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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Great Wagon Road

by R. Jackson Marshall III, 2006

The Great Wagon Road was the most important frontier road in the state's western Piedmont during the eighteenth century. Sometimes called the "Great Philadelphia Wagon Road," it began in Philadelphia, crossed westward to Gettysburg, turned south to Hagerstown, Md., continued south to Winchester, Va., through the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke, and on to the North Carolina border. There it entered present-day northeastern Stokes County and passed through Walnut Cove, Germanton, Winston-Salem, Salisbury, and Charlotte before continuing into South Carolina and Georgia.Map of The Great Wagon Road and its offshoots in North Carolina, 1750-1780. By Mark Anderson Moore, courtesy North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh. (Click to view map.)

The route that became the Great Wagon Road was originally a Native American hunting, trade, and war trail called the "Warrior's Path." In the mid-1700s European colonists, many arriving from ships in or near Philadelphia, began traveling south along the trail in search of land for new homes. At first the road was so narrow and rough that only travelers on horseback could use it; the farther south it went (from Pennsylvania into the wilderness), the more impassable it became. But as the settlers made their way along the trail, they cut trees, found suitable fords across rivers, and worked around obstacles until wagons could pass. In time the Great Wagon Road improved, by colonial standards.

From the 1750s the Great Wagon Road was critical to the development of North Carolina. Tens of thousands of German and Scotch-Irish immigrants entered the colony from the north along the road and settled in the western Piedmont. The Moravian settlements of Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem, as well as the cities of Salisbury and Charlotte, owe their creation and expansion to the Great Wagon Road. Important as a trade route, it provided a means for transporting frontier goods like deerskins to trade for salt, firearms, iron, and other items. Livestock such as hogs were herded down the road to markets in Virginia or South Carolina. In fact, the road was crucial to the survival of the western fringe of colonial settlement.

During the Revolutionary War, the Great Wagon Road was the key supply line to the American resistance in the western areas of the colonies, especially in the South. For this reason Lord Charles Cornwallis led his English army from Charleston to the Great Wagon Road at Camden, S.C. His troops marched north along the road through Charlotte, and later through Salisbury and Salem, in an attempt to destroy Gen. Nathanael Greene's Continental Army and civilian support in North Carolina. Although unsuccessful in all these efforts, Cornwallis fully understood the importance of the Great Wagon Road during the Revolution.

The road continued to play a significant economic role in North Carolina into the nineteenth century. With the expansion of railroads and the development of new roads in each community, however, it fell into disuse and in many areas disappeared. Much of the original route can still be found in Maryland and Virginia as State Highway 11, but there is no state or federal road that follows it in North Carolina. Parts of the old road can be found in heavily wooded tracts, and often local roads follow a brief stretch of the old route, but the cities that owe their existence to the Great Wagon Road have largely buried it through urban development.


Forrest W. Clonts, "Travel and Transportation in Colonial North Carolina," NCHR 3 (January 1926).

James M. Cooper, The Indian Trading Path and Great Wagon Road across North Carolina: Highlighting Rowan and Cabarrus Counties (1995).

C. Christopher Crittenden, "Overland Travel and Transportation in North Carolina, 1763-1789," NCHR 8 (July 1931).

Additional Resources:

Mobely, Joe A., editor. "The Great Wagon Road." The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2003. (accessed June 15, 2012).

Rouse, Parke. The Great Wagon Road: from Philadelphia to the South.  New York: McGraw-Hill. 1973.

Image Credits:

Great Wagon Road map by Mark Anderson Moore, courtesy North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh.




this information really helped me with my quiz for the great wagon road thanks


I was under the impression that the 1764-built portion of the GWR passed through Shallowford near Davie Co and then headed south east (a bypass of Indian settlement at Cooleemee) , making a crossing at Fourth Creek near Mt. Vernon Rd in Woodleaf (where portions are still visible), and headed toward Salisbury to the crossing at the Yadkin. I thought that Cornwallis took this route in his pursuit of Nathanial Greene. Is this correct? Thanks.


Hello Eric, 

According to William Dollarhide, who wrote "Map guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815," says the "The general route of the Great Valley Road today is called U.S. Highway 11 (or I-81)..." - hopefully that will help you figure out where it goes. Also, the second to the last paragraph does comfirm that Corwallis used this route. By the way, there are several names for this migraition path, incoluding Great Valley Road, Great Wagon Road, Philadelphia Wagon Road

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


Thank you for the reply.


Any ideas where were Boones Fo(a)rd and Dutchman's Creek Baptist Meeting House (organized 1772)?


The evangelistic work of William Cook resulted in the organization of
Dutchman's Creek, in then Rowan County now Davie County, in 1772. The church experienced rapid growth, but during the struggle for Independence the church fell into a state of disarray from which it never fully recovered. During the late 1780's the church was dissolved, but a church that is generally regarded as a continuation of Dutchman's Creek soon had its beginnings. The church was known as Eaton's. In A History of North Carolina Baptists, M.A. Huggins states that the church at Dutchman's Creek was "on or near the present site of Eaton's Church, its successor." The historical relationship of Eaton's Baptist to the Yadkin Association will be seen shortly. Source: "Faith flowing freely : history of the Yadkin Baptist Association, 1790-1990" found on

Henry Sheets in A History of Liberty Baptist Association21 says, "Daniel Boone's family were members of Boone's Ford Church, but Mr. Boone himself never joined the church, but his sympathies were with the Baptists." Boone's Ford Baptist Church was on the Yadkin River, in Boone Township, Davidson County, North Carolina. John Gano organized this church at the request of Charleston Baptist Association, in South Carolina and was its pastor from 1756 to 1760.
Source: Publication of the Kentucky Baptist Historical Society No. 4 Edited by LEO T. CRISMON
"The Boone Family and Kentucky Baptists"
By LEO T. CRISMON President Kentucky Baptist Historical Society Associate Librarian, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Kentucky Baptist Historical Society1946
Found at


I am looking for names of those killed 1782 by the Loyalists at the Dutchman's Creek Ambush March 21, 1781. The site says 18 killed & 18 taken prisoner but doesn't give their names. It appears an ancestor of mine may have been severely wounded at that fight & died early the following year.


I was curious as to whether there is a more detailed map of the GWR’s path through mecklenburg co. I’d be particularly interested to see how its path overlays the modern landscape.


It’s North Tryon St. There is another Great Wagon Rd in Charlotte currently. On the eastside of the city


Requesting permission to use the Great Wagon Road in North Carolina 1750-1780, by Mark Anderson Moore - our family is researching our Burns' family. Part of the family used this wagon road to migrate from Penn. to NC. We would like to include this map in our Burns' Family Story Research Project. The book will not be published and will only be available to the family. We appreciate your consideration of this request.

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