‘What we might call the first white trash colony….’

“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.”


Byrd’s criticism extends to N.C. architecture

On this day in 1819: President James Monroe, making a tour through the South, is honored at a ball in the upstairs courtroom of the Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton.

The elegant brick courthouse, adorned with cupola, clock and weather vane, was built in 1767 after William Byrd, the acerbic Virginia aristocrat, likened the county’s 50-year-old wooden courthouse to “a common tobacco barn.”