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1600-1763 Colonial Period


Carolina Charter of 1663 click image to view item

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Carolina Charter of 1663

In the 1580s, English adventurers had attempted to colonize the area now called North Carolina, but they had failed. The first permanent English settlers in the area moved southward around 1650 from the tidewater section of southeastern Virginia into the Albemarle area of what is now northeast North Carolina.

In the 1660s, Charles II gave the Province of Carolina to eight of of his loyal supporters, known later as Lords Proprietors of Carolina, in return for their service to the royal cause. The original charter the men received in 1663 was for the territory stretching from latitudes 31 degrees N to 36 degrees N and extending east to west from ocean to ocean - land they came to learn had been previously granted to King Charles I's attorney general, Sir Robert Heath. Furthermore, the Lords Proprietors learned that the active settlements in the Albemarle region that had attracted them in the first place lay a few miles north of the territory originally granted. Therefore, in 1665 they secured from the king a new charter extending the territory one-half degree north, close to today's border of North Carolina-Virginia, and about one hundred miles south of the present Georgia-Florida line.

The Charter of 1663, composed of four pages, marks the beginning of organized, representative government in the province of Carolina. Even though the Proprietors had substantial power, the colonists were given rights through the charter that were to have lasting influence on the region's population and its history. For example, the charter provided for an assembly that the Proprietors would call, composed of delegates of the "Freemen of said Province;" there was a provision calling for religious tolerance; there was assurance that colonists would be guaranteed the rights of that Englishmen might expect to enjoy, including owning and disposing of property; and there was authorization for the establishment of various courts in the Province.

In 1670 a settlement began to develop to the south on the Ashley River. Originally part of Craven County set up by the Lords Proprietors in 1664, this area became the nucleus of South Carolina. Ultimately, proprietary rule in the Carolinas proved unsuccessful and most of the entire province was taken back by the Crown in 1728. Within fifty years, North Carolina would join the other colonies in the struggle for independence and in the next decade adopt the United States Constitution as the twelfth state to join the Union.


"Propriety Concessions Relating to the Lower Cape Fear, " 1663 click image to view item

"Propriety Concessions Relating to the Lower Cape Fear, " 1663

After Charles II returned the Stuart dynasty to the English throne in 1660, he rewarded eight his loyal supporters by naming them Proprietors of the king's newly established colony, Carolina. The document, "Proprietary Concessions Relating to the Lower Cape Fear," contains the plans for the earliest settlement of the Carolinas under the proprietorship.

The "Concessions" begin with a summary of the charter granted in 1663 by Charles II to the Earl of Clarendon; the Duke of Albemarle; Anthony Cooper, Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury; and five other Lords Proprietors. It continues with a series of eight provisions, granting lands, political privileges, etc., for all persons who would settle there.

A settlement established on the west bank of the Cape Fear River in 1666 soon attracted colonists from Barbados, New England, and elsewhere. Despite the fact that leaders had laid out and settled a village they named Charles Town, the endeavor was not successful. Instead of becoming the center of activity in Carolina, the Cape Fear settlement was abandoned. By 1670 a new settlement named Charles Town (later Charleston) had been established in the southern part of Carolina and the Lords Proprietors shifted their interests southward.


Original documents from the Lords Proprietors to Governor Stephens and Governor Carteret, 1664-1674/5 click image to view item

Original documents from the Lords Proprietors to Governor Stephens and Governor Carteret, 1664-1674/5

These 28 original documents are from the Lords Proprietors to Governor Samuel Stephens and Governor George Carteret, during the years 1665 to 1675.

Settled before the granting of the Carolina Charter, the Albemarle region became the County of Albemarle under the Lords Proprietors. With the failure and abandonment of the Charles Town settlement in Clarendon County in 1667, Albemarle County remained the only organized government in Carolina. Although Carolina was headed formally by the eight Lords Proprietors, the functional government of Albemarle was vested in the governor and his Council, in conjunction with the Assembly, which was elected by the freeholders. Beginning in 1664 the governors were commissioned by the proprietors and were given extensive executive, legislative, judicial, and administrative powers. The governors directed relations with Indian tribes and with other colonies; conducted exchanges with the mother country; issued warrants for land grants; and commanded the military and naval forces in his territory.

In general, Albemarle was a colony characterized by disorder, confusion, minimal growth, and even armed revolt. The reasons for these problems were numerous, including Albemarle's geographic isolation due to swamps, dense forests, and shallow inlets, sounds, and rivers. Following the establishment in 1670 of Charles Town on the Ashley and Cooper Rivers in the southern region of Carolina, the Proprietors turned their attention in that direction and away from Albemarle.

Not all 28 documents in the Vault Collection have been scanned at this time, as time permits they will be scanned and included in the digital collection.


1715 [1723] Revisal [of laws in force in N.C.] Bertie County Court Manuscript ckick image to view item

1715 [1723] Revisal [of laws in force in N.C.] Bertie County Court Manuscript

The 1715 Revisal was the first codification of the laws in force in colonial North Carolina. In addition to the 1715 codification, this manuscript contains all public acts in force (not private laws affecting specific persons only) from the sessions of August, 1720, October, 1722, and November, 1723. This manuscript is sometimes called the 1723 Revisal because of the addition of the 1720-1723 acts. The next revisal was in 1749 and was printed in 1752 by James Davis. Such revisals were distributed to the county courts to inform them of current law.


Jeremiah Vail, "Plan of Wilmington, 1743" click image to view item

Jeremiah Vail, "Plan of Wilmington, 1743"

This Wilmington town plan was drawn by Jeremiah Vail in 1743 and probably based on a survey made ten years before in 1733. According to Vail's heading, the survey was made at the request of the original land holders of the area, including a Hugh Blaning who was named in the document as owning property next to the east bank of the Cape Fear River. One owner in particular, John Watson, had acquired 640 acres, the original core of the town. This tract, from which Watson sold acreage to others, appears on a 1733 Edward Moseley map as the area called Watson. The survey was one of perhaps several, as other plans of the town had been drawn. These plans resembled the plan of Brunswick, established earlier on the west bank of the river.

Situated on the river thirty miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington's origins can be traced in part to the rivalries which came to the Cape Fear region by the 1730s. Brunswick had been founded and laid off by Maurice Moore around 1725, some sixteen miles down the river. In April of 1731, Governor Burrington, who regarded Brunswick's prominent families as political enemies, asked the General Assembly to pass an act for building another town on the Cape Fear River. Despite argument in the lower house that a town already existed close by, the act was passed. As the town was settled in the year 1733, it was known briefly in turn as New Carthage and New Liverpool. The new governor in 1734, Gabriel Johnston, soon found his interests tied to the new town, by then called New Town or Newton. Wilmington was the name under which the town and township was chartered in 1739/40, under an act narrowly passed by the General Assembly. Complaints followed this legislative action and the legislature, after reconvening in July of 1740, enacted a law "for the better regulation of the Town called Wilmington." The town was named for Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington, patron of Governor Johnston.

Both Wilmington and Brunswick contributed to the settlement in the 18th century of the Cape Fear River, North Carolina's best outlet to the Atlantic Ocean and to the commerce of the world. The two towns became the shipping points on the lower Cape fear and both were included in the official Port of Brunswick. By 1768 the Port of Brunswick was the shipping point of more naval stores than any other port in the British Empire. However, Wilmington steadily gained prominence over Brunswick, perhaps in large part because of the natural advantages of its location. Brunswick's position closer to the mouth of the river and its openness to the sea exposed it more to such dangers as storms and pirate attacks. With the rise of Wilmington, Brunswick rapidly declined. In the year 1788-1789, the port's name was finally changed to the Port of Wilmington.


"Gaelic Charm" [Dougald McFarland Paper, 1750] click image to view item

"Gaelic Charm" [Dougald McFarland Paper, 1750]

Written primarily in the Gaelic language, this "charm" was intended to protect the believer against evil. On its reverse side is written "Dougald McFarland, Moore County 1750." Since Moore County was formed from Cumberland County in 1784, this was probably written at a later time but may identify the original owner. The writer appears to have been literate in both Gaelic and English. Scholars have given somewhat varied translations and interpretations of the substance of the Gaelic charm, which calls upon the miraculous power of "Calum Cille" assisted by the "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" to banish harm. "Calum Cille" is the Gaelic name for Saint Columba. Born around 520 AD in Ireland, Calum Cille is credited with bringing Celtic Christianity to Scotland.

Beginning in 1739, large groups of Scots Highlanders settled in Cumberland County and other areas along the rivers in the upper Cape Fear Valley. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, Gaelic was still spoken in the region. Although landing in North Carolina marked a new life for the Highlanders, certain Highland customs and beliefs persisted, as shown by this remnant of Celtic Christianity.

Last Modified: 11/10/2010