From Pennsylvania To New Lands

The Great Wagon Road
Part 1

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Welcome to Part 1 of a 3 part segment dedicated to “The Great Wagon Road”. This road played a vital part with many of our ancestors traveling southward and westward to new lands and opportunities. The road originally began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and followed The Great Warriors Path which was an Indian trail that many different tribes used. If your ancestor left from Philadelphia, they probably started from 248 Market Street. This was the origin point for most of the mail carriers that began as early as 1750. They would travel 63 miles to reach Conestoga Creek and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

conestoga_river_lancaster

From Lancaster, the road reached York and then Gettysburg. Present day US Highway 30 basically follows the same route that our ancestors used in the 18th century. The changing seasons allowed fair weather or stormy clouds, high rivers or low-lying creek beds. The taverns and inns along the way provided information on what the road had in store for the travelers. These early businesses advertised with signs displaying artwork to demonstrate their services. This was especially helpful to the travelers who were unable to read and write. Some well-known tavern keepers were Casper Fahnestock, Evan Watkins, Thomas Harrison and Valentin Sevier.

TavernSignBissell

From Gettysburg, the wagons headed towards the Potomac River, present day US Highway 11 crosses the river almost exactly where Watkins Ferry crossed in the 18th century. During the years of 1744 through 1770, the ferry was operated from dawn to dusk poling the large boat ferry back and forth across the river. The “boat” grew larger with each year and could easily transport several wagons as well as horses and cattle. When we think of The Great Wagon Road, we must also remember that this road was also used as a route for farmers to get their livestock and goods to market for sale. So, several of our ancestors would be met with huge herds of cattle, sheep, pigs, etc. Many of our ancestors would have a cow attached to the wagon with a rope and it would not be out of the ordinary to find a pig or two as well. Chickens were stored in a pen and transported on the wagon. From Watkins Ferry, the road winds southward to Winchester, Virginia. Present day, Interstate 81 is very close to the original route. To reach Winchester, it would have taken approx. 3 weeks if the weather was fair. Phillip Bush’s Inn was famous and known to all of the travelers that passed through the area. Winchester was a small village and it was founded in 1744.

winchester,va

From Winchester, the route takes present day Interstate 81 and makes its way southward to Harrisonburg with the Shenandoah Mountains to the east. The road becomes very rough in this area during the 1740s up to the 1760s. The terrain is up and down and many travelers became weary due to sickness. Supplies are running out and the weight of their personal possessions are beginning to wear down on the travelers. The lucky ones have horses and could travel much quicker, 20 miles or more a day. Many had handmade carts and many simply walked with their possessions on their backs. This was a very long trip, taking months to complete and the weather, depending on the season, would make traveling much more difficult. When the travelers reached Staunton, Virginia, they all would have been aware of the Indian raids during the 1750s. Staunton was known as the Valley of Virginia and many German and Scottish settlers settled in this area from 1743 through the 1750s. A stone house was built with an underground passage that led to a spring. Many of these first settlers lost their lives during Indian raids. Captain Robert McKenzie visited the area in 1757 and found nothing  of the original settlement except for spears, broken tomahawks and ashes of burnt homes and huts. Indian attacks were frequent along the Wagon Road as it traveled through Virginia and into the Carolinas. Our ancestors often traveled in groups for protection. The Shawnee were very active in this area and the travelers would have been fully aware of this as they traveled through Staunton.

The New River

The above picture shows New River near Fort Chiswell, Virginia. This picture displays the terrain our ancestors were faced with in this area. From Staunton to Fort Chiswell is approx. 144 miles. During this portion of the trip, supplies could be purchased in Big Lick, today known as Roanoke.

cabin in va

After crossing the Roanoke River, travelers could take a new trail westward on the new Wilderness Road, or stay on the The Great Wagon Road into the piedmont area of North Carolina. This marks the end of segment 1 of our 3 part series. The next blog will focus on the entry of North Carolina by our ancestors on this historic route. Below portrays a list of supplies that would have been packed on the wagons.

Food Supplies

200 pounds of flour
30 pounds of pilot bread (hardtack)
75 pounds of bacon
10 pounds of rice
5 pounds of coffee
2 pounds of tea
25 pounds of sugar
½ bushel of dried beans
1 bushel of dried fruit
2 pounds of saleratus (baking soda)
10 pounds of salt
½ bushel of corn meal
½ bushel of corn, parched and ground
1 small keg of vinegar

Water would have been collected along the way and stored in a barrel. All of these items, depending on the quantity, would have been added weight on the wagon or cart. Their personal items may have included tools such as an axe, hatchet, shovel, hammer, animal traps and rope. They would also have household items such as butter churn, butter mold, candles, cooking utensils, dishes, coffee grinder, bedding, clothing, lantern and personal items such as Family Bible, books, doll, rifle and pistol.

wagon (1)

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The next segment will cover North Carolina and the piedmont settlement. Please share your comments and your knowledge of The Great Wagon Road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Life of Thomas Johnson(1764-1846)

Stokes County, North Carolina Partriot

Thomas Johnson was living in Surry County, present day Stokes County, NC as early as 1774 and was appointed to serve as a member of Surry County Committee of Safety.  Thomas gave his birth date as 1764 but no proof has been provided for the location of his birth. It is believed that he was born in Virginia and moved to North Carolina with his family as a small child. According to the Colonial Records of North Carolina, Thomas enlisted in 1779 and was discharged in December of 1779 serving 9 months of service during the Revolutionary War. I was able to locate him listed in the 10th Regiment of Quins Company. More information on the 10th Regiment.

soldier_tent

Land Grants for Thomas Johnson are listed as follows:#562 was entered September 25, 1785 for 50 acres in Buck Island which is present day Hanging Rock area of Stokes County, NC. #569 entered September of 1787, an additional 50 acres in Buck Island. The third grant #764 contained a tract of land consisting of 100 acres lying on the banks of Buck Island Creek entered November 29, 1800. Thomas married Frances(Fanny) Boatright who lived near present day Mountain View, Stokes County. Thomas raised his family of 14 children as listed below.

William(3/1/1794-2/27/1883) married Temperance Kiser and is buried in Stokes County, NC

Thomas Jr.(1797-1864) married Elizabeth(1820-1842) served in Co. K, 148 Indiana Infantry during the Civil War

Catherine(Caty) married Larkin Hall. Traveled back to NC to visit her brother, William

Edmund(1814-1877) married Isabel(1814-?)

Pendleton(1815-1873) married Eliza(1824-?) Traveled back to NC in 1839 to visit his brother, William

Sara married George Brockus

Daniel

Patsy married Byrum Harroll

Frank married Tempy Hall

Nancy married Joel Harroll

Francis living in Wabash County, Indiana in 1861

Poley married Curtis Hall

Elizabeth(Betsy)

Washington married Fanny

buck island stokes county nc

The picture above portrays Buck Island Creek along the falls now located in Hanging Rock Park near present day Danbury, Stokes County. The nearest community settlement during the time the Johnson family lived in the area would have been Germanton, founded in 1790. Located 13 miles south of Danbury, this would have been the center of trade and obtaining goods to sustain the family through the seasons. Germanton is the oldest settlement in the area. Veterans of the Revolutionary War were offered incentives to settle in the area and Thomas Johnson was one among many who chose to do so.

germanton nc

Picture of Courthouse located in Germanton, NC circa 1898

Thomas made the decision to move his family to Indiana circa 1820 and I found him in Henry County after purchasing 80 acres in 1824. Many NC settlers moved to Indiana during this period for several reasons, mainly for the vast amount of land available for much lower prices. William, son of Thomas, did not travel with the family and it is recorded that William climbed a tree in order to watch his family leave as long as possible. Thomas lived in Henry County, Indiana until his death in 1846. He is buried in Dunreith Cemetery beside his wife, Frances.

thomas johnson

During his lifetime, Thomas Johnson portrays to all of us his patriotism, principles, devotion to family and adventurous personality. The trip to Indiana during the 1820’s would have been a long and weary trip for the family. Endurance was proven as the family settled in Henry County and contributed to the community. I should note here, Thomas Johnson’s will was affirmed in open court on August 11, 1846 by Samuel Hoover, Clerk. Reuben Morris and Joseph Cox were listed as witnesses. Thomas mentioned all of his children and even mentioned his son-in-law. James Rose was to receive 1 dollar from Thomas’ estate and nothing more. No additional explanation for the inheritance of James Rose but I’m sure the reasons were very well known to the family at the time.

dunreith cemetery

Below is a copy of a letter written by Pendleton Johnson and Thomas Johnson Jr. addressed to William Johnson in Stokes County, NC. It is dated June 18th, 1839.

Times is tolerable good at this time in our country. Corn is worth 37 1/2 cents per bushel, wheat is worth 75 cents per bushel, oats is worth 31 1/2 cents per bushel. Other articles about the same in propotion. We also inform you that it is uncommon healthy here at this time. We here of no one that is sick at all in the hole settlement. We have had a very fine spring and summer so far except for one nite we had a very hard frost that killed our frute.

A huge amount of these letters can be located at the Henry County Historical Society. Stay tuned for a more detailed description on William Johnson, son of Thomas, in the upcoming months.