The Founding of North Carolina Colony and Its Role in the Revolution

A black and white illustration of men in front of a tree with the word "Croatoan" carved on it
Illustration depicts John White (c1540 - c1593) and others as they find a tree into which is carved the word 'Croatoan,' Roanoke Island, North Carolina, 1590.

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The North Carolina colony was carved out of the Carolina province in 1729, but the history of the region begins during the Elizabethan period of the late 16th century and is closely tied to the Virginia colony. The North Carolina colony is the direct result of British colonization efforts in the New World; it was also the place where the first English settlement was built and mysteriously disappeared.

Fast Facts: North Carolina Colony

Also Known As: Carolana, Province of Carolina (combined both South and North Carolina)

Named After: King Charles I of Britain (1600–1649)

Founding Year: 1587 (founding of Roanoke), 1663 (official)

Founding Country: England; Virginia Colony

First Known Permanent European Settlement: ~1648

Resident Indigenous Communities: Eno (Oenochs or Occoneechi), Chesapeake, Secotan, Weapemeoc, Croatons, among others

Founders: Nathaniel Batts and other colonists from Virginia

Important People: The "Lord Proprietors," King Charles II, John Yeamans


The first European settlement in what is today North Carolina—indeed, the first English settlement in the New World—was the "lost colony of Roanoke," founded by the English explorer and poet Walter Raleigh in 1587. On July 22nd of that year, John White and 121 settlers came to Roanoke Island in present-day Dare County. The first English person born in North America was settler John White's granddaughter Virginia Dare (born to Elenora White and her husband Ananias Dare on August 18, 1587).

John White returned to England shortly after its founding, and apparently, the colonists also left the area. When White returned in 1590, all the colonists on Roanoke Island were gone. There were only two clues left: the word "Croatoan" that had been carved on a post in the fort along with the letters "Cro" carved on a tree. Although much archaeological and historical research has been attempted, no one has yet discovered what actually happened to the settlers, and Roanoke is called "The Lost Colony."

Albemarle Settlements 

By the late 16th century, Elizabethans Thomas Hariot (1560–1621) and Richard Hakluyt (1530–1591) were writing accounts of the Chesapeake Bay area exhorting the beauties of the New World. (Hariot visited the region in 1585–1586, but Hakluyt never actually made it to North America.) The mouth of the bay opens up at the northeastern corner of what is today North Carolina. In an attempt to discover what had happened to his colony, Walter Raleigh sent several expeditions out of his Virginia colony at Jamestown into the region. 

The first charter to include North Carolina included part of Albemarle County and was given by Charles I to Robert Heath, the king's attorney general in 1629. That parcel, from Albemarle sound to Florida, was named Carolana after Charles I. Although there were repeated efforts to establish colonies, they all failed until 1648, when Virginians Henry Plumpton of Nansemond County and Thomas Tuke of the Isle of Wight County purchased a tract of land from local Indigenous peoples. 

First European Settlement

The first successful settlement of what became the North Carolina colony likely dates to around 1648, by Plumpton and Tuke. A 1657 map of the region between the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers illustrates "Batts house," but it probably represents a small community perhaps including Plumpton and Tuke, not just Batts. Captain Nathaniel Batts was a wealthy man, known to some as the "Governor of Roan-oak."

Other Virginians moved in over the next decade or so, either purchasing land from the Indigenous peoples—Chesapeake, Secotan, Weapemeoc, and Croatons, among others—or obtaining grants from Virginia.

Official Founding

The Carolina Province, including what are today North and South Carolina, was finally officially founded in 1663, when King Charles II recognized the efforts of eight noblemen who helped him regain the throne in England by giving them the Province of Carolina. The eight men were known as the Lord Proprietors: John Berkeley (1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton); Sir William Berkeley (Governor of Virginia); George Carteret (Governor of Jersey in Britain); John Colleton (soldier and nobleman); Anthony Ashley Cooper (1st Earl of Shaftesbury); William Craven (1st Earl of Craven); Edward Hyde (1st Earl of Clarendon); and George Monck (1st Duke of Albemarle).

The Lord Proprietors named the colony in honor of their king. The area they were given included the territory of present-day North and South Carolina. In 1665, John Yeamans created a settlement in North Carolina on the Cape Fear River, near present-day Wilmington. Charles Town was named the main seat of government in 1670. However, internal problems arose in the colony, leading the Lord Proprietors to sell their interests in the colony. The crown took over the colony and formed both North and South Carolina out of it in 1729.

North Carolina and the American Revolution

The colonists in North Carolina were a disparate group, which often led to internal problems and disputes. However, they were also heavily involved in the reaction to British taxation. Their resistance to the Stamp Act helped prevent that act's implementation and led to the rise of the Sons of Liberty

These irascible colonists were also one of the last hold outs to ratify the Constitution—after it had already gone into effect and the government had been established.

Sources and Further Reading


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Kelly, Martin. "The Founding of North Carolina Colony and Its Role in the Revolution." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). The Founding of North Carolina Colony and Its Role in the Revolution. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "The Founding of North Carolina Colony and Its Role in the Revolution." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).