Can you picture your ancestors traveling during 1740? What roads did they take? Did they travel hundreds of miles? What did they experience as they embarked on their journey? We may never know the full details of our ancestor’s travels, but we can surely try to understand the why, the how, and the where. Have you ever stumbled across an old roadbed and wondered about its past? How did the road begin, and where did it lead? Possibly a post road containing a post rider on a fast horse delivering mail. Or perhaps a road connecting neighbors long ago. Our ancestors did not travel through the woods aimlessly from one place to another. They used marked roads and paths. By 1740, the northern colonies had numerous routes leading to their western boundaries from the eastern seashore. The middle colonies extended into their western regions by developing Native trails into roads. And the southern colonies were adapting their popular trading routes into migration roads. Have you asked yourself, How does the Great Wagon Road Project investigate a road that existed over 280 years ago? One of the resources we use for the project involves county court records and road orders. Join the journey as we travel back to 1745 and share the records from Augusta County, Virginia.
The Great Wagon Road would change names three times during the eight years between 1745 to 1753. The first court records proclaim it as the Indian Road. By 1751, the name changed to the Main Road, and by 1753, it became the Great Road. In 1745, Augusta County boundaries extended into present-day West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois. In 1738, an act passed in Orange County, enabling two new counties to be formed for the colony of Virginia, namely Frederick and Augusta. The court waited until a sufficient number of settlers arrived in each area before initiating the new counties. Frederick’s court proceedings began in 1743, and Augusta’s first court began in 1745. The boundaries for Augusta did not change until 1754 with the addition of Hampshire County. A total of 4 new roads are in the court records during 1745, and we can identify five older routes existing before Augusta became a county. The court records offer details to document the exact location with family surnames and property identification. Were your ancestors living in this area during 1745?
The first road order on December 10, 1745, names several early settlers and two key locations. James Carter, Matthew Edmondson, John Finla, Andrew Hamilton, Calf Pasture, and Jenning’s Gap. The first photo below shows Jennings Gap as it appears today. The second identifies the road in 1745 as it travels from Calf Pasture River and Andrew Hamilton’s property line. The highway mainly follows Highway 250, known as Hanky Mountain Highway. Now that we have the road: let’s find out more about the people mentioned in the court records.
Pictured on the left portrays the land survey for Matthew Edmondson as it lies north and adjacent to Jennings Gap along the new road. This tract totaled 200 acres in 1743. The evidence points out that Matthew traveled with his wife, Mary, from Ireland to Maryland before 1740. We have much more data on Matthew, but let’s move on to Andrew Hamilton. The evidence proves that Andrew lived in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1720. He married before 1725, and a son was born during the year. By 1745, Andrew and his family lived on the banks of Calf Pasture River in Augusta County. Other records indicate that Andrew may have arrived in Virginia as an indentured servant. We have more data about Andrew and his family while living in the Calf Pasture River area. What about John Finla? John’s surname is not spelled correctly in the court records. Finley lives near Cathey’s River on a waterway bearing his name, Finley’s Branch. One hundred eighty-three acres dated December 1, 1740, 282 years ago, almost to the day, were the first acreage belonging to John Finley.
James Carter was a known land opportunist. He later joins forces with Morgan Bryan and a group of families as they migrate together to North Carolina by 1747. Carter acquired 393 acres near the Potomac River, a mile north of the Great Falls, in 1725. Like Alexander Ross, Jost Hite, and others, Carter sought to populate the area.
As you can see, a vast amount of history ties into just one colonial road order. Regarding Jennings Gap, this natural landmark was not a community under this name during the 1740s or the 1750s. Mercersville appeared in the area as a small village by 1806. A post office named Jennings Gap was actually in Mercersville in 1825. Cathey’s River changed its name to Middle River. The Frazier Family Cemetery, located at Jennings Gap, dates to 1833 as the earliest marked headstone. James Frazier arrived in the area circa 1800. He worked for the merchant Robert McDowell. Years later, Frazier would profit from this experience as he became the leading merchant in Jennings Gap. The intersection near the cemetery dates to the early 19th century and connects to Rockingham Road, later state highway 736. The road mentioned in the 1745 court order eventually connected to the Three Notch’d Road traveling east-to-west from Richmond. This road would become one of the migrating routes leading into Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley years later.
We will have more similar articles from our summer groundwork arriving soon. Until then, Enjoy Your Journey to the Past!!
- Library of Virginia: Virginia Land Grants Book C pg. 15-Carter, Patent Book 19 pg. 852-Finley Personal copy of Land Survey-Matthew Edmondson 1743.
- Frazier Family Cemetery, Lone Fountain, Virginia
- Augusta Historical Bulletin Volume 18 No. 1 Spring Edition 1982 pgs. 27-28
- Map of Virginia 1787 William Faden published London Library of Congress
- Present-Day Maps courtesy of personal files from Piedmont Trails & Great Wagon Road Project, Google Earth.
- Augusta County, Virginia Road Orders 1745-1769 published by Virginia Genealogical Society Richmond, Virginia 2008
Categories: Featured Articles, Great Wagon Road Project, Virginia
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