Nineteenth-Century North Carolina History Timeline

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19th Century North Carolina Timeline
Nineteenth-Century North Carolina History Timeline

North Carolina Census Records Data, Detailed Census Records 1800s, 18th Century North Carolina County Populations, 1800s Census Records for North Carolina Counties Timeline History Details Information

19th Century North Carolina Timeline
Nineteenth-Century North Carolina History Timeline

Nineteenth-Century North Carolina History Timeline


1800 North Carolina Census Data
Total 478,103
Free white persons 337,764
All other free persons
(except Indians not taxed)
Slaves 133,296

Thomas Jefferson is elected president of the United States.

A planned slave rebellion alarms white residents of northeastern North Carolina. Eleven suspected organizers hang.

After a meeting at Bell’s Meeting House in Randolph County, religious revivals sweep the state, peaking in 1804.

The Meigs-Freeman Line is surveyed in western North Carolina. It will remain the boundary between areas of white settlement and areas of Cherokee control until 1819.

Salem Female Academy is established by the Moravian Church in Salem.

September 6: Richard Dobbs Spaight, who served three terms as governor between 1792 and 1795 and was a congressional representative from 1798 through 1801, dies from a wound received in a duel with his political opponent in the 1802 senatorial election, John Stanly.

War breaks out between Great Britain and France. President Thomas Jefferson doubles the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase from France.

May 2: John G. Arends of Lincoln County becomes the first president of the North Carolina Lutheran Synod.

The Bank of Cape Fear and the Bank of New Bern are chartered. They are the first banks in the state.

Winifred Marshall Gales publishes Matilda Berkely; or, Family Anecdotes, a story of upper-class life in England and Russia. It is the first novel written by a resident of North Carolina.

Federal law ends the legal importation of enslaved Africans. African people are still smuggled into the country, and internal slave trading continues until abolition.

Rather than declare war because of British outrages on American shipping, the United States passes the Embargo Act, the first in a series of economic sanctions focused primarily against Great Britain.

John Chavis, a freeborn African American, opens a school in Raleigh. Chavis, who fought in the Revolutionary War, teaches white children by day and black pupils at night.

The Cherokee establish a law code and the “Light Horse Guards” to maintain law and order.

December 29: Andrew Johnson, future 17th president of the United States, is born in Raleigh.

North Carolina native Dolley Madison becomes first lady when James Madison is inaugurated as the fourth United States president. She becomes one of the most popular first ladies in the nation’s history.

1810 North Carolina Census Data
Total 555,500
Free white persons 376,410
All other free persons
(except Indians not taxed)
Slaves 168,824

The Cherokee abolish clan revenge as a mechanism for social control.

James Gay of Iredell County publishes A Collection of Various Pieces of Poetry, Chiefly Patriotic, the first poetry book written in North Carolina.

The Bank of North Carolina is chartered.

November 11: The Battle of Tippecanoe, fought in Indiana between the United States Army and Shawnee Indians, ends in the defeat of the American Indians and the loss of their land.

December 16: The people of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee experience the “shaken, trembling, and sounds” of the New Madrid, Mo., earthquake.

Secretary of State William Hill establishes the North Carolina State Library. James F. Taylor will become the first official state librarian in 1843.

Cherokee Indians fight on the side of the Americans to put down Shawnee chief Tecumseh’s efforts to drive away white settlers.

June 18: The United States declares war on Great Britain. The War of 1812 lasts until 1815. Onslow County native Otway Burns, captain of the Snap Dragon, is America’s most successful privateer during the conflict, capturing more than a million dollars worth of British shipping.

The state’s first cotton mill, owned by Michael Schenck, opens in Lincoln County.

The Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina forms at Alamance Church in present-day Guilford County.

July 12–16: A British fleet occupies Portsmouth and Ocracoke as part of the hostilities during the War of 1812.

March 27: Cherokee Indians aid General Andrew Jackson in defeating the Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. After the battle, Jackson tells the Cherokee chief Junaluska: “As long as the sun shines and the grass grows there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the East.” As president, Jackson later plays a major role in the effort to move the Cherokee west.

August 24: The British army burns Washington, D.C. Before the soldiers arrive, first lady Dolley Madison packs papers, furnishings, and Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington for transport, ensuring that valuable items remain safe.

December 24: The United States and Great Britain sign a peace treaty ending the War of 1812. News of peace does not arrive in time to prevent a decisive defeat of the British army at New Orleans, La., on January 8, 1816.

Archibald Murphey reports to the General Assembly on internal improvements and education in North Carolina.

The Fayetteville Observer, the oldest continuously published newspaper in the state, is founded. It operates as a weekly until 1896, when it becomes a daily.

The Tariff Act passed by Congress places import fees on foreign goods to protect and promote the growth of industry in the United States.

The Episcopal Church organizes in North Carolina.

The Cherokee cede land in exchange for land on the Arkansas River, and 2,000 Cherokee move west.

The Neuse River Navigation Company operates a steamboat between New Bern and Elizabeth City.

The Prometheus, built by Otway Burns and operated on the Cape Fear River, is the first steamboat constructed in North Carolina.

Construction begins on the state’s second cotton mill, Rocky Mount Mills in Rocky Mount.

Richard Jordan Gatling, inventor of the Gatling rapid-fire machine gun and various improvements for farm machinery, is born in Hertford County.

The Cherokee agree to a treaty by which a large amount of their land in present-day Henderson, Transylvania, and Jackson Counties is ceded to the federal government. The Cherokee are allowed to receive land grants as individuals and can resell the land to white settlers to earn money.

1820 North Carolina Census Data
Total 638,829
Free white persons 419,200
Slaves 205,017
Free colored persons 14,612

Congress passes the Missouri Compromise, which admits Missouri to the United States as a slave state but prohibits slavery in the northern territories. North Carolina congressmen are divided on the issue: those from the east oppose the slavery exclusion measure, and those from the west favor it.

The USS North Carolina joins the United States fleet.

The Cherokee establish a judicial administration and eight judicial districts.


Sequoyah completes his work of establishing the Cherokee alphabet, making the Cherokee people the only group of American Indians to have a written language.

Sculptor Antonio Canova’s statue of George Washington arrives and is placed in the State House.

The Cherokee National Supreme Court is established.

President James Monroe issues a foreign policy declaration, known as the Monroe Doctrine, that places North and South America off-limits to European colonization.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is erected. It is the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina currently in service.

Gold is discovered in Rowan County in an area that becomes known as Gold Hill. Extensive mining begins in 1843, creating a short-lived boom town. Copper is also found in the area and will be mined until 1907.

Lemuel Sawyer of Camden County creates the play Blackbeard. It is the first play written by a native North Carolinian. The play is about people trying to find Blackbeard’s treasure, and the misadventures of a gentleman named Candid.

The state legislature creates the Literary Fund to pay for the establishment of the first public schools in the state.

African American artisan Thomas Day begins making furniture and opens his own shop, where he teaches his trade to white apprentices and to slaves.

The North Carolina General Assembly passes a law forbidding the migration of free blacks into the state.

D. H. Bingham founds the first military school in North Carolina. The school occupies various sites in Orange, Vance, and Alamance Counties before moving to Asheville in 1891.

November 5: Robert Vance, a former North Carolina congressman, is fatally wounded during a duel with his political successor, Samuel P. Carson, in present-day Henderson County.

The Buncombe Turnpike is completed, increasing commercial traffic in the Mountain region of North Carolina.

The Cherokee approve a new tribal constitution.

Andrew Jackson is elected president of the United States.

Congress passes the Tariff Act, which raises import fees. This angers the South, which pays most of the import duties but receives little benefit from the tax.

The first annual conference of the Methodist Protestant Church convenes at Whitaker’s Chapel in Halifax County.

Henry Humphries of Greensboro builds the first steam-powered mill.

The first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper printed in Cherokee and English, is released.

Nine families in Washington, N.C., dedicate the first Roman Catholic church in North Carolina: Saint John the Evangelist, a simple frame structure with dirt floors. Fire set by retreating Union soldiers will destroy the church in 1864.

August 1: The first public meeting in support of establishing railroads in North Carolina takes place in Alamance County.

John C. Blum of Salem begins publication of the Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac.

George Moses Horton publishes a book of poetry entitled The Hope of Liberty. It is the first book by a North Carolina slave and a southern black.

1830 North Carolina Census Data
Total 737,987
Free white persons 472,843
Slaves 245,601
Free colored persons 19,543

President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act calling for American Indians to be forced from their homes to lands west of the Mississippi.

The General Assembly passes “black codes” restricting the activities of free and enslaved African Americans.

David Walker, an African American born free in Wilmington in 1785, publishes Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in Boston. Appalled by slavery, he advocates open rebellion. The North Carolina General Assembly bans Walker’s writings, as well as other “seditious” works that “might excite insurrection.”

The North Carolina Baptist State Convention organizes in Greenville.

Slave and preacher Nat Turner leads 20 followers in a bloody revolt through Southampton County, Va., just north of the North Carolina border. The North Carolina militia is called out to assist in stopping the rebellion.

The North Carolina General Assembly passes a law forbidding African American preachers to speak at worship services where slaves from different owners are in attendance, and forbidding anyone to teach African Americans to read and write.

Omar ibn Said, a enslaved African and Arabic scholar, writes his autobiography in Arabic. Intrigued by his slave’s abilities, Said’s owner, General James Owen, gives him little work and permits him to study an Arabic translation of the Bible. Said had learned English and converted to Christianity, becoming a member of First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville in 1820. He will die in 1864 at the age of 94.

Christopher Bechtler establishes a private mint in Rutherford County.

June 21: Fire destroys the state capitol building in Raleigh.

A mile-long experimental railroad is built in Raleigh to convey granite from a quarry to the site of the new capitol building. The legislature charters another new line, known as the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad.

Frankie Silver is convicted of the murder of her husband in present-day Mitchell County. She becomes the first woman in North Carolina to be executed by hanging.

Sir Archie, the sire of American Thoroughbred horses such as Timoleon, Boston, Lexington, and Man o’ War, dies at Mowfields in Northampton County.

March 2: After South Carolina threatens to secede from the United States over the import tariff issue, President Andrew Jackson signs a bill lowering tariff fees. He also signs a bill authorizing him to use force, if necessary, to collect import duties.

Baptists found Wake Forest Institute in Wake County. It later becomes Wake Forest College. It will move its campus to Winston-Salem in 1956 and become Wake Forest University in 1967.

John Nissen founds the Nissen Wagon Works in Forsyth County. In 1919, just before automobiles begin to dominate the market, the business will produce 50 wagons a day.

The state constitution is extensively revised, with amendments approved by the voters that provide for the direct election of the governor and more democratic representation in the legislature. However, new laws take voting rights away from American Indians and free blacks. Women are not allowed to vote.

A small, unauthorized group of men signs the Cherokee Removal Treaty. The Cherokee protest the treaty, and Chief John Ross collects more than 15,000 signatures, representing nearly the entire Cherokee population, on a petition requesting the United States Senate to withhold ratification.

The Senate approves the Cherokee Removal Treaty by one vote.

Edward B. Dudley becomes the first North Carolina governor elected by popular vote.

The federal government opens a United States Mint branch in Charlotte. It produces gold coins until the Civil War. After 1868 the federal government will run an assay office at the mint, but no coins will be produced.

Presbyterians open Davidson College in Mecklenburg County.

Quakers found New Garden Boarding School, later Guilford College, in Guilford County.

Approximately 17,000 North Carolina Cherokee are forcibly removed from the state to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). This event becomes known as the Trail of Tears. An estimated 4,000 Cherokee people die during the 1,200-mile trek. A few hundred Cherokee refuse to be rounded up and transported. They hide in the mountains and evade federal soldiers. Eventually, a deal is struck between the army and the remaining Cherokee. Tsali, a leading Cherokee brave, agrees to surrender himself to General Winfield Scott to be shot if the army will allow the rest of his people to stay in North Carolina legally. The federal government eventually establishes a reservation for the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

A Methodist minister founds Trinity College in Randolph County. It will move to Durham in 1892 and become Duke University in 1924.

The Methodist Church opens Greensboro College, the state’s first chartered college for women.

The cornerstone for the United States Arsenal is laid in Fayetteville. The Fayetteville Arsenal is largely complete by 1839. The arsenal, seized by local militia 1861, will produce approximately 10,000 rifles, as well as other accoutrements, for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Union troops will destroy it in 1865.

Stephen Slade, an enslaved African American, discovers a method of curing bright-leaf tobacco on the plantation of Abisha Slade in Caswell County.

Yonaguska, chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, dies at age 80. His adopted white son, William Holland Thomas, becomes chief of the Cherokee and fights to secure reservation land for them.

The General Assembly passes the Common School Law, which establishes the first free public schools in the state. The legislation requires that schools remain open at least 2.5 months per year.

North Carolinian and United States senator Robert Strange publishes the book Eoneguski; or, Cherokee Chief, one of the first novels written about North Carolina.

1840 North Carolina Census Data
Total 753,419
Free white persons 484,870
Slaves 245,817
Free colored persons 22,732

The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad is completed. At 161.5 miles, it is the longest railroad in the world.

The Raleigh and Gaston railroad is completed. It is the first North Carolina railroad to travel across a state line (Virginia).

The new State Capitol building is completed in Raleigh.

The state’s first public school opens in Rockingham County.

Floral College, one of the earliest colleges for women in the South, is founded in Robeson County.

The state has 25 textile mills containing nearly 50,000 spindles and about 700 looms and employing around 1,200 people.

The General Assembly passes a law prohibiting Indians from owning or carrying weapons without first obtaining a license.


Those Cherokee who avoided forced removal in 1838 and remained in North Carolina are given citizenship. In 1848 Congress grants them a small amount of money to use for the purchase of land.

Harriet Jacobs, an Edenton slave, is smuggled onto a ship to escape slavery after spending seven years hiding in a tiny attic room in her grandmother’s house. She escapes to New York, where she buys the freedom of her children. She later becomes an author and abolitionist and writes Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861.

The Episcopal Church establishes Saint Mary’s College in Raleigh.

The Methodist Church splits into northern and southern contingents over the issue of slavery, followed by a split in the Baptist Church a year later.

Southern Methodists organize the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. North Carolinian Robert Paine helps lead this effort.

North Carolina native President James K. Polk leads the United States into war with Mexico. As part of the peace treaty signed in 1848, Mexico agrees to sell the Southwest to the United States.

The United States Marine Hospital opens in Portsmouth.

Educator Calvin Henderson Wiley publishes Alamance, the first novel written by a North Carolina native.

Dorothea Dix visits North Carolina and calls for reform in the care of mentally ill patients.

A Women's Rights Convention takes place in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

The North Carolina State Medical Society forms.

The construction of an institution in Raleigh for the care of mentally ill patients is authorized. The hospital, named in honor of Dorothea Dix, will open in 1856.

Construction begins on a toll plank road to connect the major market towns of Salem and Fayetteville and to facilitate the transportation of mercantile and agricultural goods. When this 129-mile-long Bethania-to-Fayetteville road opens in 1854, it will be the longest plank road in the world. Fayetteville becomes the terminal point of five commercial plank roads chartered between 1849 and 1852.

1850 North Carolina Census Data
Total 869,039
Free white persons 553,028
Black 316,011
Indian not available
Other races not available

Thomas Day, a free African American cabinetmaker, operates the state’s largest furniture-making business in Milton, Caswell County.

Congress passes a compromise bill between North and South that includes a strict fugitive slave law and admission of California to the Union as a free state. The compromise helps prevent secession in the South but angers antislavery northerners.

David S. Reid wins the governorship by calling for free suffrage, which would eliminate the ownership of property as a requirement for voting in state senate elections. An amendment ending the requirement will be adopted by an overwhelming majority of the popular vote in 1857.

The Raleigh Register becomes the first daily newspaper in the state, followed by the Wilmington Daily Journal in 1851.

Supported by the Literary Fund, 2,657 public, or common, schools are established in the state.

The State Museum of Natural History is founded in Raleigh.

Calvin Wiley becomes the first superintendent of the state’s common schools.

Agricultural reformer John F. Tompkins founds the North Carolina State Fair, which takes place for the first time on October 18–21 in Raleigh.

The Holt Mill in Alamance County produces Alamance plaid, the first factory-dyed cotton cloth made in the South.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, passed by Congress, reopens hostilities between North and South over the expansion of slavery in the territories.

The North Carolina Railroad, which connects Goldsboro and Charlotte, is completed.

The North Carolina Dental Society organizes in Raleigh.

Hinton Rowan Helper, born in Davie County, publishes his controversial antislavery book The Impending Crisis of the South.

The Presbyterian Church establishes Peace Female Institute (later Peace College) in Raleigh.

March 6: The United States Supreme Court issues the Dred Scott decision stating that blacks are not considered citizens and that slaveholders can legally take slaves into the free states. The Court’s decision angers antislavery northerners.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is completed. It replaces the original tower built in 1812.

A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina, by Mary A. Mason of Raleigh, is the first North Carolina book written especially for young people.

October 16: Abolitionist John Brown captures the United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va., in an attempt to incite a slave insurrection. Two free African Americans from North Carolina, Lewis Sheridan Leary from Fayetteville and John Anthony Copeland from Raleigh, join Brown’s forces. Leary is killed when United States troops capture Brown’s forces. Copeland, along with John Brown and other followers, is tried and executed for treason. Some northerners believe Brown a martyr, but many southerners consider his raid an outrage.

1860 North Carolina Census Data
Total 992,622
Free white persons 629,942
Black 361,522
Indian 1,158
Other races not available

The production of turpentine, primarily for use in shipping, is the largest manufacturing industry in North Carolina. Two-thirds of the nation’s output of turpentine comes from the state. Most turpentine distilleries are located in Bladen, Cumberland, and New Hanover Counties.

North Carolina has 39 cotton mills and 9 woolen mills in operation.

Even as industry grows in the state, North Carolina remains essentially rural. Wilmington, the state’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, has only 9,542 inhabitants.

The number of common schools reaches 2,854, with a statewide enrollment of 118,000 white students. Illiteracy among whites has dropped from 30 percent in 1840 to 23 percent.

May 10: The Morrill Tariff, which doubles fees on imported goods, passes in the United States House but is blocked in the Senate by southern votes.

October: A planned slave uprising near Plymouth fails when a slave exposes the plot.

November: Abraham Lincoln, who opposes the expansion of slavery in the territories and supports taxes on imported goods, wins the presidential election. He receives no votes from North Carolina or any other southern state. After his election, seven southern states leave the Union.


North Carolina lawmakers bar any black person from owning or controlling a slave, making it impossible for a free person of color to buy freedom for a family member or friend.

January: In a state referendum, North Carolina voters refuse to consider secession. Instead, the state sends representatives to Washington, D.C., to attempt peace negotiations between northern and southern leaders.

February 4–9: The Confederate States of America is established in Montgomery, Ala., and Jefferson Davis becomes its president. North Carolina remains in the United States.

March 2: Congress passes the Morrill Tariff Act.

April 12: Confederate forces at Charleston, S.C., fire on Fort Sumter when President Lincoln attempts to resupply the United States garrison there. On April 15, Lincoln calls for troops to suppress the rebellion in the South. North Carolina governor John W. Ellis refuses Lincoln’s request for troops.

May 20: A state convention at Raleigh votes to leave the United States and join the Confederacy. North Carolina is one of the last two states to adopt a secession ordinance.

June 10: North Carolina troops under Colonel D. H. Hill win a decisive victory in the first battle of the war, at Bethel Church in Virginia. Another Confederate victory, at Manassas, Va., follows in August.

August 27–28: Federal forces capture Forts Hatteras and Clark on the Outer Banks.

Approximately 42,000 North Carolinians lose their lives in the Civil War. North Carolina sends the most men and suffers the most casualties of any Confederate state.

Native Americans have varying experiences during the war. Many Cherokee in western North Carolina support the Confederacy. Thomas’s Legion, a well-known fighting unit, has two companies of Cherokee soldiers. The Lumbee in eastern North Carolina are treated quite differently. They are forced to work on Confederate fortifications near Wilmington. Many flee and form groups to resist impressment by the army. Henry Berry Lowry leads one such group, which continues to resist white domination long after the war’s end.

After Federal troops destroy three saltworks operations along the coast, the state establishes a saltworks near Wilmington to alleviate the wartime scarcity of salt.

Mary Jane Patterson, a free black from Raleigh, becomes the first African American woman to receive a bachelor of arts degree. She obtains it from Oberlin College in Ohio.

February–April: Federal forces capture and occupy Roanoke Island, New Bern, Washington, and Fort Macon, securing most of coastal North Carolina.

May–December: North Carolina Confederate troops fight in numerous battles in Virginia and Maryland and suffer great losses of officers and men, including Generals George Anderson and L. O’B. Branch.

August 6: Zebulon B. Vance is elected governor of North Carolina.

September: A yellow fever epidemic hits eastern North Carolina.

December 31: The ironclad USS Monitor sinks off the North Carolina coast during a storm.

James City, a community of freed slaves, is settled near New Bern in Union-occupied Craven County.

As a result of his gallantry in the Vicksburg, Miss., campaign, Howell G. Trogden becomes the first North Carolinian to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Trogden, born at Cedar Falls in Randolph County, serves as a private in the Eighth Missouri (United States) Infantry. He will receive the medal in 1894.

January 1: President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.

July 1–3: General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army is defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. North Carolina’s loss of 7,000 men killed or wounded makes up 25 percent of Lee’s total casualties and is the state’s greatest battlefield loss in the war. Among the dead are two high-ranking North Carolina officers: Generals Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew.

Zebulon B. Vance is reelected governor by an overwhelming majority.

April 17–20: Confederate troops under the command of General Robert F. Hoke retake Plymouth from the Federals.

May–October: North Carolina troops in General Robert E. Lee’s army suffer tremendous casualties in battles in Virginia, including the deaths of Generals Junius Daniel, James Gordon, and Stephen Ramseur.

October 27: Federal forces blow up the Confederate ironclad Albemarle at Plymouth.

January 15: Wilmington is the last major Confederate port open to the outside world. Fort Fisher falls to Federal forces, closing the port to blockade runners and resulting in the fall of Wilmington on February 22.

March: The Union army commanded by General William T. Sherman invades North Carolina.

March 19–21: General Sherman’s Federal army defeats General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate forces at the Battle of Bentonville in Johnston County.

March–April: Union forces commanded by General George Stoneman conduct raids throughout western North Carolina.

April 9: General Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va. Lee’s forces include large numbers of North Carolinians.

April 10–26: After abandoning the capital at Richmond, Va., Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet stop in Greensboro to attempt to reorganize the failing Confederate war effort. Davis passes through Charlotte on his way south when the surrender of General Johnston’s army becomes certain.

April 13: General Sherman’s Union army occupies Raleigh.

April 15: President Abraham Lincoln dies after being shot by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, D.C. Raleigh native Andrew Johnson becomes president of the United States.

April 26: General Johnston surrenders his army to General Sherman at James and Nancy Bennett’s farm, now known as Bennett Place, near Durham.

May 13: Federal troops arrest Governor Zebulon B. Vance. William W. Holden is appointed governor by President Andrew Johnson on May 29.

October: A North Carolina convention votes to repeal the Ordinance of Secession and end slavery. On November 28, the General Assembly ratifies the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which officially abolishes slavery.

John Ruffin Green of Person County first uses the Bull Durham tobacco trade name.

March 2: Congress passes a Reconstruction Act, making North Carolina part of a military district under Federal army occupation.

September 23: The Wilmington Morning Star is established. It is currently the oldest daily newspaper continuously in publication in the state.

An election places in office the first African American state legislators—3 senators and 17 representatives.

March 13–May 26: President Andrew Johnson is impeached by a Congress led by Radical Republicans who oppose his stance on many issues. Several Republicans side with Democrats, however, in contending that there is not enough evidence to prove that Johnson has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The president is acquitted by one vote.

April: A new state constitution is ratified by popular vote. William W. Holden is elected governor.

May 1: Tom Dula (the Tom Dooley of folk ballads) is hanged near Statesville for the murder of Laura Foster.

July 4: North Carolina is readmitted to the Union.

The North Carolina General Assembly attempts to revitalize the public schools by passing a bill reorganizing the schools and providing $100,000 to fund them.

James Walker Hood, an African American minister and an assistant superintendent in the Bureau of Education, reports that North Carolina has 257 black schools with a combined enrollment of 15,657 students.

March 5: North Carolina ratifies the 15th Amendment, which gives African American men the right to vote.

1870 North Carolina Census Data
Total 1,071,361
Free white persons 678,470
Black 391,650
Indian 1,241
Other races not available

The new Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is completed, replacing a structure built in 1802. At 208 feet, it is the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation.

North Carolina native Hiram R. Revels is the first African American to serve in Congress when he becomes a senator for Mississippi.

James Lytch of Scotland County receives a patent for his cotton planter, a popular southern agricultural implement and one of four successful inventions.

June 8: Governor Holden proclaims Alamance and Caswell Counties in a state of insurrection after the Ku Klux Klan perpetrates acts of violence, including several murders. Empowered by an 1869 law, Holden declares martial law and deploys troops to the area. Although the troops fire no shots, more than 100 men are arrested, and some violence occurs. The situation becomes known as the Kirk-Holden War.

February 2–March 23: Democrats, newly returned to power in the legislature, remove Republican governor W. W. Holden from power. They impeach Holden on eight charges, which include illegally raising troops to send to areas not in actual rebellion, arresting citizens illegally, and denying the writ of habeas corpus to those arrested. He is convicted on six charges.

September: Congress, alarmed about recent events in North Carolina, investigates the role of the Ku Klux Klan in the state’s politics. Nearly 1,000 men are arrested by United States soldiers for alleged involvement with the Klan, and 37 are convicted. This investigation helps limit Klan activity in the state for a period of time.

Susan Dimock, a native of Washington, becomes the first female member of the North Carolina Medical Society. Dimock had to go abroad to find a medical school that would accept women. She received her medical education in Zurich, Switzerland, and practiced at a hospital in Boston as one of the nation’s first licensed female doctors.

The North Carolina Press Association forms in Goldsboro.

James Edward O’Hara becomes the first African American lawyer admitted to the North Carolina Bar.

Washington Duke and Sons builds its first tobacco factory in Durham. R. J. Reynolds builds his first tobacco factory in Winston-Salem.

The United States Lifesaving Service begins operating on the North Carolina coast with seven lifesaving stations.

John A. Hyman becomes the first African American to represent North Carolina in Congress. He serves until 1877.

The mining boom town of Ore Knob is chartered in Ashe County. Copper is mined extensively in the area throughout the 1870s and 1880s.

Voters approve 30 amendments revising the 1868 state constitution.

A congregation established in 1867 builds the Temple of Israel, North Carolina’s first Jewish house of worship, in Wilmington.

National political Reconstruction ends when newly elected Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes removes Federal troops from the South.

The General Assembly authorizes a normal school for blacks and chooses the Howard School, which opened in 1867 in Fayetteville, as the most promising site because of its academic record in educating black children. The school is renamed the State Colored Normal School (now Fayetteville State University) and designated as a teacher training school. It is the first state-supported institution of higher learning for African Americans in North Carolina.

Zebulon B. Vance, North Carolina governor during the Civil War, is reelected to the post as Democrats regain control of the state government.

North Carolina creates the State Board of Health.

The USS Huron sinks off Nags Head with the loss of around 100 passengers. The tragedy creates a public outcry for increased government resources for maritime disasters. This wreck, along with the sinking of the Metropolis at Currituck earlier in the year, convinces Congress to expand the United States Lifesaving Service.

Leonidas L. Polk becomes the first commissioner of the newly created North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

James F. Shober, the first known African American doctor in the state to possess an M.D. degree, begins practicing medicine in Wilmington.

North Carolina author Christian Reid, whose real name is Frances Fisher Tiernan, publishes her 10th book. The Land of the Sky is a travel novel in which young ladies and gentlemen engage in mild flirtations during a vacation trip to the state’s Mountains. The book’s title becomes a nickname used ever since to denote the western part of North Carolina.

January 8: Tabitha Ann Holton passes the North Carolina Bar and becomes the first licensed female lawyer in the South.

North Carolina’s first telephone exchanges open in Raleigh and Wilmington.

May: S. S. Satchwell becomes the first president of the State Board of Health.

November: Charles N. Hunter and his brother form the North Carolina Industrial Association to try to improve the lives of African Americans by emphasizing economic progress rather than political activity. Hunter’s Colored Industrial Fair, held in Raleigh, becomes the most popular social event for blacks in the state. Hunter also starts the O’Kelly Training School in Wake County. In 1917 a Baltimore newspaper calls the school the “finest rural training school in the entire South.”

1880 North Carolina Census Data
Total 1,339,750
Free white persons 867,242
Black 531,277
Indian 1,230
Japanese 1
Other races not available

North Carolina has 126 tobacco factories that annually manufacture 6.5 million pounds of plug tobacco and 4 million pounds of smoking and other tobacco, valued altogether at $2,300,000. Tobacco manufacturing eventually becomes centered in Durham, Winston-Salem, Reidsville, and Greensboro.

A government inquiry investigates possible negligence by the staff of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station. Richard Etheridge is appointed to head the station, becoming the first African American station keeper in the United States Lifesaving Service. From 1880 to 1947, the Pea Island station is the nation’s only all-black lifesaving facility.

The North Carolina Pharmaceutical Association forms during a meeting held in the state senate chamber in Raleigh.


White Furniture Company in Mebane is founded as North Carolina begins mass-producing furniture.

The first registered Guernsey cattle in the state are imported from Pennsylvania by H. T. Bahnson to his farm in Winston-Salem.

September 11: North Carolina experiences a violent hurricane that kills more people than any other hurricane in the state’s history. At least 53 people lose their lives.

Surfmen from the Cape Hatteras and Creeds Hill Lifesaving Stations rescue the nine-member crew of the Ephraim Williams. For their heroic action, seven lifesavers receive the Gold Lifesaving Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the Lifesaving Service.

A Bonsack machine, which rolls cigarettes, is installed at the W. Duke, Sons and Company factory in Durham. The machine rolls 120,000 cigarettes a day, a great improvement over the 15,000 that an individual worker could roll in a 60-hour week.

The North Carolina Teacher’s Assembly is founded at the White Sulphur Springs Hotel in Waynesville. The organization later becomes the North Carolina Education Association.

The current North Carolina state flag is adopted.

The state recognizes the Croatoan Indians, now known as the Lumbee, as an official American Indian tribe.

The Crissie Wright breaks up off Shackleford Banks, inspiring the construction of additional lifesaving stations along the coast down to Wilmington. Eventually, 29 stations exist in North Carolina.

J. T. Williams earns a medical degree and becomes the first licensed African American physician in North Carolina.

A normal school for Indians opens in Pembroke, Robeson County. This school evolves into the present-day University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Annie Laurie Alexander, born in Mecklenburg County, returns to the state several years after her graduation from Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia to become the state’s first licensed female doctor.

The North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University) is chartered by the legislature as a land grant college. It opens in 1889.

April 20: The Farmer’s Alliance and Cooperative Union, a national grassroots organization, spreads into North Carolina. Former commissioner of agriculture Leonidas Polk becomes its leader in the state. The Progressive Farmer, a magazine founded by Polk, becomes the main publication of the national organization. The Alliance encourages North Carolina farmers to band together to fight unfair credit practices among the state’s merchants and to bring farm issues into the political arena. By 1891 the Alliance has 100,000 members in the state, but ultimately the organization fails to bring about significant political gains for farmers.

August: Charles W. Chesnutt, the son of freeborn Sampson County African Americans, becomes the first black writer to publish in the Atlantic Monthly, a prestigious literary magazine. Chesnutt, principal of the State Colored Normal School (now Fayetteville State University), is known as one of the nation’s best African American writers.

James W. Cannon founds Cannon Mills (now Fieldcrest Cannon) in Concord.

The High Point Furniture Manufacturing Company is founded. High Point begins its rise as a major furniture manufacturing center.

May 29: William Henry Belk opens his first retail store in Monroe.

The state’s first electric streetcars begin operating in Asheville.

Leonidas Polk is elected leader of the national Farmer’s Alliance. The organization is powerful enough that the Democratic Party seeks its support by endorsing issues favored by the Alliance.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee is incorporated under North Carolina law.

Western Carolina University is founded as a semipublic school. It is chartered as Cullowhee High School in 1891, to serve the Cullowhee community and boarding students from neighboring counties and other states. In 1893 the first state appropriation of $1,500 establishes a normal department.

1890 North Carolina Census Data
Total 1,617,949
Free white persons 1,055,382
Black 561,018
Indian 1,516
Chinese 32
Japanese 1
Other races not available

James B. Duke incorporates the American Tobacco Company from five smaller firms. W. Duke, Sons and Company manufactures half of the cigarettes consumed in the United States.

Because of overproduction, cotton prices drop to an all-time low of 5 per pound, down from 25 per pound in 1868. Agricultural depression ruins many North Carolina farmers, forcing them into bankruptcy.

Sergeant William McBryar of the 10th United States Cavalry becomes the first African American from North Carolina to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. McBryar receives the award for his “coolness, bravery, and marksmanship” during a pursuit of Apache Indians in the Arizona Territory.

October: Congress creates the United States Weather Bureau as a part of the Department of Agriculture.

George W. Vanderbilt’s home near Asheville is constructed. Biltmore House is the largest private residence in the nation.

The General Assembly charters the State Normal and Industrial School as the first state-supported institution of higher education for women. It later becomes known as Woman’s College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro).

The General Assembly charters the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race (now North Carolina A&T State University). The school opens in Greensboro in 1893 to teach African Americans practical agriculture and mechanical arts and to provide academic and classical instruction.

Thomas Edison patents the kinetoscopic camera, which takes moving pictures on a strip of film.

James Naismith invents basketball in Springfield, Mass.

The Caledonia state prison farm is founded in Halifax County.

James Turner Morehead sets up an experimental electric ore furnace at his family’s mill in Spray, Rockingham County, hoping to develop a process for producing aluminum. Instead, Morehead and his associates discover calcium carbide and acetylene gas, providing the foundations for Union Carbide Corporation. The new company develops outside North Carolina.

The first large-scale reforestation on a professional basis starts at the Biltmore Estate near Asheville.

The State Colored Normal School (now Elizabeth City State University), chartered in 1891, opens at Elizabeth City to educate and train African American teachers for North Carolina’s public schools.

Slater Industrial Academy (now Winston-Salem State University) is founded.

September: Frank and Charles Duryea of Massachusetts make the first gasoline-powered automobile in the United States.

The Panic of 1893 leads to a major economic depression.

The General Assembly approves Esse Quam Videri (“To Be Rather Than to Seem”) as the state motto.

The present-day Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh is completed. The former mansion stood in ruins at the end of Reconstruction, and succeeding governors had lived either in private homes or at the Yarborough Hotel.

Waldensians, members of a religious group founded during the Middle Ages, immigrate to North Carolina from Europe and settle the town of Valdese in Burke County.

An era of Fusion politics ensues when Populists and Republicans join together in a coalition to defeat the ruling Democrats. Most Populists are white farmers who feel that the Democratic Party has not addressed their economic concerns. The Fusionists overcome the racial politics that has kept wealthy white conservatives in power.

Caesar and Moses Cone establish the Proximity Manufacturing Mill in Greensboro. Ten years later, they open a second plant, the White Oak Mill, which becomes the largest cotton mill in the South and the largest denim-manufacturing plant in the world. The Cones’ denim is a durable, dependable, and lasting fabric for work clothes.

The United States Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” racial accommodations are constitutional.

George Henry White benefits from Fusion politics when he is elected to Congress from North Carolina’s Second Congressional District in 1896 and 1898. He is the only African American representative in Congress, where he seeks to promote and protect members of his race. He appoints African Americans to federal positions within his district and introduces the first antilynching bill. White is the last black from any state to serve in Congress for the next quarter century.

North Carolina Sorosis, the oldest Federated Women’s Club in the state, is chartered in Wilmington.

October 23: The first rural free delivery (RFD) of mail in North Carolina takes place at China Grove in Rowan County.

November: The Republican-Populist coalition elects Daniel L. Russell as governor. He is the only Republican elected to that office in North Carolina between Reconstruction and 1972.

Senate Bill 676, “An Act to Provide for Woman Suffrage in North Carolina,” is introduced in the General Assembly, which promptly tables it by sending it to the Committee on Insane Asylums.

Durham opens the first tax-supported library in North Carolina.

Warren C. Coleman opens the nation’s first African American–owned and –operated textile mill in Concord.

July 24: The North Carolina Banker’s Association forms in Morehead City.

Sallie Walker Stockard becomes the first woman to graduate from the University of North Carolina. Women had been allowed to attend summer teacher institutes in Chapel Hill since 1879.

The first forestry school in the United States is founded on the Biltmore Estate near Asheville under the leadership of Dr. Carl Schenck.

William Cyrus Briggs invents a very successful automatic cigarette-rolling machine in Winston-Salem.

Fries Manufacturing and Power Company in Forsyth County becomes the first producer of hydroelectric power in the state.

Dr. Aaron M. Moore and former slave John Merrick form the North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham. It is currently the largest African American–owned business in the world.

Pepsi-Cola is first marketed. It evolves from Brad’s Drink, developed by New Bern pharmacist Caleb Bradham.

February 15: The United States battleship Maine explodes in Havana harbor. Outrage over this event leads to the Spanish-American War, which lasts from April to August. North Carolina sends two regiments of white soldiers and three companies of African American infantrymen. The final peace treaty is signed in December.

May 11: Ensign Worth Bagley of Raleigh becomes the first American officer killed in the Spanish-American War.

November 10: The Wilmington Race Riot occurs when white Democrats overthrow Wilmington’s legally elected Republican government. The riot causes black and white Republicans to resign, and the Democrats install a white supremacist government. During the riot, whites burn the office and press of the Daily Record, an African American newspaper. State newspapers report casualties as 11 blacks killed, 25 blacks wounded, and 3 white men killed.

The Watauga Academy (now Appalachian State University) is founded in Boone.

The Baptist Female University (now Meredith College) opens in Raleigh.

July 4: Clarence H. Poe assumes editorship of the popular weekly Progressive Farmer. He advocates progressive farming techniques and stresses the value of education and modern medicine.

Source: North Carolina Museum of History

Recommended Reading: The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina (Hardcover). Description: The Tar Heel State: A History of North Carolina constitutes the most comprehensive and inclusive single-volume chronicle of the state’s storied past to date, culminating with an attentive look at recent events that have transformed North Carolina into a southern megastate. Integrating tales of famous pioneers, statesmen, soldiers, farmers, captains of industry, activists, and community leaders with more marginalized voices, including those of Native Americans, African Americans, and women, Milton Ready gives readers a view of North Carolina that encompasses perspectives and personalities from the coast, "tobacco road," the Piedmont, and the mountains in this sweeping history of the Tar Heel State. The first such volume in more than two decades, Ready’s work offers a distinctive view of the state’s history built from myriad stories and episodes. The Tar Heel State is enhanced by one hundred and ninety illustrations and five maps. Continued below...

Ready begins with a study of the state’s geography and then invites readers to revisit dramatic struggles of the American Revolution and Civil War, the early history of Cherokees, the impact of slavery as an institution, the rise of industrial mills, and the changes wrought by modern information-based technologies since 1970. Mixing spirited anecdotes and illustrative statistics, Ready describes the rich Native American culture found by John White in 1585, the chartered chaos of North Carolina’s proprietary settlement, and the chronic distrust of government that grew out of settlement patterns and the colony’s early political economy. He challenges the perception of relaxed intellectualism attributed to the "Rip van Winkle" state, the notion that slavery was a relatively benign institution in North Carolina, and the commonly accepted interpretation of Reconstruction in the state. Ready also discusses how the woman suffrage movement pushed North Carolina into a hesitant twentieth-century progressivism. In perhaps his most significant contribution to North Carolina’s historical record, Ready continues his narrative past the benchmark of World War II and into the twenty-first century. From the civil rights struggle to the building of research triangles, triads, and parks, Ready recounts the events that have fueled North Carolina’s accelerated development in recent years and the many challenges that have accompanied such rapid growth, especially those of population change and environmental degradation.

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Recommended Reading: North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: Although North Carolina was a "home front" state rather than a battlefield state for most of the Civil War, it was heavily involved in the Confederate war effort and experienced many conflicts as a result. North Carolinians were divided over the issue of secession, and changes in race and gender relations brought new controversy. Blacks fought for freedom, women sought greater independence, and their aspirations for change stimulated fierce resistance from more privileged groups. Republicans and Democrats fought over power during Reconstruction and for decades thereafter disagreed over the meaning of the war and Reconstruction. Continued below...

With contributions by well-known historians as well as talented younger scholars, this volume offers new insights into all the key issues of the Civil War era that played out in pronounced ways in the Tar Heel State. In nine fascinating essays composed specifically for this volume, contributors address themes such as ambivalent whites, freed blacks, the political establishment, racial hopes and fears, postwar ideology, and North Carolina women. These issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras were so powerful that they continue to agitate North Carolinians today.


Recommended Reading: Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (New Directions in Southern History) (Hardcover). Description: In Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina, Mark L. Bradley examines the complex relationship between U.S. Army soldiers and North Carolina civilians after the Civil War. Continued below...

Postwar violence and political instability led the federal government to deploy elements of the U.S. Army in the Tar Heel State, but their twelve-year occupation was marked by uneven success: it proved more adept at conciliating white ex-Confederates than at protecting the civil and political rights of black Carolinians. Bluecoats and Tar Heels is the first book to focus on the army’s role as post-bellum conciliator, providing readers the opportunity to discover a rich but neglected chapter in Reconstruction history.

Recommended Reading: Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Hardcover: 1328 pages) (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: The first single-volume reference to the events, institutions, and cultural forces that have defined the state, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is a landmark publication that will serve those who love and live in North Carolina for generations to come. Editor William S. Powell, whom the Raleigh News & Observer described as a "living repository of information on all things North Carolinian," spent fifteen years developing this volume. With contributions by more than 550 volunteer writers—including scholars, librarians, journalists, and many others—it is a true "people's encyclopedia" of North Carolina. Continued below...

The volume includes more than 2,000 entries, presented alphabetically, consisting of longer essays on major subjects, briefer entries, and short summaries and definitions. Most entries include suggestions for further reading. Centered on history and the humanities, topics covered include agriculture; arts and architecture; business and industry; the Civil War; culture and customs; education; geography; geology, mining, and archaeology; government, politics, and law; media; medicine, science, and technology; military history; natural environment; organizations, clubs, and foundations; people, languages, and immigration; places and historic preservation; precolonial and colonial history; recreation and tourism; religion; and transportation. An informative and engaging compendium, the Encyclopedia of North Carolina is abundantly illustrated with 400 photographs and maps. It is both a celebration and a gift—from the citizens of North Carolina, to the citizens of North Carolina. "Truly an exhaustive and exciting view of every aspect of the Old North State!”

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