A system of gaps and trails were the primary transporation routes of early Tennessee settlers. The Catawba Trail emerged from the Saluda Gap where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now meet. The trail curved north toward the Catawba Gap. From there it followed the north side of the French Broad River to Knoxville, Tennessee. Waxhaw (Mecklenburg County, North Carolina area) pioneers would have been attracted to this southern branch. A northern branch of the trail went from the Catawba Gap through Morganton, Burke, North Carolina toward the Yadkin River settlements. These two population centers in North Carolina contributed about 1/4th of the earliest northeast Tennessee settlers; Virginia and Pennsylvania providing the rest via the Great Valley Road. Some of the Yadkin River pioneers may have used the Fancy Gap to connect with the Great Vally Road when moving to Tennessee. Only a handful would have used the difficult Boone's Gap to reach the Watauga area.
Several groups of American soldiers reached Tennessee North and South Carolina during the Revolutionary War; at least two groups used the Catawba Trail to get there. After the war many of these veterans returned to Tennessee, mostly by way of the Catawba Trail. It was the primary path of North and South Carolina pioneers headed west to Tennessee until the Unicoi Trail was opened to settlers about 1795.
Warning: There may be more than one trail identified by the name of Catawba Trail. This description is for the trail that connects the Lower Cherokee Traders' Path in Greenville County, South Carolina north to the Cumberland Gap and the Warriors Path of Kentucky in Bell County, Kentucky.
Counties on the Catawba Trail (south to north)
- South Carolina: Greenville
- North Carolina: Polk, Henderson, Buncombe, Madison
- Tennessee: Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Grainger, Claiborne, Hancock
- Virginia: Lee
- Kentucky: Bell
Overlapping and Connecting Trails. The south end of the Catawba Trail connects with the Lower Cherokee Traders' Path in Greenville County, South Carolina and runs north through the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina crossing the Great Indian Warpath or Great Valley Road in Tennessee, and crossing the Holston River near the western tip of Virginia, passing into the Cumberland Gap and the linking to the Warriors Path of Kentucky in Bell County.
Settlers and Records
There is no known list of settlers who travelled the Catawba Trail. However, some of the early residents of Tennessee may have used the trail to reach their destination, as well as several other routes like the Great Valley Road, Wilderness Road, Kentucky Road, Avery's Trace, Unicoi Trail, or Georgia Road. For early Tennessee settlers see:
- East Tennessee Historical Society, First families of Tennessee: a register of early settlers and their present-day descendants (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, c2000) [FHL 976.8 H2ff].
- "Native American Trails" in Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture at http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=T106 (accessed 14 August 2010).
- Native American Trails" in Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture at http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=T106 (accessed 14 August 2010).
- East Tennessee Historical Society, First families of Tennessee: a register of early settlers and their present-day descendants (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, c2000) [FHL 976.8 H2ff], 23-24.