Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Printer-friendly page

Crime rates

by Dennis F. Daniels, 2006

The frequency of major crimes in North Carolina-including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and larceny-generally has increased with the size of the state's population. Statistics of violent crimes over four centuries, particularly murder and rape, are difficult to track. One of the earliest surviving records of a person charged with murder in North Carolina dates from October 1685, when a young slave named Exeter pleaded guilty of killing his master, Richard Bentley. For his crime, Exeter was "Hanged by the Neck till he be dead." Petty arguments, personal insults, or simply intoxication often caused people to fight and sometimes kill others. However, a person who was tried for murder during the early nineteenth century was often acquitted; between 1811 and 1815, 64 courts tried 89 people but convicted only 26 of them.

Many instances of rape have gone unreported, and the private nature of the crime has made convictions problematic. In the colonial era, English law defined rape as a felony, as it has remained throughout history. A survey of North Carolina records from 1663 to 1776 showed that only 9 cases of rape were brought to trial, and of the 7 known outcomes, none ended in a conviction. A document of 1728 states that although a bill of indictment was presented by a grand jury "against David Oliver for ravishing Elizabeth Hassell," Oliver was "discharg'd by proclamation" and spared even the court costs. The paucity of statistics for rape also applies to antebellum North Carolina. The state prison's annual report for 1871-72 listed 8 prisoners incarcerated for rape and 6 confined for attempted rape. In 1899-1900 the prison took in 5 persons convicted of assault with intent to rape, 16 of attempted rape, and 8 of actual rape. In 1950-52-50 years later-prison authorities listed only 18 prisoners incarcerated for rape.

The Reconstruction era, plagued by economic woes, heated racial discord, and political unrest, was a particularly violent time in North Carolina. After the 1868 killing of a black man in Warren County, Governor William W. Holden declared: "The habit which some of our people have of taking their guns, to be used against colored people, for offences or supposed offences which inflame their passions must be put down." The state prison's annual report for 1871-72 indicates that it held 39 prisoners confined for murder, manslaughter, or felonious slaying; but of the 150 individuals who entered that year, only 7 had been convicted of killing another person.

Violent crime continued to rise in twentieth-century North Carolina. In 1899-1900 the state prison took in 5 offenders for felonious slaying, 24 for manslaughter, 37 for first-degree murder, and 8 for second-degree murder. Between 1909 and 1928, 395 people were charged with first-degree murder, and by 1951 North Carolina ranked seventh in the United States for non-negligent manslaughter, with 110 deaths. In 1965 the Charlotte metropolitan area recorded the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, with 58 murders, or 15.9 killings per 100,000 people. In 1973 the state counted 630 murders-a monthly average of 53, or approximately 1 murder every 14 hours. About 25 percent of these killings were by a family member.

In the second half of the twentieth century, as the crime of rape began to receive more attention through various legislative and social initiatives, statistics began to give a more accurate picture of the incidence of rape in North Carolina. In 1966, 523 cases were reported; in 1967, 551; and in 1973, 805. By the 1990s the number of reported rapes or attempted rapes had skyrocketed.

By 2000, with a population of about 8 million, North Carolina ranked ninth in the total number of crimes reported in the United States, with 4,919.3 crimes per 100,000 people, and eighteenth in the number of violent crimes, with 497.6 per 100,000 people. The state actually led the nation in burglaries, with 1,216 per 100,000 people. North Carolina's national rankings in other major categories included tenth in murder (7 per 100,000 people), twelfth in robbery (156.5 per 100,000 people), thirteenth in larceny (2,891.8 per 100,000 people), twenty-second in aggravated assault (307 per 100,000 people), and thirty-fourth in rape (27.1 per 100,000 people).


Guion G. Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History (1937).

Donna J. Spindel, Crime and Society in North Carolina, 1663-1776 (1989).

State of North Carolina Uniform Crime Report: 2003 Annual Report (2003).

Additional resources:

North Carolina, Division of Criminal Information. 1995-present. Crime in North Carolina: Annual summary report of uniform crime reporting data. Online at,288021.

North Carolina, Prison Department. 1917-1964. Biennial report of the state's prison system. Online at,70998




I am currently writing a book and I would like to know the number of black on white assaults in 1946 and 1947,


I'm currently doing a research project on rape, more specifically, aggravated rape. I have been struggling to find statistics on this specific type of rape. So I was wondering, do ya'll have N.C. statistics for aggravated rape within the last 10 years?


Hello Rosa! 

We shouild be able to find that information for you. I am forwarding your question to the reference department of the Government and Heritage Library and they will get back to you as soon as possible. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


Hi! I'm currently doing a proposal assignment for one of my college classes and I am wondering what percent of NC are rape victims?


Dear Courtney,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing your project and question.

I am referring your question to reference librarians at the NC Government & Heritage Library.  One of our librarians will contact you shortly to help suggest resources you can consult for this data.

Good luck with your project!

Kelly Agan

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at