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Early North Carolina Roads: Piedmont Area

The majority of people today are unaware of the number of roads in existence before 1750. The colonies, in a sense, were identified by the conditions and quantity of their major routes. During the years of the great migration, new roads appeared throughout the southern frontier, and the piedmont section of North Carolina reveals a significant increase. For many historians, the routes are not that difficult to determine. The names, however, are much more complex and confusing. In North Carolina, many of these new roads connected to already existing major routes at some point. The research data from the piedmont region confirm these connections as modest lesser-known roads link to major thoroughfares, such as the Great Wagon Road and the Traders Path. For the people, the minor routes allowed passage to local businesses, such as a mill or a tavern. Reaching neighbors, churches, forts, and other areas was vital to their survival and their chosen way of life during this period.

As families pour into the area, roads begin to appear within small settlements or communities. A prime example of this emerges within the Yadkin River area of Rowan County. This distinct location near Salisbury bears witness to the earliest proven crossroads in this region during the 18th-century. The families used these two primary military routes that once aided Queen Anne’s war and secured trade among the Native Americans. By 1750, the intersection was wide and well-known to travelers as a camping stop before the final segment to their new homes.

John Collet 1770 Map 1 (courtesy of Library of Congress)
John Collet 1770 Map 2 (courtesy of Library of Congress)

John Collet’s 1770 survey map shows the roads surrounding Salisbury. The circled area demonstrates the original site of the intersection connecting the Great Wagon Road and the Traders Path.

The second map of the same area demonstrates the Traders Path in green and the Great Wagon Road in pink highlight. The purple signifies the Hillsborough Road, which was a vital connection to the families in this area.

John Collet 1770 Map 3 (courtesy of Library of Congress)

The third Collet map extends the area to include Dobb’s Parish and the Moravian tract. Here, the orange highlight demonstrates the Cape Fear Road. This route, petitioned by the Moravians, traveled from the piedmont area to Fayetteville for trading purposes. One can see the Cape Fear Road by-passing the original intersection. The data clearly shows the path of this road leading to the Moravian settlements and crossing family farmlands already established in the area. A petition presented to the local families met with some frustration and resistance. Signatures from agreeable families signed the petition, and road construction began in 1754.

The additional roads begin to appear at this point. After the construction of Cape Fear Road and the completion of Fort Dobbs in the western sections, many new roads emerged. Sherrill’s Path extends from the west side of the Yadkin River and travels south to the Catawba Nation near the South Carolina border. Mulberry Fields Road, Cathey Settlement Road, and Irish Ford Road are substantial and are well-known by their names to the colonial families living in the area. Rocky River Road, Limestone Road, Ararat Road, and Flour Gap Road are not as well-known by their names. Research proves large communities attempting to test their power would designate and name new additional routes. Often these naming actions failed in the public eye years later, such as the Moravian Road, the Quaker Road, and the Salem Road. The roads often became a political tool and a business tactic to lure people and money to their community. Family historians experience this frustration while tracing the footsteps of their ancestors and identifying land parcels. The name issue also pertains to small waterways, creeks, and streams in the region. Roads and waterway names changed with each generation until the mid-19th-century: when the naming patterns finally reduced.

Who controls the roads in colonial North Carolina? The question highlights some major factors with colonial life. Current court systems, political power, and personal status all play a part in the overall answer. To have a family or a traveling party arrive in North Carolina and actually name a road after themselves is ridiculous to conceive. Furthermore, the time spent by the families was not on the expansion of roads or taking the time to name them. These families were acquiring their lands and improving their properties to feed themselves for survival. The proof is overwhelmingly lacking for such an achievement, and it wasn’t until years later that road names signified settlers or pioneers, such as Bryan’s Road and Boone’s Trail. Daniel Boone is a prime example of this as he traveled to Tennessee and Kentucky during the 1760 decade. Boone and his family left North Carolina years before the actual trail he embarked on was named Boone’s Trail.

Many factors come into play when researching and discovering colonial roads. Maps of the period are not necessarily correct or precise. In many cases, omitted routes from colonial maps demonstrate the political power and influence surrounding the area. The families were not privy to the current survey maps, nor did they travel by using them. So, what was the purpose of these maps? Older county maps reflecting upon the wordage “King’s Road” does not mean this road on the map is the King’s Highway. British colonies abide by British law. Each county with a courthouse in place must signify the direct route to the county seat. They accomplished this task by calling the roadway King’s Road. It means nothing more than that. Parish maps fall in the same category, for example, St. Luke’s Parish and Dobb’s Parish. Once a family historian realizes this fact, the accurate aspects of the communities quickly fall in place, growth, population, business margins, church denominations, and more. One can assume from the roads and their destinations how communities prospered and how others failed.

The population is the key controlling element that connects our ancestors to the roads they used. Regardless of political power, wealth, or influence in a British court, the population resulted in the popular routes. Many of these are still in use today, never wavering from their destinations through rural sections. Town Fork Road, Donnaha Road, Westfield Road, Watauga Road, and Richmond Road were early roads whose routes have varied little over the years and whose names have changed today. Enjoy your journey along these old roads of the past and embrace your discoveries as you travel.

2 replies »

  1. Wonderful material Carol….just wonderful….well written….and the graphics are ‘top notch’… You are an expert……as proof you find material in the Library of Congress with seeming ease…wish I could do that!!!

    I will not spend the rest of the afternoon locating streams and intersections on modern maps so I will have a better feel for this territory…..

    All the best….again thanks

    Rich Marshall

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Richard,
      I really appreciate your kind words, I cannot claim the title of expert by any means. I just love sharing what I know with others. So many helped me along the way when I began researching my family history and in a way, I am carrying on their tradition of sharing. Thanks Again and Enjoy Your Journey Today !!


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