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The coast of North Carolina is the site of several attempts at colonization by the French, the Spanish and eventually England. However, it is not until after the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, that English colonists began exploring North Carolina in search of fertile farmland and eventually establish permanent homes in the Albemarle Sound Region, the eastern part of present day North Carolina.
The restoration of Charles II to the throne of England is a turning point in both England and North Carolina’s history. It is a time when England makes advances throughout the world as it becomes a dominant power. However, Charles II is in need of funds and the proprietary grant to eight men who have considerable power in Parliament and have strong financial interest in the colonies, provide Charles with the means of paying a political debt. Eventually, mismanagement, open rebellion by the settlers and Charles’s increasing displeasure with the proprietary system leads to the purchase of Carolina by the Crown in 1729.
Historians use the term Backcountry to define the Piedmont land of North Carolina. The rugged terrain and the lack of navigable rivers made transportation difficult in early North Carolina. The Piedmont was rural and underdeveloped. Its economy will change over the years but in the beginning, farming is the main industry.
Citizens throughout the colonies feel an increasing alienation from British rule. Members of Parliament are willing to make concessions, but eventually the Crown’s desire to maintain a stronghold on the colonies leads to a series of tax acts and attacks on personal freedoms. Eventually the colonists will divide into various groups: Rebels, Tories, and Religious Dissenters. Unrest prevails throughout most of North Carolina as these groups clash. In Mecklenburg County, support for Independence results in a number of small skirmishes and battles as the doors open for the establishment of a new nation.
For five long years, the war will rage in every colony. Americans are outnumbered, but strategic battles at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Sherrill’s Ford and Guilford Courthouse as well as a new alliance with France mark a turning point of the war. Cornwallis’s defeat at Yorktown leads to an agreement for peace. The struggle for Independence is won and now a new nation must forge ahead, charting new territories in government and civil liberties. Mecklenburgers look forward to contributing to the new nation and living in peace.
The road to forming a new government eventually takes shape. Eventually, legislators form a representative government with executive and judicial branches. America becomes a beacon to those in search of a new beginning and creating their own destiny in a land rich in agricultural, gold, lumber, fur and other natural resources. Settlers continue to come to Charlotte in search of a new life. The discovery of gold turns Charlotte into a boom town. Various businesses emerge, as well as newspapers
The years prior to the Civil War are a period of growth for Charlotte. The gold boom of the 1820s brings a variety of related businesses to the burgeoning town. Charlotte’s first bank opens its doors. Citizens enjoy a prosperous economy; however, the issue of slavery and tariffs continues to divide the country.
The arrival of the first passenger train in Charlotte in 1852 means that it can be more easily reached and is no long in the back country. Within 4 years Charlotte’s telegraph office opens and the rail lines will run all the way to Goldsboro. The textile industry continues to grow and can more readily reach new markets across the region.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) Economic and social divisions between northern and southern states come to a climax and war is inevitable. But can the South win a war against the richer, more populous North? There are 9 million people in the South, but more than twice that number in the North: 22 million. And the North has better transportation and more resources. In the textile industry alone, the North boasts 900 factories. The entire South has only 150. Despite the odds, the South embarks on a struggle for Independence. This war will be the bloodiest and most violent in America’s history. More Americans die in this war than any other war that follows. North Carolina sends and loses more troops than any other state in the Confederacy.
The Civil War takes a terrible toll on the South. Hunger and poverty are widespread. Families struggle following the losses of sons, fathers, husbands and brothers in combat. Many have seen their crops, livestock and businesses destroyed. Can the federal government's plan, called "Reconstruction," ever repair the damage to the South? North Carolina struggles to rebuild as old customs die hard before making way for the New South. However, opportunities for blacks increase as they begin a new role as free people.
The rise of the cotton textile mill brings a new industry to Charlotte. Entrepreneurs such as D. A. Tompkins and Stuart Cramer revolutionize the technical aspects of the cotton industry. Other major industries include the Lance Corporation, Charlotte Chemical Laboratories, J. A. Jones Construction Company, Allison-Erwin Company and a host of others. Eventually as more textile mills located to surrounding communities, Charlotte’s growth lay in finance and distribution. This economic diversity enabled the founding of more cultural institutions such as the first public library in 1903.
The first World War begins in 1914. Trench warfare keeps both sides almost at a stalemate until the United States enters the war in 1917. The development of a fighting air force, tanks and mustard gas changes the technology of mortal combat. After the war ends in 1918, the world order begins to change. Many countries are left in total economic ruin and revolution is on the minds of many. Mecklenburg County plays a role in the war when a training facility, Camp Greene, is constructed to prepare American soldiers for combat.
The Nation is optimistic and so is Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Business and Industry continues to grow and the area prospers even as the nation as a whole is on a collision course with eventual economic collapse.
One of the most serious economic depressions hits the country. Millions of Americans are out of work and the future is bleak. A charismatic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt sweeps into office and alleviates American’s fears. Times are hard in Charlotte too. Things begin to look up as the end of the 1930s nears.
The troubles in Europe seem far away for most Charlotteans. For the first time since the stock market crash, people are more optimistic and the economy is on the upswing.
For the second time in less than fifty years, the world is thrust into another world war. The allies this time must fight dictators in Germany, Italy and Japan. Initially the United States manages to maintain its neutrality; however, events at Pearl Harbor sways public opinion and Americans join the war effort to restore the balance of power. As Americans shift their attention to world affairs, new businesses emerge to support the war effort. This is also true in Charlotte. As the war comes to a close, the shift in the balance of power, sees the United States as a world leader.
In the aftermath of World War II, it is evident the United States is the leader of the Free World. In the years following the war, Americans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world and Charlotte prospers as well The nation’s prosperity has it’s detractors, especially from the Soviet Union who in Winston Churchill’s words, construct an iron curtain that separates eastern Europe from the rest of the world for over forty years. Nevertheless, Americans enjoy peace time as businesses boomed. Charlotte also begins to grapple with issues of segregation and racial equality.
The sixties bring a change in southern society. The Civil Rights Movement unite Blacks and Whites seeking an end to segregation once and for all. Young people across the country join the Peace Movement to protest the United States involvement in Southeast Asia. Women demand equal rights and work for a constitutional amendment. Charlotte's Second Ward neighborhood, also known as "Brooklyn," has been the heart of the city's black community since the late 1800s. Now, Brooklyn falls into a decline. Civic leaders decide to demolish the entire area, rather than spend the money in repairs. This plan, called "urban renewal," completely destroys Brooklyn. Most of the families, businesses, churches and schools must relocate.
Charlotte becomes a mecca for new businesses and one of the top financial centers in the country. This growth attracts new people. In addition, professional sport teams and a desire for a strong cultural center bring a world of change to many Charlotteans.
Growth explodes at "University City," the area surrounding the Charlotte branch of the University of North Carolina. This 1,000-acre campus assembled from city, state and private land donations also includes the old Cochrane family farm. Although UNCC opened in 1965, it is only when developers looked northward, away from south Charlotte, that University City begins to enjoy its retail, residential and commercial boom.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were wracked by economic contraction and civil disturbance. Would the future be as promising as the past?