The first migration wave into the piedmont area of North Carolina began in 1746. Soon after their arrival, these families filed claims for their proposed and chosen lands. The first land grants in the area appear in the records dated 1747. Every land deed dated before 1751 is a treasure map from the past. Not only can we pinpoint the location of the families, but we can also define the roads that were prevalent during that period. How many of you have traced your ancestors to the piedmont region before 1750? Do you know where they settled? Do you know the roads they traveled to get to their new home? This article will share research from the Great Wagon Road Project and hopefully entice you to research more about the piedmont region before 1750.
In 1746, only two roads reached the area. The oldest of the two stretches west from present-day Hillsborough to the Yadkin River, crossing the Trader’s Ford near Salisbury. Commonly known as the Trader’s Path during this period, the road continued past the ford crossing and eventually entered South Carolina, crossing Great Cain Creek. The Trader’s Path continued through the Catawba Nation and crossed the Savannah River in Georgia. The original roadbed dates to 1704 and was a military route during Queen Anne’s War. Historical documents tell us the road’s history. From military use to trading techniques with the Native tribes, the road adapts to current events through time. By 1746, it quickly becomes a major migration route for the first families entering the piedmont region.
The second road enters North Carolina at the Mayo River crossing near present-day Rockingham County. Locally known as the Great Road, it parallels the Trader’s Path direction, traveling south-southwest. Although the age of this road is not nearly as old as its comrade, the route is the most favored during this period because of the lesser miles and time it took to reach the Yadkin River. Traveling east of present-day Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, the road joined the Trader’s Path near Swearing Creek in Davidson County. Early settlement origins, land deeds, survey plats, and more clearly document the road. The original route traveled parallel to the Trader’s Path, with approximately thirty to thirty-five miles separating the two in the present-day Guilford County area. This route is known to us at the project as the Great Wagon Road. As the roads traveled closer to the Virginia/North Carolina border, the miles between them increased. The Great Wagon Road traveled to Roanoke, and the Trader’s Path traveled to Petersburg.
Soon after the arrival of many families, new roads emerged from the landscape before 1750. One is the Limestone Road which extended to the Great Wagon Road at the Dan River crossing in present-day Stokes County. As with many colonial roads, the names change from one community to another. Any name given to a route in this period mainly describes the road’s destination. In the case of the Great Wagon Road, the word great signifies its importance among the early migration trails and its popularity. The Limestone Road held other names, such as Gist’s Trail and Townfork Road. The road ended on the eastern section of the Dan River near the Great Wagon Road crossing. This particular road helped to establish Townfork Settlement and Dan River Settlement. Traveling west in present-day Stokes County, the road stayed north of Yadkin River and reached Wilkes County at the Mulberry Settlement. This road is the route that Morgan Bryan and his party of at least 12 families used in 1747. Several group members acquired land in the Townfork Settlement and west along the original roadbed. Bryan separated from the road at the Samuel Davis property because a path led from this point south along the river to the Trader’s Ford. The definition of a path during the colonial period is a route for walking or horseback. It is not wide enough to accommodate a wagon. The families living along this path arrive from 1746 to 1750, and by the end of the decade, the path is a road bordering the Yadkin River to the east. Bryan refers to the crossing at the Shallowford as the road to the Dan. We know that two roads led to the Dan River in 1747. Since this period dates before the 1752 Moravian survey, we had to move forward with time to study surveyor Churton’s description of the proposed Moravian lands. What we found or didn’t find was a treasure. Not one road or path traveled through the documented survey. What does this mean? It tells us that the road mentioned by Bryan joined Townfork Road to reach the Dan River. The discovery reminds us that colonial families settled near the major roads because they equipped the families with trade, marketing, supplies, and safety. The survey also explains why the Moravian lands remained unsettled in 1752. Early settlements surrounded the future Moravian property, but they averaged twelve to twenty miles away on all sides, east, west, north, and south. What do you think was the first thing the Moravians did before they arrived on their land? They hired men to construct a road from their land boundaries to Townfork Road. When the original Moravian group arrived in November 1753, a new wagon road awaited them to reach their land.
What about the Sherrill family and his traveling party along the Catawba River? What road led them to this area? Once again, trading routes through the area contribute to later migration routes. And we cannot eliminate Christopher Gist, who supported this route from Mulberry Settlement in Wilkes County dating to 1746. A road extended from Roanoke to Flour Gap near present-day Cana, Virginia, before 1750. The road traveling west from Roanoke soon became the road leading into Tennessee and Kentucky. But, in 1746, the road led to mining camps along the New River and points south. Most records document the road as Gist’s Road or Flour Gap Road. Horsepack trains used the route to reach the Catawba Nation and the Cherokee Nation for trade. Sherrill’s party was well aware of this route as they traveled further west than any other family from this period. With Sherrill’s background and history, Flour Gap Road was the chosen route by the party: not by chance but by reason and effort. This group knew where they were heading. The GWR Project is trying to locate sources to link Gist and Sherrill as acquaintances. If we can do this, that would confirm more history about the Sherrill family.
Between 1746 and 1750, numerous new roads emerged between the Trader’s Path and the Great Wagon Road. One can imagine the significant growth occurring between these two historic roads. Cities today known as Greensboro, High Point, and Thomasville were in between both historical routes. By 1754, the Cape Fear Road emerged as the Moravians named it the King’s Highway in their diaries. Markets located in eastern North Carolina now became available to the piedmont families as the Cape Fear Road became the colony’s market road. The Crawford Path came into view in present-day Randolph County, which later would be remembered by the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance in 1771. So many shorter routes would connect to these first roads in the piedmont region of North Carolina and secure their place in history for the future. We encourage you to research further into the colonial roads. If you are in search of your family history, follow the roads and you’ll find the people. Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!
- Abingdon Sherrill Deed Book 10 pg. 287 dating 4/4/1750 North Carolina Land Grant Imaging and Data Notes from Attic Files Piedmont Trails
- Christopher Gist Journal published by J.R. Weldin & Company Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1893
- Churton, William surveyor files, letters, correspondence dating 1749 to 1754
- Davis, Samuel Deed Book 11 pg. 8 dating 9/20/1748 consisting of 579 acres survey plat imagery by David McCorkle with North Carolina Land Grant Imaging and Data Notes from Attic Files Piedmont Trails
- Groundwork Expedition Summer months 2022 consisting of mapping coordinates, plotting, and notes courtesy of the Great Wagon Road Project
- James Hutton Deed Book 11 pg. 12, Book 11 pg. 13 North Carolina Land Grant Imaging and Data
- Morgan Bryan Deed Book 11 pg. 2 dating 10/27/1752 North Carolina Land Grant Imaging and Data
- Robinson, Charles surveyor files, letters, correspondence dating to 1751
Categories: Featured Articles, Great Wagon Road Project, North Carolina
Carol, This is exciting information. Brett Fairchild
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I think you are getting warmer, regarding my curiosity. I grew up on a farm in western Stokes County, N.C. An old wagon roadbed runs N-S through the farm. My mother, in the 1950s, always told me it was the “main road from Stuart, Va. to Winston, N.C. I can show you the road at the southern end of the farm, behind the Westfield Baptist Church. The route heading north of our farm went about a half mile across and north of Locust Grove Road, then took an easterly course across Big Creek and up a hill, which would have been in the general direction of Stuart. This turn would have been near the community of Asbury, N.C. A surveyor once called this Airesville Road, but I don’t think that’s right because that implies it went to Mount Airy, not Winston. Also a road branched off to the east, just north of Meadow Branch, in the general direction of Francisco. I was never able to follow that roadbed more than about 500 feet though.
Bill Owens firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is wonderful! You clear up a lot of questions I’ve had. Thank you!
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I think it was about that time frame that my Austin clan traveled from Hanover Co VA & South Hampton Co VA to settle the Rocky River and Richardson Creek settlements including their Gurley Clan. Wm Austin b. 1700 Ireland died South Hampton Co VA abt 1778. His sons John, Richard & Charles all went into North Carolina to the places mentioned above. After the RV WAR where they fought on the Patriot side they won land grants in that same area. Gurley had about 3,000 acres but the Austins did not achieve that high ranks in the military.
C. Wayne Austin
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Is there a map available showing these early roads?
Ann Allred Miller email@example.com
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Hi Ann, If you are interested in the colonial roads in North Carolina, I suggest studying the 1770 Collet map. Once the Great Wagon Road Project is complete, we will be releasing our complete packet of information along with our maps, data, etc. https://www.loc.gov/item/83693769/