Mid-Atlantic states to the Northwest Territory

Migration Routes from Pennsylvania to Virginia

Ever wonder how those long-ago ancestors decided where to live in the New World? The following information on Pennsylvania migration routes was posted on the web. A newsgroup posting stated that the author and compiler was moving and had to remove it. Permission to repost was graciously provided. Read and enjoy!

Compiled and written by Virginia Phillips . Edited by J. William Cupp. Thanks for your great work!

My husband has recently found ancestors who came from Germany in the mid-1700s, arriving in Pennsylvania, stayed a while then went to Pendleton County, Virginia. One of the men eventually returned to Pennsylvania while his brother stayed in Virginia/West Virginia before heading west. I’ve seen other emails recently stating pretty much the same thing. That indicates to me this must be on some migration route. Would someone comment on why this route, why a large group of Germans, and were there any other things that should be considered in the family’s reason to travel.

Mid-Atlantic states to the Northwest Territory
Topographical View from 39°N 81°W

The responses —

1) My ancestors made that same trip in the mid 1700s. From what work I’ve done, it appears that there was a road/trail from Philadelphia to Roanoke. I can’t remember the name of it now. By 1800, a map that I saw showed it as a wagon road that turned into a trail about 20 miles before Staunton. It seems to have followed the existing Pennsylvania turnpike and I81.

2) In summary, by the time of the Revolution, the earlier English settlers had occupied and settled lands east of the Appalachian Mountains. Movement across these mountains was prohibited by the British Government, based on a treaty with the Indian tribes, negotiated following the French Indian War,

The treaty promised that settlers would not cross the Appalachians. The purpose was to ensure peace with the Indians. The benefits to the British Government were two-fold: financial benefits from extensive fur trade; and reduced need to maintain a large military presence in the colonies.

The prohibition lasted until the start of the revolution, and the consequent inability of the British to prevent movement of people west. That movement was comprised in large part by new immigrants: Germans and Scots Irish. As the lands east of the Appalachians were used and owned by the earlier English settlers, the new settlers crossed the Laura Mountains in Pennsylvania, and flooded down the Shenandoah Valley. Kept from westward movement by mountains, until much farther south the Cumberland Gap was found, which permitted the settlers to cross into what became Tennessee, and to move north into Kentucky.

The only other access west, to the Kentucky lands, was via the Ohio River, and it was controlled by Indians in Ohio. They raided at will until their defeat at Fallen Timbers in 1796.

3) A lot of these guys went from Pittsburgh down the river. Some had already gone from Pennsylvania to Maryland and then went west from Maryland to Pittsburgh. I’ve not found any of mine, however, who did this before 1790. It seems they usually got off the boat at Maysville there was a migration to the Ohio River Valley. My family went to Indiana. From there they came back south again into Texas.

4) Not just Germans but many Scotch-Irish took the same migration route, according to the book “The Scotch-Irish, A Social history” by James Leyburn.

The primary reasons seem to be economic, social (especially for Germans) and geographic. By the 1700’s, when both German and Scotch-Irish emigration began in large numbers, the major seaports in the northern colonies were in Delaware, Maryland and Philadelphia. The other colonies were either not looking for colonists (North and South Carolina, Georgia) or largely settled by other immigrant groups who didn’t want to mix with other influences, Puritans in Pennsylvania and New England, and Dutch in New York.

Just as important, if not more so, was the price of land. The tidewater areas of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the eastern coasts of Pennsylvania and New York were already well established. The price of land was high compared to just a few more miles down the road. And as the immigration progressed, a few miles down the road became a few more miles.

Geographically, as you head west of the tidewater area, the passage becomes bounded by the various mountain ranges in the region, first westward from the sea, then south at the Appalachians through the Valley of Virginia.

Then there were the social ties to others who shared the same language, culture, and religion — especially for Germans, for whom the language barrier would be more than mere inconvenience.

Still another reason was the progression of colonial governments opening their frontiers to immigrants. Pennsylvania became overburdened with the task of managing claims and began discouraging settlers at about the same time that settlers had reached the Appalachians. At the same time, Virginia saw a strategic advantage in having a settled frontier between the “Indian country” and the more established settlements of eastern Virginia.

My ancestors took the same path. It’s believed they arrived in one of the ports of Pennsylvania (probably Philadelphia), but by the late 1730’s were settling into Augusta County, Virginia.

5) An oldish book I read about the migration from the Palatinate of Germany in the 1700’s indicated the Pennsylvania gave these hale and hardy Germans land at the Western Frontier, in an effort to set up a buffer zone between the Quakers and the Indians. When the Germans discovered they were very welcome in Maryland and Virginia and could settle on land a little closer to civilization, the left Pennsylvania in force.

It was these German families who built all of those marvelous old stone farmhouses and the magnificent barns throughout Pennsylvania, Western Maryland around Frederick County, and in Virginia/West Virginia. Very efficient people.

6) I don’t know if this will be of any help, but it’s a message I saved from the soc.genealogy. german newsgroup a while back. If nothing else, the author of the article might be able to help you, or the source mentioned may contain something more helpful. Good luck with your research. This is taken from a book about the Pennsylvania Dutch. I thought it might be of general interest…

[Note: The “Dutch” mentioned here are descendants of the Palatinate Germans, and more recent immigrants who spoke German, and who maintained the German culture. They settled a region stretching from just north of Philadelphia, west through Lancaster and York, then arching down through Harper’s Ferry, Winchester, down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, through the Piedmont of North Carolina, and down to central Georgia. By 1790 they had established colonies in western Virginia, a region we call Kentucky. References to the Koontz families includes Counts, Kunce, Cuntze, Koonce, Coontz, Kuntz, and Kunz, Cunitz, even Cunys, Coots, and Kutz.]

The Pennsylvania Dutch, by Frederick Klees, The Macmillan Company, 1950.

p. 187. [regarding the Civil War’s impact on the communities]

The Valley Dutch in Virginia suffered even more than the Dutch in Pennsylvania. The Shenandoah Valley was Lee’s granary and as such was put to waste by Sheridan ‘so that crows flying over it … will have to carry their provender with them,’ as it was aptly phrased by General Early. Grain and hay, whether in barn or field, were either destroyed or seized. Cattle, too, were driven away or slaughtered. Barns and mills were burned and some houses, too; and railroad tracks were torn up. But even more deeply resented than the devastation wrought by Sheridan’s army were ‘the burnings’ of General David Hunter, a Virginian fighting for the North. Virginia Military Institute and many houses through the Valley were burned, not from military necessity, but out of hate. It is small wonder that the South retaliated in kind with the burning of Chambersburg.

It was byway of the Valley that the South made its two great invasions of the North, the first stopped at Antietam in 1862, the second at Gettysburg in 1863. No part of the country saw so much fighting as the Shenandoah Valley. The town of Winchester changed hands 72 times during the four years of the war.

pp. 220-221.

[In the early days, the roads were little more than horse trails. In time, they spread out from Philadelphia. It is along these roads that the early settlers migrated to unclaimed lands. The Koontz family traveled right along with the other early settlers.]

[The first main road serving the Dutch settlements was the road from Philadelphia to Reading.]

Even more important was the road to Lancaster, built about 1733. This was the main road to the West even in the days when the West lay just across the Susquehanna. This road was soon extended west from Lancaster, crossing the Susquehanna at Wright’s Ferry and connecting Lancaster with York. In those days before the Alleghenies had been penetrated the road struck south to the Shenandoah Valley . Later, when vast numbers of Conestoga wagons traveled this road, it became known as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. It was over this road that Daniel Hollenbach made his monthly trip from Winchester to Philadelphia, carrying flour and wheat north and bringing back city merchandise. Before the French and Indian War a road ran west from Frederick, Maryland, to Fort Cumberland on the Potomac, but even then there was no road over the Pennsylvania mountains . At a time when the mountains hampered western expansion the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road led directly to the fertile Valley of Virginia and even to the Carolina Piedmont. During the early years of the Republic it became the highway to Kentucky, for in southern Virginia it joined the Wilderness Road, which Daniel Boone had blazed in 1774-1775. Crossing the mountains at Cumberland Gap, the Wilderness Road led across Kentucky to the falls of the Ohio, where Louisville now stands. In the decades when Braddock’s Road across the Alleghenies was growing up in brush and when the Indians on the plains of western New York barred the way across that state, the road down the Shenandoah to Cumberland Gap was the most practicable route to the West. Used at first by pioneers on horseback eager to cross the passes into Kentucky, it was soon crowded with covered wagons, almost by the thousand. Many settlers heading west visited Lancaster, York, or Carlisle first to acquire a Conestoga wagon, a Kentucky rifle or other equipment. From 1775 to 1800 more than three hundred thousand settlers traveled this road to the West. It was the use of this route rather than the one across the Pennsylvania mountains that accounted for the settlement of Kentucky at a time when Ohio was still Indian territory.

The third important road of the Dutch country was the one following the Great Valley. The section from Easton to Reading, laid out in 1755, was but one link in a road that ran through the valley from the Delaware in the north through Pennsylvania and Maryland south to the Shenandoah Valley. The southern part of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road was really a section of this road. In lower Virginia it met a road from Salem in North Carolina, thus linking the Moravian center of Salem in the South with Lititz and Bethlehem in the North. The Lititz church diary for March 26, 1756 mentions “the North Carolina wagon” that passed through Lititz regularly every few months on its way between North Carolina and Bethlehem: ‘We had bread baked from the flour made in the North Carolina mill, brought here by the two returning wagons.’ During the Revolution the Pennsylvania section of the road through the Great Valley from Easton to Bethlehem and then through Reading and Harris’s Ferry to Carlisle and so on to the South was of great strategic importance. When Philadelphia was in the hands of the British, it was this road that connected New England, New York and New Jersey with the colonies in the South. It was then the most heavily traveled highway in America. Later, during the Civil War, the southern section of this road through the valley was a natural route of invasion of the South by the North and the North by the South. The very excellence of the road, which was covered with crushed limestone when most roads were sloughs of mud, invited the invading armies. In the South one skirmish in the valley followed another. In the North the road led to Antietam and Gettysburg.

West of Carlisle there were for a time only packers’ paths through the mountains. At Carlisle, which was the eastern terminus of the packhorse trains, there were sometimes as many as five hundred pack horses assembled at one time, ready to start their trek west with loads of iron, salt, sugar, and other necessities.

The first great road across the Alleghenies was Forbes Road, later known as the Pennsylvania Road. Built in 1758 to enable the British and American forces to capture Fort Duquesne, it ran west from Bedford to the forks of the Ohio. At Bedford it joined a road running east through Chambersburg and Shippensburg to Carlisle. Forbes Road was a military road guarded by forts at strategic points to protect it from the French and Indians.

7) First there are some very good resources for migration trails. One basic one is in the back of the Handybook by Everton. You did not say from where in Pennsylvania, which makes a difference. But many in Pennsylvania used the Old Connecticut Road from Philadelphia over to Pittsburgh, some veering off south and falling into the Pendleton County, VA/West Virginia area. I am not sure what time frame you are referring to either but some of mine apparently took the Great Indian Warpath from Philly, then down along the east side of the Appalachians. This put them in the Hardy County, Augusta Co area for awhile. If you have a map handy: find Philly, run your finger west and rather straight, thru Lancaster and Adams County, then drop a bit south thru Hagerstown, Maryland into Berkeley County, West Virginia, then through Frederick and Shenandoah, Virginia. The path continued south thru Roanoke, but my guess is your ancestors would have turned west by then. The great Indian warpath was later called the Philadelphia Wagon Rd and it intersected with the Great Valley Road. And in Frederick County, Virginia, just next to the West Virginia border the west heading road was called the Old Northwestern Turnpike. That one actually started in Alexandria going west and passing thru Hampshire, Mineral, Preston and ending in Parkersburg at the Ohio River.

8) The Scots-Irish also took more or less the same route–actually down the Shenandoah or Potomac Valleys– in search of cheap land and an easy (or easi-ER) way across the mountains. It was difficult to go straight across Pennsylvania because there were no roads or rivers to follow. So they followed the rivers wherever they led to–and that was to the southwest. There, it much easier to get over the mountains to rivers such as the Kanawha and the Sandy that flowed into the Ohio, which led into Western Pennsylvania. Sounds like the long way around to us but remember that they were traveling with wagons and oxen without any roads.

9) The route they took was west from Philadelphia about where U.S. Route 30 runs now and then between York and Cumberland Counties, Pennsylvania. they went south on what is now Route 15.

The reason for moving is because Virginia was offering cheap land for Pennsylvania Germans and others for the purpose of serving as a buffer between the Indians and the more established parts of Virginia. (Sentimental devils weren’t they? 😉

What motivated people to move was cheap land, it was cheap because there was so much of it. Christopher Sower, the Germantown printer, in a letter to friends in Germany said that someone could work in Pennsylvania and in two years earn enough to buy land on the frontier (just where the frontier was depended on the time frame). Land was cheap and so labor was high. Someone would work for a couple of years and then move out to buy his own farm creating a permanent shortage of labor.

10) The “Philadelphia Wagon Road” from Philadelphia went west out of Philadelphia, turned south through the Shenandoah Valley, and southwesterly, joining with the “Great Valley Wagon Road” through southwestern Virginia into the Carolinas and further. It was the primary migration route for Germans and Scots-Irish out of Pennsylvania into Virginia and states south. You can see more information on migration routes in a book titled, The Handy Book For Genealogists published by The Everton Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, UT 84321. (I have no other connection to the book or that company except that I use the heck out of this book, which has information on every county in every state, too. Highly recommended.)

Now, about why they traveled? More/better land; new horizons; death of the patriarch in the family, which often meant that the family farm was inherited by the eldest brother and the rest took their inheritances and went to find their own space; other relatives/former neighbors beckoned others to follow them to a new location; Philadelphia was an English city, and the Germans liked to keep to themselves pretty much, speaking their own language and following their own customs and religion (also the English distrusted the strange “foreigners” and probably made them know they should leave the area). Sometimes the Germans would travel to a place and establish a German village, and it remained that way for two or three generations. Some still have signs of German founders, in churches, building designs, etc.

11) Good question. In the early days the families could not travel to new uncharted areas without doing so as part of a community. They simply would not have succeeded on their own. You will often find the early Germans traveling with the same allied families from settlement to settlement. One factor in their willingness to travel is the fact that were often somewhat nomadic in Germany before coming to America. Often families that we consider to be German were actually Swiss and settled in Germany after the 30 Years War due to overcrowding in Switzerland and the availability of land in Germany after the population in many areas was decimated. So they came to America with a history of willingness to travel. Once here their families grew in size and they needed new farmland and economic opportunities. Sometimes groups of a particular religious following formed new communities where they could worship as they saw fit but by far the most important factor was economics–the need for more land and the chance to succeed. Thus they went where the opportunities were. Many were involved in working in mills, forges, glass making and these occupations depended upon the necessities of raw materials in areas that could support those undertakings. They often created routes that the others would soon follow to these new communities. The wealthy men of the day would go to a new area first, buy land, and then bring the workers into that area in great numbers. You will often find the same families intermarrying in one new settlement after another. THE major migration route for the Germans was from Pennsylvania to Frederick County, Maryland and then on down into the Valley of Virginia (following the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road) and eventually further south or west from there.

Hope this helps some. One important thing to consider when reaching a dead end in studying one of these families is to begin looking at the allied families. Chances are if they moved on so did your people.

12) The Quakers, then the Germans and then the Ulster-Irish (aka Scotch-Irish) settled in Pennsylvania because of the liberal laws on religious freedom.

The Quakers, being the first large group there, settled the areas around Philadelphia and Newcastle, Delaware – those being the principle ports of entry. The Germans, being the second big wave, settled the lands beyond that – around Berks, Lancaster, and York Counties. The Ulster-Irish, then settled (often just squatting without legal right) the lands beyond them which pushed them over the first ridge of hills into the Juniata, and Cumberland and Conococheague valleys. As the hills beyond were much higher, settlement started heading down the great Appalachian ridge and valley system which is a natural highway with no real natural barriers leading into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and eventually the Holston/Tennessee Valleys of Tennessee. As settlement (via immigration and rapidly expanding families) filled these areas, some families spread into the surrounding hills into parallel valleys. In Pendleton County’s case, it would be the South Branch of the Potomac River. The main reason that large groups of Germans (and Ulster-Irish) and even mixed groups of Virginians later moved was 1) the rapidly populating land was more and more at a premium and thus causing land prices to increase — and 2) entrepreneurial land speculators offered very attractive prices to induce large groups to move to these newly-available lands. As the Germans spread throughout York and Adams counties and into Maryland, land became scarce — especially for the younger sons and daughters who didn’t inherit the family farm, of if they shared the farm – after a couple splits, it was becoming too small to be profitable. Thus, when Virginia land speculators like Borden, Berkeley, Joist Hite, and James Patton offered Valley lands families moved en masse. Then after 1755 — and the havoc-wrecking Indian attacks, settlers moved even farther south to the “safer” lands offered by Lord Granville in North Carolina or by the South Carolina government.

That’s over-simplified somewhat but gives a basic overview.

25) Think of it this way. You’re from Germany, a farmer (everyone is, you can’t go to the A & P) and emigrate to Philadelphia. You hear some Germans went or are going to Virginia. You go to Virginia. Is Virginia like Germany? No. No good farmland unless your growing tobacco or peanuts, ever try to live on tobacco and peanuts? So everyone heads back to Pennsylvania but the frontier is just opening up. The Indians have moved out west. So everyone heads to OHIO. Hey, this is great farmland, nice and level and the weather is just like home, Germany. Land of milk and honey.

I always daydream and wonder what, why and how. Try it.

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