South Carolina

Why are NC and SC separate states, and could they ever reunite? Curious SC found out

North and South Carolina aren’t the only states to have parted ways in the U.S. Although, the history of the Carolinas’ split might be one of the most complicated ones.

The differences between North and South Carolina today are more apparent than they were in the 1600s and 1700s.

Today, the main things that the two Carolinas debate over are who has the best sports teams, barbecue and, of course, beaches.

But back when the two states were colonies, the difference was what crops were grown and how much was shipped to put coins in the king’s pocket.

If there wasn’t much of a difference between the two colonies other than where rice could grow best, what caused the change?

That’s where we at Curious S.C. — a project where we answer questions readers have about the culture, history, politics and more about the Palmetto state — decided to dive into North and South Carolina history to discover what happened.

The split

Terry Sullivan, a resident of Tega Cay, S.C., asked: “Why are there two Carolinas, and has there been any discussion about the possibility of them reuniting?”

Tega Cay is a community that sits almost on top of the North Carolina-South Carolina border, so any slight changes in the border affect those in the area.

As far as the history of the split goes, it would take events over the course of a century to really define North and South Carolina.

Earl L. Ijames, an African-American history curator for the North Carolina Museum of History, noted that the split between the Carolinas was more of a “complicated process, less of a sudden split.”

Long before the two Carolinas decided to split, North and South Carolina were known simply as “Carolina,” according to history books.

In 1629, King Charles I initially sent his attorney general, Sir Robert Heath, to try to claim what was known as the Cape Fear territory, according to N.C. history resource website ANCHOR.

Because of Native American tribes violently battling for control of their land, though, King Charles and Sir Heath were unsuccessful in settling the territory. The king’s execution in 1649 also halted any efforts Sir Heath had to colonize the Carolinas.

From 1663 to 1729, ownership of the Carolinas shifted to King Charles II, following the deaths of the previous king and Sir Heath, and his elite eight-person club known as The Lords Club, a.k.a. The Lords Proprietors.

There’s no singular reason why the Carolinas split, but there are a couple political and economical reasons historians believe one Carolina turned into two.

The Tuscarora War

A war between Native Americans and British settlers caused friction between the northern and southern parts of the Carolina settlement, and also showed the unstable leadership of the Lords Proprietors.

The Tuscarora tribe resided in what today is known as North Carolina, long before European settlers found the land, according to ANCHOR.

Historians note that, due to the constant back and forth among the Lords Proprietors, treaties with the Tuscarora Tribe would often be broken, causing friction between settlers and the tribe.

Colonists in the Carolina settlement took some Native Americans as slaves and destroyed parts of their land to get resources.

While the Tuscarora believed that nature should be shared with all, they believed any produce they grew was rightfully theirs. The tribe would often take colonists’ livestock and set fire to the colonists’ land before annual hunts, according to ANCHOR.

On Sept. 23, 1711, the tensions grew to a head. The Tuscarora tribe attacked colonists and killed around 130 settlers.

Long-distance relationship


During the Tuscarora war, King Charles II became frustrated by the tensions within the Carolina colony.

The Lords Proprietors knew Carolina was too big for just one assembly to govern. The main settlements were known as Albemarle and Cape Fear in North Carolina and Charles Town (now Charleston) in South Carolina.

The distance between the two North Carolina settlements and South Carolina’s Charles Town caused the Lords Proprietors decide to split the two areas. In 1712, there was officially one governor for all of Carolina, but an additional deputy governor for the north, creating North and South Carolina.

Across the sea, the king and his parliament weren’t too keen on this structure, though. By 1719, South Carolina, with its better produce and resources, was taken back by the king, and North Carolina continued under proprietory rule.

Will the two ever reunite?

If the two states wanted to reunite, they could, but that decision is highly unlikely.

“Hypothetically it’s possible, but we don’t know what would prompt such a change, especially when you consider the expense and logistics that would be involved,” Robert Kittle, communications director of the Attorney General’s Office, wrote in an email.

There are also the obvious cultural differences that distinguish the two states now.

South Carolina has its Lowcountry cuisine, outdoor-heavy lifestyle, pristine resorts and beaches.

Then North Carolina has quite a few cool, diverse cities. There’s the young, hip college scene in the state’s “Triangle” — Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Then, who could forget the “Queen City,” Charlotte, with its food scene, museums and theaters.

In 2016, lawmakers re-established the long-disputed border between the states, according to previous reporting by the Raleigh News & Observer. The change meant some people who used to live in South Carolina are now North Carolina residents.

For now, it doesn’t look like residents or businesses along the border need to be concerned about another change.

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Briana Saunders answers questions about culture, food, and the environment as the Curious S.C. Reporter for McClatchy’s newspapers. She moved to the Lowcountry after studying Journalism at the University of Missouri, where she led a team reporting the arts and culture of Columbia, Mo. at VOX Magazine.