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 !!

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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.