National Transportation System from 1775 to 1800

National Transportation System from 1775 to 1800

The year 1784 found about thirty thousand people in the Kentucky region, and the immigration of that summer amounted to some twelve thousand men, women and children. The overland movement still maintained a caravan character. By its increased use the Wilderness Road was being robbed of many of its difficulties, and to the one original path had been added various extensions and ramifications.

A reference to the accompanying map will disclose with approximate completeness the several routes that at various times, and from different eastern localities, were used to reach the interior of the country. The relationship which these different roads bore to the general westward advance can be discussed with propriety at this point, though not all of them had become important highways of travel at quite so early a date as we have reached.

The origin and direction of Boone’s Trace have already been given, and its course through the territory embraced in the map can be easily followed. Boone’s actual work in marking the first road began at a point some distance to the northeast of Fort Chissel, and then proceeded to the Warriors’ Path, as indicated. Within a few years the preferred route had veered from the Warriors’ Path somewhat to the south of the point where Boone forsook that highway, and assumed a rather more direct line toward Boonesborough. The eastward end of the original trace marked by Boone was easily reached over rough roads, previously made, that extended westwardly from Richmond and eastern Virginia.

A route extending southwest through the valley between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany ranges was the one followed for a part of its way by Calk. He crossed over the Blue Ridge and reached Fort Chissel in nine days from the time his party started. Twelve days after leaving the fort he touched Boone’s newly made path at the point where he joined Henderson’s party, and continued on it thereafter.

In following years a well-defined pack-horse road through the forests led all the way up through the valley to the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, where it swung to the eastward and finally reached Philadelphia. Over this, the longest of all land routes to the interior, came at a later time thousands of travellers from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. The distance from Philadelphia to Vincennes along this line of march was about eight hundred miles.

It will be seen that Fort Chissel was an important junction point on all distinctively land paths made through the wilderness by white men. For many years all overland travellers, from whatever eastern community they came or wherever they were destined, converged at the little timber blockhouse for a brief pause before taking the plunge into far wilder regions beyond.

East of that point the difficulty of westward progress, as well as the danger that attended it, was less in a marked degree than that encountered after it had been left behind. When at last the west-bound travel had grown to such proportions that parties passed along the various roads in almost continuous procession, the immediate neighborhood about the fort resembled the only port on a forbidding coast.

Half a dozen caravans sometimes halted there in the course of a day, and the accumulation at one spot of hundreds of human pilgrims and more hundreds of horses, pigs, cows and dogs, all in the confusion of pitching camp or of preparing for a fresh march, filled the forest with an uproar. Often there were a few Indians about, peaceable enough for the time being, and crouched somewhere on the outskirts of the brush to watch in silence the visible dissolution of their ancient heritage. They were no longer animated by a hope that the white flood could be turned back by any effort they could make.

The road into Tennessee, as it appears on the map, was not the first route by which permanent white settlers penetrated into that district. In the very earliest years of the invasion the Tennessee people followed Boone’s Trace to the point of Logan’s divergence, then continued on Logan’s path for a short distance and finally, leaving it also, swung through the woods until they came to a trail which followed in a general way the course of the Cumberland River. Then they kept on along the Cumberland until they found a locality that pleased them, and struck south into the present Tennessee. Many went in this manner as far as the site of Nashville.

But by the year 1783 a new and better method of getting into northern and middle Tennessee had been found, and this later route is shown on the map here given. Travellers to the Tennessee region followed existing roads from the East until well past Fort Chissel. There they left the old trail that led to Kentucky, and at the southern extremity of the Clinch range — or Clinch Mountain, as it was then called — proceeded in a line almost due west, through the country now included in Roane, Fentress, White, Jackson, Smith, Wilson, Sumner and Davidson counties until the site of Nashville was reached.

Later this road was extended still farther west. The Tennessee path was a very popular line of march and was not only used by the future Tennesseeans, but by many who intended to take up land in southern Kentucky. Those on the road who were making for the Kentucky settlements left the Tennessee trail near the present Gallatin, crossed the Cumberland River and turned north. In that fashion much of southern Kentucky received its first white population.

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