Opening Doors With Free Genealogy Research

Piedmont Trails has received a huge amount of questions and queries concerning free genealogy techniques. Due to the overwhelming response, Piedmont Trails made the decision to dedicate a blog segment covering the subject. This article will focus on the advantages and the “know-how” of researching without a paid subscription or any type of membership fee attached.

Subscription fees can add up very quickly when it pertains to genealogy. Some companies charge as much as $400.00 yearly to acquire genealogy records and separate fees for DNA testing results. Family lineage software varies as well from $25.00 up to over $200.00 depending on the size and the capabilities of the software. You have to ask yourself, are the fees really worth it? Genealogy research is so much more than researching online references. It involves an adventure, an expedition, a journey that you may be totally missing.

Genealogy Research Is So Much More Than Researching Online References

As with so many researchers of today’s social schedule, time is less available and the online tools are more appealing for this reason alone. But, there is a huge problem with this realm of thinking. Less than 20% of genealogy records and documents are available online. To those who are paying a $200.00 to a $400.00 yearly subscription, these results vary very little. In fact, less than 5% differs from subscription online resources and non-subscription resources. So, with all of this being said, what is the best way to research genealogy in 2019?

The first thing to do is to pinpoint your “family” and then to pinpoint that particular family location. In order to pinpoint a family, you need the family name. In order to pinpoint a location, you need to verify this by a census or a tax list or a land grant or a will/probate. If you don’t have this, start with what you know only. Example: John Smith-family and Stokes County, NC-location. Many of today’s researchers search randomly from one surname to another and filling in the blanks from online trees and other forms of false identification. Free range research does not support accurate results in genealogy. This type of researching only results in clues and hints. Secondly, create a timeline for this family.

  • Example of Timeline:
  • 1750-birth of John Smith
  • 1760-
  • 1770-
  • 1771-Land Grant#452-John Smith 100 acres Dan River-Surry County, NC
  • 1771-marriage of John Smith to Agnes Blackwell-Surry County, NC-6/11/1771
  • 1780-
  • 1784-tax lists for John Smith-3 cattle and 100 acres of land near Dan River
  • 1790-federal census-John Smith-1,2,0,1,0-Stokes County, NC
  • 1800-
  • 1810-Federal census-#101-John Smith-Stokes County, NC
  • 1820-
  • 1830-
  • 1831-Probate of John Smith-Stokes County, NC 4/15/1831

This is now your starting point for researching this particular family. You have the surname, head of household name, the area where the family lived and a timeline demonstrating the known facts on hand. What will be available for this family online? A majority of census records and land grants. Small amounts of marriage documents and wills/probates. You can find some of these items online for free at Family Search. Majority of land grants, warrants and deeds are also available online for each state and county. You can print or download these actual documents freely from the independent county/state websites. You may need to register as a “user” or “visitor” prior to printing or downloading. Now, you can concentrate on the missing information from your timeline that will prove the existence of your ancestor and the details of his/her life. You begin with the area location. In this example, that would be Surry County, Stokes County, NC and Dan River.

Free Range Research Does Not Support Accurate Results With Genealogy

To accurately research the area using the timeline above, you will need to locate Surry County and Stokes County local resources. These can include historical societies, genealogy societies, libraries, universities, museums and much more. Contact the resources either by online, phone, email or by regular mail service. These free resources are tremendous when it pertains to your personal research. Organizations such as these are filled with local history, documents, photographs, personal objects and so much more. The time you are now spending on random online searching can be much more beneficial if you spend the same amount of time corresponding with the local historians of the area and doing this free of charge. The end results are priceless. If you are able to actually visit the area, the rewards are even greater. But, not everyone is able to do this and corresponding with the resources is the most important goal.

Now that you have identified your local resources and communication has begun, you have the ability to prove who your ancestor was and how they lived. Always get a name when you are communicating with any organization or society. Give as many details as possible about your ancestors in order to receive what local information is available. Many of these organizations have volunteers who will actually research for you. This alone is proof why you should never limit your resources to a paid subscription or an online source. Actual documents are the proof you need to prove your lineage. Online family trees are not reliable resources. They are clues and hints only. They do not prove anything except what they represent and that is a fictional account of a family. Books are also clues and hints.

20% Of Genealogy Records Are Available Online

Piedmont Trails will always share free genealogy and historical websites. Hundreds of links can be found on the website and new links are added weekly. North Carolina Genealogy Links and United States Genealogy Links are both pages filled with free online resources. A new page covering Migration Trails and Routes is also filled with free resources and data. If you have trouble finding a particular resource, contact Piedmont Trails and we will attempt to locate a source for you. If you have hit a brickwall with your research and unable to identify a name or location for your ancestor, please feel free to post your query on our forum or group page.

Always plan your genealogy research with goals in mind. Never limit your resources to online only and enjoy your research with the full experience it gives. Always know that unlimited resources are available to you without huge subscriptions or membership dues. Thank You all for your support of Piedmont Trails and wishing you all great success with your research. Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!

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Western Migration 1785-1820

During the years following the American Revolutionary War, many families began settling back to a normal life and reflecting upon the days of conflict. Settlement was discouraged beyond the Appalachian Mountains prior to the war, but now that independence was achieved, the original nation boundaries were beginning to expand in an overwhelming way. Genealogists and historians alike struggle with the research of these early migration routes. Documents pertaining to these roads are rare including maps displaying the exact location of the trails. The first western migration occurred between the years of 1785 and 1820, this in accordance to population records of the National Archives. The fascinating facts are attributed to the pioneers who traveled the routes and why they ventured to these new territories.

They Traveled by Land and By Water to Reach Their New Western Home

The reasons why families traveled west of the Appalachian Mountains varies from one cabin to another. A number of families decided to move west prior to the Revolutionary War to seek peace or to restrain from fighting in the war. Nevertheless, early trails allowed these families to enter present day Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. After the war, the settlers migrated due to the freedom they acquired from the war. They also migrated due to the vast amounts of land that was readily available. Many sought small settlements with no courthouses, no law and less neighbors. Some of the settlers were seeking a new start with no debt or perhaps changing their name and forgetting the events of the past. Understanding these reasons allows us to experience the migration in a different format. Money was extremely scarce after the war and many families were unable to pay the taxes due. Commodities such as coffee, tea, salt and sugar were expensive and prices for livestock, tobacco and other items were down for several years following the war.

For the researchers of these trails, where do you begin to document the facts? The recordkeeping varies with each territory and each new state as new land grants are distributed through the areas. The trails were the Wilderness Trail or Cumberland Gap Road and the National Road. Other Indian trails were known to be followed especially through the Appalachian Mountains and into Tennessee. Land grants were designed in six different categories, Purchase, Military, Pre-Emption, Surveyor, Commission and Legislative. The individual states began records in accordance to statehood. With this being said, your journey now begins with research first taking place on the history of the area in question in order to pinpoint the documents location on your ancestor.

Research the history of the area in question to determine how & where records were kept

Statehood dates for the original 13 colonies are listed below. Each link will take you directly to the individual state archives website. Pennsylvania-1787, New Jersey-1787, Delaware-1787, Maryland-1788, Virginia-1788, South Carolina-1788, Georgia-1788, New York-1788, Massachusetts-1788, Connecticut-1788, New Hampshire-1788, North Carolina-1789 and Rhode Island-1790. By 1791, these states were well settled and processing their own method of recordkeeping in accordance to the new nation’s guidelines.

Tennessee gained statehood in the year of 1796, but land grants were issued in North Carolina until 1806. During the war, North Carolina controlled the lands of Tennessee and protected them from the British Army. In doing so, North Carolina proclaimed documentation and recordkeeping for the lands until the year of 1806. Statehood date does not prove that records were kept and processed in that particular state. To understand how Ohio lands were distributed, read the Complete Guide of Ohio Lands. Ohio gained statehood during the year of 1803. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Indiana in 1816. Illinois became a state in 1818 and Alabama in 1819.

Early Kentucky land records can be found in Virginia prior to 1792. Learning the early colony boundaries will enable you to distinguish the correct boundaries during your ancestor’s arrival to the area. For many war veterans who received land from the Northwest Territory, later learned that the land they held was also held under another name. Many judges rendered final decisions on these disputes from early land records. War veterans were entitled to free land in the new territory. This was approved in order to induce settlement in these areas. But, due to boundary lines and other state’s involvement, these lands were given to one person and sold to another. The free lands encouraged thousands of pioneer families to travel the routes and settle on the western frontier. Eventually, the new state boundaries were formed for Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois which then proved population percentage. This enabled the territories to become states as they grew.

The best method to tracking your early ancestor’s western migration is to create a timeline that proves your ancestor’s location for each year. Then follow the tax list records for the missing years. Each year, taxes were paid and this list will show you location and amount of tax paid. Check each year for your ancestor and if you still are unable to locate them, check wills/probates for their possible death in these areas. Once you have determined the location, you can track backwards to the available routes during that time from point of origin to final destination. This is a time consuming task but it is well worth the journey.

To fully understand the depth of research involved with each state as it became settled would require a segment on each one. This is a goal of Piedmont Trails as we move forward to this summer. The updates on individual state links can be viewed on the United States Genealogy Research page. Also for more information on the migration trails, we have added a new page, Early Migration Routes. Piedmont Trails will be adding more and more details involving research links, maps and more to this site as time allows. The records involving early settlement can be confusing, but the journey is well worth the time and effort. This allows you to discover your ancestor with a totally different approach. The main objective is to enjoy your research and don’t be bombarded with information that is not relevant to your criteria. Majority of the families who traveled west during the years of 1785 to 1820 were enjoying their freedom to wander and settle in new lands. The hope that dwelled within them carried on mile after mile. Carrying only what they needed along the trail, they moved slowly towards the setting sun. Once they arrived, the home was declared and building started immediately. Some families lived the remainder of their lives there while others moved further west to new frontiers. Our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow. Enjoy your journey to the past !!

The Great Wagon Road Enters Into South Carolina

The Alternate Route From Charlotte, NC to Augusta, GA

The last article concentrated on the detailed route of the Great Wagon Road through Kershaw and Camden, South Carolina. This last segment of the route will give details through an alternate route in South Carolina and onward to Augusta, Georgia. The settlers traveled through York County, Chester County and Saluda County. Many of these pioneers would settle all throughout this area and just as many would travel onward to Georgia. South Carolina during the early to mid 18th century was not the wilderness frontier that North Carolina clearly was. Land was not as plentiful through the area and this reason alone discouraged many settlers during the late 18th century. The journey was filled with hardships such as dangerous floods, but the settlers that traveled this route were adventurous and brave.

This route leaves Charlotte, North Carolina traveling 14 miles to the Catawba River crossing into York County, South Carolina. Today, Lake Wylie covers the landscape of the original route. Ebenezerville was one of the first settlements in this area. Traveling along State Highway 49 for approx. 17 miles, the route reaches Fergus Crossroads. The crossroads are now located on Liberty Street intersection in York. The first courthouse in the county was built here in 1786 and the name originated from two brothers, John and William Fergus. The crossroads were extremely important to the area as 6 different wagon road routes connected together at this point. The routes are listed as follows: 1-traveling northwest to Kings Mountain and known as the Rutherford road 2-traveling southwest to Pinckney’s Ferry on the Broad River 3-traveling south to Chesterville 4-traveling northeast to Charlottesburg and the Catawba River(The Great Wagon Road) 5-traveling east to Nation Ford 6- traveling southeast to Landsford in Chester County.

Map of The Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania to Georgia

The route continues for 17 miles to the county line of Chester and Mt. Hopewell Church. Chester county was established in 1785 and the first court was held at the Walker’s home. This location was later known as Lewis Turnout in 1776. The road continues on State Highway 49 for 4 miles to the Broad River located in Lockhart. The actual crossing is now a bridge near the Union County line. Traveling 10 miles from Broad River, the road reaches Union, originally named Unionville. This community was established in 1765 and was named after Union Church. The original church stood near the location of Monarch Mill. It appears that the first settlers arrived in 1749 and greatly grew between the 1760’s and the onset of the American Revolutionary War.

From present day Union, South Carolina, the original route turns left onto State Highway 215 and travels 15 miles to US Highway 72. The route follows the highway for approx. 6 miles until Tuckertown Road is reached. The Tyger River is reached after traveling 7 miles and today is a bridge near the Newberry County line. From the county line to Enoree River crossing is approx. 18 miles. The river looks completely different from the 18th century landscape. The area has been flooded and now has the appearance of a lake where the original crossing ford would have been. From the Enoree River crossing, the route travels for 41 miles crossing the Crims, Wateree and Hollinshead Creeks. The present day route takes you along Broad River Road until you reach Interstate 26.

Tyger River, South Carolina

The road now reaches Saluda River and Lexington County. It is believed that the actual crossing of the river was located at the present day bridge along Interstate 26. The river crossing is 14 miles from Lexington which was originally known as Saxe-Gotha. The community was established in 1735 as one of the 9 original settlements to entice development during the early 18th century. Families were encouraged to travel to these locations, free transportation was provided along with free provisions for one year and free land. Many of the original settlers preferred to own larger tracts of land and to be separated from their neighbors. With this being said, many of these early settlers migrated to other territories and other opportunities. Upon reaching Lexington, the route turns on National Highway 1 and travels 17 miles to Leesville. The settlement of Johnston is reached after traveling 18 miles along the route. The Savannah River is approx. 28 miles from Johnston and the families would navigate the river to reach their destination of Augusta, Georgia.

The Great Wagon Road Consisted Of 800 Miles

Researchers have studied the migration that involved the Great Wagon Road for nearly 200 years. The exact number of families that traveled the road may never be known, but their legacy lives on as present day genealogists and historians strive to document the road. Many are astonished to learn that the historic road is not recognized as a National Historic Trail. Thousands upon thousands of families traveled the route for various reasons. These families suffered hardships that only can be imagined today. They also celebrated an independence and a freedom that encouraged them onward. Their stories of courage deserves to be preserved and honored as well as the original trail itself. It’s up to the present and future generations to complete this goal. Piedmont Trails is proud to announce the involvement of a volunteer group who is currently active on representing this historic trail as a National Treasure. Sharing this data with you all has been a fascinating journey in itself. I encourage you all to travel the route or portions of it, in order to understand the significance and the importance of The Great Wagon Road. During the coming months, Piedmont Trails will share stories of the famous trail complete with details on what your ancestors would have seen and experienced while on the road. Thank You all so much for your support of Piedmont Trails. Wishing you all great success with your research. But, most of all, Enjoy Your Journey To The Past.

The Great Wagon Road Enters Into South Carolina

The previous article left the Great Wagon Road on the banks of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. The road ended at the Shallow Ford Crossing in the year of 1748 before additions were added later. Carolina was a vast wilderness west of the Yadkin River and early settlements were discouraged prior to circa 1730. Edward Hughes operated a tavern in this location for over 50 years. The tavern was in place by 1753. The actual crossing is located near Cornwallis Drive and was comprised of natural stone that was flat across the river and shallow. Although during frequent rains and storms, the area was prone to flooding and would prevent wagons from crossing for days at a time. Early settlers living in this area in 1748 were Morgan Bryan, Squire Boone, James Carter, George Forbush, Samuel Davis and William Linville. It is believed that these settlers all traveled together down the Great Wagon Road from Virginia with the exception of Edward Hughes. According to documents, Edward settled in the area prior to 1748 and traveled from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While traveling, Edward purchased a tract of land in the valley of Virginia during December of 1746 but left the area during the fall of 1747.

From the Shallow Ford crossing, the Great Wagon road ended in 1748 and a small pack horse trail continued from this point to Salisbury, NC. Present day route would be portions of Highway 158, Highway 601 and NC Highway 801. Once on Old Mocksville Road, the original route follows for 8 1/2 miles to Salisbury. This portion of the road was ordered for improvements in 1763 and was completed as a wagon road approx. 1764. Also, from the Shallow Ford crossing, another road was ordered in 1770 that would travel to Mulberry Fields, presently known as Wilkesboro. This road would follow present day Highway 421. It was known to the early settlers as Boone Road, named after Daniel Boone. The road connected to the Wilderness Road and eventually reached Kentucky.

Rowan County, NC

The road ended at Salisbury for a time until 1755 when the road was extended to the Mecklenburg County and the settlement of Charlotte, NC. The present day route follows US Highway 29. Charlotte was originally known as Charlotteburg and was first settled circa 1750. By 1768, the settlement was chartered as a town, largely by Scotch-Irish traders. In most cases, the presence of an inn indicated the location of the county seat. Salisbury and Charlotte both contained inns which allowed the county justices a residence on court days.

The actual route for the Great Wagon Road south of Charlotte has not been fully researched as it has north from Charlotte. Correspondence from historical societies, South Carolina State Archives and libraries support the following route. Traveling south along US Highway 29 to Lancaster County, South Carolina. This boundary was formerly known as the Catawba Indian Nation. This tribe survived the early settlers of the 18th century and survived the American Revolutionary War while fighting with the patriots against Cornwallis. They are a recognized tribe today and many are still living on portions of the original lands.

The road was known to the early settlers as Camden Road or Wagon Road. An historical road marker can be located at Twelvemile Creek which is now a bridge on Harrisburg Road and US Highway 521. Traveling along for 13 miles, you will cross three creeks which are now culverts. The names of these are Fording Causer Branch, Cane Creek and Camp Creek. The road then crosses Gills Creek and enters into present day Lancaster. Lancaster originated as a small settlement as early as 1759. The Waxhaw Presbyterian Church was located in the area during this time period. Lancaster was formed in 1795. Following US Highway 521 for approx. 20 miles, Bear Creek will be visible as well as Kershaw, an early settlement established in 1732. Us Highway 521 continues for approx. 25 miles until the settlement of Camden is reached. Both Camden and Kershaw are treasure troves for early history of South Carolina. Like Kershaw, Camden was established during the year of 1732.

Congaree River Columbia, South Carolina

Camden is located along the Wateree River and was a powerful waterway for the early pioneers. The town was originally named Fredericksburg and Kershaw was known as Pine Tree Hill. From this point, the road takes US Highway 1 and Taylor Street for 30 miles until the Congaree River is reached and the city of Columbia. Continuing on US Highway 1 and Augusta Road, the next 12 miles covers the intersection of present day Interstate 26 and US Highway 1. Lexington is reached on the road after an additional 12 miles. Lexington was formally known as Saxe-Gotha and established in 1735.

Saxe-Gotha Town Plat

Leaving Lexington, the road follows South Carolina Highway 23 for 21 miles to the Edgefield County line. Francis Higgins operated a ferry on the Saluda River and was well-known to many travelers along the road. At this point, the road follows South Carolina Highway 121 for approximate 30 miles until the Savannah River. The travelers would navigate the river to reach Augusta, Georgia.

The next segment of this series will concentrate on another route entering into South Carolina and arriving in Augusta, Georgia. I hope you are enjoying this journey with Piedmont Trails and hoping you are finding new hints and clues for your ancestor’s trails.

The Great Wagon Road In North Carolina

A Detailed Description For Years of 1745-1770

The last segment featured the trail reaching the Carolina wilderness. As the early settlers gazed upon the horizon, they carried within them the dreams of their hearts and the hope of the future. The pioneers have been traveling for weeks now, enduring the hardships of the road and it’s many hazards. The families along with the animals are becoming more and more tired of the daily travel. The rough terrain is harsh along with the elements of nature forcing her hand upon the pioneers. Many of these pioneers changed their destination routes and settled in areas near the road. 

The tall swaying pines were greeting the pioneers as they crossed the Virginia/Carolina state line onto present day Amostown Road located in Stokes County. Traveling 5 miles, they reached present day, Sandy Ridge after crossing Buffalo Creek and Blackies Branch. The trail has continued as an Indian hunting path but it is also following the old buffalo herd trails. The buffalo made several paths that lead to water such as Buffalo Creek. The actual ford of Blackies Branch is located on Dillard Road. The road now joins with NC 704 for 4 miles until it joins NC 772. The next major water crossing would be located at the Dan River. Many different fords have been located along the river, many believe that the most popular ford was located along Glidewell Road near present day Dodgetown Road. Upon reaching the Dodgetown area, a junction in the trail appears. This junction was named Limestone Road during 1770. The pioneers who traveled the road prior to 1770 took the trail extending onto Highway 89 south to Walnut Cove where portions lie across Highway 65 and 66 through Stokes County.

The Great Wagon Road branches into many different trails along the Carolina countryside. As you follow NC 772, 3 miles from Dodgetown area, the settlers would be arriving in present day Dillard. Continuing along NC 772 for 4 miles, the trail turns on Hickory Fork Road until Willard Road. I strongly recommend a 4 wheel drive in this area along Willard Road due to the very rural area and frequent flooding from the Dan River. Once the river is crossed here, the present day road transforms into a dirt path until it reaches Saura Farm Road.  Tuttle Road is located after traveling 2 miles. This road will join US 311 and Oldtown Road near Walnut Cove. Continuing onward for 4 miles, the trail reaches present day Brook Cove Road and then joins Highway 8 until it reaches the original Townfork Settlement. A bridge is now located near the original ford at Town Creek. 

A few surnames who settled this area prior to 1760 are Armstrong,  Beard, Bitting, Braley, Donnel, Gillespie, Grogan, Kerr, McClure, McAdoo, Nicks, Nix and Walker. Majority of these pioneers lived near Buffalo Creek in present day Stokes County, NC.

Documentation proves that settlers were traveling this area as early as 1718

Highway 8 leads the present travelers to Germanton which was established in 1790. The crossing of Buffalo Creek would be waiting on the early settlers which today can be crossed by a bridge. The original trail now travels 1 mile to the junction of Highway 65 in Rural Hall. From here you travel 2 1/2 miles along Germanton Road/Highway 8 until Stanleyville Drive. 5 miles to University Drive in Winston-Salem and 1/2 miles to West Haynes Mill Road. Another 1/2 mile crossing Grassy Creek until the trail reaches Bethania Station Road. At this point, the Moravians built a new road that reached their settlements. This segment will continue with the original trail. 

From Bethania Station Road the trail travels along Beck’s Church Road to Bethabara. In 1763, a new road was ordered in this area that leads to present day Salisbury and the Yadkin River. This route would have been closely followed by Morgan Bryan and his traveling party from Virginia. The actual route can be located near Speas Road and Midkiff Road. The area has drastically changed over the years due to agriculture and economic progress. After 2 miles the trail joins Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem. Traveling for 5 miles along Stratford Road and Reynolda Road, the trail then reached Silas Creek Parkway and Ebert Road. Traveling 4 miles to NC 150 and Old Salisbury Highway, this portion of the road was originally a pack horse Indian trail that traveled east to Cross Creek, otherwise known as Fayetteville, NC.

Documentations prove that George Washington traveled sections of the Great Wagon Road while on his Southern Tour during 1791.

From this point, the road travels 27 miles along NC 150 and US 29 to reach the Yadkin River. Today a bridge marks the crossing along the original route. The above data documents the original route of the road entering into North Carolina. Depending upon the timeline of the early pioneers depends on what actual route they traveled. North Carolina was a land of wilderness with little to very few settlers prior to 1745 in this region. Portions of the land were open meadows which were perfect grazing lands for buffalo. The last document verifying the sightings of buffalo in the region can be found in the Moravian diaries and date to the year of 1758. Huge trees also dominated the landscape as well as wildflowers and natural springs. The land that our ancestors gazed upon so many years ago has greatly changed all through the years. But due to research, it is possible to travel along the same route our ancestors did during the 18th century.

To have a better understanding of the sounds our ancestors heard while on the Great Wagon Road, click here. Also, if you would like to have a better understanding on how the wagons crossed rivers and creeks, click here. Depending upon the timeline of your ancestor, greatly varies  which route was taken. Prior to 1765, only two routes were used from Big Lick(Roanoke), Virginia to Carolina. After 1770, several new routes were established and used up to the American Revolutionary War. By 1790, road improvements were made along the many routes leading into North Carolina and additional routes were made traveling south and west from the region. 

The Great Wagon Road Is A Historic Trail

The early settlers used the road to travel back and forth from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. The road allowed the sale of cattle and crops for many of the pioneers. Supplies were transported into North Carolina via the road to stock shelves in merchant stores located in Moravian settlements, Salisbury and other early towns established prior to 1770. The next segment on the road will give a detailed route entering into South Carolina and Georgia.  Also, a new page will be arriving to Piedmont Trails in  January 2019. This page will give research techniques and information about all 18th and early 19th century migration trails throughout the entire United States.

Piedmont Trails appreciates your support so much. I hope everyone is able to discover many treasures along the trail of your ancestors. Determining the actual route of your ancestors can be a difficult project, but it is not impossible by any means. Using the right research techniques and creating a timeline from your notes will greatly help you determine the right route. All of our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow. Enjoy your journey !!

A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Present Day Roanoke, Virginia to North Carolina State Boundary Line

Welcome to segment 3 of The Great Wagon series. The photo above shows the Roanoke River lined with the season of autumn as it winds and turns through the landscape. The last article ended at present day Roanoke, Virginia, otherwise known to the traveling pioneers as “Big Lick”. Beginning at Franklin Road, a historic road sign informs present day travelers of the historic importance pertaining to the Great Wagon Road. The settlers would have traveled this section and reached the banks of the Roanoke River. The crossing was known as Tosh’s Ford and after crossing the waterway, the travelers would have seen Evans Mill, which was located approximately 1/4 mile south near Crystal Spring. Franklin Road will allow present day U.S. Highway 220 to join the route and here the pioneers would begin leaving the great valley of Big Lick. 

Historic Road Sign Located At Tosh’s Ford, Virginia

The date referencing the group of Moravians using this crossing is incorrect on the historical road marker. The 15 Moravian men left Pennsylvania on the morning of November 2, 1753. Daniel Evans arrived in the area prior to 1750. He settled at the foot of a mountain, now known as Mill Mountain. He captured the waters of Crystal Spring and operated a grist mill along The Great Wagon Road for years. Mark Evans, Daniel’s father, arrived in the area with his three sons, Daniel, Nathaniel and Peter sometime during the year of 1741. Mark died before the large land tract was properly deeded and his son, Daniel became the owner of the property. This acreage extended from the modern Roanoke Regional Airport to the Franklin County line. The spring was known by several names such as “Big Spring”, “Fountain” and “McClanahan’s Spring”. By 1881, the name changed once more to Crystal Spring. The grist mill was built in 1750 and was located  approximately 400 feet from the spring. Evan’s Mill was declared as the “most important mill on the frontier” according to “Virginia Frontier: The Beginning of the Southwest, The Roanoke of Colonial Days(1740-1783)” by FB Kegley. Due to the importance and popularity of the mill, the mountain where the Evan’s family resided became known as Mill Mountain. 

The settlers traveled 5 miles from the location of Evan’s Mill and reached a natural gateway named Maggoty Gap. This passage made it possible for the heavy wagons and livestock to pass through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Morgan Bryan(1671-1763) cut the path for the first wagon in 1746. He later reported to others that he had to disassemble his wagon and carry it piece by piece up the last slope. Morgan stated that this portion of his trip took 3 months to travel 80 miles from the valley of “Big Lick” to his destination of “Shallow Ford” which is present day Yadkin River near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As you can see, it depended greatly on the timeline in which these early settlers traveled on determining the length of time for the trip.

Cahas Mountain, Franklin County, Virginia

Maggoty Gap Location

Carried it piecemeal up the last slope

Quoted by Morgan Bryan(1671-1763)

The route in present day next reaches U.S. Highway 220 freeway intersection and the original route crosses Maggoty Creek and follows VA 613 or Naff Road. A brick structure stands along Naff Road and was an active inn during the mid to late 18th century. The road passed directly in front of this inn. A map from 1865 gives reference to the location serving the travelers along the road. The actual structure dates to the mid 18th century. Traveling 4 1/2 miles to the end of Naff Road, the route once again joins present day U.S. 220 and Goode Highway. The pioneers traveling late 18th century would have seen the mill of Jacob Boon(1749-1814). The area where the mill was located later developed into a community named Boones Mill. Many genealogists and historians become confused with this family and the famous legend of Daniel Boone and his lineage. However; the families were not related at all. Jacob is shown on early documents as Bohn and was later changed to Boon. According to documents, the mill was constructed just prior to the year of 1786.

Passing over Little Creek along VA 739 and traveling 10 miles, the settlers would have crossed Blackwater River. Today this crossing is a one lane bridge along VA 643. Early documents proclaim this area was terribly known for flooding. Several families would be camped near here to wait out the floods before crossing. The photo below shows the color tint of the waters, thus the reason for it’s name.

Blackwater River Bridge in Virginia

Now the route travels 5 miles following VA 802 otherwise known as “Old Carolina Road”. Traveling 9 miles to present day Ferrum which was established in 1889. The construction of the railroad decided to use the original wagon road in 1892. The rail lines were constructed on top of the road in this area. The pioneers would have traveled 6 miles from this location to reach the boundary of Henry County, Virginia. After crossing Town Fork Creek, a steep incline would have been waiting on the wagons. This incline was filled with trees, debris, rocks and many more dangers. It is estimated that the original climb would have been approximately 4 miles with 1 mile of travel along the ridge line. A steep descent along VA 606 and the crossing of Little Reed Creek would have been made along the bottom. Here the route joins back into U.S. Highway 220 and the area of Philpott Dam. The dam has greatly altered the landscape and the appearance of the area would have appeared completely different to the 18th century travelers. Moravian diary entries reveal that many of the travelers regarded this area as the most beautiful along the route.

Beautiful lowlands with many grapes

Quoted by documents located at the Southern Moravian Archives

The Smith River is the next obstacle for the pioneers. Following present day U.S. Highway 220 through Fieldale by vehicle to the river crossing. Many historians speculate that the actual crossing was near the waters of Blackberry Creek. The 1751 Fry-Jefferson Map shows this possible location. From U.S. Highway 220 to VA 609, the route traveled through an early settlement named Rangely. This community was active as early as 1753 and was located near present day Dillons Fork Road. It was popular with the early travelers because of a man named John Hickey(1728-1784). John operated a store and was known as the last stop along the trail to replenish supplies. John Cornelius Hickey was born in Middlesex, Virginia and settled near the Smith River. It is recorded that John also operated an inn and maintained a farm with various crops. The court of June, 1749 ordered the following: 
The road order reads: “It is ordered that a road be laid off and cleared the best and most convenient way from Staunton River to the Mayo Settlement at the Wart (Bull)mountain, and it is ordered that Joseph Mayes and all the male laboring tithables convenient to said road forthwith mark of and lay the most convenient way from Staunton River to Allen’s Creek, and keep the same in repair according to law. 

The road became known as Hickey’s Road, an extension for the Great Wagon Road. From this point, the road traveled 11 miles to reach present day Horse Pasture, Virginia along U.S. 58. The original Moravians camped in this area on November 11, 1753 as noted in the journal held at the Southern Moravian Archives. From this point, the original route crosses over between Wagon Trail Road and George Taylor Road traveling 4 miles to reach the North Carolina state line boundary.

1751 Fry-Jefferson Map

The Great Wagon Road has now reached the boundaries of the Carolina Frontier. The new settlers are anxious upon reaching their new homes. Anticipation grows with each mile as they gaze upon Carolina for the first time. The pioneers were very aware of the miles they had traveled, but how did they measure the actual mileage? The colonial equation was averaged by tying a piece of linen to one of the wooden spokes on the wagon wheel. The circumference of the wheel multiplied by the revolutions the wheel turned equaled to the amount of mileage traveled for the day. For the most part, the settlers traveled approximately 15 miles a day. This 15 miles did not take into consideration, downed trees, sickness, poor weather or failed equipment.  After researching the trail, I believe that 72 miles separated Roanoke, Virginia to the North Carolina state line. 

The next segment will follow the road through the Carolina wilderness, giving details along the way. The road will eventually end in Augusta, Georgia by the end of this series. Piedmont Trails is currently supporting a group of volunteers who are working together in order for the Great Wagon Road to be named as a national historic trail. If you are interested in volunteering with this project, click here or click on the contact page and submit your request. 

Excitement fills the air as new pages are added to this website. United States Research Links is new which covers all 50 states. This page gives you free links for researching history and genealogy. Arriving soon, Migration Trails Throughout The United States. This page will reference early trails and roads that allowed our ancestors to travel. The arrival of this page will be in late December.

I greatly appreciate your support and hope you enjoy your visits with Piedmont Trails. Our ancestors left many trails to follow and I hope you are enjoying your journey to the past. Wishing you all great discoveries filled with many treasures along the way. 

  1. Virginia Frontier-The Beginning of the Southwest, The Roanoke Of Colonial Days(1740-1783) by FB Kegley
  2. Historical Society of Western Virginia
  3. Southern Moravian Archives

A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Winchester, Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia

The wagon wheels are slowly turning as the eyes are focused on the wilderness ahead. The weary are anxious for the trip to be over but the adventurous are eager for the next excitement in the road. The skies are open for all to see as the party succumbs to mother nature and her surroundings. It’s the hope and dreams that thrive within the hearts of so many. The longing of a home; security for the future, prosperity for the hard at work. All of this and more are promised along this road. One step at a time, no matter the obstacle, the road leads onward. The Great Wagon Road, resembling freedom, demanding strength and endurance, while remaining historic for generations of today and all tomorrows.

Welcome to Segment 2, A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road. When the settlers reached present day Winchester, Virginia, they were able to rest before arriving to the wilderness of colonial Virginia. Winchester was then known as Frederick Town and this area was thriving with activity. The three main roads leading from Pennsylvania to Virginia all met at this point. A tavern and several inns were located in the area. Depending on the timeline of your ancestor, the traffic along the road was quickly multiplying as the travelers reached this community. US Highway 11 resides closely to the route our ancestors had taken many years ago. 14 miles from Frederick Town was the crossing of Cedar Creek located at the Shenandoah County line. A bridge is now located near the original ford crossing. Trees blocking the road were a constant battle facing the travelers. This area was deeply wooded with little to no civilians located nearby. This of course depends on the time range in which your ancestor traveled the road. For instance, in 1740, this area was a complete wilderness with nearly zero inhabitants. By 1765, several pioneers had settled along the road, but the area was still considered very much a frontier. The trees were time consuming to remove and created one of many dangerous atmospheres that the settlers were constantly facing.

cedar creek November blog

Cedar Creek, Virginia Postcard

Once the pioneers crossed Cedar Creek, they traveled 3 miles to Strasburg. This community was established in 1761 but was considered a small village as early as 1749. The Great Wagon Road is still basically following US Highway 11 as several small streams and creeks are forded. 24 miles from Strasburg, Stoney Creek is crossed and the elevation during this area is 804 ft. The trail is rugged and filled with huge rocks and steep hillsides. 8 long miles allows the travelers to reach the Shenandoah River. Along the banks of the river, the Great Lakes Indian tribes would use this very route as a southern trading trail. Shenandoah named for the daughter of the stars. John Fontaine recorded in his diary after reaching the river dated 9/5/1716, “We had a good dinner and after it we got the men together and loaded all of their arms and we drank the King’s health.” By 1785, John Fontaine would not have recognized the area as mills were located all along the river and several families were settled within the valley.

Many settlers decided to stay in this particular region and they began settlements along the Shenandoah River. Christian Konrad, John Miller and John Ziegler organized the building of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church as early as 1733. John Stover, a Swiss land agent, sold land to George Boone in 1735. George, the uncle of Daniel Boone, lived near St. Peter’s Church and Bear Lithia Springs.  Surnames of Price, Gibbons, Smith, Meadows, Blakemore and Bear were living near Chainey Hollow as early as 1740.

The next 58 miles took the travelers through present day Rockingham County and Augusta County, Virginia. The mountain laurel, chestnut and red oak trees would overwhelm the landscape. Thick forests would line the hill sides with ash, maple and basswood. During the summer months, blackberries, huckleberries and raspberries ripen along the river banks. Wild game would have been plentiful through the valley such as deer, bear, fox and much more.

Shenandoah River Valley Map

Shenandoah River Valley date 1890

The travelers adjust to their surroundings as they make camp each night and make any repairs needed on their gear. They are traveling in parties numbering as low as 5 wagons up to 25 or more. Many have paid guides with them leading the way. It was important to maintain a continuous trend daily, but if a family member became sick or hurt, this could halt the travelers and many would separate from their original party.

Augusta County, Virginia is reached after traveling 58 miles from the crossing of the Shenandoah River. This area was first settled as early as 1732 by John Lewis. Other early surnames are Beverley, Coalter, Rommel, Bingham and Sheppard. The settlement was named Augusta after the county name and later changed to Staunton. From this point, the road is currently residing present day US Highway 11 and turns on State Highway 613 for 14 miles. The pioneers would then cross Folly Mills Creek and South River which brings present day road back to US Highway 11 in Greenville. 6 miles lies the Rockbridge County line as the road continues to stay within the valley basin as the settlers peer upwards to the steep mountain sides of Shenandoah National Park. The county, established in 1777, is marked by the boundary of Marl Creek, a bridge today.

The Natural Bridge is now 14 miles away. The area was viewed upon with awe by the travelers. Everyone would know of the bridge that stands 215 feet from the waters of Cedar Creek and spans a total of 90 feet in length. Many would camp along the creek and hold church services. The early Monacan Indians worshipped the area they called, “Bridge of God” and were inspired by it’s natural beauty.

The James River crossing is located 14 miles from the Natural Bridge. A ferry was available to the travelers by owner, Robert Looney. The Looney family lived in Cherry Tree Bottom near present day Buchanan. The family owned and operated a mill and an inn for travelers. The biggest obstacle for the travelers would be getting the horses to load the ferry for the crossing. Also, during the winter months, the river would freeze over preventing the ferry to cross. The ice would not be thick enough for the settlers to cross safely due to the weight of the wagons. The local inhabitants regarded the road as “The Great Valley Road” and many businesses would be established along the James River and Buchanan, Virginia. Surnames during 1740, Buchanan, Boyd, Anderson, Looney and Smith.

james river at buchanan

James River Bridge in Buchanan, Virginia

 

Traveling from Looney’s Ferry, the trails follows rough and rugged terrain. During rainstorms, the road would be almost impassable, causing the pioneers to stop and wait until the storms passed. Wagons were loaded with supplies and personal items which allowed the vessels to be extremely heavy. The muddy road would often absorb the wheels waist deep which could damage the wheel or axle and prevent the family from traveling further until repaired. During the hot dry summer season, dust was a constant battle. The dust would cover everything in sight. It was difficult to keep food supplies covered and free from the elements.  Approximately 14 miles from Looney’s ferry lies a small community named Amsterdam. During the early 19th century, this community was a normal stop during the stagecoach line. But, during the mid 18th century, a few settlers would have been located in this region. Joseph McDonald is found on records as early as 1769. McDonald is living in a log cabin and visited by the Moravians passing through the area in October of 1753. The original log home can be seen fully restored in Trinity, Virginia.

The travelers are now 4 miles from present day Roanoke County and the famous stone house. This stone structure once stood at present day Read Mountain Road. It was mentioned in several diaries by pioneers who traveled the Great Wagon Road. However, by the early 19th century, the structure is no longer standing and was not regarded as a landmark for travelers within the region. Remnants of the old Black Horse Tavern can be seen along Old Mountain Road which is the actual route of the Great Wagon Road through this area. To read more about the tavern and the Buford family, click here. The road leading into present day Roanoke, which has turned from Old Mountain Road to US Highway 11, was very difficult for the pioneers. Elevation along the road provided very steep hillsides. Diaries noted that several wagons unloaded half of their contents and took the wagons down hill or up hill. Once the hill was accomplished, these contents were unloaded and the empty wagon returned to load the half left behind. Numerous large rocks and deep holes filled the road space and travel at times were slowed to crawl.

Buffalo

Roanoke was first known as Old Buffalo Salt Lick. The road was a hunting trail of the Indians and this area was a gathering place for the animals, namely buffalo. Huge herds of buffalo would arrive at the salt marshes before the onset of the 18th century and this was considered as prime land for the Indians up to 1722. The Moravians describe several sightings of buffalo through Virginia and into North Carolina. But as of date, no documentation has been located that describes the huge herds that once migrated this area. Click here to learn more about Big Lick Junction. Early surnames in this area are Campbell, Newman, Preston, Osborn, Fulkerson, Carter and Rainey.

The settlers would have enjoyed a rest in this area while anticipation grew from thoughts of crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains into the frontier of Carolina. Segment 3 will cover the road as it winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia. The road is continuously changing through the seasons and as the travelers move southward, the road becomes more narrow. At times, the road is noted to be only a few feet wide.

October great wagon road 2

Thank You all so much for your support and your interest in history and genealogy. If you missed previous articles pertaining to the Great Wagon Road, you can find each one listed below.

The Great Wagon Road

From Pennsylvania To New Lands

Wagon Road To North Carolina

Remembering The Great Wagon Road

Wagons, Horses & Stagecoaches

A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow. Documents and records allow us to visit the past and share their adventures. As we all search through the paper trail, the journeys of long ago become intertwined with the journeys of today. Wishing you all great discoveries and treasures along your own personal journey.