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The National Road, Gateway to Ohio

Genealogists can appreciate the date coincidence in many family migrations with the building of roads, railways, and canals. Suddenly we find entire families moving by leaps and bounds across America, instead of a few counties.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Alan Smith
Word Count: 561 (approx.)
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Occasionally I discover that I know a little more than others on some subjects. It is an infrequent occurrence, but the positive feedback which I received from my article about the National Road in my Smith family history book: "I don't know you from Adam," prompted me to share it with a broader audience. The article is a very intimate account concerning my fourth great-grandfather, Adam Smith Jr., who not only traveled to Ohio on portions of the road, he helped build it, haggled with Congress over being paid for his work on it, depended on the traffic of the road for a good portion of his annual revenue, and when he passed away, the National Road was mentioned in his will.

Adam Smith Jr. settled near the Licking and Muskingum county border in Ohio in the year 1811 where he erected a saw mill, grist mill, tavern, and store. Family lore has it that Adam called his new community Smithfield, though today it is called Gratiot, Ohio. It was indeed a good location for the inevitable explosions of migrating families which would flow west on this road.

The favorable climate and the geography of the Ohio region was ideal for early Americans to settle. There were mountainous sections and level plateaus; broad valleys and extensive plains; rich forests and open prairies, with their own peculiar products of animal, vegetable, and mineral wealth. However, in the late 1700's the only way into this territory was to skirt around the Great Lakes or travel along the winding Ohio River until reaching one of the tributaries like the Muskingum, Scioto, or Miami rivers.

In 1797 Ebenezer Zane opened "Zane's Trace" which traveled westward through present day Fairfield County. Funding for the National Road was arranged in 1802, and Jefferson signed legislation in 1806 to officially establish a national highway to run from Cumberland to the Mississippi, with the stipulation that the road had to run through each state's capital.

Ohio became a state in 1803 and my fourth great-grandfather, Adam Smith Jr., traveled from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia over parts of this road in 1811. In 1838 Adam petitioned Congress to be compensated for the rock which he had provided for what was called then the Cumberland Road. The first session of the 23rd Congress took up the matter and it was confirmed that, indeed, Mr. Smith had delivered both prepared stone and unbroken stone. By this time the road had reached Indiana. The road was often referred as the Pike by settlers in Perry County, Ohio.

Genealogists can appreciate the date coincidence in many family migrations with the building of roads, railways, and canals. Suddenly we find entire families moving by leaps and bounds across America, instead of a few counties. One of the earliest questions about the National Road was, "Who used it?" The simple reply is, "Darned near everyone!"

In the early 1900s efforts were made to promote the National Road to an ocean to ocean highway which would stretch from New York City to Los Angeles. Today, as in many locations, the old U.S. Highway 40 was bypassed in lieu of other freeways. My grandfather's town is now off the main drag as Interstate 70 runs around the outskirts of Gratiot, Ohio, and only echos of the past reverberate where my relatives use to live.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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