Migration Trail History 17th, 18th & 19th Centuries
Genealogy research contains within itself a mixture of time travel, dusty objects and faded lines on paper. Nothing is more difficult in genealogy than tracing the pioneers when they migrated to a new territory, a new state, or a new country. It would be a priceless treasure to find an ancestor’s diary of the trip. Detailing each day’s events, Example: “April 14th, 1792-Rain this morning, leaking into the wagon because of the winds. We have not met one person since we crossed into Indiana Territory. Even the animal creatures have disappeared.” Transcribed from an early diary of an unknown individual. Just a few words from our ancestors to confirm they were on this trail, on this date, traveling in this direction. Researching how your ancestor traveled and why; requires a much different approach. Let your journey begin with the amazing early roads of our ancestors.
This page was created to bring forth the history and genealogy of these early roads. Over the years, it seems that the importance of these essential trails have lost their lust among our daily research. Our ancestors depended on these roads for their livelihood and understanding this can greatly add to your knowledge about your ancestors and the lives they lived. The main routes are displayed giving details of their origins, routes and much more. You will also find links to various other state roads by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
The following are tips to use while navigating this page. Each road is identified with the proper timeline in accordance to it’s origin. This means when the road was first put into use as a main thoroughfare. First locate the timeline you believe your ancestor traveled. Second, scroll through the names of the various roads and look for the location that pertains to your research. You will find each of the road names in alphabetical order. Look below each road name to discover the location, such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, etc. Once you have discovered the road you are interested in, a detailed description will be provided. Maps and various links will also be available for further research. This method will allow you to fully understand the main roads during specific timelines. This is critical with our genealogy research. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, simply Contact Piedmont Trails.
17th Century Timeline
Albany Post Road
Oldest Road In The United States-New York
This route followed the Wickquasgeck Trail through present day Manhattan, New York. In 1669, the route was proposed into a functioning postal route. This route was approved and served as a link between New York and Albany. US Highway 9 follows the original route. To learn more about the oldest road in the United States, visit the Old Road Society located in Philipstown, New York.
Massachusetts and Connecticut
The Farm Highway is also known as old Route 108. This highway traveled from Boston Post Road into Connecticut near Sheldon. The road was actually built on the south side of Mischa Hill on December 7, 1696. It is considered to be one of the oldest highways in Connecticut. The road is approx. 12 miles in length.
The Keowee Trail is one of the oldest routes in the South Carolina area. It spans a time period of over 300 years of history and migration. The road began as a footpath with the Native Americans and developed into a well maintained trading route between the tribes and the early residents of colonial South Carolina. The route begins in present day Charleston and travels in a northwesterly direction across the entire state. It’s history dates to the late 17th century and continues today in many areas along our modern highways. The road joins other early routes together such as the Congaree at Ninety-Six. Be sure to visit the Keowee blog posting on Piedmont Trails to learn more.
Virginia, north carolina, south carolina and georgia
This trail dates much older than the 17th century and the name derives from the Occaneechi tribe of Native Americans. The route begins at Petersburg, Virginia and extends in a southwesterly direction to Augusta, Georgia. This route was used for trading purposes with the inland Native Americans prior to the 18th century. As the road grew, it became known by other names such as the Trading Path and the Fall Line Road. The original route was approximately 500 miles and joined other routes as colonial travels progress with the larger migrations.
18th Century Timeline
Maryland and pennsylvania
Fall Line Road
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and georgia
The Fall Line Road separates from the King’s Highway at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Modern day maps pinpoint the main route as Highway 1. Ancestors who traveled southward prior to 1750 would have most likely used this route. This particular route provided a much easier trail that allowed wagons to pass through versus The Great Wagon Road and The Upper Road. The road ended in Augusta, Georgia and spanned a period of growth between 1735 through 1760. The route arrived in present day Raleigh by the mid 1740’s and reached Cheraw, South Carolina by early 1750’s. It further extended into Georgia just prior to 1761.
During the year of 1758, Forbes Road was established from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Fort Duquesne located in western Pennsylvania. The road became a major military route during the French and Indian War. Present day location would be very similar to the Pennsylvania Turnpike along Interstate 76. Years later, this route would be used to reach the upper northwestern territory. The road was named after John Forbes, a general with the British force.
Great Wagon Road
Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North carolina, south carolina and georgia
The Great Wagon Road extends from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia. This is a distance of over 800 miles over rough terrain and mountainous landscapes. The road originally began as a footpath named The Great Warrior’s Path and used by the Native Americans for many generations. The road formation began prior to the 1740 decade and by 1744, families began traveling the route to southern colonies. The route passed through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and extended into the Carolinas. This particular road was the most traveled route during the 18th century and allowed the passage of tens of thousands of families to migrate to other areas for settlement. To learn more about this fascinating road, be sure to visit The Great Wagon Road Project sponsored by Piedmont Trails.
New York, massachusetts, pennsylvania, new jersey, delaware, virginia, north carolina and south carolina
The King’s Highway began as a riding trail for mail service between Boston and New York. The road was originally known as the Boston Post Road and travels the same route of the present day Massachusetts Turnpike. By 1750, the connection of several post roads in this area joined together and formed the King’s Highway from Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the highway reached Maine and southward to Georgia. For more information about the King’s Highway, be sure to visit the blog article by Piedmont Trails.
This road originated as early as 1725 and follows the old Philadelphia Pike or US Highway 30 and PA Highway 340 from Philadelphia to Lancaster. Lancaster was formed in 1727 as a result of this road. The earliest western migrations out of Philadelphia had little to no access to the Susquehanna River without first traveling to the mouth of the river located in Maryland.
Old Cherokee Path
Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina
This trail was used by the Cherokee for centuries before the early settlers arrived during the mid 18th century. A mountainous rough trail leading from the southern border of Tennessee near present day Bristol and traveling south through the western mountains of North and South Carolina. The path was primarily used as a trading and hunting path for the Native Americans and followed the local creeks and streams through various gaps of the terrain. Entering into the South Carolina boundary, the trail turned towards the southwest into present day Pickens and Oconee counties. This was not an easy trail to travel but the proof of these early families migrating to the area as early as 1750 reminds us all that settlements in forbidden territories were occurring. The road was not officially opened for new settlers until the year of 1777.
South Carolina Road
This route began from Charleston during the year of 1731 and extended in a northwestern direction to Greenville. This particular route traveled through the center of the state which greatly aided in the population growth of the 18th century. It merged with various other roads such as the Great Wagon Road, Fall Line Road, Trading Path and the Catawba Trail. This route was used often during the American Revolutionary War and was well maintained along the coastal area.
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia
This road emerged from inland settlements extending from Fredericksburg, Virginia to joining the main route along the Fall Line Road otherwise known as the Old Trader’s Path. The road travels parallel to the Fall Line until it reaches the mid section of North Carolina. Here the road joins the older route and near the Charlotte area both roads join together with the Great Wagon Road traveling south into the South Carolina area. It was these groups of roads that impacted these areas the most during the 18th century. Evidence shows this route in use by 1740 and less than 10 years later, the road was wide enough to accommodate wagons safely through the Virginia interior.
virginia, tennessee and kentucky
The history of the Wilderness Trail is fascinating with it’s detailed stories, the adventurous settlers biographies and the actual setting of the landscape. All of this combined allows us to have a better understanding of why this trail was so popular during the late 18th century. Portions of the trail were discovered by Abraham Wood during the 17th century. The trail links to the Great Wagon Road in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Wood traveled the area as early as 1650. He documented this experience with vivid details. This trail ended at the capital of the Cherokee Nation, Chota. The road became very active due to Daniel Boone’s expedition through Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky during the later years of the 18th century. At times, this trail was no more than a narrow path through the wilderness. Many early settlers would carry all of their items because the trail was not wide enough for the passage of wagons. US Highway 25 and State Highway 150 closely follows the original route of this trail. Be sure to visit Harrodsburg Settlement, History of Martin’s Station and The Wilderness Trail in Jefferson County to learn more about this trail.
19th Century Timeline
Montana and Oregon
This route connected Montana to Oregon and originated during the year of 1863. The map below shows the initial route of this trail. To learn more, visit the Bozeman Trail Association and the Bozeman Trail Museum located in Wyoming.
Missouri, kansas, colorado, utah, wyoming, idaho and california
This road holds origins dating early 1811 by mountain men who traveled and hunted the area for many years. Some of these early travelers were Kit Carson, Jebediah Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Joseph Walker and Peter Ogden. The initial trail began in present day Missouri and traveled west to northern California. The beginning half of the route follows the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail. The second half splits from these trails in present day Idaho and continues west to California. This road was very active with pioneers during the early 1840’s and covered approx. 3,000 miles.
The Georgia Road, also known as the Federal Horse Path Road, was first recognized as a major route during 1805. Once a trail with the Cherokee, it traveled from Savannah crossing the state to the upper northern sections and reaching into the Tennessee area. The route later became the federal recognized post road for these areas and a toll road for many migrating families during the period. The discovery of gold during 1828 allowed this route to be the primary link to the areas where the gold was located. By 1845, many sections of the road was no longer in use due to more modern roads and the construction of the railroad. The road came into existence by way of the Treaty of Tellico which included the use of two routes joining together and forming the Georgia Road.
This route crosses the entire state from southeast to northwest and connects the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. The road quickly became a major route after a treaty was signed with the Pottawatomie tribe in October of 1826. From this moment, the road was finalized and maintained. The original route can still be traveled today allowing the rediscovery of history and genealogy along the way. Be sure to visit The Historic Michigan Road to learn more about this amazing early road of Indiana.
Additional Resources for Early Roads & Trails
The Bay Path and Along The Way-Early trails of Massachusetts
Our Ancestors Left Amazing Trails To Follow Enjoy Your Journey