The Europeans relied most heavily upon the rivers for long-distance travel for several decades. Transportation by water was traditional in England where, "because of heavily indented coastline, no location is more than 125 km from tidal waters."1
Once they explored inland, even when they did not have Native American guides assisting them, the Europeans followed the easiest routes: the existing trails. The driest trails between the Chesapeake shoreline and the Fall Line followed the watershed divides, the low ridges separating the Roanoke, James, Pamunkey, Mataponi, Rappahannock, and Potomac rivers.
As settlement moved across the Fall Line, the plantation owners required better roads to transport grain to wharves for export to Europe. Road construction, except for bridges and ferries, was managed at the local level. County courts authorized local landowners to determine where public roads would go, and then required landowners to main the public roads that crossed their property. Most traffic was local, and the beneficiaries of the good roads were often the landowners required to maintain them.
the post road to carry mail south of the Potomac River did not go to Richmond in the 1760's, since it was a minor port while Williamsburg was the colonial capital
Source: Library of Congress, Carte de la Virginie Mari-land &a. (1764)
The Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch migrated from Philadelphia into the Shenandoah Valley, converting game trails and Indian paths into wagon roads good enough to carry their agricultural products back to Philadelphia. The colony of Virginia did not build roads for settlers to move south, up the valley - there was no Virginia Department of Transportation then. The immigrants themselves constructed their roads.
Once counties were established, the county courts assigned responsibility for maintaining certain stretches of roads to nearby landowners. Their tithables were required to work several days a year to keep roads in good repair. The House of Burgesses recognized that settlement in the Shenandoah Valley would require county governments to handle such local operations, and authorized the creation of two counties west of the Blue Ridge in 1738.
The settlement pattern from north to south is reflected in the dates those county courts first organized and started making official decisions. Frederick County began operating in 1743, and Augusta County was officially organized two years later.
Today's I-81 and the earlier Route 11 parallel the Blue Ridge and transect Virginia, notheast to southwest. The original settlers did not construct their roads straight to Tennessee, however. Many of the early settlers moving to the cheap lands south of Virginia migrated through Southside before the Wildrness Road was constructed south of the New River. They crossed to the east side of the Blue Ridge through the gap formed by the James River, or at Maggotty's Gap (between Roanoke and Boones Mill in Franklin County). Some Scotch-Irish moved from the Shenandoah Valley to Southside, and then kept moving to more-distant frontiers as English settlement streched westward. For example, William Bean was in Augusta County in 1742, but four years later he was in Lunenburg... and in 1768, he may have been the first Englishman to settle in Tennessee.3
Morgan Bryan, a Pennsylvania Quaker, invested three months of his and his sons' labor to improve the trail over Maggotty Gap in 1748, before leading a group to found Bryan's Settlement on the Yadkin River. The Moravians used that same route on their trip from Pennsylvania to start what is now Winston-Salem, and in the late 1830's the Franklin Turnpike was constructed to connect Danville with Fincastle in Botetourt County. Daniel Boone's family followed that route to North Carolina, before he blazed the trail to Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky.4
the Great Wagon Road/Philadelphia Road/Valley Road split at Roanoke Gap, where a branch led to North Carolina and the Wilderness Road led to Kentucky/Tennessee
Source: National Park Service, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Map showing the historic Wilderness Road
References1. The World Factbook 2001, "United Kingdom," Central Intelligence Agency, www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/uk.html (last checked 4/7/2002)
2. VA-HIST listserver, January 2002 post
3. Abernethy, Thomas Perkins, Three Virginia Frontiers, Peter Smith, Gloucester Massachusetts, 1962, p.52
4. Clement, Maud Carter, An Abbreviated History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, c. 1952 www.victorianvilla.com/sims-mitchell/local/clement/mc/abb/05.htm (last checked April 7, 2002)
the Cherokee and Shawnee used a game trail to cross through Cumberland Gap for both hunting and fighting in the 1700's, creating what colonial settlers called the Warrior's Path
Source: National Park Service, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Warriors' Path