North Carolina, as one of the original 13 colonies, has a long and interesting history. This page provides both a brief summary of that history and a detailed timeline of events, separated by era.


Early History 1800-1899 1900-present
North Carolina History
  • In ancient times, the eastern half of the state was underwater, and giant megalodon sharks roamed the waters. On land, there were woolly mammoths and mastodons. It is believed that the first Native Americans inhabited the New World 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Eventually, nearly 30 Native American groups settled across the state.

  • In the 1580s, the British established two colonies in North Carolina, both of which failed. In the 1600s permanent settlers from Virginia began to move to North Carolina, and it eventually became part of a British colony known as "Carolina."

  • Many people believe that in 1775 North Carolina became the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain. After the American Revolution, North Carolina became the twelfth state of the Union.

  • In 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy in the Civil War. In 1865, North Carolina troops surrendered, leaving the state to be brought back into the Union in 1868.

  • The 20th century saw North Carolina transformed into a modern state, a transformation that began when the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.
Early History
Below is a timeline of some of the important events in North Carolina history. Clicking on subjects that are underlined will take you to more details.

Ancient times
The Eastern half of the state was underwater, and giant megalodon sharks roamed the waters.
On land, there were wooly mammoths and mastodons. Archaeologists believe the first Native Americans crossed into the New World from Siberia some 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Prior to 1500
Approximately 30 Native American tribes are scattered across North Carolina. Chief among these are the Cherokee, the Catawba, the Tuscarora, and the Croatans. Native Americans build the Town Creek Indian Mound.

Giovanni de Varrazano is the first European to visit North Carolina.

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto explores the southwestern part of the state in search of gold.

Sir Walter Raleigh sends several shiploads of people to establish the New World's first English colony on North Carolina's Roanoke Island.

The colonists are forced to return to England due to hardships.

July 2: John White establishes a second English colony at Roanoke.
August 18: Virginia Dare is born, becoming the first English child christened on American soil.
August 22: White returns to England for more supplies.

White returns to Roanoke to find that the settlers have all disappeared. The word "CROATOAN" is found carved into a tree. The fate of "The Lost Colony" remains one of the state's most enduring mysteries.

Nathaniel Batts becomes the first European man to permanently settle in North Carolina.

Bath, the first town in North Carolina, is built.

The Tuscarora War between Native Americans and European settlers. After two years of fighting a number of military expeditions, the Tuscarora ended the war, marking the last significant effort by eastern Indians to stop the wave of white settlers crowding them out of their land. 

Blackbeard the pirate is killed off the North Carolina coast.

Tryon Palace is built in New Bern, becoming North Carolina's colonial capitol building.

The women of Edenton, led by Penelope Barker, take on British rule by putting down their tea cups in what becomes known as the Edenton Tea Party.

February 27: The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge is the first battle of the American Revolution to be fought in North Carolina.
April 12: North Carolina becomes the first state to vote in favor of independence.

November 21: North Carolina becomes the 12th state of the United States of America.
December 11: The University of North Carolina is chartered, becoming the first public school in the United States.

The capital of North Carolina, which had previously been located in New Bern, is moved to Raleigh.

The first gold nugget is found in the United States at Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County.

Below is a timeline of some of the important events in North Carolina history. Click on subjects that are underlined to read more of the details. 

Early 1800s
North Carolina becomes known as the "Rip Van Winkle" state because it makes so little progress that it appears to be asleep.

The "Walton War" is fought between residents of Georgia and North Carolina.


North Carolina Native Andrew Jackson becomes the 7th president of the United States.


The U. S. government forces Cherokee Indians from their homes in what becomes known as the "Trail of Tears." Many Cherokee hide in the mountains of North Carolina.

Workmen attempting to fireproof the roof of the State Capitol ironically end up setting the building aflame.

After years of having governors elected by the state senate, Edward B. Dudley becomes the first popularly elected governor of North Carolina.

The first public schools open in North Carolina, based on a plan that had been drafted in 1817.
The new State Capitol is completed.

James Polk becomes the 11th president of the United States.

The first North Carolina State Fair is held.

May 20: North Carolina leaves the Union. Instead of voting to secede from the United States, as other states did, North Carolina voted to "undo" the act that had brought it into the United States.

The United States Civil War. Some 40,000 North Carolinians are killed over the course of the war.

March 19-21: The Battle of Bentonville becomes the bloodiest battle fought in North Carolina. The Confederates are defeated by Union troops.
April 26: A large number of Confederates surrender at Bennett Place, outside of Durham, North Carolina.
May 6: The last Confederate troops in North Carolina surrender.
April 15: Andrew Johnson becomes the 17th president of the United States.

Tuscarora Indian Henry Berry Lowrie leads a revolt in Robeson County, becoming a folk hero to many Native Americans. Six years later, he mysteriously disappears.


July 4: North Carolina is readmitted to the Union.

The last federal reoccupation troops leave North Carolina.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture is created.

A Cherokee reservation is formed in Western North Carolina, providing protection for those Native Americans who lived in that area.

Late 1800s
The textile and furniture industries grow rapidly in North Carolina.

The first bill to give women the right to vote in North Carolina is proposed, but is sent to a committee on insane asylums and is never passed.

Below is a timeline of some of the important events in North Carolina history. Click on subjects that are underlined to read more of the details.

The Wright brothers make man's first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The United States enters World War I. 

Fort Bragg is established.

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution passes, giving women the right to vote across the country, including in North Carolina.

Tobacco becomes an important crop in North Carolina.

The Great Depression begins.

The United States enters World War II.

Pembroke State College for Indians (now UNC-Pembroke) becomes the nation's first public four-year college for Native Americans.

Hurricane Hazel, one of the most destructive hurricanes in state history, batters the Carolina coast.

Research Triangle Park opens in between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, ushering in an era of high-tech growth in North Carolina.

The Civil Rights Movement.

Governor Terry Sanford starts his "Go Forward" program to improve education in North Carolina.
February 1: The first ever sit-in occurs in Greensboro, North Carolina, to protest segregation at a lunch counter. Within days, sit-ins are occurring across the state.

The North Carolina Fund, established by Governor Sanford, works to end poverty in North Carolina and becomes a model for programs across the nation.

Vietnam War.

Hurricane Hugo strikes North Carolina, reaching as far inland as Charlotte, and doing major damage.

The Smart Start program to improve school readiness begins. The program is looked upon as a national model.

The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina is ranked as the best place to live in the United States.

Hurricane Fran strikes North Carolina, causing massive damage across the state.
Governor Jim Hunt is re-elected to a record 4th term.
Elaine F. Marshall becomes the first female to be elected Secretary of State in North Carolina.

Hurricane Floyd slams into North Carolina, bringing with it flood waters that devastate many areas in the eastern part of the state.