African Presence in North Carolina

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers and/or the coordinating for the UNESCO Site of Memory Slave Trade Route Project designation (indicated by an * next to the state name).

North Carolina*
The province of Carolina was given to the Lords Proprietors in 1663 and 1665 by England’s King Charles II. By 1670, a plantation economy was initiated, and the trans-Atlantic trade began to bring in captive African laborers to do the arduous work of growing and harvesting the cash crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo. “From the beginning of the existence of the Carolina colony, slavery was encouraged. Four of the eight Lords Proprietors of the colony were members of the slave trading company, the Royal African Company. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors encouraged settlers to have slaves by promising that they would be given 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year. This encouragement worked. By 1683, the black population was equal to the white population.”

In 1712, North Carolina and South Carolina became distinct colonies. Until recently, North Carolina’s only recognized Middle Passage arrival location was Wilmington, the state’s southernmost port located on the Cape Fear River. Based on the geography of the colony’s treacherous coast, making navigation difficult, it was believed that most enslaved Africans were transported to this region from the Chesapeake region, Georgia, or South Carolina, not directly from Africa. However, current research has found that, although references in colonial records to the arrival of enslaved persons to the region are scattered and indicate that many of these people in bondage arrived from other colonies, vessels carrying a significant number of captive people to North Carolina ports directly from Africa were recorded at least as far back as the 1680s. Along with Wilmington, documented North Carolina Middle Passage arrival locations now include: Beaufort, Brunswick, Edenton/Roanoke, and New Bern.

Entry after surviving the Middle Passage was through one of five colonial/custom districts established gradually throughout the colony, beginning with Port Roanoke, with the customs collector eventually based at Edenton. The number of captive people imported into the state by sea grew steadily over time. Between 1702-1746 there are records for 319 enslaved persons transported into the colony by sea; 818 between 1749-1767 – of that number, 258 people were transported directly from Africa to North Carolina. Between 1768-1772, 719 more captive Africans arrived at the colony. Additionally, during this same time period, the British Board of Customs and Excise for America indicates that 43 enslaved persons were brought to the colony from Africa. Records of vessels carrying children, women, and men in bondage into the colony document that 567 arrived between 1771-1775, and 993 between 1784-1790. While NC banned the importation of Africans several times before the 1808 ban, each time that resolution was repealed to reestablish economic stability.

By 1800, there were approximately 140,000 black people living in North Carolina, growing to more than 331,000 enslaved in 1860, primarily working in agriculture. Others served as skilled artisans such as carpenters, plasterers, brick-masons, tanners, coopers, and blacksmiths as well as domestic laborers. Slavery continued until the Civil War and the resultant 1865 Emancipation Proclamation that freed more than 360,000 African Americans in the state.

Today, every Middle Passage location in the state is designated a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Trade Route Project. The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission is leading the effort to install markers at these sites. Please follow these links to read more about North Carolina and slavery and find resources for additional information: https://www.ncpedia.org/slavery
http://poplargrove.org/discover/gullah-geechee-2/slavery/north#:~:text=As%20in%20the%20colonial%20period,slaves%20during%20the%20antebellum%20period.

Angela Thorpe, Acting Director, NC African American Heritage Commission, presents the “Africa to Carolina” initiative in Edenton, NC, to members of the community. 
MPCPMP Executive Director Ann Chinn and Executive Board member Ann Cobb (front row left) join representatives of the NC community to discuss plans to honor African ancestors in Edenton, NC.
Janeen Bryant, Facilitate Movement (NC), leads a local working group discussion after the presentation to consider plans for the installation of a marker.
This entry was posted in African American History, African Diaspora, Middle Passage, Wednesday African History Series. Bookmark the permalink.