LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

  1. Credits & acknowledgments
  2. Introduction
  3. About this "digital textbook"
  1. 1 A slave state
    1. 1.1
      Distribution of land and slaves
      In this activity, students analyze census data and maps to understand the distribution of land, wealth, and slaves in antebellum North Carolina.
      • Format: activity
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1860
    2. 1.2
      Social divisions in antebellum North Carolina
      An overview of the social divisions of antebellum North Carolina: large planters and smaller-scale slaveholders, small farmers and skilled laborers, tenant farmers and unskilled laborers, free blacks, and slaves.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1860
    3. 1.3
      North Carolina v. Mann
      In this 1829 court decision, Judge Thomas Ruffin established the nearly absolute power of a slaveholder over a slave. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: court decision
      • Relevant dates: 1829
    4. 1.4
      The Quakers and anti-slavery
      In this excerpt from his memoirs, Levi Coffin describes the early abolition movement in North Carolina and the tensions among abolitionists over the best way to free slaves. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1820–1825
    5. 1.5
      Levi Coffin and the Underground Railroad
      A brief history of the Underground Railroad, an informal connection of people and homes across the United States that helped fugitive slaves reach safety in the North and elsewhere. Includes a discussion of the role of North Carolina native Levi Coffin.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1810–1820
    6. 1.6
      Negotiated segregation in Salem
      In Salem, North Carolina, white Moravians and African Americans found ways to live, work, and worship separately and together.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1865
    7. 1.7
      Manumission
      Petition from Ned Hyman to the North Carolina General Assembly asking for his manumission. Hyman claimed that his owner had promised him his freedom upon his owner's death. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: petition
      • Relevant dates: 1833
    8. 1.8
      A petition to free a white slave
      Petition to the North Carolina General Assembly to free an enslaved woman named Lucy. The petitioner, Gurdon Deming, argued that Lucy was too "perfectly White" to be kept in slavery.
      • Format: petition
      • Relevant dates: 1800
    9. 1.9
      Black codes
      Excerpts from the North Carolina Revised Code of 1855 with respect to free and enslaved African Americans, known as the "black codes." Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: legislation
      • Relevant dates: 1790–1860
    10. 1.10
      Advertising for slaves
      Advertisements for sales of slaves and for runaways in the Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, North Carolina), January 7, 1837. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: newspaper (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1837
    11. 1.11
      Runaways and slave hunters in the Dismal Swamp
      An excerpt from Frederick Law Olmsted's A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, in which he describes North Carolina's Dismal Swamp, the runaway slaves who lived there, and the slave hunters who tried to catch them. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1860
    12. 1.12
      Antislavery feeling in the mountains
      In this excerpt from his book (1860), Frederick Law Olmsted describes his interactions with residents of the Appalachian region and their opinions on slavery. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1853–1854
  2. 2 Farms and plantations
    1. 2.1
      Crops and livestock
      A series of maps based on U.S. Census of Agriculture data show changes in North Carolina's agriculture over time.
      • Format:
      • Relevant dates: 0
    2. 2.2
      Seasons on a farm
      An excerpt from the diary of James Evans, a farmer in Cumberland County, North Carolina. The diary spans the years 1851–1859.
      • Format: diary
      • Relevant dates: 1851–1859
    3. 2.3
      Diary of a planter
      Excerpt from the diary of Henry W. Harrington, Jr., a plantation owner in Richmond County, North Carolina. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: diary
      • Relevant dates: 1852
    4. 2.4
      Diary of a farm wife
      • Format: diary
      • Relevant dates: 1854
    5. 2.5
      The duties of a young woman
      • Format: speech
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1860
    6. 2.6
      Southern cooking, 1824
      Excerpts from The Virginia Housewife, an 1824 cookbook, including advice for kitchen management, instructions for making soap and for curing bacon and ham from a freshly slaughtered hog, and various recipes. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1860
    7. 2.7
      Southern honor
      Excerpts from the diary of Thomas Bowie, a young man in Louisiana, in which he writes about fighting, hunting, and girls he was courting. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: diary
      • Relevant dates: 1857
    8. 2.8
      Court days
      Excerpt from an 1857 novel in which the author, a tutor from the North living in Bertie County, North Carolina, describes the people and events he saw at court days. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1860
    9. 2.9
      A bilious fever
      Excerpt from an 1850 novel in which the author describes the illness he succumbed to on a trip to Nag's Head. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1860
    10. 2.10
      Bright leaf tobacco
      Tobacco had always been a major crop in North Carolina, but not until the accidental development of the “bright leaf” variety in 1839 did the market for the product really start booming.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1839
    11. 2.11
      Naval stores in antebellum North Carolina
      Excerpt from Frederick Law Olmsted's A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States in which he describes the production of naval stores (turpentine, tar, rosin, and pitch) in eastern North Carolin and the people who lived and worked in the pine forests. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1860
    12. 2.12
      Managing a plantation: Expenses
      Page from an account book kept by Duncan Cameron, a wealthy North Carolina planter, listing his business with a Petersburg merchant in 1841–42. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: document
      • Relevant dates: 1842
    13. 2.13
      Managing a plantation: Property
      Excerpt from the papers of Duncan Cameron, a wealthy North Carolina planter, listing property on his plantations, with notes of those that needed special attention. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: document
      • Relevant dates: 1844
    14. 2.14
      Setting up a plantation
      Excerpts from the papers of Paul Cameron, detailing the costs of setting up a new plantation in Greene County, Alabama. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: document
      • Relevant dates: 1844–1846
    15. 2.15
      Antebellum homes and plantations
      • Format:
      • Relevant dates: 0
  3. 3 Life in slavery
    1. 3.1
      The life of a slave
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1860
    2. 3.2
      Interview with Charlie Barbour
      Federal Writers Project interview with former slave Charlie Barbour. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: interview (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1851–1865
    3. 3.3
      James Curry's childhood in slavery
      Excerpt from the "Narrative of James Curry, A Fugitive Slave," in which the author recalls his childhood and the experiences of his mother. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1815–1840
    4. 3.4
      Interview with Lila Nichols
      Federal Writers Project interview with former slave Lila Nichols. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: interview (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1848–1865
    5. 3.5
      Interview with Willis Cozart
      Federal Writers' Project interview with former slave Willis Cozart. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: interview (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1850–1865
    6. 3.6
      Interview with Josephine Smith
      WPA interview with former slave Josephine Smith, in which she describes the experience of being sold away from her father and the treatment of slaves by speculators and traders.
      • Format: interview
      • Relevant dates: 1845–1937
    7. 3.7
      Interview with W. L. Bost
      Federal Writers Project interview with former slave W. L. Bost. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: interview (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1849–1937
    8. 3.8
      Interview with Cornelia Andrews
      Federal Writers Project interview with former slave Cornelia Andrews. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: interview
      • Relevant dates: 1850–1865
    9. 3.9
      Interview with Fountain Hughes
      Interview with former slave Fountain Hughes, performed in 1949. Includes an audio recording and historical commentary.
      • Format: interview
      • Relevant dates: 1848–1865
    10. 3.10
      Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
      Excerpt from the book by Harriet Jacobs, describing her master's attempts to exploit her sexually and her mistress' response to the situation. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1817–1825
    11. 3.11
      Lunsford Lane buys his freedom
      Excerpt from the autobiography of former slave Lunsford Lane, explaining how he was able to purchase his freedom. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1860
    12. 3.12
      James Curry escapes from slavery
      Excerpt from the memoir of James Curry, former slave in North Carolina, describing his escape to the North and plans to move to Canada. Includes historical commentary. Note: This source contains explicit language or content that requires mature discussion.
      • Format: essay
      • Relevant dates: 1820–1840
    13. 3.13
      Jonkonnu in North Carolina
      In antebellum North Carolina, Christmas season was the time for an African American celebration called Jonkonnu that involved music, dancing, and elaborate costumes.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1860
    14. 3.14
      Managing a plantation: Slaves
      List of slaves on the Cameron plantation in Orange County, North Carolina, 1844. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: document
      • Relevant dates: 1844
  4. 4 Business and industry
    1. 4.1
      Towns and villages
      A map and census data show the sizes and locations of North Carolina towns on the eve of the Civil War.
      • Format: activity
      • Relevant dates: 1860
    2. 4.2
      Occupations in 1860
      List of occupations reported by North Carolinians in the Census of 1860. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: activity
      • Relevant dates: 1860
    3. 4.3
      Businesses by county, 1854
      In this activity, students explore an excerpt from the Southern Business Directory and General Commercial Advertiser of 1854 to learn about business and town life in antebellum North Carolina.
      • Format: activity
      • Relevant dates: 1854
    4. 4.4
      Thomas Day
      Biography of Thomas Day, a free African American in antebellum Caswell County who was North Carolina's most famous furniture craftsman and cabinetmaker.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1801–1860
    5. 4.5
      Indian Cabinetmakers in Piedmont North Carolina
      Thomas Day, a well-known African American cabinetmaker in North Carolina, worked and socialized with members of the American Indian community, who often faced the same types of racial discrimination as free blacks. Historical evidence suggests that Uriah and Nathan Jeffreys, cabinetmakers of American Indian origins, were Day’s close friends and may have worked with him at one time.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1865
    6. 4.6
      The Nissen Wagon Works
      History of the Nissen Wagon Works founded in Salem, North Carolina, in 1834. North Carolinians carried goods to market in Nissen Wagons, and the works supplied wagons and gun carts to the Confederacy during the Civil War.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1834–1925
    7. 4.7
      The Alamance Cotton Mill
      In 1837, Edwin Holt founded the Alamance Cotton Mill, which began the industrial development of Alamance County. The mill produced the first colored fabrics in the South, including the popular "Alamance Plaid."
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1837–1884
  5. 5 Technology and transportation
    1. 5.1
      The invention of the telegraph
      After Samuel Morse developed a means of transmitting messages using electricity in the 1830s, it took several years for the technology to become commercially practical. The first telegraph wires, between Baltimore and Washington, were strung in the 1840s.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1845
    2. 5.2
      The North Carolina Railroad
      The North Carolina Railroad, built in the 1850s, connected Charlotte, Greensboro, and Goldsboro.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1851–1865
    3. 5.3
      Estimated cost of the North Carolina Rail Road, 1851
      In this activity, students analyze an account of the cost of building the North Carolina Railroad in the 1850s and evaluate how much it cost in "today's dollars."
      • Format: article (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1851
    4. 5.4
      The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad
      When it was built in 1840, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was the longest in the world. During the Civil War it became known as the "lifeline of the Confederacy" for its role in moving goods from the port of Wilmington to Lee's army in Virginia.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1833–1865
    5. 5.5
      A railroad timetable
      Railroad schedule from the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, 1859. In the accompanying activity, students use maps and railroad schedules to compare train travel in 1859 and today.
      • Format: ephemera
      • Relevant dates: 1859
    6. 5.6
      The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road
      The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road, a wood-paved highway, connected the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina with the Moravian settlements at Salem.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1849–1865
    7. 5.7
      On the road with Jane Caroline North
      In this excerpt from her diary of 1851, Jane Caroline North describes her experiences traveling from South Carolina to Virginia to the mineral springs of western Virginia. Part of her route ran through North Carolina, and although she was able to travel part of the way by railroad, her experience shows how complicated and inconvenient travel could still be in the 1850s. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: diary (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1851
  6. 6 Music and the arts
    1. 6.1
      Joining together in song: Piedmont music in black and white
      This article from Carolina Music Ways discusses musical interactions between African Americans and European Americans prior to the Civil War, including African American participation in Moravian sacred music and the contributions of black and white Americans to the string band tradition in the North Carolina Piedmont.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1860
    2. 6.2
      African American spirituals
      Excerpt from Frederick Douglass' autobiography in which he describes the purpose and effect of spirituals for enslaved people. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1845
    3. 6.3
      The Gospel Train
      Audio and lyrics of an African American spiritual. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: music
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1865
    4. 6.4
      I'm Gwine Home on de Mornin' Train
      Audio and lyrics of an African American spiritual. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: music
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1865
    5. 6.5
      Long Way to Travel
      Audio and lyrics of an African American spiritual. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: music
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1865
    6. 6.6
      Frankie Silver
      Frankie Silver was hanged in Morganton in 1833 for the murder of her husband. According to legend, she sang her confession from the gallows.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1831–1833
    7. 6.7
      The Ballad of Frankie Silver
      Frankie Silver was hanged in Morganton in 1833 for the murder of her husband. According to legend, she sang her confession from the gallows. This version of her "ballad" was printed in a Morganton newspaper in 1884.
      • Format: music
      • Relevant dates: 1831–1833
    8. 6.8
      All hail to thee, thou good old state
      A poem by Mary Bayard Devereux Clarke, North Carolina writer and editor, written in 1854. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: poetry
      • Relevant dates: 0
    9. 6.9
      The Old North State
      Poem written by William Gaston in the 1830s that later became the state song of North Carolina.
      • Format: newspaper
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1840
    10. 6.10
      George Moses Horton
      The historic poet laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina, George Moses Horton, was the only person to publish a book while living in slavery.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1800–1870
    11. 6.11
      Death of an Old Carriage Horse
      Poem by George Moses Horton. Includes historical and literary commentary.
      • Format: poetry
      • Relevant dates: 1840–1865
  7. 7 Towards secession
    1. 7.1
      From proslavery to secession
      Between 1830 and 1860, as abolitionism grew in the North, southerners largely stopped questioning the wisdom of slavery and argued strongly for extending it.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1830–1860
    2. 7.2
      The Mexican-American War
      Brief history of the war between Mexico and the United States (1846–48) and the expansion of the U.S. under President James Polk.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1845–1849
    3. 7.3
      The California Gold Rush
      The California Gold Rush, which began in 1848, caused thousands of people to head west, most of them by land across the American continent.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1846–1850
    4. 7.4
      The Compromise of 1850
      The Compromise of 1850, passed by Congress after the Mexican War, temporarily appeased both northerners and southerners who debated the expansion of slavery.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1850
    5. 7.5
      A divided nation
      During the 1850s, the issue of slavery severed the political bonds that had held the United States together. The rise of abolitionism, renewed conflict over the expansion of slavery into the western territories, and the Dred Scott decision all pushed the nation closer to civil war.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1850–1860
    6. 7.6
      Benjamin Hedrick
      Letter from UNC professor Benjamin Hedrick to the Raleigh North Carolina Standard in 1856 justifying his support of the Republican candidate for President. Hedrick was attacked for his views and would be fired by the university.
      • Format: newspaper
      • Relevant dates: 1856
    7. 7.7
      UNC dismisses Benjamin Hedrick
      Minutes of a meeting of University of North Carolina faculty in which they agreed to the dismissal of professor Benjamin Hedrick, who had published his views supporting the Republican candidate for President.
      • Format: document
      • Relevant dates: 1856
    8. 7.8
      The impending crisis of the South
      Excerpt from Hinton Helper's 1857 book arguing against slavery on the grounds that it kept the South subservient to the North and hurt poor whites. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1857
    9. 7.9
      Furor over Hinton Helper's book
      Description by historian John Spencer Bassett (1898) of the response in North Carolina to Hinton Helper's The Impending Crisis of the South, in which Helper argued against slavery. Includes historical commentary.
      • Format: book (excerpt)
      • Relevant dates: 1859
    10. 7.10
      The Election of 1860
      The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 and John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, set the stage for the election of 1860, in which Abraham Lincoln was elected president with support only from the North.
      • Format: article
      • Relevant dates: 1858–1860
  1. Appendix A. Political Parties in the United States, 1820–1860
  2. Appendix B. North Carolina's Governors, 1836-1861
  3. Appendix C. Remembering the Revolution
  4. Appendix D. The Election of 1860: Results by State
  5. Appendix E. Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students
  6. Appendix F. Reading Slave Narratives: The WPA Interviews
  7. Glossary
  8. Index