people who went into debt to buy goods that they imported into North Carolina and people who went into debt less than six months before arriving. Otherwise, people might borrow money in Europe and immediately sail for America, using North Carolina's generous law as a means of committing a crime rather than as a second chance. Provided also and it is hereby Enacted by the authority aforesaid that what person or person so ever shall at any time hereafter transport him or themselves into this Government and having once had the benefitt of this act shall depart hence and againe afterwards transported him or themselves into this Government shall have or receive no benefitt or advantageFinally, migrants could only benefit from this law once, and they had to stay in North Carolina permanently to continue to benefit from it. by such his or their transportation anything herein contained to ye contrary notwithstanding


Referred to in Colonel Seymours Lre of the 16 Augst last.

Primary Source Citation:

Act of the North Carolina General Assembly concerning settlement. North Carolina General Assembly. 1707. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Volume 01. Pages 674-675. North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Raleigh, N.C.

Published electronically by the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

References for Context:

Population in the Colonial and Continental Periods. PDF. Washington: United States Census Bureau. (Accessed April 12, 2019)


Credit text

The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: P.M. Hale, 1886), I, 674–675.