North Carolina - From Statehood to 1800

Overview of Early Statehood to 1800

Dismal Swamp Canal - Construction Began in 1793
The seeds for independence had been sown for over a decade with the passage of the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, as well as many other events. In early 1775, the Patriots of North Carolina began taking concrete steps towards self-government and throwing off the onerous control of the British Empire. On May 31, 1775, Royal Governor Josiah Martin quietly left New Bern, fled to the Cape Fear, and took refuge on the British sloop-of-war HMS Cruizer in July, effectively ending English rule of North Carolina. The American Revolution was soon to reach North Carolina.

The first eight years of early statehood were long years of hardship, conflict, skirmishes, and major battles fought on the soil of the new state of North Carolina. There was a significant population of Loyalists in North Carolina, and they were steadfast against giving up British control of the colony. Initially, the Loyalists and the Patriots were poorly organized and the conflicts were mostly small skirmishes all over the state. The British Army had focused its attention in the northern colonies of Massachusetts and New York and gave only a token interest in the southern colonies.

On February 27, 1776, the Patriots routed the Loyalists at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. This battle had great significance on the remainder of Loyalist activities within North Carolina for several more years. It was not until the British returned and the arrival of Lord Cornwallis in Charlotte in September of 1780 did the large Loyalist faction raise up against the Patriots once again. From 1780 to 1782, there were over forty skirmishes, small battles, and significant battles in the state of North Carolina.

On May 29, 1780 the battle of Waxhaws along the North Carolina-South Carolina border clearly showed that the British were back with a vengeance after seizing Charlestown, South Carolina. The Patriots and the Continental Army were destroyed several time by the British Army - at Charlestown and at Camden. At the Waxhaws, Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton of the British Legion gave absolutely no quarter to the Patriots - this battle was also called "Buford's Massacre," clearly showing that Tarleton was going to fight to the bitter end.

For the next year, the British Army and the Loyalist militias had the upper hand in North Carolina. The Patriots under Richard Caswell, John Alexander Lillington, William Lee Davidson, Griffith Rutherford, Charles McDowell, Isaac Shelby, Benjamin Cleveland, and many others joined forces with Major General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army, Southern Department, and these combined forces slowly, but surely, began to turn the tide of the American Revolution in North Carolina.

On February 25, 1781, the Patriots won a significant battle at Haw River in Alamance County, teaching the Loyalists a great lesson that freedom was certainly worth fighting for. On March 15, 1781, the Battle of Guilford Court House was technically a British win, but they suffered so many losses that this resulted in a great reduction of their capability to sustain war with any degree of effectiveness in North Carolina.

On October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. Although there were no British on North Carolina soil after they left Wilmington in November of 1781, American's first "civil war" continued in the two Carolinas for well over another year, pitting Patriots against Loyalists. By the end of 1782, these two groups finally quit fighting each other as well.

With the American Revolution behind them, the North Carolinians turned their focus on establishing an independent State that provided many new rights for the citizens, and a new focus of making sure that the new United States of America was a confederation that they wanted to join. Six years after the American Revolution ended, the state of North Carolina joined the United States in 1789, the twelfth state to do so.

Between the end of the Revolutionary War and the end of the century, North Carolina proceeded to revamp and refine its form of internal government. Between 1777 and 1800, North Carolina established twenty-nine new counties as the popluation continued to move westward towards the mountains. In 1792, the state capital was moved from New Bern to the new, planned city of Raleigh, which continues as the state capital to this day.

In 1784, a group of individuals attempted to secede from North Carolina and they created the new State of Franklin along the extreme northwestern corner of the state. The state of North Carolina and the new United States government did not recognize this secession. By 1788, the inhabitants and the leaders of the state of Franklin gave up and their lands were incorporated back into the state of North Carolina.

During all of this, the new government of the United States asked North Carolina to give up its western lands for the possible formation of another new state and as a recognition of the new central government's authority over the new confederation. This situation helped to fuel the leaders of the new state of Franklin. North Carolina did approve giving up these western lands to the new United States government, with the stipulation that the new United States commence settling it and establishing a system of government there. The new, young government of the United States did nothing.

During its 1787 meeting, the NC General Assembly created a new judicial and military district. The Fayetteville District was made up of Cumberland, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, and Sampson counties. Anson County was added to the Fayetteville District in 1789. During its 1788 meeting, the NC General Assembly created the Mero District, which was made up of Davidson County, Sumner County, and the newly-created Tennessee County. On December 21, 1789, the NC General Assembly appointed Andrew Jackson as the Attorney General over the Mero District.

Once again, in 1790, North Carolina offered up these western lands to the United States government, again with the same stipulation. This time the new United States government accepted and began transitioning the area into a new state. By 1796, the state of Tennessee was established from these North Carolina lands - the border not surveyed until many years later.

In 1784, the Dismal Swamp Canal Company was created. Digging began in 1793 and progressed slowly since the canal had to be dug completely by hand. Most of the labor was done by slaves hired from nearby land owners. It took approximately twelve years of back-breaking construction under highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway in Camden County, North Carolina. By 1805, flat-bottomed vessels could be admitted into the canal, where tolls were charged to allay the continual expense of improvements and maintenance.

In a relatively short quarter of a century, North Carolina transititoned from a Royal Colony, completely under the control of the British government, to a new independent state, to join the confederation of the United States, to a burgeoning economic powerhouse of the new nation. The Patriots who fought for their right to self-government and self-determination moved forward in short order to establish a sound government and to give the citizens a stable economy with which they could go forth and do wonderful things. This they did.

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