During the onset of the Revolutionary War many families were just beginning to adapt to their new surroundings. After enduring the hardships of the Great Wagon Road , many were weary and seeking peace and comfort. The obstacles that stood in their path consisted of King George’s Army, the local Indians and sickness. The Piedmont lands of North Carolina were open to settlers, as well as the neighboring foothills. The Blue Ridge Mountains were forbidden to the settlers during the migration years of 1735 through 1775.. Any person who decided to settle west of the mountains did so without the consent of England. The first inhabitants along the Blue Ridge were the Cherokee and the Catawba Indians. The Old Buffalo Trail traveled through the mountains and later was used as a route for the settlers.
The Old Buffalo Trail would be worn due to centuries of traveling herds passing through the area. The Cherokee would use these lands as a primary hunting ground and several Indian “towns” were known to be located south of the steep cliffs. Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg was one of the first explorers to visit and document the area west of the Blue Ridge. The area was harsh and rugged as described by the Bishop, “Part of the way, we crawled on hands and feet, dragging our saddles and horses behind us.” The Bishop was surveying the area with hopes of a possible site for a new Moravian settlement in December of 1752. They camped near present day Blowing Rock where they stumbled across a large meadow. While setting up camp, a strong wind blew in and soon snow was on the ground and the fresh water they collected was quickly frozen. The settlers who dared to travel west of the mountain ridges were met with frigid winters and the Cherokee. These pioneers were following Daniel Boone and his comrades who knew the area very well. Even though, it was against the law for anyone to settle these lands, many families pushed westward. By, 1775, the Wilderness Road became active with travelers headed beyond the mountains to Kentucky. This was due to the Cherokee ceded lands in this area and westward.
Land was plentiful in the mountains but the survival was much different from anything the settlers may have known before. A few Cherokee warriors fought against the settlers and forced the newcomers to arm themselves and to always keep a constant watch for attacks. For the most part, the settlers bargained with the Cherokee. The settlers offered goods in trade for lands. The pioneers chose their lands wisely in order to have fresh water during droughts and game to hunt for food until land could be cleared for farming. They were met with the spectacular beauty of the mountain views and rocky ridges. Cutting down trees for a cabin was best accomplished during the winter months when the tree sap was low. A skilled man could use an axe to chop down the trees, remove the bark and notch the wood to build his cabin. Before the first crops could be planted, land had to be cleared. While clearing the land, the family still had to eat and wild game was plentiful.
Settlers would invent traps to entice wild game to enter such as pictured above. They also utilized the practices of the Cherokee and used woven baskets to catch fish. The land provided them with naturally grown black walnuts, persimmons, mulberries, chestnuts and hickory nuts. Majority of the pioneers built their cabins facing east to capture the morning sun and at the foot of a hill to shield them from the winds. The level section of their land was reserved for the garden location.
Many of the first cabins located in the High Country were windowless and during the summer months, a quilt would be hanging at the doorway. The weather played a vital role with the survival of the settlers. Droughts and heavy rains would plague the pioneers with mudslides. Deep snows in winter along with frigid temperatures and cold winds brought sickness to many. The Cherokee moved west by 1790 and the population tripled during this time among the settlers. They consisted of Scots, English, Germans, Welsh and Irish. John Green arrived in the area after 1780 and built his cabin along the Old Buffalo Trail. Thomas Hodges arrived and soon after, Samuel Hix, David Hix and James Holtsclaw. The Baird family arrived from South Carolina. Other family names are Eggers, Council, Horton, Greer, Hicks, Ward and Miller. James Tompkins and James Chambers were involved with the origins of Three Forks Baptist Church.
Supplies were not readily available and the pioneers would substitute these items with natural resources found around them. For instance, nails were not commonly used, instead, logs were notched to fit together. Women would create their own cloth for clothing, linens, etc. Animal hides and fur were put to use as well for shoes, clothing and much more. Families of the Blue Ridge were more isolated versus the families of the Piedmont and foothills area. Many of the settlers preferred the remoteness that the mountains offered. Couples would wed, have a large number of children who were taught tradition from one generation to the next.
The social gatherings would mostly occur with church activities. Neighbors could be close to one another but due to the trails and the mountainous terrain, the travel time to reach one another could be as long as a day on foot. This allowed gatherings within the community to be very special events.
The roads of present day are still the roads of long ago. The appearance of the area may have changed but the core of the terrain would still be recognizable to our ancestors. Mountain peaks, such as Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock have not changed since the arrival of the settlers during the 18th century. As our ancestors were passing lessons down to their children, the proof of their lives remain with us in the form of stories and traditions.
This song has been in existence since circa 1786. Singing was performed in each and every home of the 18th century. All members of the family would sing and memorized their favorite tunes. Shady Grove was a popular song during that time.
I went to see my Shady Grove
Standing in the door
Shoes and stockings in her hand
Little bare feet on the floor
Shady Grove my little love
Shady Grove I say
Shady Grove my little love
I’m a going away