North Carolina History: 1729 - 1775

The transfer of the province from the Lords Proprietors to the crown marked the beginning of a significant era in North Carolina. The history of the colony for the next forty years was characterized by a steady and rapid growth in population; the settlement of the Cape Fear Valley and the Piedmont; the expansion of agriculture, industry, and trade; some improvement in transportation and the beginnings of a crude postal system; a higher standard of living; the rapid growth of dissenting religious sects; the founding of many churches, a few schools, and some libraries; and the publication of the first books and newspapers in the colony.

The royalization of North Carolina caused no significant change in governmental structure or powers. The powers and duties of the governor, the council, the assembly, the courts, and local officials such as sheriffs and justices of the peace remained much the same as they had been. The crown simply replaced the proprietors as the fountainhead of authority in government and in administration of land policy. Henceforth the king and Privy Council, rather than the proprietors, controlled the selection of the governor and other royal officials, instructed the governors on the conduct of their office, formulated policies, and heard complaints from the colony, which were usually voiced by an official agent resident in England. North Carolina was among the last of the colonies to establish a regular agency, and the Lower House of the legislature (assembly) asserted its authority over that agent. The colony had sent special agents to London as early as 1676, but it was not until an act of October 1768, that a permanent agent, James Abercromby, was appointed. He served the assembly as agent for more than a decade.

The crown placed major emphasis upon the promotion of the naval-stores industry and other economic activities, which fitted into the British mercantile system. North Carolina came to have closer contact with the various agencies of colonial administration the King, Privy Council, Board of Trade, Treasury Board, Commissioners of the Customs, Admiralty Board, and Navy Board. The assembly became more jealous of its powers and engaged in controversies with the governors over salaries, paper currency, Indian policy, defense, and other matters of vital concern both to England and to the province.

The royal government was characterized by greater stability, stronger administration, and better enforcement of law and order than had prevailed under the proprietary regime.

The royal governors of North Carolina:

(1) George Burrington (1721-1734)
(2) Gabriel Johnston (1735-52)
(3) Acting Governor Nathaniel Rice (1754-65)
(4) Acting Governor Matthew Rowan (1753-54)
(5) Arthur Dobbs (1754-1765) ***
(6) William Tryon (1765-71) ***
(7) Josiah Martin (1771-75) ***
(***Joel Lane served under these governors.)

These men were of higher caliber, better character, and more experience than the proprietary governors, and they compared favorably with the governors of other colonies. Although all of the governors had prolonged and bitter quarrels with their assemblies—an experience not peculiar to North Carolina—these men, by and large, had the interests of the colony at heart. All of them tried to promote policies for the settlement and expansion of North Carolina, for improvements in transportation, trade, communication, education, religion, and other movements for the general welfare of the colony as well as for the best interests of the British Empire. The colonial governor had the difficult, if not impossible, task of trying to serve two masters, one of whom commissioned him while the other paid his salary.

Population Growth and Expansion

The royal period of North Carolina history, 1729-75, was one of rapid growth and expansion of population. At the close of proprietary rule there were only about thirty thousand whites and fewer than six thousand Negroes in the province. At this time North Carolina was perhaps the most sparsely settled of the English continental colonies, and most of its population, chiefly of English stock, lived largely in the Tidewater. By 1740 there were “a few families” along the Hyco, Eno, and Haw rivers, and six years later a few settlers “west of the Yadkin.” In 1751 the governor reported that “inhabitants flock in here daily, mostly from Pennsylvania and other parts of America, and some directly from Europe. They commonly seat themselves toward the West and have got near the mountains.” By 1752 the colony’s population was estimated at 265,000 and the Negro population at 80,000. North Carolina had become the fourth most populous English continental colony, exceeded only by Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

There were many causes for this nine-fold increase in population in less than half a century. One of the most obvious factors was a high birth rate. But the death rate was also high, infant mortality being estimated at 40 percent. Immigration is the real explanation of its phenomenal increase in population.

Why people emigrated to the American English Colonies

The most impelling motives for emigration from Europe to the English colonies were:

1. wars, past, present, and anticipated;
2. poverty, unemployment, and general economic unrest;
3. religious persecution,
4. legal discriminations, and harsh and vindictive penal systems;
5. love of adventure and the desire to start life anew and “become somebody” in the New World.

During the royal period, Scotch-Irish, Germans, Scottish Highlanders, Welsh, English, and a few other national stocks poured into the Upper Cape Fear Valley and into the backcountry. Settlements reached the foot of the mountains by 1760 and soon pushed across the mountains. A vast area, hitherto almost unbroken wilderness, was turned into farms and homes. Roads, bridges, and ferries were built; sawmills and gristmills were established; lumber, naval stores, potash, shipbuilding, and other industries were developed; some river channels were improved and a few lighthouses constructed. Old towns such Edenton and New Bern took on new life, while many new towns were begun, the most significant of which were Wilmington, Halifax, Hillsborough, Salisbury, Salem, Charlotte, and what is now Fayetteville. The creation of six new counties during this period is ample evidence of the growth and expansion of population.