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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Migration Routes and Their Effects on Settlements

Most genealogists stress the importance of studying the migration routes of those who settled in specific areas.  Until recently, I haven’t given much thought to doing that.  However, after reviewing a video presentation, Migration Routes and Settlement Patterns, 1607-1890, by Dr. George F. Schweitzer, Ph.D., ScD, copyright 1998, I have become more interested in these migration patterns and how they may have influenced my ancestors who moved into the high country of North Carolina.  Not only do I have West ancestors including the Lands/Carltons, McNeils/Barlows, Swansons, and Witherspoons from those high country counties of Wilkes and Avery, but also the Hugheses/Hoilmans and Honeycutts/Canipes from the high country counties of Yancey and Mitchell, all of whom may have followed those routes as they sought, for one reason or another, new land.  Wow!  What a daunting challenge I have if, and when, I am able to research these families!

Appalachian Mountains

Before continuing with the migration routes and their effects on settlements, a basic explanation of the Appalachian Mountains, is needed.  Using Internet sources, I have researched the Appalachian Mountains, the Allegheny Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Cumberland Mountains and have discovered that different writers provide facts and names that somewhat differ.  Therefore, sorting out, synthesizing, and organizing the information in my mind has been somewhat difficult.  In view of the fact that I am still learning about the geography of the land, the migration routes, and the settlement patterns, I must provide a disclaimer that I may have some inaccuracies or misinterpretations.  Please let me know if you notice any in my analyses.

The Appalachian Mountains, representing a very old and vast system of mountains in the eastern section of North America, are found in this country in 18 of our states.  The Allegheny Mountain range is on the western side, the Blue Ridge Mountain range on the eastern side, and the Great Appalachian Valley, as it is called, in the middle.  A portion of this valley in the middle is known today as the Shenandoah River Valley and is bounded on its eastern side by the Blue Ridge Mountains and on its western side by the eastern front of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians excluding Massanutten Mountain which runs down the middle.  The Cumberland Mountain, with its famous Cumberland Gap, is part of the southern Blue Ridge range of Appalachians. From the beginning of human existence in the region, the Appalachian Mountains have presented  barriers to east-west travel.  They are made up of ridges and valleys which present opposition to any road running from east to west.
Origin of the West Name
Also, as a preface to the discussion of the routes and settlements, let’s look at the origin of the name “West.”   The name, West, is an English surname with its roots in Western Europe.  Presently, it is predominantly found in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and New Zealand in that order.  In the United States in ranking order from greatest to least, it is most predominate in Tennessee, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, and Mississippi (World Names Profiler, 2011: I was quite surprised that the name is not present in significant numbers in Virginia, North Carolina, and some of the New England states.
Therefore, considering the fact that the name is of English origin, we may assume that the West ancestors came from England.  Furthermore, we may assume that they entered the colonies at one of the main entry points at which most English immigrants entered during the colonial era of 1607-1700.

Migration Routes and Settlement Patterns
According to Dr. Schweitzer during the period of history between 1607 and 1890, the English settled in Virginia in 1607, in Massachusetts in 1620, and in Maryland in 1634.  Many moved from Massachusetts to Maine in the 1630s, from Connecticut to Rhode Island in 1636, to New Hampshire in 1638, and to New York, Delaware, and New Jersey in 1664.  They moved from Virginia into northeast North Carolina in the 1670s, into South Carolina in 1670, into Pennsylvania in 1682, and into Georgia in 1733.  Mobley (Joe A. Mobley, ed., The Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770, copyright 1983) stated that Europeans had explored the coasts and the mountains of North Carolina before the event of the Lost Colony in Virginia.  Prior to 1715, the first permanent settlers in North Carolina were from Virginia.  
Why did so many immigrants move into the areas of western Virginia and North Carolina?  Religious, political, and economic reasons provided this motivation to seek out other land.  At this point, I won’t explore the political and religious reasons, of which apparently several existed, but will focus on the economic. Beginning in 1727, cheap land in the fertile valley that ran along the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains (the Blue Ridge range) lured settlers into that valley, the Shenandoah River valley (the Shenandoah Valley).  Compton (Brenda E. McPherson Compton, The Scots-Irish from Ulster and the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, stated that in 1750, a 50-acre farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania cost 7 pounds 10 shillings. Whereas, in the Granville District of North Carolina, which comprised the upper half of the state, a 100-acre farm cost 5 shillings. Therefore, for these economic reasons, one can readily understand the desire of people to move to this cheaper land.
According to historians, the rugged Appalachian Mountain ranges, with the Allegheny Mountain range on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountain range on the east, permitted passage only at four locations.  These passes were a pass in the Mohawk Valley in New York between the Adirondack Mountains and Catskill Mountains, a pass in Pennsylvania at a location near the present-day Gettysburg, a pass through the southern Blue Ridge range (some writers indicate that this was in the Allegheny range) at the Cumberland Gap on the borders of present-day Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, and the southern route around one or both ranges of the Appalachian Mountains.
According to Dr. Schweitzer, between the years of 1700-1763, the land on the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains was settled up to the Appalachian Mountains.  The Virginia and North Carolina Piedmont area was settled from the east by the English and Scots-Irish.  The Spanish and the Indians, who were armed by the Spanish, kept settlers from South Carolina at that time.  The route that led the settlers through the Shenandoah Valley from Philadelphia to its southern end at Sapling Grove (present-day Bristol, Virginia) was known as the Great Wagon Road or the Philadelphia Wagon Road with various sections of the route given additional names. The portion of the Great Wagon Road that extended to the west toward Kentucky beyond “Sapling Grove” was named the Wilderness Road.  According to Beverly Whitaker, 2006 (, 90% of Kentucky’s population in 1790 had arrived on the Wilderness Road. The settlers filled the valley to Tennessee and then left it through the passes into the uplands of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, which, I assume, must have been up through the Great Appalachian Valley.  Today’s Interstate 81 follows the general route of the Great Wagon Road/Philadelphia Wagon Road/Great Valley Road from Philadelphia down the Shenandoah Valley to Sapling Grove and on to Georgia.
Prior to 1763, the French and hostile Indians, who were armed by the French, had prevented any settlement across the Appalachian Mountains.  With the defeat of the French in the French and Indian War, England was given Canada and all of the land to the Mississippi River, and the Indians were driven back.  By 1763-83, the settlers began moving from Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky; from Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland down the Shenandoah Valley on the Great Wagon Road into northeast Tennessee; and from other areas of the colonies traveling down the Great Wagon Road, going through the passes, or continuing on down and around the Appalachians on the southern route.

Back to Alexander West I
Now back to the Alexander West I, the likely progenitor of this line of the Wests of Wilkes.  He was probably born between 1720 and 1730.  His sons Alexander West II (b 1751) and John West (b 1760) were both born in Orange County, North Carolina.  He appeared on a 1755 tax list in North Carolina in Surry (later Wilkes) County, as living in 1778 at Glady Branch and on the north side of the Yadkin River in Wilkes County, as living in 1779 in Wilkes County, on a tax list in 1782 for Wilkes County, and as living in 1784 on land at Glady Fork, all of which were land at the foot of the Blue Ridge range of the eastern Appalachians.  If, indeed, he had been from Virginia, what migration route did he follow?  Did he come from Virginia with the wave of English who settled North Carolina between 1700 and 1763?  Had his parents moved from Virginia to Maryland or Delaware from which he migrated to North Carolina in the mid-1700s? 
We still don’t have an answer to who Alexander West I was or where he came from. We have only the passed-down, oral family history indicating that he was the father of Alexander West II and John West, thus, the progenitor of this line of Wests of Wilkes County.

Post Script
The spellings of the various locations (Glady Branch, Glady Fork) are spelled as they are written in the legal documents.


  1. great information!
    Debbie Kirkman

  2. Thanks so much, Debbie. I appreciate your comment.


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