The earliest people to live in what is now North Carolina were hunters and gatherers at least 10,000 years ago. Over the years, many Native American tribes called the area home, including the Cherokee, Woodland, and Mississippian tribes.
Europeans first came to North Carolina in the 1500s, and it became the 12th colony in 1789, just after America declared its independence from Great Britain. North Carolina seceded from the country on May 20, 1861. It was one of 11 states that made up the Confederate States of America, fighting against the Union during the Civil War.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
North Carolina got the nickname the Tar Heel State because workers here used to sell tar, pitch, and turpentine from the state's longleaf pine trees to be used in wooden ships. Legend has it that some British soldiers were slowed down when they stepped in sticky North Carolina tar during the Revolutionary War.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
North Carolina is south of Virginia, east of Tennessee, north of South Carolina, and west of the Atlantic Ocean. Traveling across North Carolina, visitors can see three unique regions defined by three different landscapes.
The Appalachian Mountains, the largest mountain range in the eastern United States, cover the state’s western region. Some peaks are more than a mile above sea level!
Journey to the middle of the state to find the Piedmont region. High and flat—like a mountain with its top chopped off—this plateau sits between the mountain and coastal plain regions. In this region, rivers flow through waterfalls and over rapids.
Keep going east until you hear gulls! The eastern region is called the coastal plain, and its mostly-flat land leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Beaches, swamps, and longleaf pines make up the landscape here.
North Carolina’s diverse regions are home to mammals like black bears, coyotes, and raccoons; reptiles like sea turtles; amphibians like salamanders; and birds like ospreys and cardinals (the state bird). The state boasts 300 species of trees—including longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, and the American chestnut tree. Plus, nearly 3,000 types of flowering plants—including the flowering dogwood, the state flower—fill the state with lots of color.
Forests cover nearly 60 percent of North Carolina, making timber a very important natural resource that helped North Carolina become one of the largest producers of furniture in the country.
Other natural resources include fish, meat, clay, and different types of rocks and minerals used in construction.
—The pirate Blackbeard called North Carolina home, and spent time ransacking ships off the coast in the early 1700s. In 1799 a shiny nugget twinkled in the North Carolina mountains and became the first gold discovered in what is now the United States.
—Fast forward about a century to see brother inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright complete the first successful airplane ride in the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. (That’s why the state’s license plates and quarters read “First in Flight” and “First Flight,” respectively.)
—Plenty of famous folks were born in North Carolina, too, including jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, President James K. Polk, and maybe President Andrew Jackson (he was born on the border of North and South Carolina).
—You might want to visit the Outer Banks, a group of islands with beaches, state parks, and shipwreck-diving sites. One of those islands, Roanoke Island, was home to the first colony of English settlers in the New World. In the late 1500s the settlers disappeared, and historians are still trying to solve the mystery of the Lost Colony.