On November 21, 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution to become the twelfth state in the Union. The vote came approximately two hundred years after the first white settlers arrived on the fertile Atlantic coastal plain.
Originally inhabited by a number of native tribes, including the Cherokee, Catawba, Tuscarora, and Coratans, North Carolina was the first American territory that the English attempted to colonize. Sir Walter Raleigh, for whom the state capital is named, chartered two colonies on the North Carolina coast in the late 1580s; both ended in failure. The demise of one, the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island, remains one of the great mysteries of American history.
By the late seventeenth century, several permanent settlements had taken hold in the Carolina territory, which also encompassed present-day South Carolina and Tennessee. From 1629 until 1712, the colonies of North and South Carolina were one unit. Under the terms of the North Carolina Biennial Act 1712, North Carolina became a separate colony with its own assembly and council. In 1729, North Carolina became a Royal English colony. On April 12, 1776, the North Carolina Provincial Congress, in its Halifax Resolves, authorized its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence from the British crown.
North Carolina was a battleground during both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Divided on whether to support the North or the South, in 1861, North Carolina voted to undo the act that had granted it statehood. North Carolina was readmitted to the Union in 1868. To learn more about North Carolina’s role during the Civil War, see the Today in History feature on Union General William T. Sherman’s victory at Fayetteville.
In the 1930s, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) sent some of the nation’s finest photographers to North Carolina to document rural life and the adverse effects of the Great Depression.
- America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945 contains hundreds of images of rural life in the state. Search on North Carolina and Vachon to see John Vachon’s series on farm life. For Marion Post Wolcott’s photographs of cotton and tobacco growers, search on North Carolina and Wolcott. For Jack Delano’s images of migrant workers, search on North Carolina and Delano. Browse the locations index to find more photographs, including Ben Shahn’s portrait of Fiddlin’ Bill Henseley of Asheville.
- First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920 External documents the culture of the nineteenth-century American South with material from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Search on the term North Carolina for a wide variety of narratives, including Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier External and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl External.
- Search External on Carolina in the collection Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 External for a wide variety of music related to the Carolinas, such as the “North Carolina Grand March External” and “Chicora (the Indian Name of Carolina) External.”
- For more maps of the state, search on North Carolina in Map Collections.
- Read the Today in History features on North Carolina-born presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson.
- Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978-1996 includes 229 photographs and 181 recorded interviews with six quiltmakers from Appalachian North Carolina and Virginia. Search the collection on North Carolina to see items such as Consider the Tulips, the 1994 North Carolina State Winner; and to hear “I Guess I Was Twenty-Five When I Started Quilting,” an interview with North Carolina quiltmaker Zenna Todd.