A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713

A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713

A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713

A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713


Historians have often glorified eighteenth-century Virginia planters' philosophical debates about the meaning of American liberty. But according to Noeleen McIlvenna, the true exemplars of egalitarian political values had fled Virginia's plantation society late in the seventeenth century to create the first successful European colony in the Albemarle, in present-day North Carolina.

Making their way through the Great Dismal Swamp, runaway servants from Virginia joined other renegades to establish a free society along the most inaccessible Atlantic coastline of North America. They created a new community on the banks of Albemarle Sound, maintaining peace with neighboring Native Americans, upholding the egalitarian values of the English Revolution, and ignoring the laws of the mother country.

Tapping into previously unused documents, McIlvenna explains how North Carolina's first planters struggled to impose a plantation society upon the settlers and how those early small farmers, defending a wide franchise and religious toleration, steadfastly resisted. She contends that the story of the Albemarle colony is a microcosm of the greater process by which a conglomeration of loosely settled, politically autonomous communities eventually succumbed to hierarchical social structures and elite rule. Highlighting the relationship between settlers and Native Americans, this study leads to a surprising new interpretation of the Tuscarora War.


“Wee will have noe Lords noe Landgraves noe Cassiques we renounce them all.” With these words, the earliest settlers of North Carolina declared their complete rejection of any social hierarchy in their colony: aristocrats not welcome. Settlers extended no deference to those who prided themselves on social superiority by means of either blood or land. Enveloped by colonies ruled by ambitious men intent on becoming America’s peerage, North Carolina’s colonists defected, voting with their feet for their own liberation. They set out to build and defend, with force if necessary, a society of equals. the only safe place to build such a utopian community was in the shadows of the British empire: a remote, swampy, hurricane-prone region where communication with the outside world meant a struggle through boggy terrain, where every household had to fend for itself, and where life did not lend itself to dreams of great prosperity. the settlers carved out an independent society on a dangerous coast with no luxuries save one: the opportunity to answer to no one but themselves. But after years laboring for others without pay, that opportunity felt like opulence.

The mainland colonies along the American Atlantic coast accommodated all kinds of experimental societies in the early seventeenth century: Puritans setting up godly communities in New England, tobacco plantations scattered along the rivers flowing into the Chesapeake, a cosmopolitan, international trade center at New Amsterdam. While most European immigrants came from countries with tightly delineated social classes, supposedly socialized in behaviors demanding deference . . .

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