“North Carolina, which came to be known as ‘Poor Carolina,’ went in a very different direction from its sibling to the south. It failed to shore up it elite planter class. Starting with Albemarle County, it became an imperial renegade territory, a swampy refuge for the poor and landless. Wedged between proud Virginians and upstart South Carolinians, North Carolina was that troublesome ‘sinke of America’ so many early commentators lamented. It was a frontier wasteland resistant (or so it seemed) to the forces of commerce and civilization. Populated by what many dismissed as ‘useless lubbers’ (conjuring the image of sleepy and oafish men lolling around doing nothing), North Carolina forged a lasting legacy as what we might call the first white trash colony. Despite being English, despite having claimed their rights of freeborn Britons, lazy lubbers of Poor Carolina stood out as a dangerous refuge of waste people, and the spawning ground of a degenerate breed of Americans.”
— From “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg (2016)
The pejorative “sinke of America,” coined in 1681 by Virginia Gov. Thomas Culpeper, foreshadowed by 60 years William Byrd’s even more enthusiastically scornful “History of the Dividing Line.”
“The term [“white trash”] came into use before the Civil War. When the English actress Fanny Kemble visited a Georgia plantation in the 1830s, she reported, ‘The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as “poor white trash.” ’ The term was also in use at that time in the Washington, D.C., area, where blacks and Irish immigrants competed, viciously, for the same lowly jobs.
“I experienced a similar three-tiered social system while living in North Carolina in the 1970s. There was still a strong after-taste of the state’s three pre-integration school systems: one for whites, one for blacks, one for Lumbee Native Americans. The fiercest fighting was never about who would reach the top because it was understood that white people, the non-trashy ones, would always run the show. The fiercest fighting was about staying off the bottom. I even saw this expressed by some unknown poet on the wall of a toilet stall in Lumberton, North Carolina:
Black is beautiful.
Tan is grand.
But white is the color of the big bossman.
— From “The Riches of White Trash” by Bill Morris at themillions.com (April 5, 2012)
Still more phrase-frequency charts from the indefatigable Google Books Ngram Reader:
— sweet tea
— Jesse Helms vs. Terry Sanford and Sam Ervin
— Old North State vs. Tar Heel State. Only now has Tar Heel State become the more common usage? There’s something here I’m not getting.
— redneck vs. white trash and hillbilly
— Marshal Ney. His execution in 1815 apparently accounts for the first spike, his supposed reappearance as a North Carolina schoolteacher for the second.