History of Raleigh NC

If you’ve ever lived in or visited Raleigh, North Carolina you might be curious as to the city’s unique history.  Most people know that Raleigh was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the lost Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in Dare County.  He died in 1618, long before the city that bears his name was founded.

Until the Revolutionary War, New Bern was the largest city and capital of North Carolina.  After New Bern was demolished by British soldiers, the physical location of Raleigh was selected as the state’s new capital city in 1788. Raleigh was officially established as the county seat of Wake County and the state capital in 1792.  At the time, Raleigh did not exist as a town, but was instead a centrally located area used as a stopover for travelers.  Not long after, official plans were developed for a city modeled after Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time.  Raleigh is one of the few cities in the U.S. that was planned and built specifically as a state capital.

After it was established, the city of Raleigh slowly grew, with the first State House opening in 1794.  The State House provided a location for government affairs and a center for community activities.  Over time, an increasing number of inns, taverns, retail establishments, and mills opened in the city, steadily attracting new residents.

In 1861, legislators voted to secede from the Union, drawing North Carolina into the Civil War.  The city became a focus point for Confederate troops and was used as a meeting place for the state’s wartime council.  At the end of the war, Raleigh was spared devastation from Union soldiers, unlike many other Confederate capital cities.  As a result, Raleigh experienced slow and steady economic growth after the war, developing into a major retail center for Eastern North Carolina.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the development of higher education in Raleigh promoted the region’s culture and economy.  St. Mary’s College was founded in 1842, followed by the Peace Institute in 1858 and the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1877, which later became North Carolina State University.  Shaw University and St. Augustine’s College were also established in 1865 and 1867, promoting diversity and attracting large numbers of African Americans to the city.

Raleigh has steadily continued to grow and today is one of the most densely populated and culturally active areas in North Carolina.

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