Expanding to the West: Settlement of the Piedmont Region, 1730 to 1775

Early settlers of European descent settled mostly in the Coastal Plain Region. These settlers did not migrate into the Piedmont region because the fall line made traveling inland difficult. When settlers did begin arriving in the Piedmont, North Carolina’s population more than doubled between 1765 and 1775.

The Piedmont settlers arrived along two roads. The Great Indian Trading Path began in Virginia, and traveled southwest to present-day Mecklenburg County. Native Americans had used this road, and in the mid-1700s settlers also traveled it into North Carolina. The Great Wagon Road stretched from Pennsylvania through Virginia and into North Carolina.

European migration

Early Piedmont settlers were mainly Scotch-Irish and German people arriving along the Great Wagon Road. They came in search of affordable land. The Piedmont’s shallow streams and narrow rivers were suited for mills and farms.

The Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots, were descendants of Scots who came via Northern Ireland. They mostly settled in Pennsylvania and began to arrive in North Carolina in the 1730s. They grew corn for home use, and wheat and tobacco for export. They raised livestock for northern markets. Settlers built stores, mills, and tanneries, and they established many local industries in their homes or in shops in towns.

Germans of Lutheran or German Reformed faiths also came through Pennsylvania to the Piedmont looking for cheaper land. They settled in the area drained by the Catawba and Yadkin Rivers and across the backcountry.

Moravians, also from Germany and then Pennsylvania, arrived in present-day Forsyth County in 1753. They built a tightly controlled congregational community. Land was jointly held, and community boards approved all aspects of life, such as occupations and marriages. Salem and outlying settlements prospered.

Many of the German settlers clustered together and spoke in German. German publishers prospered in Salisbury and in Salem. With very different cultures and religious beliefs, the neighboring Scotch-Irish and German settlements had little contact with each other.

Settlers of English descent also came into the Piedmont. By 1754 English Quakers established a congregation in northern Piedmont that attracted settlers from several counties. Another English group included mostly Baptist settlers from central Virginia.

African American settlement

A small number of Americans of African descent were brought to the Piedmont by their masters. Many colonial groups began to acquire slaves as their wealth increased. Most of the slaves lived in the Coastal Plain. The small farmers of the Piedmont did not own slaves.

Development and conflict

Settlement in the Piedmont was slowed by two key events. The French and Indian War caused backcountry settlers to leave their farms in the face of threats of Indian attacks.

Then, in 1766, backcountry settlers in the Piedmont, called Regulators, tried to fight government corruption, unclear land laws, and problems in the court system. They also opposed paying taxes to build a governor’s palace. The colonial royal governor William Tryon raised an army, which defeated the Regulators.

The majority of backcountry immigrants settled on farms. Many towns were also established along the two main roads in the region. These towns had stores, taverns, churches, and schools. Salisbury, Hillsborough, and Charlotte housed county courts. On court days, people came into town to trade, buy supplies, and visit friends.

Few roads connected the Piedmont with the Coastal Plain, so most of the North Carolina trade was with outside colonies. People living in northwest Piedmont sent goods north along the Great Wagon Road. Others transported goods on the rivers that flowed into South Carolina.

Colonial officials built roads to courthouse towns, mills, and stores in order to make trade with the east easier. By 1760 Piedmont settlers were sending goods overland toward the coast.

By the 1770s, the best land in the North Carolina Piedmont had been claimed. Settlers began migrating to the Mountain Region of North Carolina.

Source: Expanding to the West: Settlement of the Piedmont Region, 1730 to 1775
Copyright North Carolina Museum of History

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