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@2009 Sue Ashby

Updated 08/20/2010

Expansion by Americans from the Atlantic to the Pacific took many years,
often spanning generations. During the colonial
years, travel was largely North-South. Following the
Revolutionary War, citizens of the new nation began to forge westward
and were often joined by newly arriving immigrants. Expansion occurred
by different paths and a variety of transport means.
Among the trails and roads of special interest to genealogists and
historians researching North Carolina history and peoples are the five described here.

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The Fall Line Road ran parallel to and between the King's Highway and the Upper Road. The road broke off from the King's Highway at the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. By 1735, it carried traffic into the interior of Virginia and the Carolina and across into Georgia. The road followed the fall line, a geographical feature caused by erosion, a separation line stretching from Maryland all the way to Georgia, running between the river tidelands and inland elevations on the Atlantic coast--it defines aneast and west division between the upper and lower elevations. Persons traveling from Pennsylvania to Maryland to the inland areas of Carolina before 1750 probably followed this road because it was an easier road to travel than the Piedmont road (called the Upper Road). The road was of particular importance to the Carolinas because it connected them to their neighbors. North Carolina's local laws called for building roads only "to the nearest landing," which created a haphazard system of major roadways which led only to water routes. The result had been that although the major towns in North Carolina soon had
roads, they didn't lead to each other! The road saw heavy use during the Civil War and afterwards, and was gradually improved.
Hordes of early German and Scotch-Irish settlers used what became known as the Great Wagon Road to move from Pennsylvania southward through the Shenandoah Valley through Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, a distance of about 800 miles. Beginning first as a buffalo trail, a great Indian Road (the Great Warrior Path) ran north and south through the Shenandoah Valley, extending from New York to the Carolinas. The mountain ranges to the West of the Valley are the Alleghenies, and the ones to the east constitute the Blue Ridge chain. The Second Treaty of Albany (1722) guaranteed use of
the valley trail to the Indians. At Salisbury, North Carolina, the Great Warrior Path was joined by the Indian's "Great Trading Path." By the early 1740s, a road beginning in Philadelphia (sometimes referred to as the Lancaster Pike) connected the Pennsylvania communities of Lancaster, York, and Gettysburg. The road then continued on to Chambersburg and Greencastle and southward to Winchester. In 1744, the Indians agreed to relinquish the Valley route. Both German and Scotch-Irish immigrants had already been following the route into Virginia and on to South Carolina, and Georgia. After 1750 the Piedmont areas of North Carolina and Georgia attracted new settlers. From Winchester to Roanoke the Great Wagon Road and the Great Valley Road were the same road, but at Roanoke, the Wagon Road went through the Staunton Gap and on south to North Carolina and beyond whereas the Valley Pike continued southwest to the Long Island of the Holston, now Kingsport. The Boone Trail from the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin joined the road at the Long Island of the Holston.
From Boston to Charleston on the King's Highway was about 1300 miles. It was possible to travel this road by wagon, averaging about 20-25 miles per day. A traveler making the entire journey would have taken at least two months. Conestoga freight wagons, drawn by four to six strudy horses, were especially designed for mud with iron-rimmed wheels nearly a foot wide. The road's origins are traced to the old Delaware Indian trail (across Jersey) which Peter Stuyvesant used to force out the Swedes in 1651. Then in 1673, in response to King Charles' wish that communication be established between his colonies,
the first crude riding trail was created for mail service between Boston and New York. Named the "Boston Post Road," it eventually expanded into "the King's Highway." By 1750, a continuous road existed for stagecoach or wagon traffic from Boston to Charleston, linking all thirteen colonies, but the road was a difficult one to travel. During the Revolutionary War, the King's Highway as a link between the colonies helped them to coordinate their war efforts. However, the name was looked upon with such disfavor by American patriots that many began once again to use the name "Boston Post Road."
The Upper Road branched off from the King's Highway at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and went southwest through Hillsboro, Salisbury, and Charlotte in North Carolina, then on to Spartanburg and Greenville in South Carolina. The road generally followed the old Occaneechee Path which went from Bermuda Hundred on the James River, and Old Fort Henry (now Petersburg) southwest to the Indian trading town of the Occaneechi which existed by 1675 on an island in the Roanoke River at about the location of today's Clarksville, Virginia, close to the present Virginia and North Carolina state line. From that location the trading trail went both north and south. The Trading Path divided at the Trading Ford of the Yadkin River, one branch turning toward Charlotte, the other through Salisbury to Island Ford on the Catawba, to the north of present Lake Norman. DeSoto and his cavaliers were perhaps the first white men to use portions of the great Occaneechi Path (1540). Some of the people associated with Fort Henry were Col. Abraham Wood, Thomas Batts, Robert Fallam, James Needham, Gabriel Arthur, and John Lederer. From 1700-1750, active trading was carried on by white emigrants with Indian villages. After 1740, the proprietary governor of the Granville District began to issue grants to Quakers and others from the tidewater counties of North Carolina and Virginia, attracting them into the northern half of North Carolina. By 1750, the Upper Road became an important wagon route for southbound migrations into that portion of North Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, the road was used extensively for troop movements in the South--relating to the battles at Guilford Courthouse, King's
Mountain, and Cowpens.
The road through the Cumberland Gap was not officially named "the Wilderness Road" until 1796 when it was widened enough to allow Conestoga Wagons to travel on it. However, by the time Kentucky had become a state (1792), estimates are
that 70,000 settlers had poured into the area through the Cumberland Gap, following this route. The Cumberland Gap was first called Cave Gap by the man who discovered it in 1750--Dr. Thomas Walker. Daniel Boone, whose name is always associated with the Gap, reached it in 1769, passing through it into the Blue Grass region, a hunting ground of Indian tribes. He returned in 1775 with about 30 woodsmen with rifles and axes to mark out a road through the Cumberland Gap, hired for the job by the Transylvania Company. Boone's men completed the blazing of this first trail through the Cumberland Mountains that same year, and established Boonesborough on the Kentucky River. The Wilderness Road connected to the Great Valley Road which came through the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania. Some suggest the origin of the Wilderness Road was at Fort Chiswell (Ft. Chissel) on the Great Valley Road where roads converged from Philadelphia and Richmond. Others claimed the beginning of the road to be at Sapling Grove (today's Bristol, VA) which lay at the extreme southern end of the Great Valley Road since it was at that point that the road narrowed, forcing travelers to abandon their wagons. 


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