The Unicoi Trail was an Indian trading path connecting western North Carolina with eastern Tennessee. At first it was open to trade only--no settlers. But after about 1795 settlers began using it.
The "trace" was first created by animals like bison to reach salt licks in the Nashville (French Lick) area, and their grazing areas near the Mississippi River. American Indians, developed the trace further for trading mostly, and also as a warpath. An unknown Frenchman was the first European to write about traveling the full Natchez Trace in 1742. But earlier Europeans such as Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have come across parts of the trace in 1540 while being guided by Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. The trace followed a natural ridge and, at first, was only a narrow footpath or horse trail unsuitable for wagons because of trees.
In 1801 the United States signed a treaty with the Choctaw Indians allowing construction of a mail road by the side the the old footpath. The new road soon became important to settlers. Eventually inns known as "stands" were built every few miles to offer travelers a room and refreshment.
Midwestern farmers called Kaintucks often used flatboats to float their agricultural goods, coal, or livestock down the Ohio-Mississippi River to market in Natchez, or New Orleans. Once downriver, their boats were of little use, so they often sold them as well, and the boats were dismantled for their lumber. One of the ways they could return to Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, or Indiana was by way of the Natchez Trace. An estimated 10,000 Kaintucks used the Natchez Trace in 1810. However, because their pockets were loaded with money they were frequently preyed upon by gangs of robbers along the trail.
The road not only carried settlers, but also their ministers. Methodist circuit riders were working the Trace as early as 1800 with many converts. Baptists and Presbyterians soon joined them. The Presbyterians worked their way from the Trace's south end, and the Cumberland Presbyterians from the north extension of the Trace.
Meriwether Lewis, Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, and a former leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was traveling on the Natchez Trace in 1809 when he died at Grinder's Stand [near Hohenwald], Tennessee. During the War of 1812 the ferryman at the Tennessee River, George Colbert, charged Andrew Jackson $75,000 to ferry his army across the river.
Settlers and Records
There is no known list of settlers who travelled 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, or Georgia Road. For early Tennessee settlers see:
- 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].
- Wikipedia contributors, "Natchez Trace," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natchez_Trace (accessed 24 July 2010).
- U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "Natchez Trace Parkway-Kaintucks" in nps.gov at http://www.nps.gov/natr/kaintuck.htm (accessed 1 August 2010).
- The Story of the Historic Natchez Trace at http://library.thinkquest.org/6270/story_index.html (accessed 1 August 2010).
- U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "Natchez Trace Parkway-Park Home" in nps.gov at http://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm (accessed 1 August 2010).
- U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "Natchez Trace Parkway-Photos and Multimedia" in nps.gov at http://www.nps.gov/natr/photosmultimedia/index.htm (accessed 1 August 2010).