Revised 23 January 2019 by author Lawrence Eugene Vaughn Jr


Table of Contents 

  • Coming to America
  •  Vaughn Family Migration
  •  Leaving Virginia
  •  The Move to New Lands
  •  Why Move At All?
  •  The Conestoga Wagon
  •  Conestoga Construction
  •  The Great Waggon Road
  •  John Tate’s Fort
  •  The Wilderness Road
  •  Tennessee’s Wilderness
  •  Little Egypt
  •  Settling in Illinois
  •  David Vaughn Family Timeline
  •  Vaughn Land Patents

Vaughn Family Migration

One of my biggest challenges over the years as a historiographer has been trying to connect my grandfather William Thomas Vaughn with his ancestral line. I didn’t become interested in studying my family’s history until after my own father’s death, and there were no real Vaughn family connections to learn from. My Vaughn grandparents ministered in various churches across northern Missouri, and so, lived in distant towns.

My mother had made friends with a lady in Chillicothe, Missouri who was involved in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. and got my mother interested in researching her family’s background to discover what connections to patriots might exist. Dad got involved in researching her ancestry in order to get her admitted to the DAR at a time that was important to her.

As Dad’s research grew, he converted his two car garage into a study, and had family charts pinned and taped to the walls to help follow her line back to Revolutionary times. He was successful, she was admitted to the DAR, and then he went on to begin researching his own family history.

In this chapter I will detail what I have been able to learn about how the Vaughns came to be in southern Illinois and Missouri, and how they probably arrived there.

DNA Results

My DNA results as estimated by Ancestry are as shown below in the update of data in October 2019. My ethnicity is 68% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, and 28% Ireland & Scotland. Norway appears at the 2% level, and Sweden and Germanic Europe at 1% each.

According to Ancestry, my Vaughns (and Vaughans) settled first in Virginia and the Lower Midwest, particularly the Potomac River Valley & Central Kentucky when it was opened to settlement. As new territories opened, they moved into East Tennessee, and then into West Tennessee, Arkansas and Northeast Texas, often opening virgin territory.

The Vaughns (and Vaughans) then spread into the Missouri Ozarks, with a large group of Vaughn families settling in Callaway County, near Fulton, Missouri. My own line of Vaughns can be traced through my grandfather’s family to Johnson County in Southern Illinois.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is levj-updated-dna-oct-2019.png

Leaving Virginia

High taxes, crowded conditions in the seaboard states, diminishing farmland, and the economic difficulties being experienced by nearly everyone following the Revolutionary war, added to the motivation to move west over the Appalachians to newly opened lands.  In 1785, as the fledgling country was taking form, the three million citizens of our new nation began hearing more about the rich land available at little cost in what would become Kentucky and Tennessee.

Many of the early arrivals in America landed at Philadelphia and set up farms in Pennsylvania and Maryland. As these lands filled, some had to take up land in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.  By the 1730s there was simply not enough land to go around, and the younger generation felt that their potential for accumulating wealth as their parents had done no longer existed. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government was planning to sell lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to raise revenue for ongoing operating expenses, and they were going to sell it cheaply.

Numerous farmers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia began packing up their possessions and making the long journey down the Great Wagon Road to the fruitful plains of the North Carolina Piedmont. The primary contributing attractions to North Carolina were cheap, fertile land with a moderate climate, relative freedom to pursue one’s desired lifestyle, and an abundance of natural resources available.

The heavily traveled Great Wagon Road was the primary route for the early settlement of the southern United States, particularly the “backcountry.” The Road ran through the Great Appalachian Valley bounded to the east by the Blue Ridge Mountains and to the west by the eastern front of the Appalachians.

Beginning at the port of Philadelphia, where many immigrants entered the colonies, the Great Wagon Road led colonists through southeastern Pennsylvania, across the Potomac River and into the Shenandoah Valley. Further south, the road reached the Roanoke River where it forked southwest, leading into the upper New River Valley and on to the Holston River in the upper Tennessee Valley. From there, the Wilderness Road led into Kentucky, ending at the Ohio River where flatboats were available for further travel into the Midwest and even to New Orleans.

As newcomers moved southward to these inland territories, the population of the Carolina backcountry west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, notably the Shenandoah Valley, grew at an unprecedented rate. British and colonial authorities encouraged settlement of the area, particularly by non-English Protestant immigrants whose small-farm, non-slave communities might create a buffer against Indian attacks and French expansion while deterring runaway slaves seeking to establish independent colonies in the Appalachians.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the backcountry had become a successful model for the development of mixed-farm, market-town settlements on new frontiers as Americans overspread the trans-Appalachian west. This early “path” from the northern colonies to Carolina eventually came to be called the Great Wagon Road.

And, still, this was not perfect. Simply put, the character and significance of the backcountry in a rapidly expanding plantation slave society, and continual Indian conflicts embroiling the entire Atlantic world in the eighteenth century made the area a less attractive fit. These young colonists sought a better political and imperial environment with fewer conflicts.

Why Migrate?

Many of the newcomers to the Carolinas were actually the younger children of immigrants who had settled colonial lands in earlier years. It was they who were feeling the need for elbow room, less imperial regulation, and enough land to make a comfortable living. The U.S. Government, meanwhile, had surveyed and opened new lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, called “Kentucky,” and was selling farmland with rich soil cheaply.

One merely had to locate an available plot that suited him and the type of farming he wished to do, then purchase the property at a land office. It was a common practice in those days to sell one’s property back in the original colonies to a neighbor, buy a farm wagon and a team, outfit it, and move westward. Often, entire family groups made the move together.

The Conestoga Wagon

The Conestoga wagon became a common sight, although the wagons used in the westward expansion of the United States were, for the most part, ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers, styled somewhat similarly to the advanced design of the Conestoga cover.

The Conestoga was a big, heavy, covered wagon that was used extensively on the Eastern seaboard for commercial work, because it could transport loads up to 6 tons, and was drawn by horses, mules, or oxen. The term Conestoga wagon refers specifically to this type of vehicle; it is not a generic term for “covered wagon.” A true Conestoga wagon, however, was too big, and too heavy for use on the unimproved prairie trails.

Conestoga Wagon.png
Conestoga wagon pulled by oxen

In colonial times the Conestoga wagon was popular for migration southward through the Great Appalachian Valley along the Great Wagon Road. After the American Revolution it was used to open up commerce to Pittsburgh and Ohio. The Conestoga, often in long wagon trains, was the primary overland cargo vehicle over the Appalachian Mountains  with speeds about 15 miles per day. The loaded wagon was pulled by a team of up to eight horses or a dozen oxen.

Conestoga Construction

The Conestoga wagon was built with its floor curved upward to prevent the contents from tipping and shifting. Including its tongue, the average Conestoga wagon was 18 feet long, 11 feet high, and 4 feet in width. The seams in the body of the wagon were stuffed with tar to protect them from leaking while crossing rivers. Also for protection against bad weather,  a tough white canvas cover was stretched across the wagon and out over the ends.

The earliest freight wagons were not intended to be ridden upon. The wagon had a brake handle on the left side between the two wheels and a teamster either walked beside the wagon or could ride standing (and could sit for a rough ride) on a pull-out board, called a lazy board, that provided constant access to the brake handle. The left horse near the wagon was referred to as the wheel horse and was sometimes ridden. The Conestoga wagon began the U.S. custom of “driving” on the right-hand side of the road.

The Great Waggon Road

Trails and paths were cleared of trees and stumps and soon turned into wagon-wide roads leading from one populated place to another. The Great Wagon Road was an improved trail of this type through the Great Appalachian Valley from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and from there to Georgia. Typically trails and roads ran from town to town, where rest, supplies and refreshment were available, and often provided simple overnight housing for trail-worn travellers at what were called Taverns or Road Houses.

These roads were the primary means of moving a relocating family from one location to another. From the north, people would buy maps that showed how to follow the “Great Waggon Road” down the east side of the Appalachians southward through Virginia, and where to stop at a town or fort overnight.

The various mountain ridges and valleys are depicted on the map, along with the all important gaps where one can cross from one valley to the next. The ‘Great Waggon Road’ is illustrated on the map by the red line running from Chesapeake Bay at the top of the map to the bottom edge.

1751 Fry-Jefferson map depicting 'The Great Waggon Road to Philadelphia'.png

1751 Fry-Jefferson map depicting ‘The Great Waggon Road to Philadelphia’

From Big Lick/Roanoke, after 1748, the Great Wagon Road passed through the Maggoty Gap to the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Continuing south through the Piedmont region, it passed through present-day North Carolina and sites of earlier Indian settlements on the historic Indian Trading Path. The Great Wagon Road ultimately reached Augusta, Georgia, on the Savannah River, a distance of more than 800 miles from Philadelphia.

The lines of settlers’ covered wagons moving south were matched by a line of wagons full of agricultural produce heading north to urban markets; these were interspersed with enormous herds of cattle, hogs, and other livestock being driven north to market. Although there surely would have been pleasant areas to travel, road conditions also could vary from deep mud to thick dust, mixed with animal waste, and sudden snowstorms that caught entire wagon trains in the unprotected open. Inns, Taverns and Road Houses generally provided only the most basic food, and sometimes a space for sleep, although when a large train arrived, rooms would fill quickly, and often there was not enough “room at the inn.”.

Wagon Trains Were Common

Wagon Train.png

Parting Ways: Wagon Trains at the junction of two trails

The earliest maps of the Appalachians spelled wagon “waggon.” We follow that practice in the paragraph below.

1. Great Waggon Road: Philadelphia to Roanoke, Virginia (circa 1754) – approximately 395 miles (636 km)
2. Great Waggon Road: Roanoke, Virginia to Wachovia, North Carolina (Circa 1754) — Approximately 128 miles (206 km)
3. Great Waggon Road: Wachovia via the Trading Ford to Salisbury, North Carolina (Circa 1765) — Approximately 46 miles (74 km)
4. Great Waggon Road: Wachovia via the Shallow Ford to Salisbury, North Carolina (Circa 1765) — Approximately 55 miles (89 km)
5. Great Waggon Road: Salisbury, North Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina (Circa 1775) — Approximately 38 miles (61 km)
6. Great Waggon Road: Charlotte, North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia via Camden and Columbia, South Carolina (Circa 1775) — Approximately 190 miles (310 km)
7. Great Waggon Road: Charlotte, North Carolina to the Broad River, South Carolina (Circa 1775) — Approximately 76 miles (122 km)
8. Great Waggon Road: The Broad River, South Carolina to Augusta, Georgia, via Columbia, South Carolina (circa 1775) — Approximately 134 miles (216 km)
9. Great Waggon Road: The Broad River, South Carolina to Augusta, Georgia, via Ware Shoals, South Carolina (Circa 1775) — Approximately 145 miles (233 km)

John Tate’s Fort

There were occasional military and community forts along the Great Waggon Road, where travellers could take shelter. Military forts provided protection during times of Indian unrest, and civilian forts allowed settlers to resupply or take a break from the rigors of travel.

One of the well known forts in Russell County, Virginia, was Colonel John Tate’s, an ancestor of Leona Marie Tate Vaughn. Daniel Boone frequented Tate’s Fort on his many journeys through this part of the young country. The fort was located in what was then Augusta County, which is positioned right under the “G” in the word VIRGINIA on the map above.

On the trail through Augusta County, Virginia, (later named Russell County) one travelled down the long Clinch Mountain valley to Big Moccasin Gap, a natural gap used by the Shawnee and Cherokee Indians for many decades before the arrival of the pilgrims and colonist settlers. The valley in front of Tate’s Fort was named the Big Moccasin Valley.

View from John Tate's Fort.png

View of Big Moccasin Valley portion of the Great Waggon Road below Tate’s Fort in Virginia

Above is a modified Google Earth image captured in 2017 from the position of Tate’s Fort, up on the side of the mountain range overlooking Big Moccasin Creek and the valley below. As you can see, entire wagon trains could pull up below the fort for the night, set up camp, draw fresh water from the spring, bathe and do laundry in the creek, all the while being under the protection of the fort and its civilian militia, which had a commanding view for miles up, down, and across the valley.

Tate’s Fort was probably more of a fortified community than a military outpost, although Tate was a Colonel of Militia, and local militia probably guarded it. Since it was not a fort established by the military, it did not appear in any official reports, and over the succeeding decades, was forgotten. It was through genealogical records that mentions of the fort came to light and renewed interest in its location and importance to colonists.

Typical of civilian type forts, the local community was located both inside and outside the palisade walls, and the walls would have been expanded several times during the times of the Great Wagon Road. Though all traces of the fort are long gone, Colonel Tate and his wife are buried in D.A.R. documented graves in nearby Tate Cemetery. More detail on the fort, and its importance, is covered in the book “Descendants of John Tate of Thwaites, England” by this historiographer.

South of Roanoke, Virginia the ‘Great Waggon Road’ was also called the Carolina Road. At Roanoke, a road forked southwest, leading into the upper New River Valley and to the Holston River in the upper Tennessee Valley. From there, the Wilderness Road led into Kentucky, ending at the Ohio River where flatboats were available for further travel into the Midwest and even to New Orleans.

Boone’s Trace

Daniel Boone was a longhunter, and often hunted with his sons or other “longhunters,” so called because they would come in parties of two or three men looking for game to kill, and would stay for months at a time, collecting animal skins and drying meat to sell back in the eastern colonies. Boone was well known up and down the Great Waggon Road, where he travelled to market his goods.

Longhunters often followed trails created by great herds of buffalo as the great beasts migrated to find food. The trails the herds left behind them became paths, or traces, for native American indians as they roamed in search of game and other foods.  One must keep in mind that these traces were originally only a dirt trail, just large enough for pack horses, and not wide enough for wagons.

One of Boone’s parties followed one of these traces through the Cumberland Gap, and discovered the abundantly rich resources on the other side of the mountain range. Excited by the discovery, Boone began plans to move to that new territory, and began recruiting other families to join him.

Wilderness Road

In in March and April  of 1775, Daniel Boone and thirty “axemen” blazed an improved trail for the Transylvania Company from Fort Chiswell in Virginia through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. The route was created for the specific purpose of introducing settlers to the new western lands. Still, the road was steep, rough and narrow, and could only be traversed on foot or horseback.

The trail would serve as the pathway to the western United States for some 300,000 settlers over the next 35 years. The actual road went on to Boonesboro, Kentucky but, once on the west side of the Appalachians, it was simple for settlers to travel any trail that led to their desired destination, so it can be said that Daniel Boone and his group opened the way to the west. In 1792, the new Kentucky legislature provided money to upgrade the road, and in 1796, an improved all-weather road was opened for wagon and carriage travel.

Despite the adverse conditions, thousands of people used the road, particularly slaveholders after the states of Ohio, then Indiana and finally Illinois became free states (abolishing slavery) on the northern bank of the Ohio River, where travelers often embarked on boats to travel westward. It was later lengthened, following Native American trails, to reach the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville.  

The Wilderness Road was one of two principal routes used by colonial and early national era settlers to reach Kentucky from the East. And, by contrast, wagons could travel along the Braddock Road, blazed by the competing Ohio Company, and George Washington, circa 1750, long before they could on the Wilderness Road. The more northern Braddock Road is sometimes called the “Cumberland Road” because it started in Fort Cumberland, Maryland.

One of the favored routes to the west from central North Carolina was the Little Tennessee River. Settlers floated the river from Buncombe County, over into Tennessee. Getting through the Tennessee mountain ranges was an awesome undertaking at the time, as only the Indian trails existed for the most part. These trails were what the settlers called “traces” because they were not improved in any way, and usually were only suitable for travel on foot or horse.

Daniel Boone is credited with helping start the migration west over the Wilderness Road when, in 1773,  he moved his, and five other families, to Kentucky to set up Fort Boonesborough. George Rogers Clark, who traveled the same road he called “Boone’s Trace,” explored the interior in 1775. Tales of Daniel Boone’s excursions and settlements beyond the mountains spread rapidly, kindling the urge in many to take advantage of the easy terms for acquiring good land. Very quickly, settlers began to float the Ohio River west to Warrior’s Path, which led them south into the interior.

Tennessee’s Wilderness

As the longhunters returned to the colonies, they told people about the abundant land west of the Appalachian Mountain chain, which drew some of the more adventurous colonists.  

Some settlers used flat-bottom boats to float down the river to create settlements. The best known of these is the Donelson party who traveled in a flotilla of flatboats commanded by John Donelson in 1779/1780. They floated down the Tennessee River in East Tennessee, then up the Cumberland River to join a party of men led by James Robertson.  There they established Fort Nashborough, which later became the city of Nashville.

The earliest settlers of Tennessee had come principally from Virginia between 1818 and 1832. Later, once foot trails were improved into roads, a larger influx of North Carolina migrants settled in Tennessee. This early road improvement may have influenced many of our ancestors to venture out to this newly opened area of settlement. What is now Tennessee was initially part of North Carolina, and later part of the Southwest Territory. This makes it easier to understand why folks were confused about where they lived, and records for a location may list different information.

The next generation of pioneers moved from Kentucky to areas further west as new territories opened up. In 1816 a small army of settlers began moving to the brand new state of Indiana, then on to Illinois Territory and Missouri Territory. In the following years many more people migrated westward from Kentucky, which earned the state the claim to the title “Mother of Western States.”

Westward movement of the colonists began within a few generations of the original settlers, as the supply of fertile land dwindled in the agricultural states. The migration continued throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the time the colonists declared their independence from Britain in 1776, Americans had pushed the line of settlement westward to the Appalachian Mountains.

After the Revolution, the westward movement of Americans intensified. During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Americans moved west in such great numbers that historians refer to that mass movement as the “Great Migration.” In 1800 there were only two states west of the Appalachians, Kentucky and Tennessee. By 1820 there were eight: Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Ref: http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/169/the-great-migration-to-the-mississippi-territory-1798-1819

The Year of the Locust

If you had family who lived in the Plains States in the mid to late 1870’s, chances are they were witnesses of the devastating plagues of locusts that swept over the region and many families were forced to relocate in order to survive the winter.

The central region of the United States has had occasional times when locusts would increase in number and quickly devour crops over a large region. But, none of the previous invasions were nearly as devastating as what would become known as The Year of The Locust: 1875. Nothing like it had been recorded before and nothing like it has been seen since.

Flying grasshoppers, roughly 1.25 to 1.4 inches long, known as the Rocky Mountain Locust was responsible. Individually, the grasshoppers were rather unimpressive and caused little problem. When conditions were ideal, they could multiply into the billions, travel over long distances, and consume virtually anything and everything that was remotely edible.

The Year of the Locust actually began with the first arrivals of the swarms in the mid summer of 1874, arriving in such large clouds of insects that nearly blocked out the sun. They reached the northwestern corner of Missouri in late July to early August. Within the coming weeks, the locusts continued in a southeast direction.

Most of the heavy damage in 1874 was limited to Kansas and Nebraska. Damage was rather light in Missouri in 1874, but the appearance of such huge numbers of the insects caused a great deal of panic of what was feared to be coming in the spring of 1875.

The fears were realized by late April of 1875 when the spring hatch out began. The numbers have since been estimated to be in the trillions, an unimaginable number that has no match in all of recorded history. Lush gardens and fields of a wide range of crops were reduced to a barren, desert like appearance within a matter of hours. Crops that were needed to sustain a family and their farm animals were completely destroyed leaving no means of support during the coming winter.

Locust Infestation

Earliest reports state that on June 12, 1873, farmers in southwestern Minnesota saw what looked like a snowstorm coming towards their fields from the west. Then they heard a roar like rolling thunder  and saw what seemed to be snowflakes. It was, in fact, hordes of grasshoppers, the sun reflecting off their translucent wings. In a matter of hours, knee-high fields of crops were eaten to the ground. Farmers grimly quipped that the locusts “ate everything but the mortgage.’”

For five years, from 1873 to 1877, grasshoppers destroyed wheat, oat, corn, and barley fields,  devoured wool off live sheep, ate the clothing off pioneers’ backs, and even consumed the wooden handles of farming tools and equipment.  Farm wives tried covering their gardens with blankets, but the locusts ate the blankets and then everything under them.

In 1876 alone, grasshoppers visited forty Minnesota counties and destroyed 500,000 acres of crops. By 1877, spring snowstorms damaged many of the grasshoppers’ buried eggs and ended the plague. Many folks were hesitant,  until the spring of 1878, after the hatch out, to consider returning to their homes in the infested areas.

In 1875, the largest locust swarm in history was recorded over the Midwest — 198,000 square miles. (For a size reference, California covers 163,696 square miles.) The 1875 swarm was estimated to contain several trillion locusts and probably weighed several million tons.  Only 27 years after the record swarm the Rocky Mountain locust was extinct, with the last recorded sighting in 1902.

Vaughn Resources:

Next Chapter: Little Egypt of Southern Illinois


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