From Footsteps To Wagon Wheels

Who were these people who traveled The Great Wagon Road? Why did their numbers grow so significantly during the mid 18th century? What were their reasons for moving to unknown lands? These are just a few of the questions that are asked by so many who are eager to learn more about this historic trail. After the Lancaster Treaty of 1744, families continued to pour into the ports of Philadelphia, Boston and New York. The numbers swelled to new heights from 1709 to 1765 which created different opinions from the families who were already settled in the New World. The towns and early communities were overwhelmed by the vast amount of immigrants arriving almost daily. Many of these families left lands that were brutal and provided little opportunity from the Old World. They were comprised mainly of Germans, Swiss, Scots and Irish. Arriving with only the clothes on their back and few possessions, they sought a New World filled with a priceless treasure, freedom. This article will explore these early families and their roots. To have a detailed understanding of who they were and why, after arriving to the New World, they chose to embark on another adventure, The Great Wagon Road.

During the years of 1708 and 1709, agent William Penn visited the Palatines and promoted each of them to set their destinations for the New World. Penn would give descriptions of religious freedoms, vast land and a friendly atmosphere with neighbors. During the month of June, 1709, several ships arrived in London filled with German families anticipating the voyage across the Atlantic. By autumn of 1709, Queen Anne ordered 1,000 tents to be set up in an open field near the Tower of London to house the Germans who were embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. Food was also provided for the families living temporarily on the grounds. Although, the total number is not known, at least 14,000 individuals were awaiting the departure date for the New World during the year of 1709. Over the next fifty years, the numbers grew at an alarming and remarkable rate. Pennsylvania’s Governor, Sir William Keith, demanded that each ship provide the names of each and every passenger by 1717. Secretary James Logan reported to the son of William Penn in England, the following statement dated March, 25, 1727, “We have many thousands of foreigners, most Palatines, so-called, already in ye Country, of whom near 1500 came in this last summer; many of them are a surly people, divers Papists amongst them, and ye men generally well arm’d.”

During this same time period, families from Scotland traveled to Ireland in previous years in order to establish their linen trade. However; due to heavy English taxes, these families joined the Germans to the New World. Due to these families arriving by 1720, the resentment of the newly arrived immigrants grew at a rapid pace. Benjamin Franklin remarked several times about the Germans and Scots stating the following in 1751, “Why should the Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our settlement?” Franklin also wrote, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglicifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs any more than they can acquire our complexion?” So, history is telling us that the German and Scots were not as welcomed as old school text books might have revealed in years past. In fact, resentment was well known all through out Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts. During the year of 1732, Pennsylvania was encouraging the new arrivals to travel westward and southward in order to obtain lands and settle.

Lord Baltimore of Maryland sent a proclamation northward to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to lure families to travel south, “Being Desireous to Increase the Number of Honest people” . Maryland was offering any family 200 acres between the Potomac and Susquehanna. Any payments would not be requested until after three years of settlement and then, only four shillings sterling per hundred acres. Single persons were offered 100 acres with the same terms. Now, we have discovered that not only could land be located further south, but at an amazing price. With hostilities rising among the communities through out the northern colonies, it stands to reason why the newly arrived families would travel The Great Wagon Road. These early groups would depart from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and travel the route known then as the Great Warrior’s Path, to arrive in Maryland between 1733 and 1749. The population of Maryland grew from 40,000 to over 150,000 during these years. But, the cheap availability of land was not the only reason why these Germans, Scots and Irish left the northern colonies.

Religious freedom was another major deciding factor for these families. The Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia wrote a letter addressed to the Governor of Virginia, William Gooch in May of 1738. “always been inclined to favour the people who have lately removed from other provinces, to settle on the western side of our great mountains, no interruption shall be given to any minister of your profession(denomination) who shall come among them, so long as they conform themselves to the rules prescribed by the act of tolerance in England.” This meant that the Anglican Virginia was no more and religions were respected for all groups arriving into the area. This was vital to our ancestors as this alone was the main reason why many of them left their original homes in the Old World. They wanted to exercise their civil and religious liberties. Beginning in 1738 along the Virginia frontier, these early families were allowed to do just that.

Another reason for the departure of the Germans and Scots were Indian attacks. Many of these families traveled westward and southward at first to escape resentments that were shown in the larger communities such as Philadelphia, Lancaster, Boston and New York. The problem with these smaller settlements such as Colebrook Valley, were Iroquois attacks. Many believe that the English who settled along the coast line forced the Germans and Scots to settle west and south in order to act as a buffer between the Indians and themselves. Often times, attacks were organized and carried out especially prior to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744. Even years after the Treaty was signed, several lone Indians organized attacks against the smaller communities. The reasons were sporadic and included lack of food, hostile personal feelings against the settlers and much more.

From Footsteps to Wagon Wheels

Majority of these families began the trip along the Great Wagon Road by walking and leading a packhorse. The road, at the beginning, was a foot path measuring no more than a few feet wide in many sections. As the years went by, small carts could be handled by the route, but few possessions were carried through these first years. Farming tools, furniture, additional cookware, yardage for clothing and more were all made or traded once the family arrived to their destinations. Jacob Stover led a group of Germans during the year of 1726 to the frontier lands of Virginia. They traveled by foot through the autumn air and Stover would lead many more families through the following years. Another early guide was Joist Hite who began traveling the route in 1732. Camping overnight in the open was common during this time period and many nights were spent without fire to eliminate their location by Indians who may have been near by. Wild game was abundant for the travelers and buffalo still traveled the path with recorded sightings as late as 1759. Wagons would later be able to travel the route easily by 1753 as well as herds of cattle, sheep and pigs.

In summary, the growth of Pennsylvania added to the jolt upwards with land prices and availability. But, as discussed earlier in the article, several reasons contributed to the “why” of these families traveling south along the Great Warrior’s Path. Beyond the waters of the Potomac was wilderness filled with dangers at every turn. Groups would depart together and any family setting out along the path alone was considered certain death for many. During these early years, moving from one location to another was treacherous and required great courage and skills. Families were willing to take up the task and travel a well-known Indian hunting trail in order to find land and create a home. They were willing to relocate in order to be known for who they were as an individual rather than a far away province. They were driven to act upon their beliefs and preserve their customs from one generation to the next. As researching the road continues, it stands to reason why The Great Wagon Road is a remarkable national historic treasure.

Thank You So Much For Your Support !!

The Great Wagon Road Project continues by researching documents, viewing old maps and examining the relics of the past. Be sure to visit the project again as new articles are presented, information regarding historical and genealogical data and new updates with the progress of our goal. Show your support of the project by following our blog, volunteering and sharing the project website. Thank You All So Much For Your Support and most of all, Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!

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A Legacy-The Great Wagon Road

What defines a legacy? An amount of money or property detailed in a will? A gift or treasure passed down from one generation to another? An inheritance pertaining to family history, photos and more? In reality, legacy means all of these things and much more. When the first immigrant settlers created their footsteps upon this land of America, they envisioned a new opportunity, a new beginning. These new beginnings were comprised of anticipation, worries, plans and dreams. The landscape was filled with wilderness and beauty that today we can only imagine. Gazing upon the eastern sky remembering the ocean voyage and the home left behind. Eyes fixed upon the western sunset as the stars appear and dreams are pondered. A union of people arriving prior to the 19th century were filled with ambitions and morals. They were quickly introduced to a vast array of culture. Many spoke different languages, upheld different customs, believed in different religions. They all survived the ocean voyage and were now living among each other, the common thread. From small settlements to large towns, these settlers learned to communicate with one another, learned skills from one another, shared life experiences with one another and embraced tears and joy with one another. The trails they traveled were originally hunting trails created by the Indians and the buffalo. These early trails followed the landscape as the valleys linked to rivers and streams along the way. A natural relationship between land and it’s occupants. No other trail portrays this link better than the Great Wagon Road.

The Birth of A Legacy

A road born 275 years ago, brought forth amazing achievements against great odds. This historic road endured a diversified people, survived many conflicts from wars and overcame environmental changes. Still, it grew and carried the load of a new nation. Torrential rains, wind and snows demonstrated the perseverance and it’s importance to continue onward through the next mile. Once an Indian hunting trail, the Powerful Five Nations of the Iroquois used the route to travel north and south. The trail allowed buffalo to migrate the area in search of grassland along the landscape. The Indians used trail markers and hunted for many generations. Beginning in early 18th century, a series of treaties were developed between the English and the Five Nations. By 1744, the Lancaster Treaty proclaimed ownership of the road to the English. Families began to travel this route to present day Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. A migration that took place nearly 40 years before the American Revolutionary War began. It’s the movement and the participation of these pioneers that allowed The Great Wagon Road to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Their endurance prove the historical significance of the trail and what it represents today.

Conestoga Wagon

Throughout the years, the road widens and takes on a completely new shape. A road originating no more than 2 to 3ft wide in several areas grows to allow wagons to pass side by side of one another. The surroundings along the road began to take on a new shape as well with new villages and settlers. The establishments along the route offer services to the travelers. Examples of these are inns, taverns, blacksmiths, churches, ferries and individual homes dotting the landscape. The thousands upon thousands of English, German, Scotch and Irish claim their new lands in the wilderness. They build their homes, raise their children and live their lives in the countryside. The road is a continuous flow of people filled with Indian traders, regiments of soldiers, religious groups and missionaries, business entrepreneurs and explorers. It was the most heavily traveled road in the new colonies. Wagon after wagon traveling south along the valleys of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

The Great Wagon Road played important roles during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Thousands of soldiers fought over it, many lost their lives giving their last breath along the road. The battles of Guilford Courthouse, Camden, Salisbury and Kings Mountain were just a few. The passion of independence swept along the road as years of battles and skirmishes were fought. Many historical figures traveled the road, such as George Washington, Daniel Boone, Charles Cornwallis, Francis Marion, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett and hundreds of others. Every family living in the new colonies during the early to mid 18th century were aware of the road and it’s destinations. A road for the future, an opportunity, a decision, a dream. A legacy takes shape upon the landscape.

The Great Wagon Road changed so many lives during the 18th century. Many families endured great hardships while on the trail while others prospered due to it’s location. Through it’s curves and elevations, the road was witness to history. A witness to war and a new nation. A witness to both birth and death for many who traveled it’s miles of promise. The 19th century arrived with a new innovation and a new outlook. The era of railroads, the telegraph and many road connections to the old route, transforming the wilderness to cities. By the 20th century, modern roads were created along it’s path and paved over the soil filled with wagon wheel ruts and footsteps. Glimpses of the original road were beginning to fade away into the landscape. The road was taking on a new chapter with museums and highway markers explaining it’s existence and it’s historical presence. It stands to reason why so many have relished in the embrace of this old road. Although in pieces and shattered in many places, it’s existence still prevails. It’s presence lingers on major highways to old wooded paths, to stories of long ago, to opened tours filled with artifacts and lectures and to words upon a page in thousands of books. The Great Wagon Road, a legacy. An earned right to be remembered and to be inspired by. Our inheritance from one generation to another. A priceless treasure to hold. An everlasting legacy upon the land.

Origins Of An Amazing Trail

The Great Wagon Road began as an Indian Trail allowing the Catawba and Iroquois to communicate with one another. Several smaller tribes were associated with these Indian Nations. For example: The Cherokee and the Tuscarora were members of the Iroquois Nation. Other Indian Nations were Algonquian, Siouan and Muskhogean. The later were mainly located along the Gulf region from Georgia to present day Mississippi. The Cherokee were the most powerful using their fur trading experience along the trail. The Shawnee offered the most resistance along the Great Wagon Road. Ambushes along the trail were frequent during the early years of migration. Many early explorers remarked and documented the trees along the route. Trees that were different from others due to their deformities. It is believed that the Indians created these trees to mark the trail for future generations. Many of these trees can still be seen along the original road.

Indian Trail Tree

Once the Lancaster Treaty of 1744 was signed, the road transformed from a trading path with the Indians to a migration path for early settlers. Now, the beginning of wagons and families took shape along the road. Narrow passageways were found after departing Pennsylvania into Maryland. From Virginia and points south, the road was a mere foot path stretching only to a couple of feet wide in several places. Many families would stop and settle while others would push forward filled with determination to find the best fertile soil, the best valley to live freely and raise the next generation. It is amazing to think of the actual number of families traveling this road from 1744 to 1799. In this short span of 55 years, 1/4 of American ancestry can be traced to this amazing historical trail. It is fascinating to think that 25% of American genealogy is and will forever be linked to the Great Wagon Road.

The June research continues as the group pushes forward with the project. Volunteers are needed for all states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. If you would like to submit a request to volunteer for the Great Wagon Road Project, simply contact the page.

June Update-Volunteer Duties

The Great Wagon Road Project is well underway and the group is in need of volunteers. We have had many questions concerning the volunteer duties. In this segment, the numerous tasks of the volunteers will be given in detail. We are seeking participants from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. If you are located in any of these states and you’re interested in joining the group, please see the Contact page to submit a Volunteer Request.

As stated earlier, the group has had many questions concerning volunteer duties. The outline below gives details on these duties and the tasks required to reach our goal of National Historic Trail status. If you have not researched historical documents or genealogy materials before, please don’t let the list intimidate you. There are many different duties listed below that do not require researching skills.

Volunteer Duties

  • Researching materials is the number one task needed for this project. The volunteer would need to be familiar with map reading, 18th century handwriting deciphering and understanding survey measurements.
  • Communication skills are needed in order to communicate with various sources and organizations willing to assist and aid the project. This task would also include conducting interviews and documentation.
  • Organizing files, photos, journals, testimonials and much more. The participants must be fluent with spreadsheets and possess skills for organizing and quickly gathering the documents when needed. Case sensitive searching must accompany the storage space.
  • Portfolio & Presentation skills are needed for the final stages of the project. The end result will be contained in a booklet format according to National Historic Trail guidelines.

Group meetings are conducted once a month for now and are performed online. Attendance is requested for all volunteers and group leaders. If you have any questions about volunteering for this project, please submit your question on the Contact page.

Thank You all for your support of The Great Wagon Road Project and be sure to stay up to date with the latest news and progress of the group.

The Research Begins

The initial journey has been a slow and challenging start, but the group is well on it’s way to goal. We are a group of volunteers dedicated to the preservation of The Great Wagon Road. Our goal is to have the 18th century trail recognized as a historic national road. We are supported by Piedmont Trails and dedicated to the years of research required to complete this task. The website will bring awareness to our goal and provide updates with our progress. The journey will take us through several states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. With this much territory to cover and a vast amount of documents and data, the journey will be filled with adventures and priceless treasures. We are in need of more volunteers and if you’re interested in joining us, please click on the Contact page and submit your request. We are always looking for more information about this historic trail and if you have information you would like to share with the group, please let us know.

With Research Comes Treasure

The group has been researching the trail over the past few months and many documents have been collected for our purpose. It appears the trail originated as a migration road during the years of 1740 and 1741. Prior to this, the road was a hunting trail used by local Indians for generations. During the early period, the trail was limited for wagon use as many places were not wide enough to accompany the weighted wagons. As the years went by, the road naturally became wider and allowed huge amounts of families, livestock herds and freight to be carried along the route to neighboring towns and settlements. As we research further into the details of the road, the website will share some of the highlights and history with you. So visit us often as we travel The Great Wagon Road once again. Join in our journey as we work to preserve this historic trail for today and for generations to come. Thank You so much for supporting our group and may you find priceless treasures along your own journey of history and genealogy.