North Carolina was one of the original Thirteen Colonies, originally known as Carolina. Joara, a native village near present-day Morganton, was the site in 1567 of Fort San Juan, the first Spanish colonial settlement in the interior of what became the United States. A colony was later established at Roanoke Island, the first attempt by the English to found a settlement in the Americas.
On May 20, 1861, North Carolina was one of the last of the Confederate states to declare secession from the Union, to which it was restored on July 4, 1868. The state was the location of the first successful controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air flight, by the Wright brothers, at Kill Devil Hills, about 6.4 miles from Kitty Hawk in 1903. Today, it is a fast-growing state with an increasingly diverse economy and population. As of July 1, 2007, the population was estimated to be 9,061,032 (a 12% increase since April 1, 2000). Recognizing eight Native American tribes, North Carolina has the largest population of Native Americans of any state east of the Mississippi River.
North Carolina has a wide range of elevations, from sea level on the coast to almost 6,700 feet (2,042 m) in the mountains. The climate also ranges widely. The coastal plains are strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the state falls in the humid subtropical zone. More than 300 miles (500 km) from the coast, the western, mountainous part of the state has a subtropical highland climate.
As of 2008 (the most current numbers available), North Carolina is the fourth-fastest growing state in the United States and the fastest growing state east of the Mississippi River.
The United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2008, estimated North Carolina's population at 9,222,414, which represents an increase of 1,175,914, or 14.6%, since the last census in 2000. This exceeds the rate of growth for the United States as a whole. The growth comprises a natural increase since the last census of 412,906 people (that is 1,015,065 births minus 602,159 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 783,382 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 192,099 people, and migration within the country produced a net gain of 591,283 people. Between 2005 and 2006, North Carolina passed New Jersey to become the 10th most populous state. The state's population reported as under 5 years old was 6.7%, 24.4% were under 18, and 12.0% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 51% of the population.
North Carolina has three major Metropolitan Combined Statistical Areas with populations of more than 1 million:
North Carolina has eight municipalities with populations of more than 100,000 (U.S. Census Bureau 2007 estimates):
In 2007, the U.S. Census estimated that the racial makeup of North Carolina was as follows: 70% White American, 25.3% African-American, 1.2% American Indian, and the remaining 6.5% are Hispanic or Latino (of any race). North Carolina has historically been a rural state, with most of the population living on farms or in small towns. However, over the last 30 years the state has undergone rapid urbanization, and today most of North Carolina's residents live in urban and suburban areas, as is the case in most of the United States. In particular, the cities of Charlotte and Raleigh have become major urban centers, with large, diverse, mainly affluent and rapidly growing populations. Most of this growth in diversity has been fueled by immigrants from Latin America, India, and Southeast Asia.
African Americans make up nearly a quarter of North Carolina's population. The number of middle-class blacks has increased since the 1970s. African Americans are concentrated in the state's eastern Coastal Plain and in parts of the Piedmont Plateau, where they had historically worked and where the most new job opportunities are. African-American communities number by the hundreds in rural counties in the south-central and northeast, and in predominantly black neighborhoods in the cities: Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Winston-Salem.
The state has a rapidly growing proportion of Asian Americans, specifically those of Indian and Vietnamese descent; these groups nearly quintupled and tripled, respectively, between 1990 and 2002, as people arrived in the state for new jobs in the growing economy. Recent estimates suggest that the state's Asian-American population has increased significantly since 2000.
Settled first, the coastal region attracted primarily English immigrants of the early migrations, including indentured servants transported to the colonies and descendants of English who migrated from Virginia. In addition, there were waves of Protestant European immigration, including the British, many Scots Irish, French Huguenots, and Swiss Germans who settled New Bern; many Pennsylvania Germans came down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on the Great Wagon Road and settled in the Western Piedmont and the Foothills of the Blue Ridge. A concentration of Welsh (usually included with others from Britain and Ireland) settled east of present Fayetteville in the 18th century. For a long time the wealthier, educated planters of the coastal region dominated state government.
Since 1990 the state has seen an increase in the number of Hispanics/Latinos. Once chiefly employed as migrant labor, Hispanic residents of the 1990s and early 2000s have been attracted to low-skilled jobs that are the first step on the economic ladder. As a result, growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants are settling in the state.
North Carolina has the highest American Indian population of states on the East Coast. The estimated population figures for Native Americans in North Carolina (as of 2004) is 110,198. To date, North Carolina recognizes eight Native American tribal nations within its state borders. Those tribes are the Coharie, Eastern Band of the Cherokee, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Sappony, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and Waccamaw-Siouan.
North Carolina, like other Southern states, has traditionally been overwhelmingly Protestant. By the late 19th century, the largest Protestant denomination was the Southern Baptists. However, the rapid influx of northerners and immigrants from Latin America is steadily increasing the number of Roman Catholics and Jews in the state. The Baptists remain the single largest church in the state, however. The religious affiliations of the people of North Carolina, as of 2001, are shown below:
Amtrak operates The Palmetto with service from New York to Florence to Savannah Georgia, as well as Silver Star from New York to Florence to Tampa via Raleigh, Cary, Southern Pines and Hamlet N.C., and Silver Meteor from New York to Florence to Miami via Rocky Mount N.C and Fayetteville N.C. The state subsidizes both the Piedmont and Carolinian intercity rail serving the research triangle. Amtrak has announced a third subsidized train that will run between Raleigh and Charlotte. This train will run midday to complement the Piedmont and Carolinian and include stops in Greensboro, Burlington, and High Point. There is also the Crescent which runs from New York to Atlanta during the early morning before dawn.
Several cities are served by mass transit systems.
The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) operates a historical trolley line and 76 bus and shuttle routes serving Charlotte and its satellite cities. In 2007 it opened the LYNX light rail line connecting Charlotte with suburban Pineville. There are future plans to expand LYNX Light Rail as well as implementation of Commuter Rail and Streetcar.
The Fayetteville Area System of Transit (FAST) serves the city with ten bus routes and two shuttle routes.
The Triangle Transit Authority operates buses that serve the Triangle region and connect to municipal bus systems in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; recent efforts to build a light rail from downtown Raleigh to downtown Durham failed as TTA's projected ridership did not meet federal standards.
Greensboro is serviced by the Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA), which operates 14 bus routes. Additionally, the Higher Education Area Transit (HEAT) system provides service to students who attend the following institutions: Bennett College, Elon University School of Law, Greensboro College, Guilford College, Guilford Technical Community College, North Carolina A&T State University, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The HEAT service provides transportation between campuses and various other destinations, including downtown Greensboro.
Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA) operates 30 bus routes around the city of Winston-Salem; additionally, WSTA recently completed construction of a central downtown mult-modal transportation center with 16 covered bus bays adjacent to a large enclosed lobby/waiting area. There are future plans being discussed for a $52 million streetcar system connecting Piedmont Triad Research Park/Downtown with Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) is the Triad's 10-county regional organization with the goal of enhancing all forms of transportation through regional cooperation. PART Express Bus provides express shuttle service to each major Triad city from Piedmont Triad International Airport, while Connections Express connects the Triad to Duke and UNC Medical Centers. PART is also administering and developing several rail service studies that include both commuter and intercity rail.
Wilmington's Wave Transit operates six bus lines within the city as well as five shuttles to nearby areas and a downtown trolley.
In July 2008, Western Piedmont Regional Transit Authority began serving Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and Alexander counties in the region just west of Charlotte.
Jacksonville recently began a trial bus system called the LOOP, which runs two routes through the city and nearby Camp Lejeune.
The North Carolina Highway System consists of a vast network of Interstate highways, U.S. routes, and state routes. North Carolina has the largest state maintained highway network in the United States. Major highways include: