Slavery in North Carolina
Factors as diverse as society, geography, and lifestyle all contributed to the unique developments of North Carolina slavery in the colonial era. While Virginia and South Carolina had environments and economies mirroring those of island plantations, North Carolina certainly did not. Hence, the comparative lack of slavery in North Carolina.
In the 18th century, Virginia had the highest number of African-American slaves of any American colony (1). Similarly, African-American slaves made up the highest percentage of the population of South Carolina at "sixty percent of the population in 1765" (1). In comparison, North Carolina had only "6,000 slaves in 1729, a fraction of the slave population of South Carolina" (2).
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The lifestyle of colonial North Carolina slaves was certainly terrible, but fewer demands were put on North Carolina slaves than those on large plantations. The farmers of North Carolina could not afford to keep as many slaves, nor were as many slaves needed on fewer acres of land (3). Therefore, "it was not uncommon for slaves in the state to be sold to slave traders who took them south," where they were needed on larger plantations (3).
North Carolina geography prevented many slave-trading ships to enter because of the shallow waters and sandbars of the Outer Banks, "with the one exception of Wilmington" (2). However, of the few slaves brought to Wilmington or crossed over state lines, transportation of slaves inland was particularly difficult because of the fall line. The fall line is an NC phenomena "particularly apparent in rivers as the place past which boats can no longer navigate" because of rapids (4).
As UNC Professor Lisa Lindsay would say, colonial North Carolina was a "society with slaves" not a "slave society" (Ira Berlin). Unlike South Carolina and Virginia, North Carolina did not build its economy on slave labor or concentrate its values around slavery. In turn, slavery did not flourish in North Carolina like it did in surrounding states.