Colonial North Carolina is often referred to as a veil of humility between two mountains of conceit. This means that North Carolina was bordered by two much wealthier colonies. Virginia to the north of North Carolina had an excellent cash crop with plenty of wealthy plantations. Likewise, South Carolina to the south had the same. The soil was good there for growing crops. Both colonies had excellent deep water ports on the coast, navigable rivers and good roads which made it cost efficient to get goods to market. On the contrary, North Carolina had only one good deep water port located along the southern coast in Wilmington. There were few navigable rivers and fewer good roads. Many ships sunk in the treacherous waters of the North Carolina Outer Banks often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. These factors affected the economic conditions of North Carolina.
The lack of deep water ports, navigable rivers and good roads had a big impact on the economy of North Carolina. Wilmington, along the southern coast, was the only deep water port in North Carolina. This effected slavery which was a key component in the economics of running a southern plantation. The lack of deep water ports in North Carolina meant fewer imported slaves reached market. Those few slaves that did arrive came from Africa or the Caribbean through the port of Wilmington. Fewer slaves and high demand drove the cost of slavery up. However, the alternative would be to hire free labor, use Native Americans or do without. Hiring free labor was expensive. Slavery proved to be more feasible even though the initial cost was high. Native Americans didn’t make good slaves. The women in their culture did the agriculture work in their culture so men did not work efficiently. They also knew the territory and would runaway. Native Americans were susceptible to diseases and died soon after being enslaved. Africans, on the other hand, were thought to be immune to Malaria which often struck people in this region. African Slaves didn’t know the territory so they were less likely to runaway. Most North Carolinians didn’t own slaves. They just couldn’t afford them. Many slave holders in North Carolina only owned a few slaves and worked along side them in the fields. There were a few plantations with a large slave population. Owning a slave became a social status symbol.
Most of the plantations were in the Cape Fear Region around Wilmington. The soil was good here. The cash crop was mostly tobacco. A deep water port was nearby to transport the crop to England for sale. Imported goods that might be needed on the plantation were readily available. These goods could be bought for reasonable prices because the cost of transportation was less. There were no middle men and therefore less markup.
Only one good port together with bad roads and few navigable rivers had an effect on the economy. It was expensive to get goods to market often costing more that the cost of growing them. The cost was either absorbed by the grower/manufacturer or passed on to the customer. If the grower/manufacturer absorbed the cost, he didn’t stay in business long. If the cost was passed on to the customer, the goods soon didn’t sell. Either way, the impact caused economic hardship. The majority of the North Carolina’s population stayed poor.
In the early 1800’s, people began leaving the state of North Carolina. There was more opportunity in Tennessee. The land was better and cheaper. Rivers were navigable. Roads were better. Land in North Carolina dropped. The North Carolina legislature noted there was a problem. Transportation improvements began in the form of dredging rivers, building canals, bringing in the railroad, improving roads and ferries. It was an economic stimulus that was designed to lower the cost of transporting goods to market. The legislature also supported Indian removal to provide cheaper land for residents to buy. Because it took North Carolina so long to respond to the growing economic crisis, it is referred to as the Rip Van Winkle state. However, it soon became a progressive state more attuned to the needs of its citizens