Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 15, 2024.
While exploring and writing about our travels here, we have uncovered some interesting and fun facts about North Carolina.
And if you’ve lived here for a while or think you know this state pretty well, I guarantee you there are a few things here that are going to come as a surprise.
These North Carolina facts relate to the state’s history, geography, what North Carolina is known for today, and what makes it unique. So let’s take a break from ticking off our NC Bucket Lists and go over some things you should know about North Carolina but probably don’t.
If you’re searching for specific North Carolina tidbits, here’s how we’ve organized this guide:
- Basic Facts About North Carolina
- Facts About North Carolina’s Geography (Physical and Political)
- More Natural Facts About North Carolina
- Facts About North Carolina History
- Facts About North Carolina Today
- Businesses Started in North Carolina
- Famous People from North Carolina
- Famous Athletes
Note: The sections from “Facts about Native Americans in North Carolina” through “Post-WWII Facts About North Carolina” are chronologically organized.
Basic Facts About North Carolina
- North Carolina is commonly referred to as “Carolina” (sorry, South Carolina) and goes by two nicknames: The Tar Heel State and Old North State.
- As of 2020, the population of North Carolina is 10.4 million.
- Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina today, but it wasn’t the first. Bath served as the first nominal capital and New Bern was established in 1766 as the first permanent capital. The government assembled in multiple other spots until 1792 when Raleigh was finally established as the permanent capital once and for all.
- Our state motto is “Esse Quam Videri,” which translates in English to “To Be Rather Than To Seem.”
- North Carolina’s unofficial State Slogan is “First in Flight; First in Freedom.”
- The State Song is “The Old North State.”
- Like many states, North Carolina has even more inanimate and living insignia. Here they are in ABC order by category:
- State Beverage: Milk
- State Bird: Cardinal
- State Butterfly: Eastern tiger swallowtail
- State Colors: Red and blue
- State Dance: Shag
- State Fish: Red drum
- State Flower: Flowering dogwood
- State Food: Scuppernong grape and sweet potato
- State Fossil: Megalodon teeth
- State Gemstone: Emerald
- State Insect: Western honey bee
- State Mammal: Eastern gray squirrel
- State Marsupial: Virginia oppossum
- State Mineral: Gold
- State Reptile: Eastern box turtle
- State Rock: Granite
- State Shell: Scotch Bonnet
- State Tree: Pine
Facts About North Carolina’s Geography (Physical and Political)
- With a total area of 53,819 square miles (139,391 sq km), North Carolina is the 28th largest state in the US.
- There are 100 counties within North Carolina’s borders. The oldest county was Albermarle in Northeastern North Carolina, established in 1668 and abolished in 1739. In its place are Chowan County, Currituck County, Perquimans County, and Pasquotank County. The newest counties are Avery and Hoke, both established in 1911. Avery County was formed from parts of Caldwell County, Mitchell County, and Watauga County. Hoke County came from Cumberland County and Robeson County.
- North Carolina is typically broken down into three sections from west to east: the Mountains, the Piedmont, and the Coastal Plain.
- Our regions can be even more specifically broken down to include any of the following from west to east:
- Western North Carolina is home to the highest mountains in the Eastern US.
- At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell in Yancey County is North Carolina’s highest peak and the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
- According to archaeological evidence, the Uwharries are viewed as the oldest mountains in North America.
- Many diverse social and ecological systems are found in our mountains, and UNESCO recognized one of them (Grandfather Mountain) as an International Biosphere Reserve.
- There are also a large number of waterfalls in Western North Carolina (near Asheville and in the High Country). Many of them are kid-friendly, too!
- Over in Jackson County, you’ll find Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall in the eastern US, falling more than 800 feet.
- The lowest point in North Carolina is where it meets the Atlantic Ocean (sea level) for 322 miles along our shoreline.
- That includes the Outer Banks, which is so historically rough for sailors that it’s long been referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
- Did you know that the Fall Line (fall zone) divides Eastern and Central North Carolina? It’s a long line of erosion that runs along the east coast, where harder rocks change into softer, erosion-sensitive rocks.
Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map
More Natural Facts About North Carolina
- The Venus Flytrap is native to the eastern part of both Carolinas. However, its first written description was recorded in a 1759 letter from North Carolina’s then-colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs to botanist Peter Collinson.
- Another native plant to North Carolina is the Muscadine. It’s typically used for wines, jellies, and juices today.
- On today’s Roanoke Island, the oldest cultivated grapevine (Mothervine) continues to produce antioxidant-rich juices and health formulas. We created a map of farms where you can pick muscadine grapes in NC, in case you’re interested.
Read More: The Best Waterfalls near Brevard
Facts About North Carolina History
This section of North Carolina trivia is dedicated to NC history, which includes Native Americans and post-colonization through today.
- Facts About North Carolina’s Native Americans
- Colonial Era North Carolina
- Revolutionary War Facts
- Post-Revolution Facts
- 19th Century Facts
- Post-Civil War Facts
- 20th Century Facts
- Post-WWII Facts
Facts About North Carolina’s Native Americans
- Native Americans had lived on this land for thousands of years before European arrival. Archaeologists have traced their presence back as far as 12,000 years ago to be more exact.
- When Europeans first arrived in the mid-1500s, estimates say 35,000 to 50,000 Tuscarora, Catawba, and Cherokee lived here.
- A series of trade networks thrived throughout this area, predating many of today’s industries with similar crafts and practices.
- For example, many people know about the Seagrove Potters who live in today’s Randolph County. However, evidence shows that Native Americans had been making and firing items from clay as late as 3,000 years ago.
- Clay was not the only material that was used by Native Americans in North Carolina. Evidence indicates that Mica was mined heavily in the Marion area and used as currency about 2,000 years ago. Mica is still abundant in the area, which is a big factor behind Marion‘s nickname “Mica Town.”
- Disease, violence, and forced removal by the American government led to a sharp decline in population, especially of the Catawba and Tuscarora people.
- During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee sided with the British in the hopes that they’d receive protection from further settlement. Unfortunately, for the Cherokee, the British lost the war. Thus, any hope of favorable treatment by the new American government was gone, too.
- Many Cherokee people were eventually forced to leave during the tragic “Trail of Tears.” Some stayed behind and either fought for their land or evaded removal efforts. These Cherokee joined the Oconaluftee Cherokee who were allowed to stay in North Carolina. Today, the reservation known as the “Qualla Boundary” is where large numbers of Cherokee descendants live.
- In total, 100,000 Native Americans still live in North Carolina. This is the eighth largest in the US and you won’t find any state east of the Mississippi River with a larger population.
Today, the state recognizes eight tribes. They include the following:
- Eastern Band of Cherokee
- Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation
Colonial Era NC Facts (16th Century to the Revolutionary War)
- Before the English came to North Carolina, the area had already seen Europeans. Evidence shows that Spanish explorers spent time in Western North Carolina while searching for gold. Juan Pardo and his men even constructed the outposts of Cuenca and Fort San Juan near modern-day Morganton in Burke County.
- Roanoke Island is the location of the first attempted English Colony. In 1587, Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the colony. Sadly and mysteriously, the colony and all its inhabitants disappeared not long after arriving. Today, it’s the historic town of Manteo, the first of many Outer Banks towns you should explore upon arrival.
- North Carolina and South Carolina were both one colony (Carolina), named by King Charles II in honor of his father Charles I.
- The Carolina settlement was divided into two separate proprietary colonies in 1712 by the Lord’s Proprietors.
- During its time as a proprietary colony, North Carolina was regarded as more dangerous than its neighbors. Pirates (including Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach) hid behind barrier islands and terrorized ships that crossed their paths.
- North Carolina officials were unable to control pirate activity and outside help came in. In November 1718, the Governor of Virginia (Alexander Spotswood) sent a detachment of soldiers to combat the pirates. They found Blackbeard and his men and engaged, killing the famous buccaneer and capturing many of his men and ships.
- In 1729, North Carolina became a royal colony when it was sold to King George II by its proprietors.
- From then, North Carolina grew in population and attracted more and more settlers.
- Many of these settlers either brought enslaved Africans or purchased them to work and live in bondage. In 1712, there were about 800 enslaved people in North Carolina, and by 1767, about 41,000.
- Another notable arrival came in 1753 when members of the Moravian Church arrived in Central North Carolina. In 1766, they began work on a town. Five additional communities surrounded Salem in the Wachovia tract and it was a powerful and profitable religious and economic center for many years.
At the same time, tensions were brewing between the English, its enemies, and its settlers.
- Europe’s Seven Year War traveled across the Atlantic and erupted into the French and Indian War between 1754-1763. Cherokee began attacking settlers in retaliation for the violence that occurred in Virginia. One major battle during this war occurred at Fort Dobbs in modern-day Statesville. Cherokee attacked the fort in February 1760 and provincial soldiers turned them back, killing more than 10 and suffering two losses.
- The flames of discontent continued to burn, but this time, it was the settlers fighting against colonial officials. From 1765-1771, there were a series of skirmishes and battles known as the Regulator Movement (or War of the Regulation). Colonial forces won the Battle of Alamance in May 1771 and forced the Regulators they could find to sign loyalty oaths.
Read More: 30+ Awesome Things to Do in Statesville
Revolutionary War Facts about North Carolina
Of course, the fighting only stopped for a short time. Many North Carolinians would become involved in a series of skirmishes known as the Revolutionary War. It might be incorrect to say we “joined” the war effort because North Carolina led the pack in declaring independence.
- In 1774, Penelope Barker organized a group of women in Edenton to protest the 1773 Tea Act. It was the first recorded political demonstration by women in America.
- The controversial Mecklenburg Declaration of Freedom was allegedly produced on May 20, 1775, in Charlotte. Its legitimacy is contentious at best. That’s because a copy wasn’t made publicly available until 1819.
- Many folks know our “First in Flight” license plates but there’s also “First in Freedom.” That’s partly because of the Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775, which made us the first state to declare independence.
- Whether or not you believe in the Meck Dec, the Halifax Resolves in April 1776 officially declared North Carolina’s independence months before the July 4 declaration by the Continental Congress.
- The Halifax Resolves took place two months after the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in Eastern North Carolina. Patriot troops defeated a Loyalist force there in one of the American Revolution’s earliest battles.
- Additional Revolutionary War battles fought in North Carolina include:
- The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill (June 20, 1780)
- The Battle of Charlotte (September 26, 1780)
- Battle of Cowan’s Ford (February 1, 1781)
- The Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781)
- The Battle fo Rockfish (August 2, 1781)
- Battle of Elizabethtown (August 27, 1781)
Read More: National Parks Sites in North Carolina
Post-Revolution Facts About North Carolina
- Fayetteville may have lost out to Raleigh as the permanent capital of North Carolina (see below), but it wins the title of “First Place in North America Named for Marquis de Lafayette.” Today, numerous cities, counties, streets, and other places bear his name.
- As one of our country’s 13 original states, North Carolina was the 12th to ratify the constitution.
- North Carolina was admitted to the union on November 21, 1789.
- As we mentioned, Raleigh became the official capital of North Carolina in 1792.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of three institutions (along with the University of Georgia and College of William and Mary) to claim the title of the nation’s oldest public university.
- One thing not up for debate is that UNC was the first to hold classes (1795) and graduate students (1798).
19th Century Facts About North Carolina
- Another North Carolina first is the Carolina Gold Rush, which officially started in 1799. Until its end in 1828, there were multiple gold-producing areas in North Carolina, and you can learn about them at the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County.
- Today, you can even pan for gold there, as well as in various places, including Marion in McDowell County.
- Hiram Rhodes Revels was born in Fayetteville (1822) and among other accomplishments, was the first African-American member of the United States Congress, representing Mississippi.
- In 1853, the first North Carolina State Fair was held in Raleigh. The NC State Fairgrounds have hosted the event since 1928.
Civil War Facts about North Carolina
- North Carolina’s place in the Civil War is well-known, too. Memorable battles fought here include:
- Battle of Goldsboro Bridge (1862)
- The First and Second Battles of Fort Fisher (1864 and 1865)
- The Battle of Bentonville (1865)
- Also, did you know that Bennett Place in now-Durham is the site of the last and largest surrender of a major Confederate army? It took a couple of meetings but on April 26, 1865, General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman and the Union.
Post-Civil War Facts About North Carolina
- If you’re familiar with Edgecombe County, then this might be one of the most obvious facts about North Carolina to you. Originally known as Freedom Hill, Princeville is the oldest town incorporated (1885) by African-Americans.
- People would not be happy with us for leaving out Biltmore Estate in this post about North Carolina facts. And how could we leave out America’s largest privately-owned house? The home officially opened in 1895 (on Christmas Eve) and is still owned by George Vanderbilt’s descendants.
- Before the end of the 19th century, one of North Carolina’s darkest events took place. On November 10, 1898, white supremacists carried out a riot and insurrection in Wilmington. This resulted in the killing of 60 to 300-plus people, destruction of Black-owned property throughout the city, and the expulsion of opposition White and Black politicians from Wilmington.
20th Century Facts About North Carolina
The first major event of the 20th century was a pretty big one.
- The Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) successfully flew the first self-propelled aircraft near Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. Each December, the Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates its “First Flight” with fun throughout the entire day.
- The Wright Brothers National Memorial is one of 12 national parks sites in North Carolina.
- You might remember Salem from our “Colonial” section, and don’t worry. It’s still with us, just in hyphen form. In 1913, Salem joined the adjacent town of Winston to become our state’s best-known dash city of Winston-Salem.
- And Fayetteville has another contribution to the “First” fun. There, you’ll find a historical marker that commemorates Babe Ruth hitting his first professional home run there in 1914.
- In 1915, Mount Mitchell and surrounding lands were established as North Carolina’s first state park. Today, there are 41 state parks sites.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
- One of the more disputed facts about North Carolina revolves around tourism. The Blowing Rock (opened in 1933) claims to be North Carolina’s oldest tourist attraction, but that’s merely due to the rock’s age of more than one billion years. As a business, it’s predated by others, including Chimney Rock State Park near the Village of Chimney Rock, which opened as Chimney Rock Park on July 4, 1916.
- In 1917, Jacques and Juliana Busbee arrived in Seagrove searching for the person who created their orange pie dish. In doing so, they discovered an entire community of potters and wanted to let the whole world know about them. So the artist couple opened Jugtown Pottery nearby, and Juliana opened a shop in New York City, which featured Seagrove Pottery and put it on the map. New waves of potters have moved there over the years, with current tallies at around 100 within the community of 200.
- In 1923, North Carolina Central University became North Carolina’s first state-supported liberal arts college for African American students. The school was originally founded in 1909 as a private college but was sold a few years later and eventually purchased by the State.
- It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know about the Empire State Building in New York. But did you know that the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem (completed in 1929) was its prototype? Each year, the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to say thanks. You can stay in the Cardinal Hotel portion of this iconic building, too!
- America’s first state-supported symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, officially started in 1932 and continues today.
- The 1936 PGA Championship was held at Pinehurst No. 2, the first of many major events to be held at the Moore County resort town.
- In 1942, construction began on Fontana Dam in Graham and Swain counties and was completed in 1944. It is the tallest dam in the Eastern US, at 480 feet. The project submerged towns and led to the abandonment of others. You can hike to a few of them by starting at the Road to Nowhere outside Bryson City.
- “The Miracle of Hickory” showed the world what Catawba County’s largest city could do in times of crisis. In response to the Hickory area‘s first polio cases in 1944, local citizens and doctors built, equipped, and staffed a full-scale hospital in 54 hours.
Read More: Amazing Restaurants in Hickory
Post-WWII Facts About North Carolina
- After World War II, the US-Navy effort known as Operation Bumblebee, moved to Camp Davis near Holly Ridge in Onslow County. The mission’s goal was to develop surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). From 1946 to 1948, Topsail Island served as the Bumblebee testing and launch facility. Remnants of Bumblebee remain on the island and today, the Missiles and More Museum teaches visitors about the Pender County site and its history.
- The amazing North Carolina Museum of Art, which established its collection in 1947. It’s the first state art museum.
- In 1959, Research Triangle Park (RTP) was established near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. More than 300 companies are headquartered here, including big names in tech, health, research, and other sectors. RTP is the largest research park in the United States.
- The 1960s began with one of the most famous moments in Civil Rights History, and it happened right here in North Carolina. The “Greensboro Four” led a series of Sit-Ins at a Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and sparked similar protests in cities throughout North Carolina and elsewhere in the South. Today, you can visit the same Woolworths, which has now transformed into the International Civil Rights Center.
- In 1974, the North Carolina Zoo opened in Asheboro and today is known as the world’s largest natural habitat zoo.
- Folks had been coming to Beech Mountain for years to enjoy skiing and the Land of Oz for years before its incorporation in 1981. With that official designation, it became the highest elevated mountain town in the US, at 5,506 feet above sea level.
- In the 1990s, North Carolina earned two professional sports teams. The NFL’s expansion Carolina Panthers started play in Charlotte in 1995 and the NHL’s Hartford Whalers moved to Raleigh and became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997.
- Both the Hurricanes and Panthers have the distinction of being the only two major pro sports teams with the same geographic designation (Carolina) while playing in different metropolitan areas.
Read More: 20+ Awesome Museums in Charlotte and Nearby!
- In 1994, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council and the State of North Carolina reached an agreement to establish a casino in Cherokee. It opened in 1997 and today, is known as Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
- To close out the 20th century, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved in 1999 due to shoreline erosion. Today, it sits a safe distance from the ocean. The coastal lighthouse is the largest to be moved due to erosion.
Facts About North Carolina Today
As we progress through the 21st century, there are some interesting facts about North Carolina that keep popping up.
- The state leads the nation in a variety of industries. Our farmers produce the largest quantity of sweet potatoes in the nation.
- We’re also the third-largest producer of strawberries. You can thank the farmers when you’re out strawberry picking at one of the many spots that pop up during the spring.
- High Point is known as the Furniture Capital of the World.
- Not only is North Carolina the leader in furniture, but also tobacco, brick, and textiles.
- We’re also known for our amazing wineries and vineyards. In fact, the Yadkin Valley was the first federally recognized American Viticultural Area in 2003. Today, there are nearly 50 wineries in the Yadkin Valley region.
- North Carolina also has the highest concentration of breweries per capita in the South, with over 300. You can celebrate that fact any time of year, but Beer Month in October would be the most proper time to do it.
- Speaking of beer, Mad Mole Brewing in Wilmington was America’s first solar craft microbrewery when it opened in 2018.
- Ashe County is the largest producing county when it comes to Christmas trees. One of our favorite farms (Frosty’s) is here, with a few others nearby in Boone and elsewhere throughout the state.
- In fact (pun?), our Fur Fraser Firs are known as the best (no debate!). They’ve featured as the White House Christmas tree more than a dozen times, making Fraser Firs the most popular species. Perhaps this abundance of trees is why we have so many awesome Christmas light displays in North Carolina?
- Not all industries have survived during North Carolina’s existence. But even when one industry goes away, something else typically comes along and carries the torch. With Asheville’s River Arts District (RAD), that’s absolutely the case. Formerly a collection of industrial buildings that a flood left abandoned, RAD now houses more than 150 artists in 19 buildings.
Businesses Started in North Carolina
- Family Dollar
- Food Lion
- Harris Teeter
- Hendrick Motorsports
- Krispy Kreme
- Mt Olive Pickle Company
- NC Mutual
- Pepsi Cola
- Putt-Putt Golf
- RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company
- Untappd, a perfect accompaniment to these breweries in Wilmington
- Wrangler Jeans
Famous People from North Carolina
- Many famous people have also called North Carolina “home,” either born here or spending parts of their lives here. You might not consider all these people “facts” but some were really fun to uncover!
- It’s disputed between the two Carolinas about Andrew Jackson’s birthplace, but nobody can say that he was NOT born in North Carolina.
- However, Presidents James K Polk (Pineville), Andrew Johnson (Raleigh), and First Lady Dolley Madison (Greensboro) were clearly born on the north side of the border.
- An eclectic collection of musicians either born in or hailing from North Carolina include the following:
- Tori Amos
- Scott Avett and Seth Avett, also known as The Avett Brothers
- George Clinton
- J. Cole
- John Coltrane
- Luke Combs
- Thelonius Monk
- Earl Scruggs
- Nina Simone
- James Taylor
- Doc Watson
- We also need to include Robert Moog, known for the namesake synthesizer. Moog spent many years living in Asheville and his legacy remains with the Moogseum and Moog Factory both in town.
- Actors and actresses from North Carolina include:
- Zach Galifianakis
- Ava Gardner
- Pam Grier
- Andy Griffith
- Julianne Moore
- Soupy Sales
- Evan Rachel Wood.
- Authors Thomas Wolfe, Sarah Desson, and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) are all native North Carolinians, too. Nicholas Sparks, Maya Angelou, and David Sedaris all have spent or spent large portions of their lives in North Carolina.
- We had to make a separate category for famous athletes because there are so many from North Carolina.
- It’s not just basketball, but North Carolinians who’ve made great contributions to hardcourt starts with His Airness Michael Jordan. Even if he was born in New York City, Jordan’s family relocated to Wilmington when he was a toddler and the rest is history.
- Charlotte Smith, Steph Curry (raised in Charlotte), James Worthy, Chris Paul, and Bob McAdoo are a few of the many talented basketball players from North Carolina.
- There are other sports in North Carolina and NASCAR Racers Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr (and Jr, too) are absolutely worth remembering.
- Other big names in sports include the following:
- Dwight Clark (NFL)
- Howard Cosell (Sports Journalist, Broadcaster, and Author)
- Catfish Hunter (MLB)
- Sonny Jergonsen (NFL)
- Buck Leonard (Negro Leagues Baseball)
- Eddie Pope (MLS and US Men’s National Soccer)
- Charles Sifford (instrumental in desegregating the PGA)
Had Enough or Got More Facts About North Carolina for Us?
If you’ve had enough North Carolina facts for one reading, congratulations! This is the end. But if you have any additional facts for us, we’d love to know them.
Let us know in the comments section and if it’s a really good one, we’ll have to investigate further! Before you do that, here are some guides that will help you explore many of the facts about North Carolina that we mentioned.