The Tar Heel nickname has a long and storied history, tracing its roots back to North Carolina's prominence as a producer of turpentine, tar, tar and other materials from the state's abundant pine trees. During the American Revolutionary War, North Carolina supplied much of the naval tar needed for English ships. This led to the state becoming widely known as the “tar heel state” and eventually, Parliament offered a reward for its production. In 1863, during the Civil War, North Carolina soldiers stood firm during a battle, even after a Virginia regiment had withdrawn.
This earned them the nickname “tar heels” as an expression of state pride. In 1893, students at the University of North Carolina founded a newspaper and named it The Tar Heel. What keeps the nickname of the tar heel vibrant in large part are the sports teams at the University of North Carolina. Along with significant areas of dissent in the mountains and parts of the central region of the state, eastern North Carolina was an area of “flexible loyalties” and wasn't immune to this new cotton boom, but cotton didn't displace the turpentine industry there as it did elsewhere. The Tar Heel nickname is an important part of North Carolina's history and culture.
It is a reminder of the state's proud past and its role in supplying naval tar to England during the American Revolutionary War. It is also a symbol of state pride and unity, as it was earned by North Carolina soldiers during the Civil War. Finally, it is a source of pride for students at the University of North Carolina who have kept this nickname alive through their sports teams.