Hillsborough History

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Colonial History of Hillsborough

In 1701, English explorer John Lawson ventured into the North Carolina backcountry, exploring what is now Orange, Wake, and Durham Counties. At that time, the region was home to the Occaneechi, Eno, Shakori, Adshusheer, and Saxapahaw tribes. These tribes and their ancestors are estimated to have lived in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina between A.D. 1400 and 1710 and traded with other regional tribes as far as present day Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia along the Great Indian Trading Path. European diseases heavily impacted the tribes living in this area. By the 1710s, they left the region and joined other tribes living in Virginia and South Carolina. Lawson’s explorations opened the area to English settlement in the Carolina Piedmont. By the mid-1700s, English, Scotch-Irish, German and Welsh settlers moved to the area to work the land as farmers, growing corn, wheat and tobacco, as well as raising livestock. Because of this influx of settlers to the area, the town of Hillsborough was established in 1754 by William Churton, due to its location along the Eno River and Great Trading Path. Hillsborough was named in 1766 after the Earl of Hillsborough, who was the British Secretary of State for the colonies. North Carolina’s original British ties are still seen in some of the names around town: Tryon, Wake, King, Queen and Churton.

Hillsborough became an integral part of the state as the county’s court seat, hosting the Third Provincial Congress in 1775, and North Carolina’s Constitutional Convention in 1788. It was also the site of five general assemblies held in 1778, 1780, 1782, 1783 and 1784. William Hooper, one of North Carolina’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence, lived in Hillsborough, and also served in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777. During the American Revolution, the town was used as the base of operations for the Continental Army led by General Horatio Gates. General Cornwallis came through Hillsborough in February of 1781, hoping to drum up loyalist support, but found none. After the Revolution, the town of Hillsborough continued to be the political and cultural center of the Piedmont for the rest of the 18th and into the 19th century.

Scottish Settlement in North Carolina

In 1739 a large migration of Scots to the Upper Cape Fear area was from the Highland county of Argyll and became known as the Argyll Colony. The Jacobite Rebellion in 1745, the breakdown of the clan system, and the rising land taxes in Scotland encouraged further immigration. The second wave of Scottish immigration starting in the 1760s reached its peak in 1774. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 Highland Scots emigrated to the colony during this time. The Scotch-Irish also settled in New England, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.

It is in colonial Hillsborough, the center of commerce in the Carolina Piedmont during the height of Scottish immigration into the North Carolina colony, that Diana Gabaldon places many characters in her infamous series, Outlander.

Outlander and North Carolina

Outlander, written in 1991, is the first book of an eight novel series written by Diana Gabaldon. The multi-genre series spans from 1743 to 1946, and takes place in Scotland, France, Colonial America and the Caribbean. The two main characters, Jamie and Claire, and their proceeding family, are featured throughout the eight novels. The fourth and fifth books in the series, The Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross, take place in North Carolina and include many references to Hillsborough. The books explore American colonial history, Native Americans, the Regulators of North Carolina, the impact of the Stamp Act on the colonies, and colonial life in North Carolina. The main characters live in a fictional Scottish community in the North Carolina mountains, but travel to Hillsborough frequently. Hillsborough plays a central role in both The Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross, because of the links with the Regulator Movement, the hanging in Hillsborough of six Regulators, Edmund Fanning and nearby Alamance Battleground. The books draw on the intensity of the movement that took place in Hillsborough, as shown in the NCpedia.org passage:

Officials grew concerned for their own safety in 1770 after a mob seized a county officer against whom it held grievances—the much-despised Edmund Fanning, a corrupt multiple-office holder in Orange County—grabbed his heels, and pulled him down the stairs, banging his head on each step. The home of another official was entered and his personal possessions were thrown out the window.

While only books four and five focus directly on colonial North Carolina and Hillsborough, the rest of the series continually makes references to the state. The books have inspired a cult-like following, with Salon magazine calling it, “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure romance story ever written.”

The TV Series

Drawing upon the popularity of the book series, Starz adapted the books into a multi-season TV series in 2013, and as of 2018, optioned the show into a sixth season. The show averages approximately 5 million viewers per episode. Since premiering in 2014, the show has been nominated for over 65 awards, including the People’s Choice Awards Favorite TV Show in which it won in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The show was nominated for an Emmy for Best Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (2015), Outstanding Costumes for a Period/Fantasy Series (2016) and Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program (2016). Outlander has won a variety of other awards, including several Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Most Exciting New Series (2014), Most Bingeworthy Series (2016), and the Women’s Image Network Awards for Outstanding Drama Series (2017). Additionally, the lead actress, Catriona Balfe, has been nominated for Best Actress in the television category at the Golden Globe Awards every year from 2016 through 2019. The wild success of the TV show, led one critic to say that Outlander “does for 1743 Scotland what Downton Abbey does for 1912 England.”