Colonial North Carolina's warm, humid climate was perfect for growing tobacco and rice, so most early settlers worked on tobacco and rice plantations, according to the North Carolina Business History website HistoryNC.org. In addition, pine products were abundant and easy to collect, and the ragged coastline was conducive to smugglers and pirates.
North Carolina was settled mostly by people expanding out of Virginia and they brought their main commercial interest with them: running a tobacco plantation. Additionally, they imported the tradition of using indentured servants to work the farm; within decades, these involuntary laborers were replaced with African slave labor, according to LiveNC.org. By 1700, North Carolina farmers had also discovered the value of rice as a cash crop, and it quickly overtook tobacco as the main export of the state. Pigs also did very well in North Carolina, and by the middle of the 18th century, tens of thousands of Carolina hogs were driven overland every year to Northern markets.
Pine products were also valuable exports, including tar, turpentine and tall, straight mature tree trunks that were valuable as masts. Because tar was so abundant, North Carolinians became known as "tar heels." Despite abundant exports, a major seaport never developed in North Carolina, perhaps because the hundreds of little inlets and sounds made it easy for boats to put into port - and facilitated a more shadowy trade practiced in North Carolina, smuggling. Smugglers were not above a little piracy and the well-known Colonial-era pirates Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard favored North Carolina coastlines as well.