The Early Republic

Raleigh, North Carolina was once called the “City of streets without houses.” A host of characters worked to change rural Wake County into a booming trade center and the seat of government. This site explains how the economic and political beginnings of Raleigh eventually turned the city of streets without houses into North Carolina’s vibrant capitol. Each page is a portion of a miniature catalog of Raleigh’s history from the creation of Wake County to the 1850s. The history of key persons in Raleigh’s development, such as Joel Lane and Isaac Hunter explain the political reasons for Raleigh’s placement and its economic origins.

The growth of Raleigh’s religious community during the Early Republic occurred within wider regional trends as the Great Revival swept the South between 1800 and 1805. The disruption of the Revolutionary War and the abolition of the Anglican Church stalled the establishment of a strong institutional church; thus, the first decade of the nineteenth century was characterized by an itinerant ministry, temporary religious space, and an interdenominational spirit. The establishment of separate Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist congregations occurred in the second decade, accompanied by the increasing popularity of the camp meeting. The following two decades saw the continuation of this trend, as the Episcopalians organized Christ Church Parish and Roman Catholicism was established with the Church of St. John the Baptist The separation of Raleigh’s black Methodists in 1849 was both a manifestation of racial tension within integrated congregations and demonstrated the impact of nationally significant denominational transformations on Raleigh’s local churches.

Raleigh's first citizens understood the need to create a community centered on more than gridded streets and railroads. Joseph Gales‘s desire to shape Raleigh into a "community of schools" was realized as inhabitants of Raleigh understood and advocated for academic enlightenment and growth that would no longer be reserved for wealthy white males of North Carolina. Admittance was offered to bonded, apprenticed children, girls, the poor, the deaf, mute and blind, and importantly, free persons of color and in some instances, slaves. However, such liberality soon waned, and Raleigh's schools began to reflect the polarization mounting in the South over the rights of persons of color, both free and slave. The first seventy years of Raleigh's expansion demonstrated that while the city's citizens sought to spread equality and democracy through education, they struggled with and oftentimes overlooked the contradictions that resulted from exclusion.


Crystal Unger, Kathy Gleiditsch, and Leah Brown



Early Raleigh, North Carolina had been described as a “City of streets without houses” (1). Wake County was predominately a forested rural area. Raleigh provided a central location for Wake County’s and North Carolina’s politicians to gather for state business. The completion of the new State House solidified Raleigh’s change from rural post to urban center. Still, the idea that Raleigh was a “city of streets without houses” is significant because while early Raleigh served as a place of political business, once the day’s work ended, travelers found respite in one of the numerous taverns.



Although Raleigh was a newly created town in 1792, Wake County was also subject to wider regional historical trends.  Early southern colonists brought from England loosely held Protestant beliefs not conducive to maintaining a strong institutional church, despite the official establishment of Anglicanism.  The dispersion of settlements and weak clergy decreased the likelihood that a strong religious life could emerge in the southern colonies.  Although evangelical denominations begin to appear in the 1740s, the First Great Awakening which occurred in the mid-eighteenth century in New England and certain Mid-Atlantic regions did not affect the South in the same profound manner.  Rather, the South’s own “great awakening” occurred with the Great Revival between 1800 and 1805 (1). The Great Revival spurred the growth of early Raleigh’s religious sphere and created an atmosphere conducive to the establishment of separate denominational congregations during the first two decades of the nineteenth century.

In Wake County at the turn of the nineteenth century, the disruption of the Revolutionary War and the abolition of the established Anglican Church stalled education and ministry. The few ministers were mostly itinerant, and early inhabitants were reticent to pay them (2). Strong local tradition supported the existence of a small log meeting house known as “Ashbury’s Meeting Place,” where Methodist Bishop Francis Ashbury and other traveling ministers preached as early as the 1780s (3). It may have been located in the 300 block of North Blount Street, and was believed to have been built by Joel Lane (4).
The Great Revival swept through North Carolina between 1802 and 1804, originating primarily with Presbyterians and Methodists in other parts of the state before spreading among Baptists. New Baptist churches were established at this time throughout rural Wake County, with typically small congregations and part-time pastors (5).