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
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.