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Great Wagon Road Updates in Southern Virginia

The Great Wagon Road traveled through six British colonies. Today’s article will focus on an area so rich with facts and evidence of the road that it still surprises the Research Team. Southern Virginia is home to some of the best views of the original road route. The records and ground data in this area speak loud and clear in proving the road’s existence. The colonial families traveling this road in 1750 would have experienced a vast wilderness after leaving Big Lick, known today as Roanoke. They would follow a narrow path to the Mayo River in Patrick and Henry counties. What are some of the things they experienced and viewed? Let’s find out.

The weather affected all roads on every mile and each curve. If heavy downpours occurred, the families would wait until the storms passed. Once back on the trail, the detours from impassable areas often created accidents and mishaps. Water crossings are the most prone areas on the Great Wagon Road for accidents to happen. Steep grades hamper the wagons and the animals by forcing families to choose which items are essential and which ones are left behind by the roadside. All families experienced some form of a setback on their journey. Maggoty Creek, Irvine River, and Pigg River are waterway crossings on the road in southern Virginia. Travelers would also ford Blackberry Creek and Horsepasture Creek before reaching the Mayo River. For the most part, these fords were relatively low water. A good rock base defines a good water ford. A gradual slope to the water’s edge benefitted the crossing and made it safer for the travelers. Each wagon approached the fords with caution and keen instinct. This characteristic is just one of the many labels associated with the road.

One of the most vital elements for survival in the colonial frontier is salt. The colonists relied on the British monarchy for salt, and it was heavily taxed. Salted meats were the mainstay of colonial diets. With the importance of salt to every family, the tax affected everyone regardless of location. Virginia is home to the first saltworks in the colonies dating to 1614. The wagons traveling the Great Wagon Road would have salt onboard in a secure place. Those families who needed salt before settling on new lands had to find a salt source. Hickey’s store was the last stop on the road to purchase salt before entering North Carolina. Many families visited the store to buy or trade gunpowder, sugar, cloth, and much more.

The charming landscape surrounding Henry County, Virginia, is breathtaking. The scenery centers around the rural areas as the road reveals its past. This region is home to some of the best highly prized data regarding the original route of the Great Wagon Road. From a narrow walking path to a major highway, the county’s early history spawns from the road as settlements emerge along its boundaries. In Henry County, the road’s current condition is like no other found among all of the seven states containing this historic trail. Each mile reaffirms the theory. The Great Wagon Road was the first inland migration trail in America’s history. Two primary forts constructed in the area date to 1756. These are the Calloway Fort and the Harris Fort. George Washington visited the area in 1756 and noted these forts in his journal to be Fort Trial and Mayo Fort. By 1790, these forts no longer existed, but their structures provided shelter to local families for over ten years. Captain Thomas Calloway is noted at Fort Trial while Captain Samuel Harris holds command at Mayo Fort. Each fort was garrisoned by twenty men and situated near primary routes and waterways. Fort Trial is at the Smith River, and Mayo Fort is at the North Mayo River.

The back roads long to be remembered.

Piedmont Trails
Video courtesy of the Great Wagon Road Project, footage obtained by David Tilley, member of the Research Team 2021

How does one find the remnants of the Great Wagon Road? First, you need the desire to seek the truth. Many have proclaimed the road here and there, but the facts will guide you to the authentic historic trail. The Research Team has collected so much material that we’ve had to create more storage space. We have also learned the details of creating our maps for future generations. Our explorations allow us to meet fascinating people living along the original route. Their faces light up when they realize the road passed on their property. Still, others have not heard of the Great Wagon Road, and the team happily shares the road’s history every chance we get. One spectacular discovery took place late last year. A stunning vision containing approximately 450ft of the original roadbed stands in a remote area in southern Virginia. Recent groundwork allowed the high banks of the road to appear in the landscape. Preservation is key to this discovery, and the Research Team is doing all that is possible to accomplish this. The video above captures one of the team members while exploring southern Virginia for the Great Wagon Road Project. The back roads long to be remembered. Their stories are many, and their truths reappear today for everyone to see.

Some of the early surnames from this particular area are:
Hickey, Calloway, Harris, Hairston, Miller, Via, Evans, Bean, Wynne, Hogan, Lane, Russell, Smythe, Sweeting, Sutton, Hunt, Reddy, Jones, Turner, Griffith, Atkinson, Owen, Duncan, Standeford, Rentfro, Morgan, and Meade. The project is locating the homesites of these families and other information linking them to the Great Wagon Road. These surnames appear in southern Virginia from 1746 to 1756.

Further analysis about colonial salt, Fort Trial, Mayo Fort, and John Hickey’s store is forthcoming. Several segments of this research will appear on the next Live Stream scheduled for January 30th, 2022. Other portions will appear here on the website in future articles. The Great Wagon Road Project is in its third year of investigating the original road. If you have information that you feel would benefit the project, the Research Team would love to hear from you. Click on the Contact Page, and submit your info. Thank You for joining the journey with us to the past.


  • Ground Study by the Great Wagon Road Project
  • Land Deeds of Virginia
  • Journal of Colonel George Washington 1732-1799 published by J Munsell’s Sons Albany, New York 1893
  • Journal of the Roanoke Valley Historical Society published 1972
  • Meat Preparation and Preservation in Colonial America by D.M. Kinsman published by University of Connecticut 1976
  • Salt in Virginia
  • The Virginia Frontier 1754-1763 by Louis K Koontz published by John Hopkins Press Baltimore, Maryland 1925

2 replies »

  1. was the video supposed to have audio or not? I heard nothing and even restarted my computer and made sure sound was working. Brett Fairchild

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Brett, No audio with the video. This is an example on how we conduct groundwork in the rural areas. We search for signs of the road by following our map coordinates and locating the evidence. It is one of the most fun ways to research the road.


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