Appalachian History - Northern and Southern Appalachia

Appalachian Roots

by Mary Jo Brown

Editors note:  This will be the last of the series of articles written by Mary Jo Brown.  The genealogy newsletter, Appalachian Roots, ceased publication in Dec. 1997.

(mirrored from:

The States of Appalachia

Southern Appalachia

North Carolina

     It is believed that North Carolina was visited early by both the French and Spanish, but the English permanently colonized the area. Sir Walter Raleigh sent an expedition in 1584 to search the coast for a suitable colony site, and thus a colony was established in 1585. By 1587 more people had arrived, and John White was appointed governor. When White returned to England for supplies, he was detained until 1590, and upon his return, found no trace of the settlers. The fate of this lost colony is still debated.

      The first permanent settlement was established about 1650 by Englishmen from Virginia. Many years of disputes followed, which resulted in very slow growth in the area. The settlers also had to deal with unfair taxation, Indians, and coastal pirates, and as a result, the first town to be incorporated was not until 1706, the town of Bath.

     In 1729 North Carolina became a royal colony under King George II, and a 40 year period of progress and growth began. During this time 20,000 Highland Scots settled the Cape Fear Valley and about 65,000 "Scotch-Irish" and 25,000 Germans came by way of Pennsylvania to the Piedmont area and the mountains.

     Many differences existed between the coastal settlers and those inland. Several rebellions arose in the western areas for reforms, but were crushed by the eastern-dominated officials. Turing the Revolutionary War, internal struggles subsided as North Carolina furnished ten regiments of troops and thousands of militiamen. Military aid was sent to other colonies in addition to the battles with Indians in the western territory. The Battle of King's Mountain repelled a large British Invasion.

     North Carolina ratified the Constitution in 1789, the twelfth state to do so, and ceded its western lands (Tennessee) to the United States. The period from 1789 to 1835 was again marked by internal strife until real reforms were finally achieved. The Civil War also created controversy, and North Carolina seceded from the Union in mid 1861. The state furnished more troops than its voting population, and far more than its relative population in the Confederate States. About 40,000 North Carolina soldiers died in battle and from disease.

     Descendants of North Carolina settlers were leaders of western migration, and left traces through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia on the way West.

South Carolina

     Although technically called the Piedmont area of South Carolina the northwestern counties constitute an extension of the southern Appalachian area. As such, many of the early Piedmont settlers were "Scotch-Irish" and English from North Carolina and Virginia.

     The early history of the state was dominated by discovery and exploration. Attempts were made as early as 1526 by the Spanish to establish settlements along the coast, and later by the French in 1562. However, the first permanent English settlement was made in April 1670 at Albermarle Point, on the Ashley River, later moved to the site of present Charleston. The coastal area saw gradual increases in population for many years but the interior area was essentially not settled until after 1730. Many of the English were from Barbados, as were many French Protestants.

    After a rebellion in 1719 against the proprietorship rule, the province came under royal control. Although the governments were always separate, both South Carolina and North Carolina constituted a single province. The period from 1725 to 1775 brought great prosperity. The government was taken over by council in 1775, and royal administration ended.

    The state suffered during the Revolution from British troops and from loyalists. Charleston surrendered to General Henry Clinton in 1780. The state experienced more battles than occurred to any other state for a two year period. Finally a Continental army under General Nathaniel Greene slowly drove the British back into Charleston. The chief battles were Ft. Moultrie (1776), Charleston (1780), Camden(1780), Kings Mountain (1780), Cowpens (1781), Hobkirks Hill (1781). and Eutaw Springs (1781).

    The early state period after the Revolution was marred by a bitter struggle between the older low country and the newer upcountry. The old planters dominated the coastal area while the upper Piedmont was settled by the Scotch-Irish. In 1790 the capital was finally moved to a new site called Columbia, but a number of state offices were maintained in both Charleston and Columbia until 1865. By 1808, 80% of the white population was in the upcountry. South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union in 1860.

    Since early settlers moved freely from North to South Carolina and westward, family records are often difficult to trace. Also, both wars caused shifts in population and data may be scattered through several counties and into neighboring states.


    Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 but a significant portion of its history occurred before then. Originally, the eastern portion was the hunting ground of several Indian tribes and many battles were fought as white men began arriving. The first explorer from the English colonies to reach Tennessee was reportedly James Adair of South Carolina. In 1750 Thomas Walker and other Virginians traveled to and named the Cumberland River, and in 1756 Fort Loudon was built just south of present-day Knoxville to oppose French activity in the area. Tragedy struck in 1760 when the fort was wiped out by an Indian attack.

    In 1768. William Bean settled on the Watauga River in the northeast corner and became The first permanent white settler. Soon others followed and branched out to the Holston and Nolichucky Rivers. Many more settlers came after the defeat of Regulator Insurrection, a revolt against taxes in North Carolina in 1771. The settlers formed the Watauga Association as their government and after first leasing the land from the Cherokees, purchased their land in 1775. The territory became Washington District of North Carolina in 1777.

     During the Revolution, a number of Tennessee mountaineers participated in the British defeat at King’s Mountain; among them were John Sevier, Issac Shelby, and William Campbell. In 1779 James Robertson founded a permanent settlement on the Cumberland that became Nashville. North Carolina attempted to cede the territory to the government which upset the Watauga settlers. They assembled a convention in 1784 to form a new state, but North Carolina repealed the cession and formed a new district from the area. By 1785 the settlers had again convened, enacted laws, and elected John Sevier as governor of the new state of Franklin. When federal congress refused to recognize the state, North Carolina again claimed authority, resulting in two sets of officials for a time. In 1788 Sevier’s term as Governor ended, as did the state of Franklin. By 1790 Congress accepted the territory from North Carolina and William Blount was appointed governor. The purchase of more land from the Indians after numerous battles allowed more settlers to arrive, and by 1795 there were over 60,000 free inhabitants. A constitution was written and Tennessee became a state in 1796.

     Many Tennessee residents rose to political fame during the 19th century, including Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson. During the Civil War, Tennessee was second only to Virginia as a battleground, and deep-seated unrest continued for many years afterward.

     Most early settlers were "Scotch-Irish" and English from Virginia and the Carolinas, and many of their descendants still inhabit the hills and valleys of this rich historical area.

Northern Appalachia

Only small portions of Pennsylvania and Maryland technically fall into the Appalachian Mountain region, but both states are very important to our genealogical history. Of course, both areas were colonies long before becoming states, and many records exist back to their very foundings in the 1600’s.

Most of the early so-called Scotch-Irish and German pioneers arrived in the New World at the port of Philadelphia, and quickly began moving toward the frontier. Several important migration routes existed in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The route to the "Great Valley of Virginia" actually began in southeastern Pennsylvania and crossed Maryland before reaching Virginia. Many of the pioneers who traveled this path may have stopped for varying lengths of time anywhere on the way. Often early settlers of Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Carolinas listed their birthplaces as Maryland or Pennsylvania.

A second important route led across southern Pennsylvania initially to the southwestern portion near present-day Pittsburgh. In addition to the many settlers who established communities there, a great number continued on down the Ohio River to (West) Virginia, Kentucky, and points south and west.

Part of southwestern Pennsylvania (including most of current Greene, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties) was claimed by Virginia for a time. Rival county governments were established by the two colonies in the 1700’s until the dispute was settled in 1779. Certain vital records pertaining to this period may be missing or difficult to find.

Border disputes also existed between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and also between Maryland and Virginia. Several counties now in Pennsylvania were once part of Maryland (including the area south of Philadelphia), again causing confusion in old records.

Many reference volumes have been published compiling early data from these two states, so be sure to check your local library or historical society. If a particular record is not easily located,remember to check all of the surrounding counties in neighboring states because of the boundary changes over time.

It has been stated that 90 percent of the "Scotch-Irish" and German immigrants to this country during the 1700's entered at Philadelphia - there's a good chance they left records as they moved south and west.
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