The Great Wagon Road
Recalling the eighteenth century’s most valued frontier road
During the mid-1700s, European colonists, particularly Scots fleeing British oppression known as the Highland Clearances and Scots-Irish fleeing religious persecution, flocked to the docks of Philadelphia. By about 1750, land had become scarce in Pennsylvania due this vast influx of settlors, and so, people began to travel south, looking for new lands to settle. An old Indian trail, known as the Warrior’s Path, was widened to make a road for wagons, and through time, the trail improved to colonial standards. This became known as the Great Wagon Road.
The Great Wagon Road began as an Indian trading route, known as the Warrior’s Path. For example, Iroquois, in the Finger Lake region of what is now New York, traded with th Catawba Indians in what is now South Carolina.
The Great Wagon Road, sometimes called “Great Philadelphia Wagon Road,” was the most important frontier trail of the Western Piedmont. The road began in Philadelphia, went west through central Pennsylvania, then it turned south in Maryland. Thereafter, it cut through the wilderness and connected cities in Virginia, such as Winchester, with Charlotte in North Carolina, and, finally, the Great Wagon Road ended in the Waxhaws region of South Carolina.
The Great Road’s Important Role
The wagon road was a crucial transportation artery for the early settlers of the Western Piedmont. Not only was the road used for exploring for new lands, but also, it became the major highway for trade.
The road was also used for the key supply line during the Revolutionary War. English army leader, Lord Charles Cornwallis, recognized the importance of the Great Wagon Road when he tried to execute his plan for destroying the continental army in North Carolina.
There are still debates on the exact route of the Great Wagon Road, because travelers went from ford to ford in crossing rivers. Several paths could have been travelled, depending on the rivers’ water levels. Though research on the road’s specific location and accurate history is still ongoing, it is fascinating to learn about the road that sustained the early settlers of the Western Piedmont.
Do you have more information to share on the Great Wagon Road? Please share them in the comments below. You can also share them through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. You can read a fascinating historical story about both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, as well as how people lived during that era, told by a Scot immigrant, who was a soldier in both conflicts, in New Caledonia: A Song of America.
Drabble, Jenny. “The Great Debate over the Great Wagon Road.” Winston-Salem Journal. August 4, 2013. Accessed on October 5, 2018. https://www.journalnow.com/news/local/the-great-debate-over-the-great-wagon-road/article_d1a91b34-fc9f-11e2-bd68-001a4bcf6878.html.
Marshall, R. Jackson III. “Great Wagon Road.” In Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell, NCpedia, 2006. Accessed on October 4, 2018. https://www.ncpedia.org/great-wagon-road.