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ESSAY The Great Wagon Road by T. H. Breen Map of Virginia (177j), byJoshua Fry andPeterJefferson, surveyors, and ThomasJeffreys, engraver. Collection ofthe Museum ofEarly Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 22 his is the place you're looking for," Darrell Lester shouts, standing in the middle of a small cow pasture. Behind him flows the south branch ofthe Mayo River, a broad stream made unusually shallow by an early spring drought. Bill McGee, Tony Kelly, and I have tried to keep up with Darrell, but a barbed-wire fence at the edge of the field slows our progress. "That's where the Moravians came down from the Valley of Virginia," Darrell says, pointing to a large bramblecovered ditch about ten-feet deep and twenty-five-feet wide that runs up a rocky hill into the nearby woods. This ditch is the Great Wagon Road. Late on the evening of 1 2 November 1753, fifteen Moravians forded the Mayo River precisely at this spot. These men—a minister, a physician, a tailor, a baker, a shoemaker, and several carpenters and farmers—had had a good day, logging almost thirteen miles in their huge wagon. "The approach to the river was pretty good," one recorded in his diary, "but the exit was all the harder. We had to work till night, before we could make the opposite bank passable so that we could drive up. We passed the night here."1 The Moravians had traveled more than four hundred miles over some ofthe roughest terrain in America. The next day they would enter the colony of North Carolina; they were almost home. Like so many other early Americans, the Moravians had originally migrated to the New World to secure greater religious freedom. Their first setdements in Pennsylvania were so successful that church fathers decided to begin new communities in the rapidly-expanding Piedmont frontier. Church leaders had especially chosen these Germans to establish the first permanent Moravian setdement south ofPennsylvania on a huge tract ofland called Der Wachau. This beautiful region in central North Carolina reminded Bishop August Spangenberg, a church leader who had helped negotiate the purchase, ofan Austrian estate owned by the Moravians' generous patron, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. But in America the name was soon Anglicized and was known to everyone—including the Moravians — as Wachovia. The first Wachovia colonizers were all bachelors, or, as they were called by their church, Single Brothers. Most of the men were in their thirties. Two had been born in America—one in New York, the other in Pennsylvania—and, except for two Norwegians, the rest of the company came from Germany. The Moravians' long trek through the back country of colonial America had begun some weeks earlier in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. For the first several hundred miles they encountered few serious difficulties. They followed the road across the narrow part ofMaryland to Winchester, Virginia, and then through the beautiful Valley of Virginia to Staunton. Along the way, the men passed small farms carved out by the German and Scotch-Irish families who had preceded them down the Great Wagon Road. Except for the cold autumn rains that soaked them to the bone, this segment of the trip proved uneventful. The Great Wagon Road 23 After Staunton the Single Brothers were on their own. They pushed beyond the limits of European setdement, beyond the frontier, and for long stretches the road was litde more than an Indian trail through the forest. They had, however, been warned about these conditions. After Bishop Spangenberg had surveyed the Wachovia tract in 1752, his superiors in Bethlehem inquired what route the settlers should take to North Carolina. Spangenberg responded blundy, "How the road would run I do not know. We have come across high, steep hills. . . . [B]ut why speak ofpaths when there are none except those the buffalo have made?" At times the Single Brothers would have welcomed even a buffalo path. They became road builders in a wilderness, cutting down trees, clearing bramble, and searching out the safest places to ford the rivers and streams. The most trying moments ofthe entire journey occurred on the sharp, rocky hills ofsouth-central Virginia. Here the horses...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 22-57
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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