Travelers from the Old Dominion

Most of us, at one time or other, have found ancestors who hailed from Virginia. Figuring out where they originated in Virginia is the real question and can be very difficult to solve. We have to put everything into a time period as Virginia has one of the longest and largest presences in the United States.

If you remember some of our earlier articles, you might remember that originally Virginia covered the land mass of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This was at a time when it was commonly thought that if you left the capital of Virginia at Jamestown and traveled about seven days west on foot, you would reach the Pacific Ocean. This is according to Abraham Wood who discovered the New River in western North Carolina and Virginia. Since he discovered the one river in America that flows north instead of east, he turned around and returned to Jamestown thinking he had found a different world. He did not yet know about rivers that flowed west on the other side of the continental divide.

In the early 18th century, Augusta County was created and went from the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia to the Mississippi and north to the head waters of the same. This land mass covered seven present states in the Union. Settlers found their way to each of them in time.

In about 1774, Fincastle County was formed that and took in most of the present day Kentucky, parts of upper Tennessee and most of Virginia from the Roanoke River west. Lasting only four years, these county records contain a great deal of information about settlers that went further west in time.

Most of the northern portion of the state was created as the Territory North of the River Ohio while Tennessee and Kentucky became the Territory South of the River Ohio. This cut the size of Virginia down considerably. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and was the fourteenth state in the Union. Now Virginia occupied only the present territory as well as that of West Virginia which became a state in 1863.

Many Virginians that traveled west went into either Kentucky or Tennessee in the late 18th century and early 19th century. If you can follow the present Route 11 through east Tennessee, you are traveling along the Great War Path of the Cherokee and other tribes. This was the ‘interstate highway’ of the time and most of the travelers followed in the footsteps of the Indians who had followed in the hoof prints of the buffalo which followed the path of least resistance.

If the settlers went into Kentucky, they would follow the Route 11 West out of present day Bristol, TN/VA going through the Cumberland Gap. Here again, this was the path of least resistance that the Indians had discovered centuries before. What most of the settlers were avoiding were the Appalachian Mountains as they ran from the northeast to the southwest or from New England down into present day Alabama.

Some settlers from the middle of Virginia would travel south along the Great Wagon Road into the Rowan area of North Carolina. One of the great migrations in this fashion occurred in the late 18th century when the Moravians out of Pennsylvania and Maryland came into the Winston-Salem area of present North Carolina. They established the colony of Salem, a master craft center with thousands of acres of land around them. From here the settlers frequently traveled north through Fancy Gap, Virginia back into Virginia going to about present day Wytheville to head west. It was considerably later that they traveled into Georgia from this starting point. The Moravian missionaries to the Cherokee in western North Carolina and northern Georgia traveled back into Virginia and down the Great War Path through upper East Tennessee up until the early 19th century. The mountains of western North Carolina were a very difficult path over which to travel.

If you are looking for an ancestor from Virginia, here are some sources that you might consult:



THE 1787 CENSUS OF VIRGINIA by Netti Schreiner-Yantis


VIRGINIANS & WEST VIRGINIANS 1607-1870 by Patrick G. Wardell

This list is not complete, but it is a start. There are hundreds of books that list many Virginians and where they originated. You need to go ‘trolling’ through your local library for some of the many books. Trolling is a good old fishing term where you throw your hook in the water and just to see what bites. Happy hunting or fishing!!

Happy Hunting or Fishing!

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