An Overview of Exploration of Western Virginia



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Index to Articles
An Overview
Summers Summary
Early Exploration Routes
Abraham Wood, 1654
Batts and Fallam 1671
Knights of the Golden Horseshoe, 1716
William Byrd 1736
Dr. Thomas Walker 1749-1750
Gist's Journal, 1750-1751


From: Source:Scroggs, William O. Early Trade and Travel in the lower Mississippi Valley

in Proceedings of the Mississippi Historical Association, 1909:233 et seq

Before the middle of the eighteenth century English explorers and traders in the lower Mississippi basin were numerous, and a few adventurous pioneers had even dared to build their homes in this region. The first exploration from the Virginia coast beyond the Blue Ridge, of which there is any record, was made in 1671 by General Abram Wood. Acting under orders from Governor Berkeley to determine whether the westward-flowing rivers entered the South Sea, he reached the Alleghanies, found a stream which proved to be the largest tributary of the Kanawha, and returned home firm in the belief that he had been very near the Pacific."

Other Governors of Virginia also displayed a great amount of interest in the western country. In a letter to the Lords of Trade, dated December 15, 1710, Governor Spotswood urged that the English should move up the James River, cross the mountains, and separate the French in Canada from those in Louisiana. In the autumn of this year the Governor sent out a party of explorers, who found the mountains about one hundred miles from the upper inhabitants and ascended one of the highest ridges on horseback. On their return, says the Governor, they assured me that the descent on the other side seemed to be as easy as that they had passed on this, and that they could have passed over the whole Ledge (which is not large) if the season of the year had not been too far advanced."4 Six years later the Governor himself and a party of friends crossed the Blue Ridge and made a reconnaissance of the Shenandoah Valley, halting on the crest of the ridge to fire a few volleys of musketry and drink the health of the king and the royal family in champagne, Burgundy, and claret. It is very interesting to note that on descending the western slope of the mountain they followed trees which had formerly been blazed, and consequently they were not the first travelers in the region.[1]

There is considerable evidence that by 1750 traders had for years been crossing the Alleghanies. The explorer La Salle, as he descended the Mississippi River in 1682, came to the conclusion that the English were even then crossing the mountains and disposing of their wares to Indians along the river, for he could account in no other way for the numerous articles of European make which he found among the savages. The Frenchman even thought of closing the mountain passes in order to keep the English out of the Mississippi Valley.8 -It was not, however, until 1748 that any concerted effort was made for actual settlement in this region from Virginia. In this year Thomas Lee, Lawrence and Augustine Washington, and others from Virginia and Maryland formed an association known as the Ohio Company and received a grant of a large tract of land between the Monongahela and Kanawha rivers, with the object of planting settlements and trading with the Indians. In the following year the company sent out Christopher Gist to explore the country, and he was occupied with this work until 1752. After completing his explorations, Gist was ordered to laj-off a town and a fort at Shurtee's Creek on the east of the Ohio, a little below the present Pittsburgh. Gist then settled in the Monongahela Valley near the proposed town and was soon joined by eleven other families. In the meantime the Ohio Company had built a storehouse at Will's Creek (the present Cumberland, Maryland) and a road had been surveyed from this post to the mouth of the Monongahela River. Will's Creek was the centre of a flourishing trade with the western Indians/ In 1749 the Loyal Land Company received from the Virginia assembly a grant of 800,000 acres west of the mountains in what is now the State of Kentucky. In the spring of 1750 the company sent Dr. Thomas Walker across the mountains through the Cumberland Gap to explore the grant and note the lands suitable for settlement. This was not Walker's first trip; he had been as far as the Holston River in 1748, and mentions his meeting in that year with a man named Stalnaker on his way to the Cherokee Indians. On his second journey Walker also met with evidences of the white man's movement in this region, in the form of trees blazed and cut with initials. At some point on the upper waters of the Cumberland River Walker built a house, and it is probable that he lived there for a number of years, as the dwelling is indicated on various maps of the period.


  1. An account of this expedition is contained in the Journal of John Fontaine [Authors note]