A Capital Affair

We have a little-known fact to share that may leave some native North Carolinians mystified…

Raleigh was not the original capital of North Carolina.

In fact, it wasn’t the second or third…or even sixth choice. Bath (1710-1722) and Edenton (1722-1743) were considered the first unofficial capitals of North Carolina, later followed by the first official state capital, New Bern (1766-1776). Each of these towns served as the seat of government for a period of time, but there were several other contenders in the early years.

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1769 C. J. Sauthier Map Plans of Bath, Edenton, and New Bern. State Archives of NC.

To clarify, the definition of “state capital” seems to be a bit fluid, as some would consider it to describe a location in which the governor lived/legislature met or a location with legislation establishing the site as a permanent place of government.

The Charter of Carolina was issued in 1663, which marked the beginning of organized government in the state. The legislature first started holding sessions in 1665 in “Ye Countie of Albemarle” (today’s Pasquotank County, near Elizabeth City) and regularly moved from town to town.

North Carolina became a royal colony in 1729, when the Assembly was meeting in Edenton at the time, but there was no established capital until 1766. During this time, the location in which the General Assembly met, which was typically wherever the governor lived, was considered the official seat of government.

The majority of Assembly meetings during this time were held in New Bern, beginning as early as 1738. At nearly every session from 1777 through 1790, the Assembly reportedly tried to come to a consensus on establishing a permanent capital, but did not succeed until 1792 (Powell, 1990).

Unfortunately, state (colony) records suffered from loss and damage during this transitional period, as the meeting locations of the legislature kept moving and confusion as to where records should be held was increasing.

Look for more on this series in the next few days, when we will learn more about both New Bern and Raleigh and how these two towns have shaped our state’s history.

A Capital Affair, Pt. II
A Capital Affair, Pt. III


Related Resources & Recommended Reading

In Cheney, J. L., & North Carolina. (1975). North Carolina government, 1585-1974: A narrative and statistical history. Raleigh, N.C: North Carolina Dept. of the Secretary of State.

Jones, H. G. (1966). For history’s sake: The preservation and publication of North Carolina history. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lacey, T. J. (2003). Amazing North Carolina: Fascinating facts, entertaining tales, bizarre happenings, and historical oddities from the Tarheel State. Nashville, Tenn: Rutledge Hill Press.

Powell, W. S. (1990). North Carolina through four centuries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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2 thoughts on “A Capital Affair

  1. Pingback: A Capital Affair, Pt. II | History For All the People

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