A Detailed Route of The Great Wagon Road

Winchester, Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Early Settlers of Rockingham County, NC

18th Century Pioneers on Beaver Island Creek

Welcome to a new segment dedicated to the early settlers of Rockingham County, NC. This blog takes a closer look at the Beaver Island Creek area. The creek begins near Mt. Herman Methodist Church located on present day Highway 704 near the Stokes County boundary line. From this point, it travels southeast until it crosses the current Highway 311 and empties into the Dan River just south of Idol Park. These early settlers began to acquire land in the area in 1751. Below you will find the grant number, Deed Book, page, acreage, date and any other information that was prevalent to the land transaction. These land grants pertain to individuals who settled along the waters of Beaver Island Creek.

1751

Robert Jones-4/27/1751-Grant#127, 1200 acres Book 11 pg. 140 (records indicate this settler was currently living in Surry County, Virginia)

1759

Joseph Tate-8/7/1759-Warrant was issued for unknown amount of acreage. Chain carriers John Walker and John Nelson. Surveyor-John Frohock. (was unable to locate grant or deed for warrant)

1762

Anthony Hampton-2/24/1762-Grant#128, 700 acres, Book 6 pg. 153. Chain carriers John Walker and Isaac Whitworth.

William Neil-5/10/1762-630 acres Book 6 pg.202. Chain carriers Thomas Sapp and John Hollys.

1778

Pleasant Henderson-12/16/1778-Grant#22, 600 acres, Book 33 pg. 22.

Charles Garner-12/16/1778-Grant#26, 200 acres, Book 33 pg. 26.

Samuel Shaw-10/13/1778-Grant#509, 400 acres. Book 53 pg. 81

1779

William Meredith-9/20/1779-Grant#129, 500 acres. Book 34 pg. 129.

Thomas Scales-11/13/1779-Grant#108, 296 acres. Book 33 pg. 108.

James Hunter-11/13/1779-Grant#150, 400 acres. Book 33 pg. 150.

John Scales-11/13/1779-Grant#199, 640 acres. Book 33 pg. 199.

1780

Joseph Martin-3/1/1780-Grant#304, 300 acres. Book 33 pg. 350.

James Cannor-3/1/1780-Grant#335, 212 acres. Book 33 pg. 401.

Samuel Hunter-3/1/1780-Grant#388, 300 acres. Book 33 pg. 434.

John Webb-4/3/1780-Grant#305, 400 acres. Book 41 pg. 41.

1782

Richard Cardwell-10/22/1782-Grant#540, 400 acres. Book 48 pg. 97.

Reubin Martin-10/22/1782-Grant#625, 200 acres. Book 48 pg. 136.

1783

James Martin-10/14/1783-Grant#690, 300 acres. Book 54 pg. 24.

William Crump-10/14/1783-Grant#710, 340 acres. Book 54 pg. 32.

Samuel Rogers-10/14/1783-Grant#711, 500 acres. Book 54 pg. 32.

Anthony Dearing-10/14/1783-Grant#726, 300 acres. Book 54 pg. 38.

Richard Cardwell-10/14/1783-Grant#748, 400 acres. Book 54 pg. 47.

Joseph Reed-10/14/1783-Grant#871, 60 acres. Book 54 pg. 102.

Thomas Lovin-10/14/1783-Grant#897, 200 acres. Book 54 pg. 113.

1784

James Hunter-11/8/1784-Grant#1065, 300 acres. Book 56 pg. 228.

Joseph Gibson-11/3/1784-Grant#598, 400 acres. Book 53 pg. 304.

Phileman Manwell-11/3/1784-Grant#612, 200 acres. Book 53 pg. 309.

1787

Robert Crump-5/16/1787-Grant#1239, 50 acres. Book 65 pg. 65.

James Hunter-5/16/1787-Grant#1254, 150 acres. Book 65 pg. 70.

Joel McKey-5/16/1787-Grant#1395, 300 acres. Book 65 pg. 124.

1789

James McCormick-5/18/1789-200 acres. Book 70 pg. 77.

James Jackson-5/18/1789-Grant#1217, 200 acres. Book 70 pg. 137.

1791

Henry Colson-12/20/1791-Grant#134, 100 acres. Book 79 pg. 243.

1792

Anthony Dearing-11/27/1792-Grant#1737, 300 acres. Book 78 pg. 522.

1793

Alexander Lyall-6/27/1793-Grant#64, 100 acres. Book 80 pg. 417.

1794

Charles McAnally-7/9/1794-Grant#95, 100 acres. Book 82 pg. 441.

1795

Richard Vernon-7/16/1795-Grant#168, 46 1/4 acres. Book 86 pg. 447.

Richard Vernon-7/16/1795-Grant#174, 100 acres. Book 86 pg. 450.

Charles Banner-5/4/1795-Grant#114, 300 acres. Book 87 pg. 22.

1796

Charles Banner-11/30/1796-Grant#225, 150 acres. Book 91 pg. 242.

1797

James Hunter-7/10/1797-Grant#263, 71 acres. Book 93 pg. 156.

James Wright-7/10/1797-Grant#281, 100 acres. Book 93 pg. 165.

William Dent-7/10/1797-Grant#282, 150 acres. Book 93 pg. 165.

1799

John Joyce-6/7/1799-Grant#333, 150 acres. Book 104 pg. 248.

Richard Sharp-6/7/1799-Grant#345, 57 acres. Book 104 pg. 254.

This concludes the segment on 18th century settlers of Rockingham County, North Carolina. Thank You all for your support, it is greatly appreciated. Wishing you all great success along your genealogy journey.

 

 

 

North Carolina Family Research

A Detailed Outline for Hobby Genealogists for the Piedmont Area

Before you began your genealogy research, you first acquire the desire of learning more about your family. It begins as an interest but as you research further, the interest grows. Similar as a seed planted along your personal trail, the names of long ago are written down on sticky notes, absorbed in your head and the records never give you enough data to satisfy your need. This is the beginning of a genealogy tree. The branches extend and beckon to be recognized. Tax records, censuses, land grants, late nights, endless caffeine and eyeglasses all await you. It’s a passion that only fellow genealogists understand. “I’ve finally found the maiden name of my 6th great grandmother!!!!!” Many don’t understand your excitement, but other researchers do and while they are enjoying the moment with you, they are also anxious to hear the surname to see if it may link to their family too. Genealogy is an amazing route to travel and contains so much more than estate files and sticky notes. So, Welcome, pull up a chair and enjoy your visit. North Carolina is one of the most fascinating states to conduct genealogy research. You can find records dating to the mid 17th century. You only have to know where to look and how to look. Let’s begin.

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Surname

Researching without the correct name will only lead you to outer space. You have a surname, but you have to consider spelling variations of the name. For instance, Kramer, Cramer, Cromer and Crommer are all the same surname. You can research databases using the Soundex Code. This will give you much more information that you can sift through in order to pinpoint and identify the individual you are currently looking for. All through history, individuals have been named at birth and known by friends and other acquaintances by a totally different name. Nicknames exist today just as they did centuries ago. Immigration from another country not only required the immigrants to take an oath of allegiance, in some cases, it required the immigrant to change his or her last name. Having the Right name is vital before you research in North Carolina or anywhere within the world.

Piedmont Location

Majority of piedmont early settlers migrated from the northern colonies during the mid 18th century, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine and Virginia. When they arrived to North Carolina from these areas, they settled primarily in the area, east of the Yadkin River and west of the sandhills area near present day Fayetteville and Sanford. County tax lists and early land grants will give you the exact location of your early piedmont ancestor. Every early county tax list is not online and sadly, some of these are lost forever due to courthouse fires or other circumstances. County history is extremely important to your research. Without the history and timeline of the county, you are researching in the dark. To understand North Carolina county timeline, click here. Majority of land grants are available and many of these are online. Searchable databases can be located at North Carolina Land Grants and at North Carolina State Archives. Estate wills and court records can give you the location as well. Once you have the correct name and the correct location, you then can establish a research trail. Keep in mind the changing boundaries of the state and counties as you move along your research timeline.

Research Timeline

It’s important to create a timeline for the ancestor you are searching for. If you’re not sure exactly what the timeline is, begin with what you know. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s not to guess on genealogy data. Guessing is left for the lottery, the percentages are basically the same. Once you know the timeline, look for historical events within the timeline. For instance, what was going on in the area at the time. This will heighten your search techniques and allow you to search certain criteria.  North Carolina Encyclopedia is a great source for this as an online tool. Your local library and historical societies are great choices as well.

History of Online Research

Majority of researchers of present day, typically research online. And, YES, there are many different ways to research online today versus 20 years ago. The websites that were available then were very few and the information was mainly donated by volunteers or librarians who wanted to make the information available, freely with no obligations. As the years progressed, a few genealogy companies began to emerge and these companies began collecting this data for commercial use. Volunteers began to disappear and genealogists began to keep their records private because they didn’t intend for the information to be used on a commercial revenue basis. As the volunteers were eliminating their data on the internet,  a monopoly of genealogy companies began to make themselves known and fees began to surface for subscriptions, memberships and more. The majority of the free sites that remained online became unknown to the future researcher. These sites were no longer being updated  and many were left abandoned. A few sites that remained were the exception, the #1 site- Rootsweb and the #2 site- The Genealogical Society of Utah, now known as Family Search. Both have been transformed over the years. The #1 North Carolina site was, The American History Project. It was filled with link after link of county records. It was a volunteer program and many county documents were stored on the #1 site of Rootsweb in order to gain popularity and to take advantage of the free pages offer with Rootsweb. But this all changed when Rootsweb was sold in 2008. Many volunteers who were actively donating data online left the site for good and slowly began disappearing from the internet. Other commercial companies began to appear and the online genealogy world forever changed from that point onward. The history of online genealogy allows a better understanding of online techniques in today’s market. I refer to online genealogy as a market, because it has vastly changed during the past 20 years and now resides within commercial trade as millions and millions of revenue are reported for large genealogy companies.

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Present Day Online Research

As stated earlier, online research has grown tremendously over the years. It’s amazing to discover the changes through the years. You may have an online subscription to the many corporations now involved with genealogy or you may rely on your own personal online search engine to obtain records. Online genealogy companies will inform you what they have on their database. You may be able to locate the majority of your family on one site and you may not. It all depends what the company has available for you online. A multitude of records are available by using certain simple keywords and a variety of search engines.  All that is required to perform a simple online search like this is to insert keywords for the search engine to do it’s job. Direct free search engines for North Carolina are North Carolina Genweb and North Carolina Genealogy Society just to name a few. There are more of these free databases online and they can be found if you insert the keyword, “free”. Also, use several search engines, there are many out there in the internet world and each one is slightly different from the other. The results from these different search engines will amaze you with the results.  Keywords are vital on getting the results you want. Think about what you are searching for and enter the keywords that speak this for you. Sometimes too much information is just too much data to go through. Concentrate on what’s important and narrow your search in this manner.

Online Family Trees

The trees located online can be used as “Hints & Clues”. The trees themselves are not sources and should not be used this way with your own personal lineage. You discover someone’s tree and it names an ancestor you have been looking for. After the excitement calms down, look for the source that proves the information. If you don’t see it, the new discovery is just a simple clue for you to investigate further if you wish. It’s not a legal binding document, a family Bible or proof that states this particular person is your ancestor. 95% of online trees contain incorrect data, lineage failures and fabricated information. You may contact the person who owns the tree and they inform you they received the information from a book, for instance. Get the name of the source so you can verify the information. Many family genealogy books have errors as well, look for the legal proof. Without the proof, it’s a simple clue.

Following The Legal Trail

Each and every family that lived in the piedmont area of North Carolina associated with the current government in some form. They paid taxes, submitted information to census takers and acquired a means of making a living such as farming. Births occurred along with deaths and many owned land. All of these actions are intertwined with government documents which creates a legal trial to follow. These type of documents are available for research on many different levels. The NC Archives houses all of these documents from each and every county of North Carolina and even those counties that no longer exist today. County government documents can be located at the current county seat courthouse. Even city and town documents can be located in individual settlements and historical societies. Several North Carolina books have been published during the past 100 years that pertain to these documents such as tax lists, will abstracts and much more. 33 counties suffered lost records due to fires, etc. For the piedmont area, Guilford county is among the worst as far as records destroyed or lost. The legal trail leads to proof of your ancestor’s existence and lineage to you.

Snail Mail & Email

The older genealogist loves snail mail. You arrive at the mailbox and guess what, the will of 4th great grandfather has arrived. You now hold the legal document proving his existence and the names of his wife, children and witnesses to the death event. Handwritten or typed letters say so much about your passion and drive to locate the answers you seek. This works especially well with older family members who may hold the key to your research. The piedmont area has the best hospitality and loves to share with others. Librarians and the archivists located at the NC State Library do respond to snail mail requests on a regular basis. Please provide them with as much information as possible when submitting a request. The state archives will charge you for the copies and out of state residents will also pay a search fee. To read more about the fees, click here. Local historical societies will respond to your request by snail mail as well. These societies are comprised mostly of volunteers who are eager to respond to your request. Email communications are a vital tool to genealogy research. Email can allow documents to be attached for quick viewing and filing  on your computer.  Everyone has access to email these days and it’s a quick communicator that provides privacy unlike social media sites or message boards online.

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The piedmont area of North Carolina holds many details within it’s history. The past can come alive as you research your ancestors in this area and learn how they lived and where. Land grants of long ago can lead you to the original homestead and possibly a family cemetery in the woods. Words can’t describe the feeling as you walk along the same land as your ancestors did over 250 years ago.

For links to local piedmont area historical societies and county databases, visit the NC Genealogy Links page. The page is updated on a weekly basis, so visit it often for new surprises and links. The next blog will continue the discovery of early land grants in Rockingham County. Wishing you all great success with your research and share your great discoveries and adventures with Piedmont Trails. As always, your support is greatly appreciated here and your presence is greatly valued. May sunny days follow you along your journey.