Wagon Train


(Click here to go to the full 3,752 × 2,380 pixels map.)

Not to be indelicate, but the air today was balmy enough for tromping through places where frog couples are busy making more little frogs.

I found myself skirting the Pigg River and made a captivating discovery.

The Iroquois made a warpath here in their endless seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century battles with the Catawba. In 1744, at the Treaty of Lancaster, Pa., the Iroquois ceded the use of their Great Warrior Path to the white man.

Countless Scotch-Irish and Germans, having made landfall in the New World at Philadelphia, travelled to homesteads in “the backcountry”—Virginny, the Carolinas, and Georgia—along this path.

The 1751 map of the “Carolina Road” (above) fascinates me for a number of reasons.

1. The wagon road that passed along the Pigg River, down the hill from my rectory, also passed through Lancaster, Pa.–my dear mom’s hometown, 350 miles away.

2. The road passed into the piedmont at Big Lick, later to be known as Roanoke, through the pass formed by the Staunton River, also called the Roanoke River.

3. Heading upriver from Jamestown, the river named for King James forks near the land of Thomas Jefferson. The larger fork, which drains acreage from the westernmost reaches of the eastern seaboard, used to be called the Fluvanna, for Queen Anne. (These days, the whole thing is called the James.)

4. The town of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County, Md., where I lived three very happy years, appears on the map. But the city of Washington does not. (Washington did not, as yet, exist.)

5. Fry and Jefferson made an exquisite map. It depicts all the rights-of-way in use at the time with enough precision to aid in making practical travel decisions. I especially love the way they depicted the mountain ridges–no pretense of topographical accuracy but thoroughly helpful in travel planning.

One more fascinating geographic fact:

As everyone knows, the capital city of our nation is divided into four quadrants. And everyone knows that the U.S. Capitol serves as the axis-forming point. From the Capitol, the Mall divides northwest Washington from southwest Washington, North Capitol Street divides northwest from northeast, and East Capitol and South Capitol Streets likewise divide the quadrants.

Roanoke, Va., also has four quadrants. In Roanoke, the axis is formed by Jefferson Street, and the old Norfolk and Western railroad bed!

(If you hate geography geeks, you are visiting the wrong website.)

One thought on “Wagon Train

  1. Fr. Mark,

    As an “Old Map” freak, I delight in it. Perhaps you might look sometime at the 1870’s map for the Georgetown University area, as I did 30 years ago. At that time, there was a quarry where the playing fields now are.

    The quarry was later used as a garbage dump; and, ultimately, the top filled, and the area used as playing fields. But, the garbage continued to settle; and the buildings on the hillside to the East (the dorms) were constructed, using caissons to the rock beneath. That stopped them from settling vertically; but they did not keep the buildings from moving horizontally, towards the old quarry. In a sense, history was trying to suck Georgetown U. down the drain.

    There are many similar modern mysteries that are explained by old maps. It’s fascinating. As is the 80-year-old man who always shows up on the top of the embankment when you’ve struggled to dig to the bottom, and says, “Oh, you found that did you; I could have told you that; I saw them put it in there when I was a boy.”

    LIH,

    joe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s