The Great Wagon Road for Scotch-Irish Presbyterians
by Rev. David T Myers
When this author’s mother moved from Scotland to America with her new husband in 1932, she came through Ellis Island, New York. When Scot-Irish Presbyterians came in the 1700’s to America, they landed at several Eastern sea ports. with the majority of them arriving in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Filling up available land with their industrious farms and building Presbyterian churches, countless of these early Presbyterians eventually moved south, when more and more immigrants from other lands came to the American colonies. That southern trip traveled down what was known to the native Americans as the Great Warrior Path, but eventually came to be called the Great Wagon Road. It was the eighteenth century super highway for our spiritual Presbyterian forefathers.
It started in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It ended 785 miles later in Augusta, Georgia and many points in between, like Opequon, Virginia. In the one of that church’s burying yards, there is a faded slab with crude, homemade letters, still readable, “Robert Allen, Jr. Born County Armagh, Ireland. Died November 15, 1791. Was a Revolutionary War Private. The Opequon Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), was the mother Presbyterian church of the Shenandoah Valley, was and is to this day located just off of Route 11, the Valley Pike, or the Great Wagon Road of Virginia. There would be many other burials associated with this Wagon Road down through the years.
Why did they travel this long road? The answer is that colonial America was crowded with many immigrants, like the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, Lutherans, and Ana-baptists. The available land in Pennsylvania was being snapped up. Who started the movement south may not be known, but literally tens of thousands of Presbyterians moved south down the Indian warrior path now known as the Great Wagon Road.
They came in family strength, in larger than life Conestoga wagons, pulled by teams of horses, making five miles a day, driving their flocks of animals with them, stopping to ford rivers, crawl along wheel deep muddy lanes, amid flocks of wild game, and threatened native American attacks by day or by night. But they persevered in their journeys.
On the web, there is an extended survey of the road with modern highways which override the ancient pathway, which enables modern day Presbyterians to take road trips today which match the old Great Wagon Road of our Presbyterian forefathers. Our readers back east are urged to make it a day’s travel some day with their families, all to understand their courage and steadfastness in their quest for their present and our future. Your author has done so with his wife for their knowledge of American Presbyterianism.
Words to Live By:
In the inspired early church history book of the New Testament Church, which is Luke’s “The Acts of the Apostles,” there is a reference in Acts 28:15 to “the market of Appius” which was part of the Roman road known as the Appian Way. The early Christians traveled on this road, as did the Apostle Paul, on his missionary journeys and to the city of Rome in his appeal to Caesar. Like this Roman highway, the Great Wagon Road became the Corridor for the gospel carried by early Presbyterians to eastern regions, perhaps even to our readers who find their ancestry in the eastern states. We can rejoice in their faithfulness to their biblical convictions to travel on dangerous roads, all for the purpose of spreading the gospel and building Presbyterian congregations for their families.