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May 08 , 2009

A Very Mutinous People

The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713
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Overview

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.
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