The Great Valley Road, Setting for My Novel, “The Road to Understanding”

When I began writing The Road to Understanding, I needed a perfect route to take my characters across the mountains between Virginia and Tennessee in the late 1780s.

Colonial_Roads_in_the_South copy2

Who Traveled Across The Great Valley Road?

The majority of the settlers in the area were of German extraction. They settled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. They were known for their “isolationism” for their
farms were situated close to their church and school. These settlers ventured into the towns of New Market, Luray, Woodstock, or Harrisonburg only to trade. According on an article on “…about 57 percent of the population of Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties and about 33 percent in Page and Frederick counties were of German stock.

Next came large numbers of the Scots-Irish, who were driven from their Ulster homeland by the 1717 drought and who sought economic opportunities in America. 
“Entire families ‘bumped over the Philadelphia road in big-wheeled Conestoga wagons, trailing cattle and dogs. Nearly all were Presbyterians, once employed in the Irish linen and wool trades. Half were so poor that the indentured themselves to obtain passage. By-passing theGermans, the Scots-Irish settled in numbers in Augusta, Rockbridge, Highland, Bath, and southward. Unversed in farming, they frequently chose rocky, hardscrabble land and later moved.’ By 1730 they established Winchester, and six years later Staunton. Then came Lexington, Fincastle, Big Lick (Roanoke), Draper’s Meadows (Blacksburg), Augusta and Rockbridge. (Parke Rouse, Planters and Pioneers; Life in Colonial Virginia; the Story in Pictures and Text of the People who Settled England’s First Successful Colony from its Planting in 1607 to the Birth of the United States in 1789. New York: Hastings House. 1968.)


Horse Drawn Stagecoach Newspaper ad for the Elizabeth Town stagecoach to Philadelphia, 1781. Stock Image

Around 1750, newspaper advertisements began touting John Butler’s Philadelphia stage wagon, a coach with places for five passengers and a “boot” for mail replaced the canvas-covered wagon by 1780. “The name ‘stage’ came from the fact that the horses were changed at ‘stages’ along the way, usually at taverns. By 1800, the stagetraffic between Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA averaged one tavern per mile.
In addition to the human traffic on the Great Valley Road, the driving of cattle and hogs continued. About 120 cattle formed a drove, with a manager directing the movement from horseback and two footmen assisting. Pigs moved in droves numbering as many as 5000, driven by a swineherd.

“The road began as a buffalo trail, and was followed by Indians as the Great Warrior Path from New York to the Carolinas. At Salisbury, NC, it was joined by their Great Trading Path. As a road for pioneer settlers, it bore many names. Since the road progressed through the Shenandoah Valley, it came to be called both the Great Valley Road and the Shenandoah Valley Road. The link by the early 1740s from the Pennsylvania communities of Lancaster, York, and Gettysburg became known as the Philadelphia Wagon Road. This portion was also referred to as the Lancaster Pike, and its 63 miles was the most heavily traveled portion of the entire road. Another link, by 1746, was the Pioneer’s Road from Alexandria to Winchester. The section of the Great Valley Road near Fincastle and present-day Roanoke, VA, was known locally as the Harshbarger Road. By the early 1750s, the southwestern end of the road at Big Lick (Roanoke) was extended. Travelers could continue South into North Carolina, or head Southwest into eastern Tennessee.

“Some historical maps will show the road breaking off at Big Lick to go south to Salisbury and Charlotte, NC, and on to Augusta, GA. Still another route went to Savannah, GA. Some historians choose to include the Wilderness Road within the route of the Great Valley Road since early pioneers often used the entire set of trails to move from into Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. The Wilderness Road widened for wagon traffic, but it dates back to the discovery of the Cumberland Gap in 1750 and Daniel Boone’s blazing of the trail in 1775. Since the Shenandoah River formed the geography of the Valley, directions are reckoned by the river’s flow. Therefore, in the Valley, people say ‘up’ meaning ‘south’ and ‘down’ meaning ‘north’ because the flow of the river is from south to north. One goes up to Staunton and down to Martinsburg! The mountain ranges to the West of the Valley are the Alleghenies, and the ones to the east constitute the Blue Ridge chain.The general route of the Great Valley Road today is Interstate 81 or U.S. Highway 11.” (The Great Valley Road

ATOV Cover DARIUS FITZWILLIAM’s life is planned down to who he will marry and where he will live, but life has a way of saying, “You don’t get to choose.” When his marriage to his long-time betrothed Caroline Bradford falls through, Darius is forced to take a step back and to look upon a woman who enflames his blood with desire, but also engenders disbelief. Eliza Harris is everything that Darius never realized he wanted.

ELIZA HARRIS is accustomed to doing as she pleases. Yet, despite being infuriated by his authoritative manner, when she meets the staunchly disciplined Captain Fitzwilliam, she wishes for more. She instinctively knows he is “home,” but Eliza possesses no skills in achieving her aspirations.

Plagued with misunderstandings, manipulations, and peril upon the Great Valley Road between eastern Virginia and western Tennessee in the years following the Revolutionary War, Darius and Eliza claim a strong allegiance before love finds its way into their hearts.

This is a faith-based tale based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Excerpt from The Road to Understanding (Chapter 1)

 Eliza Harris held her father’s arm tightly.

“Pardon me, Sir,” Mr. Harris said as they approached a tow-headed man whose hair displayed the signs of long hours in the sun. “I’m seekin’ the acquaintance of two gentlemen from the western counties.”

The man looked up and grinned widely. Eliza thought his the most congenial smile she’d ever encountered. “I suppose that be me, but I don’t count myself a gentleman,
not in the strictest sense of the word. I be a frontiersman who knows his Bible teachings. My name’s Charles Bradford. How may I be of assistance, Sir?”

Her father stretched out his hand in greeting. It was only then that Eliza noticed the man’s missing hand. 

Mr. Bradford shrugged in embarrassment. “A gift from good King George,” he said in explanation. “I beg your pardon.”

Mr. Harris shook off Bradford’s apology. “No need, Son. I’m proud to claim the acquaintance of those who served our fledgling country.”

A flush of color claimed Bradford’s cheeks, but Eliza noted how the man stood straighter. “I’ve learnt to do many things with the left one. Now, what business do you claim, Sir?”

Her father cleared his throat before confessing their purpose. “My name is Robert Harris, and this be my daughter Eliza. We heard two men from the western counties meant to set out soon for Jonesborough. We hoped to join them as far as the
Cumberland Gap. Perhaps we can find another group of settlers to continue the journey from there.”

Bradford nodded his greeting to Eliza while her father made his explanation. “Where ye from, Harris?” the man asked.

“Up near the Maryland–Virginia border. My family and I mean to claim land in the valleys in Kentucky County. I hear land be available for less than a dollar an acre.”

“Hears the same,” Bradford assured. “Do you also have sons?”

Her father patted the back of Eliza’s hand. “My only boy be but eight, but have no fear, Sir, my three girls be strong enough to survive the trek if that be yer concern, Mr. Bradford.”

“I’m just askin’ what I know my partner Mr. Fitzwilliam will ask. The journey be difficult even for sturdy men.” Eliza straightened her spine to appear taller than she was.

“My sisters Jonquil and Margaret and I can handle a team of oxen as well as any man, and none of us are afeard of a long walk.”

Bradford smiled kindly upon her. “I’ve no doubt, Miss. As for me, yer welcome to join up with us. Fitz means to see several settlers to the mountain territory, but I’m certain he’ll not object to add a few more to our party.”

“Where’s Mr. Fitzwilliam?” Eliza inquired.

“To the east in Fincastle,” Bradford said with a smile of amusement. “Plans to get himself hitched to my youngest sister.”

“And you won’t attend the wedding?” Eliza asked. It appeared odd to her that both men wouldn’t retrieve the lady.

“Nah,” Bradford said with a shrug. “I left home at eighteen to join General Washington. My pa’s house no longer exists. Only been home once since leaving to fight. Wade Heywood bought the land when my pa passed, and he married my eldest sister, Louisa. There’s nothing for me there. My sister’s neighbors recall a whole man and look upon me as if I’m a derelict. I prefer the wilderness where a man be judged for what he accomplishes, not for his failures. My pa left me a small legacy, and I mean to earn my fortune upon the frontier.

“As to the wedding, Fitz will escort several families west to join up with us. He and Caroline will share a small wagon until we meet up again, and then I’ll claim the smaller one and permit Fitz the larger. There’s no need for a man without a wife
to hold back those who do. Moreover, I consider myself fortunate to claim Fitz to friend. Most wouldn’t consider my needs in such a matter. Even takin’ a small wagon, it’ll be good to have Caroline close. Of late, I find I’m missin’ much of my New York
and Virginia roots. The winter in the mountains reminds me of home.”

“It sounds as if you’ve found yourself a friend with principles,” her father observed.

“He’s a Christian man and the best,” Bradford declared.

“If not for Fitz, I’d be dead in some unmarked cornfield posing as a battleground.”

The man’s words sent a shiver of dread down Eliza’s spine. She’d never been so close to those who’d fought in the war of revolution.

“When do you expect to depart?” her father asked.

“Three to four days. A week at most if’n we get rain. Can you be prepared by then?”

“Absolutely,” her father declared. “Provides us time to restock some of our supplies. We’ll be prepared to leave when you and Mr. Fitzwilliam make the call.”


Watching the McClendons cuddle together upon the wagon seat did little to ease Darius’s bruised pride. The couple had professed sorrow at not taking Caroline’s acquaintance, for before he’d ridden to Fincastle, Darius had spoken of his betrothed  to the pair. From his own observation, he didn’t think the McClendons would even know of Caroline’s absence if he’d not informed them of it. Married only a few months, they were rarely seen not holding hands.

In truth, the scene fueled Darius’s anger. He couldn’t say he would be so openly affectionate with Caroline as were Andrew and Marti McClendon, but he’d convinced himself he and Miss Bradford would know contentment. 

“Much longer?” Geoffrey Shannon asked as he brought his horse alongside the one Darius rode.

Darius wasn’t much pleased to add Shannon to their party, but he’d possessed no legitimate excuse to deny the man. He’d known Shannon when he was still in England, and it was at Darius’s suggestion that the Shannons sought their fortunes
in America, and that brought them to his notice a second time. If Darius had known then what he knew now, he’d have kept his counsel.

“Can’t blame the son for the sins of the father,” he thought when he looked upon the man.

With Shannon on the other side of the line of muskets, they’d been enemies during the war, but Shannon had claimed American roots since then. He’d been in the colonies long enough that the English would no longer consider him an “English” man. Even Shannon’s British accent had softened somewhat, picking up the cadence of those born in America. Darius’s conscience said that many of the founding fathers had come to America for their freedom, and he should provide Shannon his forgiveness for a crime the father committed. God would expect it of him. And so,
against his better judgment, Darius had permitted Shannon to claim a spot among the traveling party.

“Be in Wythe Court House by this time tomorrow. It’ll take at least two days to bring the group together. Hope to set out for Franklin by week’s end. The others might wish to stay for one last Sunday service before leaving the closest thing to civilization
this side of the mountains.”

“In that case, I might ride over North Carolina way for a day or two,” Shannon said. “I’ve relations that direction.”

Darius warned, “Can’t wait for your return if the others mean to claim dry weather.”

“No worries,” Shannon said with a grin. “I travel light. If you leave, I’ll follow in a day or two. I’m certain several of those waiting for you are well loaded with supplies. You’ll not make as good a time when you add another half dozen wagons to these

“Will the boy come with us?” Darius glanced back at the small ox cart owned by Shannon. The fellow had won a Negro child, an ox, and a flat wagon in a card game. The boy of no more than ten to twelve years drove the slow moving cart holding
Shannon’s few belongings, some supplies, and an impressive chest of which Darius had yet to view the contents.

“Finny will wait with the cart in Wythe Court House. It’ll be my contract with you. Everything I own be on that cart. I shan’t forget to return.”

Although Darius held his doubts regarding Shannon’s character, his Christian faith said he must play the role of Good Samaritan. If the worse came, he could send Shannon out on his own or leave the man at one of the forts.

“Before you set out for greener lands, I must reiterate: I won’t tolerate gaming for  more than a few pebbles. The families that travel with me are under my protection. Do I make myself clear?”

“I’d expect nothin’ less, Fitzwilliam,” Shannon declared in what sounded of sincerity, but Darius couldn’t shake the unease he experienced.

The Road to Understanding: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary  is available on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and CreateSpace. 


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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4 Responses to The Great Valley Road, Setting for My Novel, “The Road to Understanding”

  1. Jennifer Redlarczyk says:

    Love the map and the history. This is going to be such a fun read! Hope your book does well. I bought the paperback of this one, so I’m waiting. Jen

  2. Peggy K says:

    Road Trip! Actually, this really tickles my fancy, as I live in Harrisonburg! One of our claims to fame is the Abraham Lincoln homestead just north of town. That would be the president’s grandfather. This is an awesome part of the country, and I often find a view that makes me wonder how it was 200 years ago. I can’t wait for your new book!

    Peggy (aka gabbycat)

    • Peggy, the book is out now.
      They had a recent news story on the various “homes” of Lincoln in Kentucky. I am from from WV so am aware of only the one, but it appears to be more than that.

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