Colonial North Carolina

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Colonial English Research

This article is part of a series.

Overview of Colonial English Research
Colonial New Hampshire
Colonial Massachusetts
Colonial Rhode Island
Colonial Connecticut
Colonial New York
Colonial New Jersey
Colonial Pennsylvania
Colonial Delaware
Colonial Maryland
Colonial Virginia
Colonial North Carolina
Colonial South Carolina
Colonial Georgia
List of Useful Colonial English Resources

This article originally appeared in "Colonial English Research" by Robert Charles Anderson, MA, FASG in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Jurisdictional History

As early as the 1650s, some Virginians began to move into the region that became northeastern North Carolina. The colony of Virginia went so far as to make some land grants in this region.

In the 1660s, the Crown made the grant to the Carolina proprietors, for the geographic area that was later divided into North and South Carolina. From 1663 until 1729, the colony was ruled by the proprietors, who granted land under the usual terms. In 1729 seven of the eight proprietors sold their rights to the Crown, and North Carolina became a royal colony. John Carteret, Lord Granville, retained his share of the propriety and continued to grant lands in North Carolina.

The history of the establishment of counties in North Carolina is a tangled affair, from which we extract the essentials. Albemarle County was erected in 1664 and Bath County in 1696. These counties were divided into a number of precincts, which actually functioned as counties. In 1729, Albemarle and Bath were discontinued, and the precincts were then designated as counties, from which all later counties descend.

The counties functioned in the usual fashion for the registry of deeds, but the responsibilities for probate were split between the county and the colony for some time. Until 1760, the originals of all wills were to be sent to the Secretary of State, but many probate documents were retained at the county level. All colonial probate records have been collected in the state archives, and research in those records should be conducted in both the county and colony records.


Colonial, Revolutionary, and early state records of North Carolina were published in twenty-six volumes between 1886 and 1909. The first ten volumes, published in Raleigh between 1886 and 1890, covered the years from 1662 to 1776 and bore the title The Colonial Records of North Carolina. Later volumes in the series covered the years from 1776 onward, with the twenty-sixth volume containing a full transcript of the 1790 census for North Carolina. In 1909 a four-volume index to the entire set was published.

More recently, the Carolina Charter Tercentenary Commission and the North Carolina Division of Archives and History have published ten volumes entitled The Colonial Records of North Carolina [Second Series] (1963'1999). The first volume in this series has North Carolina Charters and Constitutions, 1578'1698, and the last volume presents The Church of England in North Carolina: Documents, 1699'1741. Volumes two through six cover North Carolina Higher-Court Records from 1670 to 1730, and volumes seven through nine have Records of the Executive Council from 1664 to 1775. This section looks more closely at the higher-court records.

The third volume of the second series of The Colonial Records of North Carolina has the volume title North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1670'1696.<ref>Mattie Erma Edwards Parker, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 3, North Carolina Higher-Court Records, 1670'1696 (Raleigh, 1968).</ref> The volume begins with an introductory essay of nearly a hundred pages, including a description of the sources of the documents included in the volume and of the operation of the courts that produced those documents. The records reproduced here are not a connected series of court proceedings but a miscellaneous collection of what has survived from these earliest years. For example, the very earliest documents reproduced are from two very distinct sources: first, loose papers surviving in both official and private collections at the Division of Archives and History and, second, previously published transcripts of court minutes from the early 1670s, the originals of which vanished within the last century.

A complete overview of all colonial record types for North Carolina may be found in Helen F. M. Leary's North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History.<ref>Helen F. M. Leary, ed., North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History, 2nd ed. (Raleigh, 1996).</ref>


Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 as the sixteenth state. The region that became Tennessee was part of the area included in the North Carolina charter. European settlement began there in the mid-1760s, pursuant to the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars. The settlers formed an independent governing body called the Watauga Association, which was (re)incorporated into North Carolina just prior to the Revolution. Grants of land in this area were made by North Carolina.

Case Studies

Helen F. M. Leary, 'The Two William Boddies of North Carolina: Proof of Relationship and Military Service,' American Genealogist 66 (1991): 16'29, 106'10, 148'53. This extensive investigation of the ancestry of a William Boddie who died in 1817 reached back to the end of the seventeenth century and began with a detailed study of land records, especially the deed books of Bertie County. The research soon expanded to include land patents, wills, and militia lists. The interpretation of the evidence was assisted by a close examination of the inheritance laws of North Carolina in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Edward L. Strother, 'Three John Strothers: But Which One Died in Georgia?' National Genealogical Society Quarterly 86 (1998): 189'203. Despite the locality named in the title of this article, the bulk of the argumentation revolves around several Strother families in North Carolina in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The research relies heavily on county deed and probate volumes but also uses tax lists, court proceedings, and military records.