Lessons learned and questions raised about mountain gaps
"Gaps" are to mountainous terrain what fords are in the piedmont. They are the critical "chokepoints"
through which traffic must pass. Like fords, some gaps are better than others; easier to get to, easier to get through, safer. So, calculating the earmarks of critical
gaps is important. Any suggestions to that end will be appreciated.
Working on a presentation about Daniel Boone's routes to the Cumberland Gap gave me the opportunity to consider gaps, and I mapped over one hundred and fifty of them along his likely routes. Here are the observations made, thus far:
1. Many, perhaps most mountain gaps are unnamed as such on USGS topographical maps.
2. Gaps come in two varieties; "saddle gaps"
and "water gaps"
. Of these two, water gaps (if they can be safely navigated by water or by foot, horse, or other conveyance) are preferred as they require less climbing than do saddle gaps. A water gap that occurs off the line of march between two important destinations, though, is less important than one that services the needed course of travel.
3. Saddle gaps, low saddles between two peaks or ridges, are attractive in proportion to their lower elevation relative to surrounding terrain, the quality of the approach climbs on each side of the "saddle", and their proximity to a line of march between to destination points.
Here are some questions regarding gaps:A
. What are the characteristics of a safe
route, one along which one's enemies or opposing authorities are less likely to be able to interfere with free travel?
[Nobody seems to know which gaps were monitored by "authorities" in the 17th and 18th centuries, but common sense says at least some were kept under watch. ]B.
Many South Carolina treaties with Native American groups included clauses by which the Native American group retained ownership of or rights in certain fords; were there similar arrangements regarding mountain gaps?
[Analogizing from similar cultures is fraught with danger so take the following with some salt, but studies of riparian cultures in South and Southeast Asia, West Africa, and tropical South America reveal family social status identified with occupation of, ownership of, or control of stream crossings.]C.
How did Boone, et.al. know which passage would be safe? Native guides and/or informants?D
. Were some gaps monitored continuously and some monitored but sporadically?E.
Did Native Americans in the colonial era ever charge "tolls" for safe passage through choice passages?F.
Were there so many gaps that closing one or another was a futile waste of resources?G.
Every route has points of no return
, junctions at which a choice of trail commits the traveler to using one gap or ford rather than another. If these junctions were the points monitored by authorities, perhaps the intelligence thereby gained granted time to properly position an ambush? In the mountains of the southeast, where were they, and what are their key features?
Obviously, as with most common muscle powered transport technology, when it comes to travel in mountainous terrain, we have more questions than answers. . So, please, share what you know so that, together, we may know something of use.
Mills as tools for finding roads
Old Mill Seats and Fords and Dubious Archaeology
Mills are important to the TPA
for two reasons. First, they're important because they are so darned amusing, and second they are important for, as a rule, they identify a ford location and we like to know about fords. Lately we've been spending a good deal of time looking at mill remnants and trying to understand a bit more about the residue of water powered industry in our colonial southeast.
Mills amuse in different ways. Molinary
technology fans are interested only in the machinery of milling which is, by the way, a fascinating study by itself. Other folks are interested in the rusticity of standing mills, the nostalgic, outer appearance of mills. Yet others are captivated by the hydrology of water powered mills. From the TPA
standpoint, though mill and machinery are wonderfully engaging, hydrology is our thing. This derives from the fact that there seems to be a strong correlation between the conditions needed for making a dam and the conditions needed to make a ford.
Both dam and ford need an accessible, shallow, solid bottom as foundation. The key really is accessibility. Shallow, solid river bottoms occur anywhere geophysics throws bedrock up into the path of a stream. But, if you can't get a wagonload
of corn to it, or get a pack horse to it, it serves little purpose. In fact, the roads sometimes are all that remains recognizable at an old mill site.
So far, since February we have looked at two streams with an eye toward understanding their
structure and residue. On Stroud's
Creek, a five mile long watercourse, there was one known mill seat. That mill was very near the stream's confluence with the Eno
River. We walked the stream from its mouth upstream looking for anomalies in the stream bed and on the banks. In the first 2.5 miles we found five mill seats only one of which had any place in the public records ("Burke's Folly"). These were not small enterprises yet, in public memory they were long gone and forgotten. [The accompanying map only covers the first mile of the stream.]
This weekend we looked at another stream. On old deeds the stream is named "Mill Creek." It empties into the Eno
River just upstream from the main bridges leading into Hillsborough
from the south. In fact, the creek was probably a ramp used by people and horses to get in and out of the Eno
ford before there were bridges.
The stream name and a deed map, provided by David Southern (map seen above), showing a mill pond on the stream compelled us to locate the old mill seat. Note that the mill seat is upstream from the railroad. The railroad was built about 1856, so the map content post-dates the railroad.
We walked upstream from the stream mouth looking for anomalies. We found our first before we got to the reported mill site. About fifty yards downstream from the railroad grade we found a likely mill seat. Free stacked stone walls and a race cut into the hillside and held up with more free stacked stone confirmed we had found a mill, and the dam remnants, if that is what we saw, indicated a very tall dam once blocked Mill Creek at this site.
We found nothing upstream from the railroad but, trusting David's map, we returned the next day to see what could be seen. We found quarried and shaped stone set in the stream bed
, and that told us where a dam once rose. Noting nothing of interest on the west bank of the stream, and knowing all recorded roads in the area were located east of the stream, we looked carefully at the slopes above the east bank and we found a race. A bit more searching turned up some other confirming residue, but the site was utterly trashed by sewer construction.
Sewer construction along Mill Creek was done quite recently. It was probably done with federal funds, so there should be a Section 106, cultural resource management study done ahead of construction to ensure that nothing of cultural importance will be disturbed by construction. We are looking for that report, now, to see if the CRM
/Section 106 report writers took notice of the mill site.
As a rule, when a federally funded project is going to impact a cultural artifact, the builders are required to "mitigate" the damage to be done. In the case of archaeological artifacts, the builder will send in an archaeology team to extract whatever information there is in the ground. That is the artifact site is destroyed systematically rather than willy-nilly
so we at least retain the information content. We know that was not done on the sites in question. We want to know why not.
This is not the first time we have encountered wholesale destruction of cultural information. One memorable case occurred
on Twelve Mile Creek in Union County, North Carolina. There a CRM
firm archaeologist stepped over not one but three races hewn
out of living stone in perfect rectilinear form. We happened on the mill site after the second or third charge had been fired blowing up the rock to make room for a sewer pipe. We stopped the blasting and the pipe line was rerouted. How the heck did the examiner not see the mill races?
We asked the owner of the firm but she could not say why but only said that Quality Control was too expensive to do in CRM
work, and that the archaeologists put to the task were frequently either unfamiliar with historical archaeological residue or uninterested in same. Alas, this says more about the state of the archaeology profession than most of us want to hear.
This cautionary tale is just one more reason why we should find and map as many of these sites as we possibly can as soon as possible.
BTW, we found the fords below the mills.trm
Some work on locating Maddocks Mill on the Eno River
A Visit to Maddocks Mill and Hart Ford? [Click any of the images to see an enlarged version] "Old Mattocks Mill"
, the site where Regulators
planned the plans that went awry and led to the Battle of Alamance is just west-northwest of Hillsborough, NC near the confluence of McGowans Creek and the Eno River, on the southwest corner of that intersection. It is likely that the dam powering the mill crossed the Eno a few yards downstream from the confluence and, depending on the length of the head race, that would put the mill a few yards plus some below the confluence. The site is now under "Corporation Lake", an Orange-Alamance water source, and invisible. A worker at the nearby water processing plant said that during low water the dam can be seen in the lake bottom. It is said that the lake is almost completely silted up so, if they ever dredge the silt out of the lake, maybe we'll get a more precise location and a chance to map this important historic site.
Because Regulator meetings occurred at his mill, to save his neck the owner, Joseph Mattock
, gave the mill site to then Governor Wm Tryon. Tryon in turn gave it to one of his local loyal supporter, Thomas Hart. Mattock then led the Quakers of Eno Meeting
including President Carter's ancestors) to Georgia.
Some will recall that Hart and Benton both were involved with Judge Richard Henderson
in the questionable purchase of Cherokee lands during the time of the Regulation. Henderson, Hart and Benton also played leading roles in the anti-Regulator movement in support of Governor Tryon's clique. Jesse even spent some time as the Governor's private secretary when he assume governorship of New York, but quickly returned to Carolina before the Revolutionary war. In fact, according to one of his scions, the noted polymath from UNC, Archibald Henderson, Judge Henderson may have aided the suppression of the Regulators so as to encourage Regulators to move west to lands purchased by the Judge, the Harts, Benton and others in modernKentucky and Tennessee.
With the governor's gift to Thomas Hart, Mattocks Mill became Harts Mill, and the area around it became Hartford. Hart, a visionary along the lines of Judge Henderson, envisaged a planned community at Hartford, and he applied to the colony for the first college charter in North Carolina. The charter was granted for Hartford Academy and a headmaster hired. The doors opened in 1776. The headmaster was a Tory, and Hart himself was at best a lukewarm patriot, so the academy immediately closed. Hart moved to Maryland, apparently a healthier climate for Americans unenthusiastic about the revolution. He left the mill in the hands of Jesse Benton
, his son-in-law and subordinate in various business ventures. Jesse, the father of Thomas Hart Benton, died trying to make a go of the mill complex. The painter, Thomas Hart Benton, famous for his New Deal murals and oils celebrating the noble folk of the great plains and mines was a grand nephew of some degree to the original of that name.
While he camped at Hillsborough, Revolutionary W
ar General Cornwallis
lost a detachment of twenty-some troops sent to grind meal and guard the Hart/Benton mill. A militia band led by Captain Joseph Graham
attacked the mill and destroyed both the mill and British picket. This probably convinced the British that Hillsborough wasn't nearly the safe resort they had hoped it would be and they left for friendlier parts and more functional mills soon thereafter.
In the vicinity of the old mill can be seen roadbeds that once led to the mill, at least one house site that may or may not relate to the mill (only archaeological testing will tell). Yet to be found and mapped are a ford and other remainders from these long ago days. The stone outcrops mentioned by Captain Graham may yet be found too.
Notes on the parties mentioned: Thomas Hart moved from Maryland to Kentucky, on to some of the land given to the Transylvania Company in recompense for its legally dubious settlement in the area of that state. He became a community leader and expired in good grace, his lack of Revolutionary fervor and his abuse of Regulators apparently were no bar to forgiveness. Jess Benton, as noted, died at Hartford.
Thomas Hart Benton at about age 17 went to UNC. He was caught stealing from his classmates, disgraced and ejected from the school. He moved to Tennesssee with his mother and siblings perhaps to escape the shame, perhaps to simply capitalize on the few crumbs of land unclaimed by his fathers creditors. He and his brothers fought what some called a duel but what really sounds like a simple gunfight with Andrew Jackson's gang, and seriously wounded Ol' Hickory. The Bentons then relocated to Missouri (Daniel Boone's final settling place) where Thomas became a US Senator and served with and cooperated with Jackson.
The British troops killed and captured at Harts Mill and Graham's militiamen who killed and captured them were finally commemorated with a history-on-a-stick plaque near the battle site, on Highway 70 just west of Hillsborough, NC and the Eno.
We'll keep looking for artifacts of this fascinating little piece of American history.
Labels: Andrew Jackson, Archibald Henderson, artford academy, Cornwallis, Hartford, Harts Mill, Jesse Benton, Joseph Graham, Mattocks Mill, Regulation, Revolutionary War, Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart Benton
Porters, Hostlers, and Teamsters: Change and resistance in England's First North American Frontier
This essay considers violent opposition to technological change in surface cargo carriage. It is geographically limited to consideration of change in England's southeaster North American colonies. Land cargo carriage technology changed two or three times during the colonial era in the southeast. Not unlike change in our own time, each change bred violent resistance to change. Sometimes it was government violence directed at malefactors of small wealth (e.g. the imposition of market economy values on frontiers people that produced at least a part of the War of the Regulation), and other times it was the violence of displaced workers directed at the technology that displaced them.
Actually, the first change to be considered isn't really a technological change at all but was, rather, a sociological and political change in who traded with whom. In earliest colonial times, say from 1585 through the First Powhatan War (1622) English colonists competed with one another with no restraint whatsoever for trade with Native American neighbors. During this period trade can be characterized as personal and extemporized. Individuals or villages of Native Americans brought food to English settlers and traded these goods, probably as often as not to dissuade the English from attacking them and taking the food by force. John Smith found private trade to be a bane as hungry men would trade anything for a bit of food and that produced inflated prices; one one received an ax for a basket of corn, one would not accept anything less for the same basket of corn. So, commerce in these early years was largely a matter of barter for essential Indian food stuffs; free marketing of the most fundamental sort. Eventually colonial authorities brought this raw entrepreneurship under control by executing a few individual traders and presuming a monopoly on trading and raiding for food. This deserves mention only to show that there was a history of exchange before formalization of trade processes between 1622 and the Second Powhatan War (1644).
After the second Powhatan War, Virginia structured a set of trade monopolies that were intended to keep Native American traders well away from tidewater settlements. Frontier forts became official points for trade. The colony granted the forts along with trade monopolies on trade in contiguous geographic regions to a handful of Governor Berkeley's favorites. Of these, we have a relatively good picture of the trade monopoly of Abraham Wood out of his fort at the falls of the Appomattox Rive, above Bermuda Hundred, the current location of Petersburg, VA.
Woods learned early that trade for deer hides was most cost-effectively handled by sharing his monopoly with one group of Indians, the Occaneechi, a people already specialized in facilitating trade. Working with the Occaneechi did not prevent Wood from trying to work with other peoples (e.g. he attempted to reach the Tuscarora) but the Occaneechi, working with neighboring people like the Meherrin and Nottoway were apparently able to effectively deny passage to would-be traders with the Tuscarora (centered on the Tar River drainage in NC). But of all this we know too little to make certain this assertion. We do know, though, that Woods traded in the backcountry through the Occaneechi who provided him portering and essential protection for his goods going into and coming out of the backcountry.
Some times, as in the case of John Needham (one of Abraham Woods' traders), using porters was prohibitively expensive. In 1673 one of his Occaneechi bearers killed him quite intentionally and with post mortem flourishes, it seems, over his management style. This labor action probably reflected more the diminished respect held for porters by traders who could see coming the extinction of that way of life.
The porters, not being blind could see it coming too. As horses became more common in the colonies, packhorses supplanted porters. As with most displaced workers or workers made obsolete by technology, porters extended their anger beyond the horses to the hostlers and to the managers who hired the hostlers and the owners that paid the hostlers. Anybody involved in the changing English trade matrix became a target.
By the middle of the 17th century there was a rapidly growing population of former indentured servants crowding on to the frontier. Virginia put former indentures on the frontier after the Second Powhatan War as a barrier. They were effective in that role but, owing to bad roads and the remoteness of markets, these new frontier folk had very limited prospect of advancing economically beyond subsistence farming. Some became "ponyboys" and scoured the woods of the southeast for herds of mustangs for sale in the coastal regions where they were worth enouugh to make an enterprising and desperate young man a grub stake. Naturally enough, some frontier folk turned to trading with Native American neighbors quite in defiance of official colonial monopolies. Informal, local trade quickly grew into more formal commerce but with a difference. The frontier folk were able to beat the monopolists prices by carrying cargo in and out of the backcountry on horseback thus doing away with the cost of portering.
Economies of scale drove this change and proved irresistable to Indians and governors alike. People carry tens of pounds. A typical porter load might by 80 pounds or less. Horses carry hundreds of pounds and might typically carry 150 to 200 pounds. They didn't whine (whinny?) about conditions, and never threatened to go on strike. One hostler could manage five or even more horses, thus labor costs plummeted with the advent of the new technology. The Occaneechi, needless to say, were miffed at the intrusion on their by then classic role in the trade matrix. Their anger and violent response to being displaced brought on a ruthless retaliation called "Bacon's Rebellion" in which the new horsebourne tradets and other frontier folk tried to exterminate every Indian in proximity to the Virginia frontier.
Something similar happened when wagons replaced packhorses. It is likely, given labor cost in a labor short country, that traders sought the cheapest hostelers possible to run their horse trains. The hostelers would need to be seasoned frontier folk accustomed to moving far away from the settlements and uncomplaining under the most arduous conditions. So, former porters, pony boys, and failed independent traders probably were the hired hands that ran packhorse trains of over a hundred horses (reported by William Byrd II) that carried trade goods in to and hides, herbs, and crafts out of the backcountry. Their hayday lasted from 1676 until the beginning of the second quarter of the 18th century.
William Byrd II, in his History of the Dividing Line, besides telling us that there were packhorse trains of over a hundred horses, incidentally told us that they were no longer using their preferred route across Moniseep Ford over the Roanoke River (about a mile downstream from modern Interstate 85). This may mean that packhorse trade had shifted westward or could mean that packhorse trading was on the wane, and probably meant both. The Tuscarora War (1712-1715) probably destroyed the trade partners closest to Moniseep Ford forcing traders to concentrate on trade with the Catawba and Cherokee. But road orders in Brunswick County, VA indicated that wagons were already crossing the Roanoke by the late 1720s too; packhorses were being put out of business by a more efficient technology.
A horse may carry a couple of hundred pounds of goods, but a horse or ox pulling a wagon can draw hundreds of pounds down the road. Teams of horses or oxen were even more efficient and were able to carry a thousand pounds or more per draft animal. But a wagon needs a road, so the advent of wagon travel says even more about social and economic conditions than it does about transportation technology. But more on that later. Suffice for now that packhorsement wrecked wagons and killed wagoners with great relish when first that technology breeched the frontier.
Labels: Bacons Rebellion, economies of scale, Governor Berkeley, Occaneechi, packhorses, porters
A Very Brief Note on Priorities in Research and in Constructing Infrastructure in Colonial Times
People Always Come First
Setting aside the issue as to whether or not people walked where animals broke the trail (which in most cases I seriously doubt), people come first. People occupied the southeastern backcountry long before the arrival of government agents to record deeds and courts to arbitrate road locations. As a rule, with some wonderful exceptions, maps come long after government.
It is quite likely that "road orders" were not orders for the construction of a road. Rather, they were probably orders to bring an existing road, trail or path into compliance with government road norms using government resources and authority. Before government intervenes, paths became trails, and trails became roads. Individuals vied with one another to attract traffic to their store, their ford, their bridge. Traffic meant business. Government poltiicized that fundamental business process.
As a rule, except insofar as ferries multiplied roads, over time there are fewer and fewer roads. As government assumes responsibility for upkeep, fewer roads are kept up. As road cost (macadamizing, bridging, installing culverts, paving) go up, the number of roads maintained by government resources goes down, or infrastructure deteriorates until it is impassable.
So, if you would understand early transportation infrastructure, look first at the ground. When you find something, use records to ascertain what it was once records were kept, but don't assume the records preceded the thing. Just because a trace doesn't appear on a map or a land grant or some other official or semi-official record, doesn't mean it wasn't there.
Typical Pre-modern Stream Crossings in the Southeastern Piedmont
Some General Comments
on Stream Crossings
In pre-modern times ground transportation in the southeaster piedmont experienced three technological transformations. In earliest times cargo traveled on the backs of porters. Pack horses replace porters starting no later than the third quarter of the 17th century. Wagons replaced packhorses starting in the second quarter of the 18th century. Knowing how each of these technologies crossed streams is essential to understanding southeastern settlement patterns.
Travel on land in the southeastern piedmont generally requires dealing with water barriers and precious few water channels. Between Bermuda Hundred and Occaneechi Island there are about 236 named watercourses none of which unmodified was usefully navigable. Between the James River and the Savannah River at Augusta, GA there are 38 large, barrier streams cutting one's path. The least creek could, in spate, after a rain storm, stop a traveler or force a course alteration, and almost any named stream could end a trip or a life in an instant.
Owing to climate and terrain
, bridging, particularly in the piedmont of the southeast remained quite uncommon until, practically, the 20th century. Piedmont streams rise ten, fifteen, and even twenty feet or more in spate, after a downpour. The circumstances needed for erecting wooden bridges, a wide bottom to allow the flood to dissipate over the land, were rare in the Piedmont. And the mechanical properties of wood were simply not adequate to the task of raising a structure high enough to avoid the floods without creating an effective dam of bridge pilings.Steel
was the material needed to bridge the streams of the Piedmont. The late unpleasantness
drove down the price of steel but simultaneously destroyed the economy of the South. Thus the Piedmont of the southeast did not experience widespread bridging until the very last decade of the 19th century. This fortunately allows us to still find vestiges of the fords used for centuries before bridging.Fording
, the crossing of streams without a bridge or ferry was and is inherently dangerous and, day in and day out, fording was probably the most dangerous part of pre-modern Piedmont life. Perhaps most interestingly, the risk was unavoidable and safety could not be bought; rich and poor, master and slave, native and newcomers all had to ford the streams of the southeast. The hymn "One More River" was written in the southeast in the early 19th century and uses stream crossing as a metaphor for all of life's worst travails. Fording was such a common part of life, almost nothing was ever written about it. What we know we must extrapolate from remnants along our streams.
From these remnants we can tell that stream crossings reflect transportation technology
. People forded rivers differently than did horses, and horses forded differently than did wagons. The challenges to these three technologies were the same but the solutions to those challenges varied. Each challenge is in itself a characteristic of all fords.Fords consist of
- A way to the stream from a ridge, (in pre-modern times ridge paths, trails, and roads were the norm)
- A more or less safe way into the stream from dry land,
- A stream bottom that will safely bear the conveyance,
- A more or less safe way out of the stream to dry land, and
- A way up to the next ridge.
Each of these criteria was critical. Each characteristic could, in a pinch be manufactured. The absence of any one would raise the cost and risk of crossing the stream. So, we can say with confidence that nature provides a limited number of places congenial to fording any stream.Human Fords
People are very nimble critters and smart too. People can find ways to pass cargo over any stream. They can traverse hillsides steep, sandy, rocky, and covered with brush. They can hop from rock to rock. They can build rafts and boats. If there is a conceivable way off of a ridge path to a stream, people will find it. If there is no gentle slope into a shallow ford, people can find one or fabricate one. People, though, do need solid footing over which to carry cargo.
When a ridge runs out above a stream, people will walk right down the "hog back" to the water, or, if it is too steep for straight forward walking, people will make switch-back trails. If it comes to that, and if the terrain allows, people will improvise steps. But people are as a rule lazy (hence inventive) and will only invest the minimum needed to improve a slope for walking. And when it comes to entering the stream and exiting, people generally let nature do the work.
Creeks, when they enter a larger stream, lose energy and drop whatever it is they were carrying. At the mouths of creeks there is usually an accumulation of gravel. If two creeks face one another across a stream there may be a gravel "bar" all the way across the stream. The feeder cree
k banks up hill, away from the confluence will generally be shallow enough to allow for safe entry into the creek without risking joints, tendons, or cargo. The creek then serves as a ramp down to the bottom of the stream to be forded, and the opposing creek is the way out. There are frequently remnants of people paths and horse trails on the hillsides above opposing creek confluences.
The image to the left shows a perfect example of a people/horse ford next to a modern highway. Along the creeks on both sides of the "barrier stream" to be forded can be seen approaching horse paths.
People are relatively light-weight and the cargoes they carry are measured in tens of pounds. So, gravel is probably the optimum surface for a human ford. Cobble sized stones in a stream bottom are too uneven and slippery and therefore too risky to use for fording. Sand and mud are too energy consuming and almost always hide subsurface hazards. Rock sheets are almost as good as gravel but they too can be quite slippery and hazardous. Gravel seems to be best for people.Horse Fords
Horses, on the other hand, are heavy, carry hundreds of pounds and have feet/brake pads/support pads small in proportion to their weight. Horses need very solid subsurfaces. Gravel, sand and mud give way under a horses' weight. Having four legs, horses can manage subsurfaces too uneven or slick for humans because they always have three out of four hooves on the ground while they search with the fourth for suitable footing. So horses find rock sheets and cobbles to be better foundations for a ford, but what about approach slopes?
Horses descend from their ridge trails to the ford points, where possible, the same way people do. Frequently, though, they must find another route to the bottom of the slope as, in the Piedmont, there are few soils that allow a horse to "switch-back" down a steep hill face. Pack horsemen would usually take their horses directly down the easiest slope near the route of the porter trail the had been following. This led to massive erosion in places, but it kept the horses on the same ridge line people had previously used.
In the illustration to the right can be seen a modern road making a right angle turn at the end of a ridge. In fact, where the road turned can be seen a pack horse trail going straight ahead. The red line is a moccasin path that switches back and forth down a steep slope. The blue line is where the pack horse operators took their horses down until the erosion so produced made the route impassable. There is absolutely no water source at the head of the gully made by the pack horses, nor is the gully a "natural" catchment. What we have in the image is a motor road laid atop a wagon road, laid atop a horse trail, laid atop a moccasin path.
Wagons obviously descend from and rise up the ridge differently than do horses or people. Wagons carry thousands of pounds but they do so within sever limits as regards terrain and stream crossings. Wagons cannot manage slopes of greater than 5% without burning out their brakes. Wagons can't use opposing feeder creeks to ramp into and out of a stream ford. Wagons need prepared surfaces on which to run and they need engineered fords, with prepared ramps and sometimes with prepared, paved bottoms. Wagons like hard, hard bottoms. Cobbles break wheels. Sand and mud won't support heavy loads. Even gravel shifts under the weight of wagon cargo. [Wagons therefore imply taxes and government and a market economy, but more on that later.]
Still, as a rule, wagon roads were laid down atop pack horse trails whenever possible, just as pack horse trails overlaid foot paths whenever possible. But, as a rule, wagon routes are much, much more restrictive than horse trails which were, in turn, much more restrictive than foot paths. When the wagon road deviated from the pack horse trail it did so logically as regards the specific deviation but illogically as regards the overall trail. For example, see the illustration in which a wagon road made a seemingly senseless ninty degree turn. Had the road been designed for wagons in the first place, it would have lain farther north on the ridge and would have angled north-northeast to the line down the side of the ridge to the valley floor instead of making a ninety degree turn to get to the route off of the ridge.
"May you find an easy road to the ridge." it is said is an old Irish farewell. From the above, we now know why this farewell came into being. Getting from a ridge down to, into, over, out of a stream and back up to a ridge was an arduous, tedious, and essential part of everyday living in pre-modern times.
Roads-Trails-Paths Finding Model
Finding old routes is remarkably simple. Finding remnants of the old routes is somewhat more demanding.
- roads carry wheeled vehicles,
- trails are routes used by quadruped/critter carriers, and
- paths are the routes of bipedal/human cargo carriers.
is a very rational and predictable activity governed by economics and physics. A column of burdened porters moved under the same imperatives as does an eighteen-wheeled truck. They and all other carriers seek the most efficient, fastest route from "A" to "B." Efficiency issues of importance to the operator of the carrier included:
- security and
- fuel costs, and
- fuel/energy expenditure.
Questions drivers of men, animals, wagons, or trucks need to answer about route selection include: "Are there secure places at which to stop and repair gear along the way?", "Is there sufficient and cost effective game/fodder/diesel along our route to fuel the vehicle?" In these ways a porter column's route was influenced by fuel and security costs just as is the modern truck route, and probably varied from season to season, just like modern truck routes responding to variations in fuel taxes, seasonal impediments, and so forth. The important point to recall is that commercial travel routes have always been and will probably always be determined by energy intake and expenditure and cargo security.
One major difference between pre-modern carriage and modern carriage is that in pre-modern times, before mechanically powered carriage, movement ended at the end of the day; there was little or no night travel. The principle quality of a good camp site was fresh water. So, one result is that in the southeast the oldest towns are one day apart in terms of pre-modern travel and cluster around springs along ridge trails. So, knowing the location of one old site and knowing the location of the routes that came to that site, one can reverse engineer the location of other sites.
We know that in the epoch of muscle powered transportation virtually all terrestrial vehicles moved at the same speed over long distances; roughly 2.5 mph or, in the southeastern Piedmont, about fifteen miles. Along our oldest routes our oldest towns, in the Piedmont, are about fifteen miles apart. In the mountains the daily travel range was more like five to eight miles per day, and in the coastal plain a day's travel was about ten miles.
Knowing that the first Anglican parish in what became North Carolina was seated, I believe, in Williamsboro (Vance County), lay out a straight line (shortest distance to the Trading Ford on the Yadkin River. Be prepared to move the straight line to accommodate stream crossings and other choke points along the way. Make a mark every fifteen miles along your line and you will find the marks are never more than three miles from an old, old town located amongst branch heads. Your itinerary will take you to camps near: Kinton Fork or Berea, Mount Tirzah, (make a turn at Mt. Tirzah to access more fords on the Haw River than the straight line allows, and follow Highway 57 to), Hillsborough, Saxapahaw, Liberty, Randleman, Painted Springs (on the Davidson-Randolph County line near Pleasant Grove Church), and then Trading Ford.
For a variety of good reasons, commercial paths and trails, and roads stayed on or near ridge tops whenever possible. That is usually where one finds springs in the Piedmont, but it is also where travel is easiest as wind and gravity clean the ridges. So, when plotting the route from one old hamlet, village or town to another, find the barrier streams between them and the ridges that will carry your conveyance. Lay your course in to intersect the barrier streams at fording points that can be safely accessed from the ridge line carrying your route. The greatest challenges to laying out your route, in order of difficulty, will be:
- finding a fording point that won't degrade your conveyance or your cargo;
- getting on and off of your ridge; and
- getting in and out of your barrier streams.
To get in and out of barrier streams porters and pack horses use natural ramps, smooth and gentle slopes that allow stepping into the barrier creek without stepping off of a bank. These, though are exceedingly rare. On at least one side and quite frequently both sides of the barrier stream feeder creeks will serve as ramps to get in and out of your ford. Streams entering your barrier watercourse from opposite banks will each have dumped gravel at their mouths and that gravel will pave the ford. So, to find horse and human crossings look for opposing confluences. Wagons use man-made entrance ramps to get into and out of barrier streams. Having found the fords between you and your destination you can now lay in ridge courses to reach the fords.
An old Irish toast upon one's departure was, "May you find an easy way to the ridge." Having found the ridges that will take you most directly to your destination, plot how to get from the ridges to the streams and back on to the ridges. Bear in mind that people are more agile than horses, and horses are more agile than wagons. Each change in transportation technology required changes in climbing on and off of ridges and in and out of streams. In some really good fords you will be able to see all three conveyance channels separate from one another.
In the following map snippet you will see a modern road doing something really silly not once but twice. It makes ninety degree turns in the middle of nowhere. The road shown is on a ridge in a set of mountains. And at each of the ninety degree turns the wagon road that became the modern paved road had been laid down atop a packhorse road, and when the ridge petered out the wagoners had to find alternative ways to get off the ridge and down to the fords.
Following these basic insights into pre-modern travel will allow you to surmise a logical course of travel from any one place to another. To prove your hypothesis, "ground-truth" your route. Which is to say, go out and find remnants of roads, trails, or paths along the logical line of travel. If you find none, revisit your assumptions as this method has proven remarkably reliable in fact. Look for the earliest roads and trails and paths on the "military crest." The military crest is usually around ten feet lower in elevation than the physical crest of a ridge. Using the military crest insures only half the world can see you and then with difficulty as you are not silhouetted on the ridge line.
Now, if you find your route don't forget to tell us about it.