The Unicoi Trail

This map project on the Roads and Trails of Colonial America started  by questioning what routes the immigrant ancestors used during their southern and western migrations. The assumption was that our earliest immigrant ancestors were limited to the waterways which accessed the coast and an occasional Indian path. And for the most part, that was true, However, further research proves that the Native population used trails and routes extensively to travel and trade throughout the hinterland and even to the coast. The challenge was for our early ancestors to identify the many routes and survive the journey.

The old Unicoi Trail was a Cherokee Indian path from the Tennessee River Valley below Ft. Southwest Point (now Kingston) TN over the Great Smoky Mountains and down into north Georgia and northern South Carolina.

The Cherokee lived primarily in the Piedmont, and each community was connected by trails. These trails would become the migration routes of early America. And, the Overhill Cherokee communities of North Carolina and Tennessee were connected to the Cherokee communities of Georgia by way of the Unicoi Trail. Then, the Georgia communities were connected to the Cherokee communities of South Carolina and then the South Carolina coast by way of the Lower Cherokee Trader's Path.

The route c. 1802:

-South from Ft Southwest Point (now Kingston) TN down the Tennessee River to the confluence of the Hiwassee River (vic. Graysville TN)
-Up the  Hiwassee River all the way to Georgia
-Passing Murphy, Cherokee Co NC
-Passing Hiawassee, Towns Co GA
-Continuing due south up into the Unicoi Gap, headwaters of the Hiwassee River on the north slope of Rocky Mountain
-Picking up Spoilcane Creek heading south down out of the Unicoi Gap
-Down to the confluence with the Chattahoochee River (vic. Robertstown GA)
-Where the Chattahoochee starts to meander toward modern Atlanta, the old Indian path heads east toward Tugaloo GA and the confluence of the Tallula and Oconee Rivers on the South Carolina boarder. And from the headwaters of the Savannah River, later settlers could pick up boat passage to Augusta and then Savannah GA
-But Walden would have continued south past the Indian town of Nacoochee (east of Helen GA) down to Jackson Co GA (vic. Jefferson GA)

Unicoi Turnpike. Over 150 miles long in its early years, the Unicoi Turnpike was the first vehicular road to link eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and north Georgia with the Savannah River and the coast. Twenty feet wide, except where digging or bridges were necessary and a minimum of 12 feet was allowed, the turnpike basically followed the route of the Unicoi Trail, an old Indian footpath. That footpath was preceded by an ancient animal trail, which was part of a network of pathways crisscrossing the wilderness of the North American continents thousands of years before the white man. Completed in 1819, the turnpike passed through the Cherokee Nation by way of a treaty written in 1813.

Beginning on the Tugalo River east of Toccoa, the wagon road followed the length of the Nacoochee and Helen valleys, fording the Chattahoochee River as well as numerous streams many times as it wound its way to Unicoi Gap. At Unicoi Gap, 10 miles north of the Helen Valley and at 3,000 feet the lowest spot for miles in any direction, the road crossed the Blue Ridge and via Murphy, North Carolina, headed for the settlements in Tennessee. . . .

    "Nacoochee Valley Driving Tour," Brown's Guide To Georgia <> 16 November 2014.

My ancestor, Walden Lewis, was born about 1774, probably in Fredericksburg VA. And, the place of birth as Virginia is proven by multiple sources. However, to date, there are no records for Walden in Virginia.

The first record for Walden is found in the Cherokee Pass Book from Ft. Southwest Point (now Kingston), Tennessee, where he was issued a pass in July of 1802 to assist Hugh Beaty in driving cattle out of the Cherokee Nation and back up to Kingston. Historical records for Roane Co TN state that Hugh Beaty owned and operated a cotton gin and store in Kingston. Evidently, Walden was Hugh's employee. But, how and why did Walden wind up in Tennessee? The simplistic answer would be to state that, by 1802, all Walden had to do was walk down the Great Wagon Road to the Valley Road and then descend the Wilderness Road to Ft. Southwest Point. But, that doesn't answer the question, "Why?"

Having married before migrating to Georgia, Walden and his wife Mary Lewis and four others migrated in October 1802 through the Cherokee Nation to Jackson Co GA en route to Greene Co GA. This was not an easy feat; as the old Unicoi Trail wound down the Tennessee near what is now Chattanooga then up the Hiwassee River through far western North Carolina then down through the Unicoi Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains of north Georgia before it descended to a trail to the Savannah River. Only a few years later, the army would push through the easily accessible Georgia Road. But when Walden crossed the Great Smoky Mountains from Tennessee to Georgia, it took a sturdy man and an even more sturdy women to survive the arduous journey. No matter what it took, Walden and his younger brother, Taverner Lewis, were part of a significant migration pattern which came to be known as "Gone to Georgia."


This site is provided for reference only. Except where specifically cited, information contained is conjecture and should not be considered as fact.
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