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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

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Colonial Roads and Trails

Fall Line Road

Some of America’s earliest communities (Philadelphia, Alexandria, and Richmond) had access to the ocean, but they were also on the “Fall Line,” a geographic feature, caused by erosion. This line stretches from Maryland all the way to Georgia, running north and south between the river tidelands and inland elevations.

Fall Line Road.jpg


As the northern frontier reached the Fall Line, communities developed where ships could be unloaded for portage upstream. After Powhatan’s Uprising in 1644, Virginia planted a series of forts along the Fall Line to protect its citizens and also to promote trade with the Indians. By 1700 each navigable stream had a fledgling town established at the Fall Line, and before long a road system developed between these towns. This road was not subject to ocean tides or marshes and could be used all year round except for brief periods of river flooding. The road provided much needed transportation and communication between the widely separated English colonies.

By 1735 the Fall Line Road broke off from the King’s Highway at Fredericksburg, Virginia and continued south following the “Fall Line.” The road ran parallel to and between the King’s Highway and the Upper Road. This road didn’t come into heavy usage until the Civil War and afterwards. Today’s U.S. Highway 1 follows close to the route.

The Fall Line Road carried traffic into the interior of Virginia and the Carolinas and across into Augusta, Georgia, which was founded in 1736 at the head of the Savannah River. In 1750 the South Carolina town to be known by the Indian name Cheraw was settled and then formally laid out in 1768. The first settlement of what is to become Camden, South Carolina, was made in 1751 by Irish Quakers. In 1792 the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, was founded and named after Sir Walter Raleigh.

Upper Road

Upper Road.jpg

The Upper Road began at Fredericksburg and continued through Virginia and into Carolina, running parallel and west of the Fall Line Road. Today this path is no longer a continuous road because several man-made lakes are in the way. It passed through the current Virginia counties of Spotsylvania, Louisa, Goochland, Powhatan, Amelia, Nottoway, Lunenburg, and Mecklenburg. From the North Carolina line, it is nearly the same as Interstate 85 and continues into South Carolina.

The Upper Road was known by several other names, most commonly “the Carolina Road.” It began at Leesburg on the Virginia-Maryland border and ran south, connecting the county seats of all the counties east of the Blue Ridge, then entering Caswell County, North Carolina from Pittsylvania County and on to Charlottesville in Albemarle County and Lynchburg in Bedford County. The name “Rogues Road” developed after 1775 when much of the north-south pioneer traffic was using the Great Valley Road instead. The “Rogues Road” had become a route for illegal trade and stolen livestock moving across central Virginia.

The Upper Road seems to have followed the Occaneechi Indian Path which went from Bermuda Hundred on the James River and Old Fort Henry (later Petersburg, Virginia), southwest to the Indian trading town of the Occaneechi on the Roanoke River at about where the river crosses the present state line between Virginia and North Carolina. From there it passed through the Carolinas to what is now Augusta, Georgia, and connected with other major Indian trails. As the Tidewater Region of Virginia became heavily settled, a stream of colonists flowed along the Occaneechi Path to locate in its most fertile parts. The road provided access to farm lands in the interior of Virginia and points further south. The water transportation routes were no longer adequate to reach the new farming areas.

By 1750 the Upper Road had become an important wagon route for southbound migrations into North Carolina. When land grants were issued, settlers came in great numbers into North Carolina’s Granville District which made up the northern third of North Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, the Upper Road was used for troop movements in the South, particularly in connection with the battles at Guilford Courthouse, King’s Mountain, and Cowpens.

Mohawk Trail

Mohawk Trail, New York.jpg

The Mohawk River Valley became the primary route west in New York. The “Old Connecticut Path” from Boston joined the Mohawk Trail at Albany. From Albany, the Mohawk Trail (also known as the Iroquois Trail) extended west to near Tonawanda at the eastern end of Lake Erie, where Buffalo is now located. It was the most northern route through the Appalachian Mountains, leading out from the Hudson Valley, and eventually the migration path along the Mohawk River to the Great Lakes. During and immediately after the Revolutionary War, this wagon trail became part of the route followed by Loyalists into Upper Canada, later to become Ontario.

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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 4 December 2013, at 15:38.
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