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Bulloch History with Roger Allen The Natchez Trace: From Georgia to New Orleans
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is the first of a series of columns looking at the first road systems in Georgia and Bulloch County.

One of the oldest roads in the western world was the Natchez Trace. French explorers used the word "trace" to refer to a man's footprints or an animal's tracks and mapped the "trace" as early as 1733.

Colvin's "Laws of the United States" indicated that in 1806, $6,000 was appropriated for "the construction of the road from Nashville to Natchez on the Trace."

By a treaty with the Creek Indians in 1805, the United States federal government acquired "a right to a horse-path ... from the frontier of Georgia ... to New Orleans."

In 1811, the American government turned the road into a heavy-duty military road, which was used to its benefit during the Indian Wars of 1813-14.

The "American State Papers, Indian Affairs" (1789-1814) revealed that "on March 1, 1819, Nicholas Byers and David Russell ... and the chiefs ... of the Cherokee Indians ... (created) a turnpike company."

The company would consist of "enumerated white persons, and five proper and fit persons of the Cherokees ... (who would) ... open a road from ... the Tennessee River ... (to) the Tugaloo River."

As such, "The road was to remain a free and public highway ... for 20 years, and was then to revert to the Cherokee Nation ... (paying) the sum of $160 yearly to the Cherokee Nation."

The Cumberland Road, or "Old Pike," was the first highway eventually given federal monies, yet Presidents Madison, Monroe and Jackson all opposed such aid for building highways.

Thomas B. Searight's book "The Old Pike: An Illustrative Narrative of the National Road" (1894) detailed the Cumberland Road's preparation.

First, the woods would be cleared "4 rods (22 yards wide). ... The roadway should be raised in the middle with stone, earth, or gravel and sand ... (and topped with a layer of) stone ... 15 inches thick."

Searight continued, "At average distances of
15 miles toll-houses were (to be) erected," and "strong iron gates hung to massive iron posts were established to enforce the payment of toll in cases of necessity."

Author A.B. Hulbert stated in "Historic Highways of America" (1902) that "the solid road-bed and low grades ... made it the natural avenue for the transportation of the great western mail from Washington City.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

 

 

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