The path was named after the Occaneechi (also Occoneechee, Akenatzy), a small but important tribe who acted as trading middlemen, and who lived primarily on a four-mile long island on the Dan and Roanoke rivers near present-day Clarksville, Virginia. At first the Occaneechi served as contacts between Europeans and Cherokee and other interior tribes. Because of their trade contacts their language was widely used and understood by the leaders of many nations.
Early Virginia explorers describe the Occaneechi village. As a result of wars they were soon joined with the Suponi tribe and eventually moved out of the area. But the trails they pioneered were put to good use and improved. Pack caravans plied the Occaneechi Path with guns, gunpowder, knives, jewelry, blankets, and hatchets in trade for furs and deerskins.
Along the way several other significant pathways overlapped or forked off this path including parts of the Upper Road, the Fall Line Road, the Great Valley Road (South Fork), and the Lower Cherokee Traders' Path. In the late 1740s white pioneers began using the Occaneechi Path to settle inland Virginia, and the Carolinas although they usually called it the Upper Road. The Ulster-Irish were the largest ethnic group to use the Path this way.
Much later the old Occaneechi Path was well enough designed through mountain gaps and connecting good river fords to be roughly followed by railroads and parts of Interstate Highways 85, 77, and 20.
As roads developed in America, settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the roads provided access to markets. They could sell their products at distant markets, and buy products made far away. If an ancestor settled near a road, you may be able to trace back to a place of origin on a connecting highway.
- Virginia: Petersburg, Prince George, Dinwiddie, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg
- North Carolina: Granville, Durham, Orange, Alamance, Guilford, Randolph, Davidson, Rowan, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Gaston
- A fork: West of the Catawba River the Occaneechi Path forked. The west fork (Lower Cherokee Traders' Path) went to Cherokee villages. The south fork headed toward present-day Augusta, Georgia:
- South Carolina: York, Chester, Lancaster, Kershaw, Fairfield, Richland, Lexington, Aiken
- Georgia: Columbia, Richmond
Overlapping trails. The Occaneechi Path was joined by the Fall Line Road at Petersburg, VA, and followed the same path south to near the Virginia border. There the path split off and went more west to the Occaneechi village near Clarksville, VA. Near there the Occaneechi Path was joined by the Upper Road and they stayed together all the way south past Charlotte, NC. The Lower Cherokee Traders' Path, the Upper Road, and the west fork of the Occaneechi Path headed west from the Catawba River. Meanwhile, back at Salisbury, NC the Occaneechi Path was joined by the south fork of the Great Valley Road and the two followed the same route to Augusta, GA. Their route at Camden, SC was joined a second time by the Fall Line Road which continued on with them to Augusta. The Camden-Charleston Path also forked off at Camden. On the way from Camden to Augusta the Occaneechi and associated trails crossed the Old South Carolina State Road and the Fort Moore-Charleston Trail. For a detailed map see South Carolina Emigration and Immigration.
Settlers and Records
No lists of settlers who used the Occaneechi Path are known to exist. However, local and county histories along the road may reveal that many of the first pioneer settlers arrived from places to the northeast along the route.
The Occaneechi Path or Trading Path was heavily used by traders, but sparsely used by white settlers before 1748. After that time Virginians from around Petersburg and inland southern Virginia would have used the road to move southwest. Also some people from southern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, eastern Maryland, and northern Virgina may have used remnants of the Path to reach the Yadkin River settlements (Daniel Boone), and the Waxhaws areas of North Carolina. Many of the settlers of South Carolina along the Lower Cherokee Traders' Path reached there by way of the Occaneechi Path. It was also a way to reach the Augusta, Georgia area.
- "History of Nations Ford," Catawba Riverkeeper, http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org/about-the-catawba/history-of-nations-ford (accessed 26 January 2011), describes the history of the Catawba River ford near present-day Rock Hill, South Carolina. This ford was prominent on the Occaneechi Path, the place where the trail forked west and south.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Trading Path," Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trading_Path (accessed 26 January 2011).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Occaneechi," Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occaneechi (accessed 26 January 2011).
- Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 852. (FHL Book 973 D27e 2002). WorldCat entry.
- William E. Myers, Indian Trails of the Southeast (Nashville, Tenn.: Blue and Gray Press, 1971), 41-45. (FHL Book 970.1 M992i) WorldCat entry.