Colonial Migration Routes in North Carolina

Written by Erin Bradford, 2014

Although North Carolina is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the majority of those who entered the state did so via migration from other states rather than immigration into North Carolina through the complicated and rough water routes along the coast. Many ships who attempted to enter NC shores found they couldn't or were attack by pirates, such as the notorious Blackbeard. My own ancestors traveled from PA by the way of MD and also VA. Some migrated north from GA. I've been interested in what routes my ancestors used to get to NC, especially since they were all here by 1800, and most before the Revolutionary War.

Below is a map I created using William Dollarhide's book Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815 . I found a map online outlining the original 13 colonies and then cut off the states not involved, added letters to represent towns on the migration trails with a key on the side, and use a highlighter to trace the trails. It is far from perfect, but it has come in handy many times during my research and during the times I helped others in their research. In places where the line is dashed means that from that point, people dispersed into nearby areas. Many of the migration points begin or include Philadelphia, PA, which makes sense at it was the nation's capital during the Revolutionary War and beyond until Washington, D.C. was established as the capital. You can click on the map to see the full image.

Map of major colonial migration routes in NC

King's Highway

The King's Highway was the first major migration route that followed along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean from Boston, MA to Charlestown, SC, but also helped with migration along the coast in Georgia later on. The King's Highway allowed migration and transportation between the 13 colonies. For North Carolina, the earliest settlers who did not arrive by boat near Edenton and New Bern, as well as other port cities, came on the King's Highway. Construction for this route began about 1700 and reached Charles Town by 1735. By 1775, the route reached Savannah, GA.

Fall Line Road

By the 1740s, early settlers began moving westward into the coastal plains region of North Carolina. At the same time, the Fall Line Road was being created from Virginia through South Carolina. The new route helped open up migration off the coast and into the coastal plains, not yet reaching the piedmont.

Upper Road

Great Valley Road

Also known as the Great Wagon Road

General Information about Migration

Migration as we know it now was completely different than it was for our ancestors. In 1998, I moved, aka migrated, from Montana to North Carolina and was settled in my new place all in the span of a few days by plane. For our ancestors, there are a few things that need to be considered when they moved from place to place.