North Carolina Economy

North Carolina, with its lush forests and vast amount of farmable land was a very productive state for the most part throughout the 1780s.

The clearest source of income for North Carolina laid in its naval stores; pitch, tar, and turpentine were the backbone of the North Carolina economy throughout the 1780s, and for a long time after that.  In this time where everything from travel to trade was done by ships, these products were necessary to the continued productivity of the world, and North Carolina was at the center of their production.  Britain especially was a huge customer for all of them to support its enormous navy, after gaining their independence and subsequently losing the once-enormous British market, plummeting from 87,152 barrels shipped to Britain in 1774, to only 216 barrels shipped to Britain in 1777.  However, the market for naval stores in North America remained strong, and for the next century, North Carolina would provide North America with almost all of its naval stores.

Illustration of a North Carolina naval store facility

North Carolina never had another “staple” crop that came close to approaching the value of its naval stores ,less prominent, but still helpful was North Carolina’s rice fields.  North Carolina does have a decent amount of swamp land especially near the Wilmington region, and although the work to transform this land into a profitable rice paddy was time consuming and expensive, it all worked out in the end, and rice would grow to become North Carolina’s second most profitable crop obviously falling far behind its naval stores.  Rice would continue to flourish as a crop in North Carolina for the following decades until emancipation of slave labor rendered the labor-intensive crops like rice very unprofitable.  There also were a small amount of tobacco farms in the southern region, but these were not lucrative or abundant enough to actually have a large impact on North Carolina’s economy as a whole.


North Carolina did suffer economically during the Articles of Confederation years when states were giving overwhelming amounts of independence.  With very few ports in North Carolina, it was forced to rely on the neighboring South Carolina for almost all of its imports.  South Carolina responded to this necessity the way that most states in the same situation did, by placing heavy taxes on all goods going to North Carolina hoping to squeeze every last bit of profit out of them.  North Carolina was also one of the few states that supported allowing the Articles of Confederation Congress to levy an impost, since it had very little ports to collect import duties, and it preferred an impost to a tax on land.

Overall, North Carolina was a very strong state economically for a large part of this time.  While it was hurt greatly by losing the British market, and later on hurt once again by losing slaves, its vast amount of natural resources meant that it would always be able to find a way to create profit.








A Brilliant Solution – Carol Berkin



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