Friday, July 1, 2011

The Great Indian (and Wagon) Road

The Great Indian (and Wagon) Road  Marker Q-4Frederick County, VA
Marker No. Q-4

Marker Text: The Great Indian Road, called Philadelphia Wagon Road by many settlers was developed by Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) warriors traveling in the 1700s through the Great Valley of the Appalachians (which they called Jonontore) from Cohongaronto (north of the Potomac), to raid the Catawba in the Carolinas. In 1743, Iroquois headmen complained that Europeans had settled along the road, a treaty violation. The Lancaster Treaty of 1744 clarified the road's direction and acknowledged the Iroquois' right to travel through Frederick County to New River settlements and farther south. This road later brought immigrants to the Valley in Conestoga wagons. Today U.S. Route 11 generally follows the historic road.

Location: On U.S. Route 11 (Martinsburg Pike), 0.1 miles north of Interstate 81, Exit 317, north of Winchester. Grouped with marker A-2 (Action at Rutherford's Farm) and marker A-38 (Hackwood Park). Erected by the Department of Historic Resources in 2008.

Three grouped along with Great Wagon Road Marker Q-4  Today, most people travel through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on Interstate 81 and though they can see the Blue Ridge Mountains and take in some of the beauty of the valley, they really miss the real wonders that can be witnessed in the valley. The interstate highway in the Shenandoah Valley parallels an earlier main highway, U.S. Route 11 or the Valley Pike. If you were to take the time to get off the interstate even for a short distance and travel Route 11 you can see the valley in a whole new way. Even Route 11 is only the modern version of a much older historic road that went through the valley and was initially developed and used by Iroquois warriors traveling from the Potomac River to the Carolinas.

  This marker located just north of Winchester, Virginia, in a small park in front of the Rutherford Crossing Shopping Center just north of Interstate 81 exit 317, tells the traveler a little bit of the history of the road that passes through here. The earliest creatures to use this route probably a thousand years before humans, were buffalo who discovered the route of least resistance traveling the valley. Native American Indians later followed these same old trails.

The Great Indian Road Marker with U.S. Route 11 in background

U.S. Route 11 is the background of the photo behind the marker and is the current version of this old road in Virginia.

  Since the Shenandoah River formed the primary geography of the Valley, directions are reckoned by the river's flow. Therefore, people say going "up" the valley means traveling "south" and "down" meaning "north" because the flow of the river is from south to north. One goes up to Staunton and down to Martinsburg! When I first moved here I found this confusing until I discovered the rivers flow. The mountain ranges to the West of the Shenandoah Valley are the Alleghenies, and the ones to the east constitute the Blue Ridge chain.

  If you could imagine for a moment that if a person could sit here in a type of time machine and watch the people who passed this one location they would have seen a large part of U.S. history pass this way. You would have witnessed the travels of some of the following:

  • Native Americans traveling the trail on hunting parties, war raids, or carrying trade goods to other villages.

  • Early German Lutheran settlers in the 1700's going to establish new communities in the lower valley area.

  • Or Scots-Irish Presbyterians seeking the opportunity to worship freely travel to the upper valley to establish farms and communities.

  • Immigrants traveling in Conestoga wagons to new settlements in the valley, Carolinas or to get to other roads leading to points west or south.

  • Wagons transporting wheat to mills, as wheat became the Valley’s first big crop.

  • Both Northern and Southern armies marching pass this point during the Civil War for many battles fought here and throughout the valley.

  • Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, before he became “Stonewall” transport stolen B&O Railroad engines from Martinsburg pulled them down the pike with horses to the railroad in Strasburg, VA

  • Other notable Civil War armies and military officers, like, Union officers, George Armstrong Custer, Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Confederate officers, Lt. Gen. Jubal Early and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston

  • Droves of cattle and hogs for the settlements along the valley, a drove of cattle was typically about 120 head and a drove of hogs could number 5,000.

  • Or, German Jost Hite an early settler in Winchester, whose grandson Isaac would go on to build Belle Grove Plantation near Middletown in what would become Frederick County.

  This road has been called many names over time, like, Great Indian Road, The Great Wagon Road, Valley Pike, and U.S. Route 11 and each one says something about the particular valley’s history during that period.

The Great Indian Road marker with U.S. Route 11 in background  The first map of the road was drawn by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson’s father) in 1751, was the first to show “The Great Road from the Yadkin River thro Virginia to Philadelphia distant 455 Miles” — what would come to be known as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road or just the Great Wagon Road. Fry and Jefferson based their map on firsthand surveys — not, as was common at the time, on the word of other people who had traveled through the land.

  Travellers headed west from Philadelphia to Lancaster, where they bought a wagon for the difficult journey ahead — a “Conestoga wagon,” named for the Conestoga River that runs through Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Building wagons was so important to Lancaster’s economy. The Pennsylvania-designed Conestoga Wagon got larger as the road got wider and longer. They were usually drawn by five or six stout draft horses.

  Later in the eighteenth century, other roads continued or split off from the Great Wagon Road. By 1780, the Georgia Road continued from the Piedmont of North Carolina south through Salisbury and Charlotte and into Georgia. At Roanoke, Virginia, a road continued southwest through the Shenandoah Valley and met up with the Wilderness Road into Kentucky.

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