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The Great Wagon Road
“The Crown of Great Brittain… has encouraged us to entreat for a settlement in the said Wilderness for some our Sisserland Natives.”
Memorial from Ludwig Michel and Mr. de Graffenried touching a Colony of Switzers who desire to be settled in Virginia, July 1709
Franz Ludwig Michel of Bern, Switzerland, undertook one of the first recorded explorations of this region of the Shenandoah Valley in 1706. His party came as far south as present day Edinburg, Virginia.
The “said Wilderness”, now known as the Shenandoah Valley, attracted hundreds of thousands of early pioneers along Virginia’s heritage migration route. The road had several names in its history: The Warriors Path, the Great Indian Road by Treaty of Lancaster, the Great Wagon Road, and the Valley Turnpike. Today it is scenic U.S. Route 11 that travels through the Shenandoah Valley and into the mountains of western Virginia; but the Iroquois called it Jonontore and native people used it to travel through what is now Pennsylvania and Virginia to North Carolina and Kentucky.
The Warrior’s Path was considered the most infamous Indian Trail up to the mid 1700’s. Used primarily by the Iroquois to reach their trading partners and enemies to the south. Later, the road was used by fur traders, long hunters and early pioneers. In addition to Iroquois, the lifestyle of the Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee and other Indians who hunted in the valley would ultimately be devastated by the increase in settlements.
After the French and Indian War 1754-1763, Virginia’s colonial government encouraged settlement west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in efforts to secure the colony’s borders. Nearly 300,000 immigrants came through the ports of Philadelphia between 1775 and 1830. Quakers, Germans, and Scots-Irish traveled the back country of Pennsylvania along the Great Wagon Road heading southward to the Cumberland Gap and points west. Driven by the opportunity for cheap land and the promise of liberty, many early pioneers built homesteads in the Valley of Virginia, resulting in a rich landscape of history, culture, and religion.