Overview of the 1800s in North Carolina

People continued leaving North Carolina for the free land available in the newly-opened territories farther west into the early 1800s. Many people saw little reason to stay: the state’s economy was struggling, there was no educational system, and the resistance to taxation meant the state government had little money to provide services. Between the War of 1812 and the mid-1800s, there was little direct immigration from Europe nor any large migration. This emigration was a drain on the local economy. North Carolina became known as “The Rip Van Winkle State.”

North Carolina had internal challenges. There was still friction between the Western and the Eastern counties, which held the political power. The issue of slavery began to divide the state as well.

Transportation was a major issue. It was almost impossible for those in the Piedmont and mountains regions to get their goods to eastern ports for sale or shipping. Likewise, anyone in Wilmington or along the coast found it difficult to send their goods to the new state capital. Yet the general public in North Carolina still refused to accept taxation to pay for transportation and education.

In 1804, two new banks were chartered, laying the foundation for future economic improvements. The state printed its own bank notes, which were accepted all over the South. In 1834, the first railroad tracks were laid between Wilmington and Weldon. By the American Civil War, North Carolina had an extensive north-south and east-west railroad network.

As with most other Southern States, Cotton was King. Almost all of the state’s cotton was exported to New England textile mills. The first cotton mill in North Carolina was constructed in 1813, and by 1860 North Carolina had more cotton mills than in any other state. Yet cotton had its disadvantages. The crops destroyed the soil. In the 1820s, the opening of the Suez Canal brought cotton from other countries to Europe. North Carolina lost this important cotton market as a result.

Villages arose near bridges, crossroads, and river landings. Every county had its County Seat with a courthouse, jail, and other facilities. These County Seats were the centers for business and services, from the general store to deed transactions.

Source: Overview of the 1800s in North Carolina
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