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As early as 1740, the Shenandoah Valley was the course of The Great Valley Road of Virginia, which continued as a wagon road as far as big Springs, Virginia (now Roanoke). During the middle of the 1700s, the route was often recognized as "The Irish Road," simply because the majority of the travelers were Scotch-Irish immigrants. At present, the trace of the Great Valley Road is practically the same line as U.S. Highway 11 (or I-81). In 1746, travelers on the Great Valley Road at Big Springs had to abandon their wagons and use pack horses to carry on, either due south into central North Carolina, or continue into the valleys of the Clinch, Powell, or Holston Rivers advancing into western North Carolina, now Tennessee.
The Pioneer Road first crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains from Alexandria to Winchester, Virginia, where it fed into the Great Valley Road.In just a few years after the opening of the Pioneer's Road the Upper Road became a wagon road as well. The first settlements of Virginians in Tennessee were associated with the end of the trail in that region in the 1760s. The Upper Road took off from the Fall Line Road (which is the same as U.S. Hwy 1 today) at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and paralleled the Fall Line through Virginia, eventually reaching North Carolina some 60-70 miles west of the Fall Line Road. A present map of North Carolina shows the chief population centers along Interstate 40 as Raleigh, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro and Winston-Salem -- all the villages that were first settled as a result of the Great Valley Road or the Upper road. The Upper Road is the only pioneer wagon road that does not survive today as a modern highway -- it crossed several streams and rivers that are now large man-made lakes. Very little traffic came through eastern North Carolina into the western regions, due to the lack of wagon roads. Practically all the entire Piedmont region of North and South Carolina was settled by means of the Great Valley Road during the latter half of the 1700s.
The first land grants in north central North Carolina were in 1746, conjoining with the advent of a wagon route (the Pioneer's Road) that became feasible in the same year. Before that date, land sales in North Carolina were limited to the coastal areas and up a few rivers. North Carolina's land grants came as a result of Lord Granville, the reigning governor, who opened the northern section of North Carolina's counties for sale in that year. The area became known as the "Granville District," which attracted thousands of migrants from the north, particularly people coming by way of the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland.
Before 1746, travelers from the Chesapeake into western Virginia were obliged to first go north to Philadelphia, then west to Lancaster, then southwest on the old Philadelphia Road through York and on to the Potomac River, connecting with the Shenandoah River Valley. A major happening which influenced the migration of people from the Chesapeake to points west and southwest was the opening of a wagon road across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1746. It became known as the Pioneer's Road, as noted earlier in this text, and permitted wagon traffic from Alexandria to Winchester, the westernmost town in Virginia at that time. Winchester was located on the Great Valley Road, and by traveling from Alexandria overland to Winchester, the route to access the Great Valley Road had been reduced considerably. The trace today of the Pioneer's Road is very close to that of the modern U.S. Hwy 50, which crosses the Blue Ridge Mountains via Ashley's Gap.
The Scotch-Irish ancestor who immigrated to America during the 18th century without delay headed for western North Carolina, now known as Tennessee. The first farming settlements in the interior of North Carolina were created by a group of people who came from the ocean side area of Maryland and Virginia. They brought with them a good understanding of how to raise tobacco, the principal crop of the tidewater region of the Chesapeake This in turn became a primary crop of North Carolina. Many of these people were second and third generation Chesapeake residents, however, a sizeable number of them were newcomers to America -- a group of people who are often called themselves Scotch-Irish.
As a result of the opening of the Pioneer's Road, thousands of Scotch-Irish immigrants to America changed their travel plans after hearing from relatives in America. Before 1746 the primary port of entry to the American colonies was Philadelphia. After 1746, Alexandria, Virginia on the Potomac River became a vital port of entry for the newcomers from the Irish Sea.
"Scotch-Irish" was a name given to the people who came to America from about 1717 to 1775 by way of northern Ireland, or Irish Seaports on either side of the border of Scotland and England. Although many had lived in Ireland for decades, these folks did not think of themselves as Irish. Beginning around 1607, thousands of border clan people were encouraged to leave their homes along the English-Scottish border and were transported to northern Ireland. The enticement was a parcel of land, which the borderers could have as their own for a lease period of 100 years. For the next hundred years, the system worked convincingly well.
The border clan people established thriving flax farms in Northern Ireland, and assembled a linen trade that was the envy of Europe. They didn't change their Scottish ways while they were in Ireland, and did not see themselves as Irish. In fact, most of the clans of the borderlands were more Scotch than anything else, whether their traditional lands were on the English side or the Scottish side-- they had a history of taking whatever land they wanted and were famous for their centuries of fighting Scottish kings, English kings, or each other--it really didn't matter.
A big change in the lives of the border clan people took place with the merger of Scotland and England into one kingdom in 1705. The border clans became an unbearable struggle to the English, and thereby, thousands were by force transferred to northern Ireland. This time, the clan people were treated adversely which encompassed higher rents and shorter leases; as earlier leases ran out, the tenants were replaced with new border clan people at higher rents. At the same time, dreadful droughts, famine, and the crumbling of the linen trade in Northern Ireland put the clan people into dismal situations, and living there became virtually impossible. By 1717, ejected Scotch-Irish began relocating to America.
During the next 50 years or so, it is estimated that over 275,000 of them went to the American colonies. Most of them found themselves traveling into the backwoods of colonial America and the Appalachian region, extending from western Pennsylvania to Georgia. These regions were settled almost exclusively by Scotch-Irish immigrants.
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan