Wagons, Horses & Stagecoaches

Adventures Along The Great Wagon Road

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The travelers along the Great Wagon Road were able to experience many different adventures. Experiences ranging from weather related storms to musical entertainment and everything in between. This article will concentrate on the wagons, horses and stagecoaches that the early pioneers used on the road. The traffic along the road depended upon the season. During the harsh winter months, travelers would almost cease while other seasons would encounter the moving dirt and dust from the wheels moving south. At it’s beginning, the Great Wagon Road was a small hunting trail for local area Indians. Locals named the trail, The Warrior’s Path and this path measured a mere few feet at it’s widest point.

Once the Carolina frontier was opened for settlement, many northern settlers began planning the trip southward. Packhorses were led to Carolina beginning circa 1722. The path began to widen but as late as 1750, areas of the road were still only a few feet wide with narrow steep cliffs bordering it’s side. The road changed over the years in order to allow larger wagons to pass through safely. Several side roads were made to accommodate the larger wagons. Some of these roads would completely separate the traveling parties into two or three separate groups for days. The majority of the farming families made their carts and wagons. Due to the construction of these early vehicles, many did not make it to the new destination. The wagons that broke down along the road were either repaired or discarded where they fell. Many travelers set out on the journey by foot and packed what they carried in bundles strapped to their backs and small sleds that they would drag behind them. Families who owned only 1 horse usually traveled with the father on horseback and a child riding with him, while other family members walked behind. A mother would take care of the little children by either carrying them or holding their hands while walking along the road. By 1740, trains of packhorses could be seen along the road. Each animal capable of carrying 600 pounds each. These horses would usually carry a bridle bell as was the custom of the day. Other travelers could hear the bells in the distance and knew that a train of packhorses were near by.

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By 1750, large wagons were seen along the road. These were given the name of Conestoga. Manufactured in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, these wagons were capable of carrying up to 6 tons of weight. The wagons were built from hickory, white oak and poplar. The hubs were made from black gum or sour gum trees surrounded by a ring of iron used as the “tire” of the wheel. The weight of the wagon ranged from 3,000 to 3,500 pounds when construction was complete. A hinged tailgate dropped downward at the rear for easy loading and unloading. The wagons were arched with several iron hoops which were covered with an awning of canvas or homespun cloth. The covering was called a “poke bonnet”. These wagons were expensive ranging in price of $175 to $250 between the years of 1760-1790. Wagon Drivers could be hired to transport families and their possessions to their new homes. This practice was very popular as the families could trade for the travel expenses and have someone within their party that was very familiar with the territory. Wagon Drivers would advertise their departure on court day when everyone was in town. Families would make their deals and set the date for departure. These wagons were led by a team of 4 or 5 horses and required constant attention while on the road. The driver held his hand firmly on the “jerk line” which connected with the bit of the left wheel horse or team leader. Because of this, the driver would always sit on the left side just as we do today while driving our automobiles. While holding steady on the “jerk line”, the driver was able to control his team verbally. “Haw” meant to turn left while “Gee” meant to turn right. “Whoa” meant to stop. The horses set their own pace and provided braking power with their strong hindquarters. On steep grades, a chain would be installed from the wheels to the coupling poles to provide a brake. Wagons owned by a company were called “line teams” while independent drivers were called “regulars”.

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Many pioneers built their own wagons. One of the most important features of the wagons were the rims. The rims would have 2 pieces of iron that measured at least 1/2 inch thick. They were bent to the shape of the wheel and welded at both joints. The iron was hammered into place and immersed in cold water to shrink the iron to a firm and tight fit. Other features that were common are feed boxes attached to the side boards, a tool box equipped with horse hardware and various other tools essential for 18th century transportation. The settlers also stocked their wagons with crude iron utensils and “spider” pots used for cooking. Spider pots were large iron pots resting on 3 legs. Straw mattresses were common along with food supplies to endure the family while traveling. The personal possessions were also loaded. These items would vary from one family to another. Furniture items would rarely make the trip along the road. More common were the trunks that were originally brought from the settlers homeland. These trunks would vary in size and would hold clothing, money, a Bible or prayer book and anything that was highly valued by the individual pioneer.

Once the piedmont area of North Carolina was opened for new settlers, the daily traffic along the Great Wagon Road quickly accelerated to the point that wagons met other wagons and livestock drives constantly. This allowed the road to naturally widen from wagons pulling over to allow others by. Settlers who resided in Virginia would often drive their herds of livestock to market in Pennsylvania. It was a common sight to see these herds along the road during the mid 18th century and stampedes were just as common. The attraction of new settlers, trains of packhorses traveling back and forth and herds heading to market brought with it a great many accidents and thefts. An English traveler, Nicholas Cresswell, stated that, “The frontier draws both the very good and the very worst.” This statement would prove to be correct many times. Driving herds along the road required skill and concentration. Stampedes easily trampled over anything in the path. Devastation and loss were felt by many as well as thankfulness and blessings to a new hero.

The frontier draws both the very good and the very worst

The fast paced stagecoaches began traveling the Great Wagon Road after 1750. Eventually, these coaches would replace the express riders and “for hire” wagons which carried the mail and passengers. The stagecoach line began in New York and Philadelphia and soon they became a familiar site along the road. John Butler advertised his stagecoach services in 1751 and by 1780, a stagecoach could easily carry 5 passengers and the mail. The mail coaches would carry the reputation of faster service, but the passengers soon realized that services pertaining to their traveling conditions were very few. The passengers were exposed to the weather elements while only a leather cloth would shield them. The jolt and bumps felt on the road magnified greatly as the pace of the horses never waivered. The horses were exchanged at strategic locations throughout the road. Some of these locations were inns, taverns, mills and meeting houses.

The pioneers learned quickly to watch the skies for any signs of inclement weather.  Many wagons and carts would get stuck in thick mud by day and frozen hard to the land by night. The temperatures may hover just below freezing for days refusing any removal efforts of the wagon. The pioneers had to face the weather conditions openly. Heavy downpours, strong thunderstorms are just a few of the elements endured by them.  Swollen rivers would allow some wagons to drift downstream in rough currents and break apart with a thunderous crash upon the heavy rocks. Family members would drown during many river crossings. If a ferry was present, the livestock was treated carefully as many would loose their footing and slip overboard.

Between 1730-1750, the road was a wilderness in southern Virginia and North Carolina. The pioneers were exposed to the wild animals in the night. Usually a watchman would guard the party and keep a watchful eye for bears, panthers, Indians and thieves. Robbers were especially common in Virginia and their numbers grew from 1750. The next segment will include more details on this subject and will demonstrate life while traveling the Great Wagon Road. These early pioneers left a trail of strength, courage and a dream for tomorrow. They were willing to travel far to a new wilderness, a frontier named Carolina. They had no knowledge of what awaited them and their loved ones. They dreamed of a new life with new opportunities for them and their offspring.

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Present Day Highway 81, Virginia

History reveals the timeline and the details; our hearts relive the passion our ancestors felt as they were traveling this old Indian trail of long ago. Thank you so much for your support of Piedmont Trails. The next segment on this great adventure will be arriving soon. Until then, best wishes are sent to you as you travel along your journey to the past.

 

North Carolina After The American Revolutionary War

During the years after the war, the pieces of many families remained shattered and separated. Although independence had been achieved, many continued to repair their homes, bury their loved ones and heal the wounds that were left behind. The lives of the settlers were forever changed by the onset of the war and it continued well after the last battle was fought on Carolina soil. To say this time was filled with excitement or happiness for all of the settlers would not be true. Hardships were many which resided with loss, separation and anxiety about the future. The settlers were strong-willed and held the capabilities to overcome the weight of sorrow. They watched their children grow and dreamed what they would become. They were loyal to their new country and worked hard to improve their surroundings. The Carolina wilderness was no longer the untamed forest. The state began to take on a new identity and with this new form emerged opportunities, wealth, knowledge and so much more.

Although business did thrive throughout the war, the years following were met with new opportunities and new entrepreneurs. The most popular business among the settlers was farming.. England discouraged cotton crops prior to the war in order to protect their woolen and linen manufacturers. After the war, cotton was beginning to be grown on large acreage plantations. These large farms were located primarily in the eastern part of the state. Tobacco was the most important crop prior to the war and was grown throughout the state. In 1730, Virginia banned the importation of North Carolina tobacco and in 1734, the first tobacco market opened in Bellair, Craven County. Pork was considered a wise investment for many settlers and proved to be quite profitable during the years after the war. Cattle was beginning to grow as well as poultry.

18th century clock (2)

18th Century Clock

Clock and Watchmakers were operating throughout the state after the war, only a few existed prior. Many of these were also jewelers, silver and goldsmiths. Charles Frederick Huguenine traveled to North Carolina and lived in Halifax. He was trained in Pennsylvania and operated a business in 1798. In Bethabara, Adam Keffler was listed as a clock manufacturer. Mecklenburg County recognized Jonas Cohen, native of London. Robert Eugan worked in Edenton and Peter Strong worked in Fayetteville. A total of 40 watchmakers existed in North Carolina during the 18th century.

The State Bank Bill was passed in 1805 and the first banks were Cape Fear and New Bern. Both of these originated in 1804. The State Bank of North Carolina was chartered and it began operating in 1811. The Federal Government did not issue paper notes until the Civil War. The individual banks produced the bank note currency that existed during the early years of the 19th century.

Gold mining became extremely popular in Cabarrus County after 1799. Underground mining was present all throughout the state by 1825. Everyone in the area would mine for gold in some form during this time, hoping to “strike it rich”.

The first paper mill was built near Hillsborough in 1771. The mill was built to help with the paper shortage during the war. Another paper mill was constructed and operated by Gottlieb Shober in 1790 in Salem. It thrived strongly until the year of 1879 when the mill shut down production. The first newspaper was the North Carolina Gazette, published in New Bern in 1751.

Many do not realize that two chain merchants existed in 18th century North Carolina. They were John Hamilton & Co. and Buchannan, Hastie & Co. These two companies were the dominant merchants on the eastern section of the state. They were both Scottish firms that would set up several stores and hire storekeepers to operate them. Both companies were very successful during the years after the war. To name all of the merchants of the state would require writing a book, so the following is a sample of the 18th century well-known merchants. Chowan County-John Porter, Bath-Giles Shute, Beaufort County-Edward Moseley, Craven County-John Carruthers, Salisbury-James Harrell (James operated his store from 1750-1780), Bethabara-Traugott Bagge (Traugott operated the store in Bethabara from 1768-1772, then in Salem from 1772-1800), Hillsborough-William Johnston, Pitt County-Matthew Scott, Mecklenburg County-Jeremiah McCafferty, Caswell County-John McCoy.

caldwell log park

The New Mill Located At David Caldwell Historic Park

Schools were not organized on a statewide basis following the Revolutionary War. However; several schools did exist within the state. A school was built in the year of 1745 in Edenton and another one built in New Bern in 1764. A school was opened in Hillsborough during the year of 1766. David Caldwell, a minister, organized a school in 1761 located in present day Guilford County. It was named Caldwell Log College and served as an academy. Dr. Charles Harris operated an apprenticeship school and trained approx. 90 students in Cabarrus County.

Years following the war shows approx. 3,500 physicians operating in North Carolina. Only 400 of these had undergone some sort of training and about 200 of these actually held medical degrees. Medical provisions were very sparse during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Moravians used peach blossoms to fight smallpox and sassafras leaves to purify the blood. White oak was used for dysentery. Many herbs and spices were used as medicine for the sick such as sage, rosemary, mint, mustard, nutmeg and many more. Common diseases during this time were Malaria, Typhus, Influenza, Smallpox, Whooping Cough, Tubercolis, Dysentery, Scurvy, Arthritis and Worms.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 allowed the western lands to be open to new settlements. This created new dreams for many of the North Carolina settlers and many migrated west through the Appalachian Mountains. For some families that endured great hardships from the war, the expansion allowed them to leave the war memories behind.

Cumberland_Gap

Cumberland Gap

Lands west of the Carolina mountains were settled mainly by different Indian tribes during the war. Beginning soon after the war, many settlers began to look for land investment in the west and soon settlements were allowed in Indiana Territory. This territory originated in 1800 and consisted of the northwestern sections from the Kentucky River to Fort Recovery. Present day states include Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and sections of Ohio and Minnesota. Records and documents can be difficult to locate for the Indiana Territory, but not impossible. In time, the territory was divided into individual territories and later each one claimed statehood.  The Great Wagon Road was still a vital link to and from North Carolina at this time and now many new roads were created that linked new communities and towns. The stage coach lines were more organized and developed by 1830. Town life was changing and growing daily for the settlers as rural life remained basically the same. As families were leaving North Carolina, just as many were arriving, so the state showed significant growth following the war.

great wagon road

Map of  The Great Wagon Road

Thank You all so much for your support of Piedmont Trails. Wishing you all great treasures to uncover as you research your history and genealogy. Be sure to browse the website for more new information and research links. Save travels on your journey.