Unicoi Trail

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Catawba and Unicoi Trails.png

The Unicoi Trail (in red on the map) was a pre-colonial Indian trading path connecting the western parts of North and South Carolina with eastern Tennessee. At first it was open to trade only—no settlers. But after about 1795 settlers began using it. It was open to wagons about 1813, and became a toll road (turnpike) about 1819.

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Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Unicoi Trail, Unicoi Turnpike, or Trading Path, emerged from the Saluda Gap where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia now meet. The trail headed west on the south side of the far west part of North Carolina over to the Tennessee border where it passed through the Unicoi Gap. The trail then curved north toward the Overhill Cherokee villages and ended at either Tellico, or Vonore, or Knoxville. The Unicoi Trail was the most heavily used trade route into east Tennessee, but settlers were forbidden to use it prior to the decline of Cherokee military power in the 1790s.[1]

The first British colonists known to have used the Unicoi Trail in 1690 brought trade goods from Charleston to the Overhill Cherokee villages. Furs and pelts exchanged hands for guns and rum.[1] By 1700 French colonists from the Gulf Coast followed the Great Indian Warpath to trade in the same villages. In 1736 an Englishman named Priber used the Unicoi Trail to reach Tellico where he and a Cherokee named Motoy set up a utopian-communist society. However, after five years the British arrested Priber and accused him of being a French spy.[2]

The British-French rivalry heated up during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763. The British used pack animals on the Unicoi Trail to bring tools and supplies to build Fort Loudon. The British garrison also brought 12 hundred-pound cannons over the steep trail. After the British surrendered the Fort, they moved their cannons back to South Carolina over the Unicoi Trail.[2]

During the Revolutionary War most Cherokee Indians allied with the British against the American patriot cause. John Sevier led about 140 patriots across the Unicoi Gap to attack and burn three Indian villages. But, when they were faced by 1000 warriors the patriots quickly retreated back down the Unicoi Trail.[2]

After the Unicoi Trail was opened to wagons about 1795, it became a popular choice for pioneers from the Yadkin River settlements, and Waxhaws to move across the mountains from North Carolina to east Tennessee.[3] In 1815 a company was formed to turn the trail into a road fit for freight wagons. By 1819 the toll road was renamed a turnpike and opened to the public. This opened up trade between Augusta, Georgia and Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee farmers used the road to market their goods in the South until after the American Civil War.[2]

Route[edit | edit source]

Connecting trails

Around Tugaloo, Georgia the following trails converge near the south end of the Unicoi Trail:

Toward the north end, the Unicoi_Trail connects to:

Settlers and Records[edit | edit source]

There is no known list of settlers who traveled the Unicoi Trail. However, some of the early residents of Tennessee may have used the trail to reach their destination, as well as several other routes like the Great Valley Road, Wilderness Road, Kentucky Road, Avery's Trace, Catawba Trail, or Georgia Road. For early Tennessee settlers see:

Internet Sites[edit | edit source]

  • Lowell Kirk, "The Unicoi Turnpike" in Tellico Plains Mountain Press: Online History and Feature Ezine at http://www.telliquah.com/unicoi.htm (accessed 14 August 2010).
  • "The Unicoi Turnpike - White County" in Georgia Historical Markers on Waymarking.com at http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMMVB (accessed 5 April 2011). Description of the history and route on a roadside marker.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 East Tennessee Historical Society, First families of Tennessee: a register of early settlers and their present-day descendants (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, c2000) [FHL 976.8 H2ff], 23.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lowell Kirk, "The Unicoi Turnpike" in Tellico Plains Mountain Press: Online History and Feature Ezine at http://www.telliquah.com/unicoi.htm (accessed 14 August 2010).
  3. First Families, 23-24.
  4. Lowell Kirk, "The Unicoi Turnpike" at http://www.telliquah.com/unicoi.htm (accessed 3 May 2011).
  5. William E. Myer, Indian Trails of the Southeast. (Nashville, Tenn.: Blue and Gray Press, 1971). (FHL Book 970.1 M992i) WorldCat entry.