The road originated as an Indian trail, providing a north-south route for hunters and warriors down the Shenandoah Valley and along the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Great Wagon Road of the eighteenth century, also known as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, stretched for almost eight hundred miles from Philadelphia west to Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania, and thence south through Virginia into the Carolina backcountry. The road diverged in South Carolina, with one artery going toward Camden and another toward Ninety Six and the road’s southern terminus at Augusta, Georgia. The road originated as an Indian trail, providing a north-south route for hunters and warriors down the Shenandoah Valley and along the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. By the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, natives surrendered their use of this “Warriors’ Path” and it developed into the Great Wagon Road, which rapidly saw increased use by German and Scots-Irish immigrants moving south from Pennsylvania into the backcountry. These immigrants developed the famous Conestoga wagon, cleared farmlands, and formed trading posts along the road at places like Salisbury, North Carolina, and Camden, South Carolina. This southern movement of thousands of settlers rapidly populated the Carolina backcountry and gave it a unique Scots-Irish and German flavor. In the closing decades of the colonial era, the Great Wagon Road was among the most heavily traveled in British North America, making it one of the most important frontier movement trails in United States history.
By the mid–nineteenth century, railroads and the migration of the frontier westward decreased the volume of southbound traffic on the road. Decades later, portions of the Interstate and United States Highway systems of the twentieth century traced the route of the Great Wagon Road.
Bridenbaugh, Carl. Myths and Realities, Societies of the Colonial South. 1952. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1981.
Farrant, Don. “The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road.” Heritage Quest 57 (May/June 1995): 59–60.
Rouse, Parke. The Great Wagon Road. 1973. Reprint, Richmond, Va.: Dietz, 1995.