John McMullan & Family's Move to Georgia


We know from family history that John McMullan, our immigrant ancestor, left Virginia to go to Georgia. Exactly who made the trip in 1797? All records indicate the group included John and his second wife, Elizabeth Stowers McMullan, their six children - Nail (Gaelic for Neal and pronounced "Neal") b. 1789, Jeremiah- b. 1790, Lewis - b. 1793, Thomas - b. 1795, Fielding -b. 1796 and Nancy -b. 1797.

Also traveling to Georgia was the immigrant's second son, Patrick (age 25) and his wife Sarah, and their four children, William - b. 28 Oct. 1792, Theodosia - b. 5 Mar. 1794, Permelia (Millie) - b. ca. 1795 and James - b. 15 Feb. 1796. Did this part of the larger family leave earlier? There is a question on this, since family records submitted by Robert Montgomery McMullan indicate James (from whom he descends) was born in North Carolina (a year ahead of the departure of John, his grandfather.)

John the immigrant's fourth child, also named John, moved from Virginia to Georgia. The immigrant's fifth child, Catherine, and her new husband Powell Shiflette (as of August 1797), also migrated to Georgia.


A map of John McMullan's possible trek from Virginia to Georgia. Click on Image for larger map.

If they departed Virginia as one group, there would have been four male adults and three female adults, with ten children ranging from age eight down to an infant in arms. Six of these were between one and four years old.

Son John, who was 21 and single must have been a busy, busy uncle helping his dad and step-mother with his five younger half-brothers and infant half-sister.

If Patrick and Sarah did indeed take several years to make the trip, then it is understandable that three children were born in Virginia, one in North Carolina and one in South Carolina (John b. 11 Sep., 1798) as Robert Montgomery McMullan's records indicate. If this itinerary was the case, then Patrick and Sarah had five children when they arrived in Georgia.

What about the newlyweds, Catherine and Powell Shifllette? Did they travel alone on their honeymoon trip; or catch up with and assist brother Patrick and sister-in-law Sarah with their family? Or, more likely, did they travel with her dad, who needed the extra pairs of hands with his young family? Will we ever know?

The route they took is more easily envisioned. The Great Wagon Road was just over the mountain. John, the Revolutionary War soldier, had traveled the Great Wagon Road north and back from Valley Forge many times. Now as news of the travelers reached the settlers nestled along the slopes of the Blue Ridge, the road south was becoming more inviting every passing year. About 1794 or 95 was the last time buffalo were seen on the "old Indian Trail", or "Warrior Path", which was the general alignment of the Wagon Road. Gradually disappearing along with the buffalo over the last fifty years were the Indians. In the Orange Order of Court for May 23, 1745 there is reference to the first consideration of this route as a public road. This road led back to Pennsylvania markets and often is referred to as "The Market Road". The many Americans, mostly German and Scotch-Irish populated the lands of the Valley and made up most of the travelers. The last 50 years had brought safer conditions for traveling along the Great Wagon Road. More and more inns and taverns were being built for the care of traveling families and their horses. Other animals included pigs, cattle and turkeys with drovers herding them to market. Adventure was to the south and west. Sixteen years had passed since the end of the Revolutionary War and John McMullan was eager to be on the move again. He knew from stories that passed up and down the Great Wagon Road that the climb through Swift Run Gap in his own back yard would be the highest and hardest climb of the entire trip to Georgia.

Like his father, Patrick most likely yearned for a new life elsewhere. James was different. His grandfather Beasley was his role model during the Revolutionary War years and now married and accepted in the Kendall family, he knew he had found his niche. Little did he know that the Kendall Homestead would later belong to him and become the community of McMullan, Virginia. Records indicate John sold his land November 18, 1797 and left for Georgia in December.

Traveling approximately twenty miles a day, they would reach Staunton in 3 to 4 days. Staunton served briefly as the state capitol when the Virginia General Assembly fled the British during the Revolutionary War. Augusta County in the early 1700's encompassed what is now Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia and some of Pennsylvania.

Did John have his wagon(s) made locally or did he purchase a freight wagon known as a "Conestoga"? These were made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as early as 1750. Virginia freight wagons similar in design, but taller in the rear and narrower, were constructed during the same time. The one item that was sure to be enroute was the tailor's chest brought from Dublin, Ireland. Their first week's trip would have taken them to Tinkling Springs (now Lexington) or if they were extremely ambitious, that first week may have taken them as far as Big Lick (now Roanoke).

Driving along old Route 11 recently some old 1790 vintage inns, taverns and ordinaries were spotted in such towns as Greenville, Steele's Tavern, Fairfield and Buchanan. Did the McMullan family stay in one of these still-standing taverns or did they camp out? Since they were travelling in winter, some of these old buildings could have been stopping places for John's family to get warm, feed the horses and communicate with innkeepers regarding upcoming traveling conditions. It couldn't have been easy for these seven adults and ten young children. Maybe several slaves accompanied the family to assist with children and animals.

Near Tinkling Springs, a new up-and-running Washington College was getting considerable news of higher education in what was the West in the 1790's. It began as Liberty Hall Academy in 1749. In 1796 George Washington saved the school from bankruptcy with a gift of $50,000 in stock from the James River Canal Company. It subsequently became Washington College, and then Washington and Lee University.

This was the same year most of the town of Lexington burned, but at this early date Washington College was locate near Fairfield. Fairfield was the nucleus of the oldest Scotch-Irish settlement in the valley, dating back to 1737. (This was three years before John was born in Ireland.) The Presbyterian Scotch-Irish settlement extended throughout most of Rockbridge and Augusta Counties.

We must remember to allow time for broken down wagons, weary horses and sick children. A day's rest here and there must have been needed. Some of this could have been planned ahead of time so that stop-overs could coincide with places of interest especially those linked to George Washington to whom John the immigrant was closely aligned in Valley Forge. George Washington had surveyed much of the valley including the Natural Bridge area where he had left his initials on the stone bridge. Passing right over Natural Bridge, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, was a thrill and certainly required a stop for a look. Just south of Natural Bridge stood the stockade fort of Captain Audley Paul, note colonial frontier soldier. He served in the 1756 expedition against the Shawnees and other repelling raids. In 1761 this fort was crowded with settlers' families seeking protection against marauding Shawnees.

The wagon trains moved slowly southwest from the counties of Rockingham (formed 1778), Augusta (1745), Rockbridge (1778), through Fincastle (1772-1777) and into Botetourt (1770). Reaching Looney's Ferry was a point of both anticipation and concern. Getting the horses onto the ferry could sometimes be difficult. Would the James River be frozen over? Would they have to wait a day or two for the right conditions to cross? Robert Looney operated the ferry and inn as early as 1745. The ferry license for this crossing was granted by the Orange Court at the time the road was blazed to wagon width. Just north of the Looney Ferry was the Renick settlement, raided by the Shawnee Indians in 1757. Five settlers were killed and nine taken captive. Nearby Fort William was inspected by Col. George Washington in 1756 and attacked by Indians the same year. Settlers "forted up" here in 1763 during Pontiac's War. On the other side of the James River was Fort Fauquier (1758-1763).

Roanoke County (1838) and the city of Roanoke were non-existing at the time of John's journey south. In fact, Big Lick was probably smaller than some of the other hamlets already mentioned. Big Lick, although rural and in the middle of nowhere, was where the roads forked. For those headed through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee, this road west was called the Wilderness Road. Most likely more wagons headed west than continued south, because of more available land in the newly created states. Now there was less traffic than John and his family had experienced earlier in the trip.

Further south and another week's destination would take the McMullan family to Salem in North Carolina. Founded by a German Protestant group called the Moravians in 1766, Salem was one of the most advanced towns in early America. Would the German settlers of Salem, North Carolina be as hospitable and practical as the German settlers he had previously known in this new country? Thinking about this upcoming town and its people John's mind was so occupied that he tuned out the sounds of horses' hoofs, rolling wagon wheels and mothers singing lullabies to sleepy babies. Yes, of course, two more Virginia counties lay ahead before reachinn Salem. But John did not know that Salem was a major stop for early travelers, including George Washington, who slept at Salem Tavern. The Moravians' metalwork, weaving and pottery matched the quality of that made in Europe. The town had created one of the nation's first municipal water systems, using hollowed-out logs for pipes. Buildings were of half-timbers and brick in contrast to the rough log cabins of the Scotch-Irish. Salem had a women's college founded as early as 1772. Traveling during winter, it was comforting for John's family to know major towns like Salem lay ahead.

Daydreaming and anticipating their arrival in Salem, the McMullan wagon(s) moved forward from Big Lick through the counties of Franklin(1786) and Henry(1777). John also kept thinking about the Wilderness Road westward and the great excitement that existed among all the travelers at that major fork of the road at Big Lick. Did he make the right decision to take the road South? All of Kentucky County had become a state in 1792 and just a year ago Tennessee had been added as the 16th state of the United States. Where would it all end? With these two additional states, John's Virginia as he once knew it now had its new western boundary forming the present southwest tip of Virginia. They continued through the county seats of Rocky Mount and Martinsville. The first courthouse at Rocky Mount was constructed of logs. Here the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia was referred to by locals as the Carolina Road. It
passed through the Blue Ridge at Maggotty Gap just a few miles north of Rocky Mount. Nearby was "Terry's Fort", adding another link in the chain of forts inspected by George Washington in 1756. In Henry County, six miles before reaching Martinsville, stood Fort Trial, still another chain fort of 1756. William Byrd pitched his camp here in 1728 during the determination of the Virginia/North Carolina border.

Also in Henry County is "Leatherwood", the home plantation of Patrick Henry from 1779-1784. He was one of the area's largest land owners. He served five terms as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Henry County and four terms as Governor of Virginia.

Crossing the border into North Carolina would be John's good-bye to Virginia. John's What lead the McMullans south instead of west can only be guessed. His new destination of Georgia was one of the 13 original colonies and thus one of the 13 original states that he had a direct hand in causing to happen. Was that a factor in his decision to locate in Georgia? Did other southern McMullans, maybe distant cousins from Northern Ireland, provide hospitality and information regarding available land in Georgia?

Look at our present situation - John's 4th, 5th and 6th great-grandchildren in Virginia and Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, etc. finding one another. Yes- half 5th. 6th and 7th cousins. Like us today, was John in touch with some of his distant cousins who may have been in this country? That would be difficult to trace and we may never know. However, we do know that family ties have always been strong and the pride of that old Scotch-Irish blood pulled even distant family members together in meaningful, helpful and loving ways. That has been true for centuries, stir exists today, and may it always be so That we know.

by Emily McM. Williams

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