Life in Colonial North Carolina (Primary Source Sets)
About These Materials
This collection of primary source sets allows students to select a topic of interest and evaluate themed primary sources from the Colonial Court Records at the State Archives of North Carolina. Within each category, users will find digital images of the primary source records, transcriptions of these records, and questions to prompt reflection and discussion for each category and for individual records. Materials are available from individual links below, or you may download all the materials as a single zip file to work offline.
The Colonial Court Records have been preserved for their historical significance as government records. However, some records in this collection contain content that may be harmful or difficult to view, including language that reflects outdated, biased, offensive views as well as descriptions of conflict and violence.
|Type of Information||Definition|
|Historical Era||Colonial North Carolina (1600-1763)|
|Skills||Transcription, reading comprehension, historical analysis, and information literacy|
|Grade level||High school, advanced placement high school, and college level|
|Standards (as of Fall 2021||North Carolina Social Studies
North Carolina English Language Arts
AP American History
Primary Source Sets
Slavery and Enslaved Persons
|Petition of Nathaniel Chevin, 1712||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Mary Cole, Undated||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Thomas Pollock, Undated||
|Petition of Thomas Sparrow, 1717||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of William Derry, c. 1740||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Samuel Scollay, 1742||Document||Transcription|
- Notice how many of these documents refer to wills. How could individual attempts to list and distribute property disrupt slavery? How could the practice of wills maintain slavery?
- Several of these documents are evidence of resistance to slavery. What actions could the enslaved take to resist their enslavers and/or emancipate themselves?
- How did the enslavers in these documents price freedom? What do the variations in value for each case suggest?
|Petition of Elizabeth Leverton, undated||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Mary Vallaway, undated||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Edmund Jening, 1699||Document||Transcription|
|Complaint Against Josuah Spivee, 1721||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Amy Demsy, c. 1744||Document||Transcription|
- Contrast the conditions for indentured servants that these documents reflect to what you know about slavery. How might circumstances be different for each of the servants in these records if enslaved?
- Why might these documents show only mothers petitioning on behalf of their children and not any fathers?
Individual Rights and Accusations
|Defamation Complaint Against Mary Jennings, 1691||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Ann Steward, 1692||Document||Transcription|
|Insult of King William by John Philpott, 1694||Document||Transcription|
|Deposition of Thomas Boucher (Witchcraft Accusation), 1703||Document Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3||Transcription|
|Information of John Blacknall, 1725, AND Information of William Whitfield, c. 1720 (Interracial Marriage)||Document 1 AND Document 2||Transcription|
- Consider that most of the documents in this selection involve women. What can you infer about their role in society from this group of documents?
- These documents are records of individuals being taken to court and individual complaints against others they believed to be misbehaving. Could such behaviors warrant a court’s attention today?
Interactions Between Colonists and Native Americans
|Articles of Agreement, 1699||Document||Transcription|
|Petition of Thomas Garrett, 1706||Document||Transcription|
|Town Petition for Aid Against Potential Attack, 1716||Document||Transcription|
|Testimony and Verdict in John Cope Case, 1722||Document 1 and Document 2||Transcription|
|Petition of Chowan Indians, undated||Document||Transcription|
|Deposition of Richard Nixson, 1722||Document||Transcription|
|Complaint Against John Allen, 1769||Document||Transcription|
- This selection of seven records spans seventy years. Can you identify any patterns of change over time for interactions between the colonists and native communities? What clues to pre-colonial life might the earlier documents provide?
- Several of these documents show different behaviors among English colonists toward the indigenous communities. Why might some be more sympathetic?
Economy and Trade Goods
|Customs Declaration, 1697||Document||Transcription|
|Whaling License, 1725||Document||Transcription|
|Manifest of Goods, 1735||Document 1 and Document 2||Transcription|
|Smuggling Charge, 1735||Document||Transcription|
- Consider that all economic activities in these documents focus on maritime trade. Which ports are important? What types of ships do the documents reflect?
- What kinds of trade goods are leaving the North Carolina colony; what kinds are coming in? How are buyers and sellers measuring different products?
- British regulation of its colonies’ exports increased from the 17th to the 18th centuries, and the enforcement of levies and duties limited the colonists’ maritime commerce. How might those regulations have affected colonists’ daily life and livelihoods?
Background: Colonial Government in North Carolina
Adapted from NCpedia.
The first permanent English settlers in North Carolina emigrated from the tidewater area of southeastern Virginia. The first of these settlers moved into the area of the Albemarle Sound in northeast North Carolina around 1650. In 1663, Charles II granted a land charter to eight English noblemen, called Lords Proprietors, who had helped him regain the throne of England. The territory—though many indigenous communities already called it home—was to be called Carolina in honor of Charles I.
Between 1663 and 1729, North Carolina was under the control of the Lords Proprietors and their descendants. The small group commissioned colonial officials and authorized the governor and his council to grant lands in the name of the Lords Proprietor.
In 1729, seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in North Carolina to the king and North Carolina became a royal colony. The eighth proprietor, Lord Granville, retained economic interest and continued granting land in the northern part of North Carolina. The king’s officials supervised all political and administrative functions in the colony until 1775.
Colonial government in North Carolina changed little between the proprietary and royal periods, the only major difference being who appointed colonial officials. There were two primary units of government—the governor and his council and a colonial assembly with representatives elected by the qualified voters of the county. Colonial courts, unlike today’s courts, rarely involved themselves in formulating governmental policy. All colonial officials were appointed by the Lords Proprietors until 1729 and by the king afterwards. Members of the colonial assembly were elected from the various precincts (which became known as counties after 1735) and from certain towns which had been granted representation.
Suggested Classroom Activities
For this activity, curated records have been organized into thematic categories that provide clues about life in the North Carolina colony. Students may work individually or work in small groups. They may review all the records for one category or specific records from multiple categories.
For each record, complete the following steps:
- Observe the document. What is it? When was it made? By whom?
- Transcribe the text. Use these tips for transcribing historical documents. (Educator’s note: the length and legibility of each record varies. Some students will be able to transcribe a record quickly, but others will not be able to transcribe everything. Determine how much time you will allot to this part of the exercise in advance. Discuss what challenges and surprises students found as they began this transcription activity. Then offer the transcriptions provided here so that students can complete the rest of the exercise.)
- Compare your transcription to the one provided.
- Analyze the text. Use the discussion questions provided in each transcription to prompt your analysis. What conclusions can you interpret from the document? What clues might you draw about the people involved? What additional questions does it raise? What biases or silences in the record do you observe? If you wanted to continue to research one of the individuals named in the documents, how would you use this document as a steppingstone for more information?
Have students become historians. Based on the records they transcribed and analyzed, ask students to write a short narrative to describe the document(s) and the stories of the people named within them. They should use information gleaned from the primary source sets, along with secondary sources to develop historical context, to paint a picture of what life was like in colonial North Carolina. Students should cite their sources.