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Early Settlement

by David Goldfield

Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2005.

Reprinted with permission from The North Carolina Atlas Revisited. Managing editor: Alfred W. Stuart.

Development of the Frontier, 1657 - 1835

During the late 17th century, settlement in North Carolina proceeded from Virginia migration, first into the Albemarle region, then into the Pamlico district. By 1710, the new sparsely settled province had a capital at Edenton. But the migration caused growing alarm among the Indian populations resulting in a conflict that raged on and off for four years concluding in 1715 with the decimation of the Indians and the opening up of additional land to white settlement. The key event that affected the colony’s development until the time of the Revolution was King George II’s takeover of North Carolina from the heirs of the Lords Proprietors in 1729. The change generated a land bonanza in the colony as the Crown eased land purchase requirements and sent out the equivalent of real estate agents to drum up business. Their work, and the encouragement of royal governors, touched off a boom in North Carolina that lasted from 1730 to the American Revolution. Forests along the Coastal Plain were leveled for farms, settlers poured into the backcountry, and the line of settlement extended to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Avenues of Early Settlement

The origins of North Carolina’s 18th-century newcomers varied widely. South Carolinians moved north into the Lower Cape Fear region to establish pine plantations with African slave labor. As land grew scarce in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia after 1730, migrants trekked down the Great Wagon road which began near Philadelphia and extended southwestward to the Shenandoah Valley before veering east into the North and South Carolina Piedmont. These newcomers included a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Quakers, German Lutherans, German Moravians, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. Settling primarily in the Piedmont, they contrasted with the mostly English and African coastal areas and, in fact, had little contact with those areas. The rivers of the Piedmont flowed into the South Carolina colony and that is the route commerce and communication followed as well. By themed-eighteenth century residents of Piedmont North Carolina had more contacts with Pennsylvania than they did with the coastal district of their own colony.

European and African Settlement in 1730

In 1730, the colony’s population included 30,000 whites and 6,000 blacks, almost all of whom lived along the Coastal Plain; by 1775, the population had grown to 265,000 inhabitants, including 10,000 blacks, and settlement was scattered from the coast to the mountains. By that latter date, North Carolina was the fourth most populous of the thirteen colonies. The population was also among the most diverse with some estimates placing the German population as high as 30 percent.

Figure 4 European and African Settlement

References and additional resources:

Orr, Douglas Milton, and Alfred W. Stuart. 2000. The North Carolina atlas: portrait for a new century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens, and Jay Mazzocchi. 2006. Encyclopedia of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Powell, William Stevens. 1989. North Carolina through four centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.



Thanks. I enjoy the site. I'm helping my middle schooler research a project and have gotten lost scrolling around.


I am looking for information on a former settlement in Warren County NC called Monroeville. Some folks said it may have been a freed Black settlement. We were talking about the possibility of a slave cemetery being left there. Any information would be appreciated Many Thanks



Thank you for leaving your comment. I am sending it to our reference librarians who can assist you further. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


I seem to have hit a brick wall with ancestor Upton Williamson (about 1750-54 to 1827). He owned property in Mecklenburg, NC and I have found census records, will, children, land grants, etc. I cannot find birth records for him, his parents, siblings. I have found a lot of Williamsons in the same area, but have not found relationships. Any help would be appreciated.


I' m researching the migration of the Cole surname into North Carolina. I can trace some from Pennsylvania as Quakers or other religious groups. However, I have seen some crediting some of the Cole surname (and others) migrated from Mass. in the 18th century. Is that accurate, did anyone come to the Piedmont from Mass?



There were 3 main migrations routes into NC. First was the Kings Highway, which began in Boston, MA and traveled alon the coast dpwm to Charleston, SC. One of thhe stops on the route was Fredericksburg, VA. There were 2 other routes that went further west into NC - the Fall line Road and the Upper Road. The Upper Road came down into Charlotte, NC and the Fall Line Roadd came down throiugh Ralleigh to Fayetteville, NC. There was also the Great Valley Road (sometimes called the Great Wagon Road) that doesn't go into NC, but there was a branch that brok off in the western part of VA that came down into the mountain area of the state. Hope that helps!

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


When did the Mode Family settle in North Carolina? Where did they start out from?


Thank you so very much for your question! Getting started with genealogy can seem really challenging but we have resources to help you get started with your quest to find the Mode family! 

Here is a link to our getting started page:

Here are a few additional resources: and a video series on how to get started: 

Please feel free to contact us at if you have questions about getting started or would like a one on one consultation through our Book a Librarian service: 

Best Wishes, 

Kelly Eubank, Government and Heritage Library


my husbands family (Nantz/Nance) were early colonists in Charles City County, VA. The first "pioneer" came west after 1775 first to Granville and then to Mecklenburg County, NC. I cannot find the route they would have taken. Any help would be appreciated.


Dear Patricia,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia. I am forwarding your request to our reference team.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

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