The courage and grit of American pioneers who settled our first frontier in Tennessee and Kentucky is legendary. The story of the trails our ancestors blazed through forest, over hills, and across rivers is a story full of genealogical clues hinting at where they originated. Potential settlers were hemmed in by thick trees, rugged mountains, rushing rivers, hostile Indians, and sometimes highway robbers. Pioneer settlers depended on a system of trails through the trees, gaps in the mountains, fords through the rivers, their rifles and an occasional fort to help them reach their new homes. As genealogists we wonder where the trails first started and what factors caused their migration.
Study pioneer trails into Kentucky and Tennessee and learn about the forces pulling settlers onto the frontier, and pushing emigrants out of their previous homes. Indian treaties (official and otherwise) opened up new lands and old Indian trails to American settlers. The earliest trails into Tennessee and Kentucky are described, and mapped on the FamilySearch Research Wiki. For example, see the following:
Natchez Trace (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Natchez_Trace), opened before 1742, from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, was used by the Indians and the French long before it became a pathway for American settlers, or Midwest farmers returning home from marketing their goods down the Mississippi River in New Orleans or Natchez.
Catawba Trail (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Catawba_Trail), an old Indian trail that was used by settlers from the Carolinas and Georgia to reach northeast Tennessee through the Catawba Gap near the Nolichucky River. About a fourth of earliest pioneers used this route.
Unicoi Trail (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Unicoi_Trail), open only to traders at first, but after 1795 this trail became important to settlers from the Carolinas and Georgia for reaching the southern counties of east Tennessee.
Great Valley Road (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Great_Valley_Road), opened into Tennessee about 1769, allowed settlers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to reach far northeast Tennessee via the Appalachian Valley. About three-fourths of earliest settlers used this route.
Wilderness Road (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Wilderness_Road), blazed in 1774 by Daniel Boone for the Transylvania Company, it opened up central Kentucky to American settlers branching off the Great Valley Road at Bristol, Virginia, climbing through the Cumberland Gap, and ending (at first) at Boonesborough, Kentucky.
Kentucky Road (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Kentucky_Road), opened 1779, was a southern spur of the Wilderness Road that took settlers from Virginia and northeast Tennessee to Nashville, Tennessee via southern Kentucky.
Avery’s Trace (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Avery%27s_Trace), opened in 1788 to connect Knoxville to Nashville Tennessee.
Georgia Road (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Georgia_Road), opened an old Indian path to settlers in 1805 to connect Athens, Georgia to Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee. Some settlers also used a spur to Huntsville, Alabama.
Jackson’s Military Road (http://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Jackson%27s_Military_Road), first used in 1814, Congress authorized the military in 1816 to improve this path into a wagon road connecting Nashville via Tupelo, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana.