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1781 MIGRATION ROUTE
of
THE TRAVELLING CHURCH
Margaret SHIPP-Henley's version

This route is taken from the book
"The Travelling* Church" by George W. Ranck.
*This is the way Travelling is spelled in the book.

 

 

The Travelling Church was a group of Baptists that started from Spotsylvania County, VA and trekked their way across rivers, mountains and uncharted paths to their destination in the "Blue Grass Region" of Kentucky. This was in the fall of 1781, long before there were any roads and the area was subjected to Indian attacks. The military leader of this group was our ancestor, Capt. William Ellis. The religious leader was the Rev. Lewis Craig, for whom William named one of his sons. The author of The Travelling Church, George W. Ranck, was the husband of Helen Carty, the granddaughter of Lewis Craig Ellis. The owner of this web site, Virginia Thomson, and one of the contributors, Margaret Shipp-Henley, are also descendants of William Ellis and Elizabeth Shipp, who were married in Fayette Co. in 1786. Virginia is descended from the youngest daughter of William, Ann "Nancy" Ellis, who married 1st John W. Thomson, 2nd Horace Coleman. Margaret is descended from Polly Ellis, 5th child of William, who married her first cousin, Dudley Shipp, son of Richard W. Shipp, brother of Elizabeth Shipp Ellis. For information on these families see: Descendants of Hezekiah Ellis on this web site.

The journey started at the meeting house near Fredricksburg, Virginia, on the Catharpin Road in Spotsylvania County. In this group were the church members, their children, their negro slaves and other people who were coming with them for the protection of an organized group. From their starting point, they went toward Orange Courthouse, then southward past Gordonsville to Charlottesville. This took them through the Piedmont and under the shadow of Monticello and the road from Albemarle to the James River, which they forded at the future site of Lynchburg, where they rested. Then through Bedford and on to the town of Liberty where they could see "The Peaks of Otter". From here they went over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Buford Gap, where they left civilization and traveled on to Ft. Chiswell, 80 miles away.

They forded the Roanoke, crossed the Allegheny Divide, down the mountain and across the New River. They stayed at Ft. Chiswell a short time to barter with traders and replenish their supplies. At this point, they had to make a very difficult decision as they would have to leave behind their wagons and many of their precious possessions. From here, anything they took would have to be carried either on pack horse or by able-bodied persons. Only the aged, delicate and little children could ride. The little ones rode in baskets swung to the side's of the horses. The ill were carried on litters. From Ft. Chiswell, they went through present Wythe County, Virginia, through the valley watered by the three forks of the Holston River and made camp at the present sight of Abingdon, Virginia, at the Holston settlement of Wolf Hills.

It was now the third week in September and they learned the road leading into Kentucky was beset with savages, so they made camp and waited for a safer time to start out. At this point, the worst part of their journey was ahead of them.
THE WILDERNESS. While at Abingdon, they received word of the British surrender at Yorktown. By early November, the Indians were in their winter quarters, so our ancestors decided to start on the longest, most difficult part of their journey. They traveled, mostly single file through the narrow wind-swept buffalo and Indian trails and made their way down the Holston Valley, where they entered the region of Sullivan County, Tennessee, wound around on Boone's old Reedy Creek Trail on the Wilderness Road and entered Virginia on the North Fork of the Holston River, where they camped. It was here they were attacked by the Indians but repelled the attack, with the loss of one life. The weather turned bad and they had to struggle through ice, mud and snow on the Clinch and Powell Mountains. Rivers were difficult to ford and their bread and flour had molded, so they subsisted mostly on hoe cake and wild meat. Thus, they went southwest through Powell Valley to "Martin's Cabin" later known as Boone's Path in present-day Lee County, Virginia.

About December 1, they crossed the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky, where the weather worsened as they started northward through Bell County and over Pine Mountain in the snow. Because of the Indians, they dare not light a fire so the men, who had waded chest deep in icy water at Cumberland Ford, had to travel on in their freezing clothes until night. They passed through cane breaks at the Cumberland River, past Barboursville in Knox County and followed the trace over the spot where Laurel County Courthouse is located at London, Kentucky. They crossed Rockcastle River at the foot of Wild Cat Mountain. As the days passed, travel was becoming more difficult and only a few miles were made each day. While camping at Rockcastle, the weather broke and they were on the move again and, about 5 miles north of Rockcastle River, where the buffalo path led toward Boonesborough, they entered Skagg's Trace and followed it to a place now known as Mt. Vernon and camped at the head of the Dick's River. It was here they were, again, attacked by Indians and lost some of their horses and cattle.

The next morning they moved on to English Station, about 8 miles away. Here they reached the chain of Kentucky forts. They passed the palisaded cabins of "The Crab Orchard" and headed northwest for Logan's Fort near where Stanford is now located. They stayed here for a short time, while a site for a permanent settlement was found. Here on a little tributary of the Dick's River, known as Gilbert's Creek about 2 1/2 miles southwest of present Lancaster, they selected a site where they built and established Craig's Station. Many of these people stayed in this area for some time and others went on to Fayette County, Kentucky. Our ancestor, William Ellis, settled in the area between present-day Lexington and Winchester, Kentucky. For information on the location of the farm of William Ellis, see: Margaret's search for the Ellis - Shipp graveyard.