DANIEL BOONE'S 1775 WILDERNESS ROAD FIRST PLATTED BY WHITE MAN INTO TENNESSEE TERRITORY
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Tennessee, with all its mountains and valleys, incorporated an early transportation method that consisted of the first white traders and the long hunters. These explorers drove their pack teams through the wilderness over buffalo and Indian trails, while light canoes and rafts were used to ford the deep streams.
The Wilderness Road, which was blazed by Daniel Boone in 1775, was used to open up the Transylvania settlement in Kentucky. It was the first road platted by a white man in the Tennessee territory. It began at the North Carolina line into Tennessee, passing near the site of Kingsport and through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. From Kentucky a branch circled southward, reaching the Cumberland River at the site of present Nashville.
North Carolina, in 1785, of which the territory of Tennessee was a part of, ordered a road built from the lower end of Clinch Mountain to Nashville. It was blazed by Peter Avery and the route entered the Cumberland Plateau at Emory Gap, near Harriman, and crossed the plateau to the Cumberland River.
A treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation was granted in 1791 that stated: "the citizens and inhabitants of the United States shall have a free and unmolested use of a road from the Washington District to the Metro District."
A road from Kingston to Nashville was authorized by the Territorial legislature and was completed in 1795. Plans to finance the project were initially set up through the application of a lottery, but failed. The legislature then agreed that the Territory should pay $1,000 for the actual construction and set in motion toll rates for upkeep of the road.
As roads and transportation became more available a tavern keeper in Knoxville, named Chisholm, in 1799, advertised a post route between Knoxville and Abingdon, Virginia, scheduling trips once every three weeks. An annual fee of $2.50 was set for subscribers of mail and newspapers.
In 1801 the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians negotiated a treaty with the white man that resulted in the latter's use of the southwest frontier such as the Natchez Trace, and the Chickasaw "Path of Peace." These paths linked long remnants of trails and small paths into one continuous thoroughfare, connecting Nashville with Natchez on the Mississippi, and in due course by river with New Orleans.
With the treaty of October 27, 1805 being finalized, the Cherokee granted the Federal Government a mail route through their territory, with comparable treaties being reached with the Creek and Choctaw. These agreements allowed the Indians to own and operate all inns and ferries on all the connecting roads, thus charging a nominal rate for their services.
County courts were permitted to build roads and bridges and to establish ferries by 1804. Sometimes, when building a free bridge compelled too great a tax on the taxpayer, the court had power to build toll bridges and enlist private companies to build toll roads. The State's first bids for road cutting were received in 1804 for a road connecting Tennessee with the "most convenient port in Georgia."
The first macadamized road was built in 1831 which inspired the demand for turnpikes of this class. An act was passed in 1836 which in turn said the State would subscribe one-third of the stock of any properly organized company appropriated for the building of turnpikes.
Quite a few companies had until that time built roads in Middle Tennessee. Subsequently, this act of the legislature had a noticeable effect on transportation in this sector; the old roads extending from Nashville were turned into a system of turnpikes. East Tennessee had problems of topography and so it did not fare well. Due to this situation, the contractor's profits would gain very little.
By 1840 the construction and management of turnpikes, which consisted mainly of major thoroughfares, had almost entirely fallen into the hands of private organizations, of whom discouraged the toll gate system and made few improvements. All told, there were some 900 road companies in Tennessee, some of which extended into the 20th century.
During the Civil War the continuous marching of the soldiers, with their trains of artillery and supply wagons, turned the roads into a muddy quagmire that was almost impossible to negotiate, let alone repair. However, in 1865, shortly after the War of the Rebellion, county courts were authorized to levy taxes for the improvement of highways. Requirements of men from eighteen to thirty were to pay an annual fee of three dollars for a road tax, or, if they were able-bodied, work from three to six days a year on the road. Due to this plan, the State roads were maintained until 1907.
At this time the legislature voted surplus school funds to be used for road upkeep. However, no surplus existed and a State commission of public roads was selected to study the situation. As a result of this plan county bond issues and special levied taxes transformed the old turnpikes into an outstanding system of public roads.
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