Duncan McKenzie Family on the Fall Line and Federal Roads


(The amount Duncan McKenzie had left upon arrival in Mississippi must have been 95 dollars and 75 cents.)


Once Duncan McKenzie had made the decision to migrate from Richmond County, NC to Mississippi, he became the bearer of news, notes, and payments for acquaintances and relatives who had left and gone before him. In spite of the improving post roads, the mail was still not a safe vehicle for financial transactions, not as safe as a trustworthy individual. It took Duncan forty-five days to travel over the Fall Line Road and the Federal Road to Covington County, MS, but the mail in those days could take nearly a month or more to reach its destination. So Duncan carried the responsibility of delivering and completing financial transactions for others. Duncan mentions some of these in his January 1833 letter written after his arrival in Mississippi:

“I saw John Patrick Stewart

he and his sister Penelope are well I gave him $50

that his uncle John Carmichael handed me for that

purpose I also handed Allan Stewart the 50 John C

handed me for that purpose I gave each of them a Receipt

which you will take up by order of Stewarts.

You will hand Neill McBryde $5 his brother duncan

gave me five for that purpose and as there is mony due me

there we think it Safest not to enclose it. if you had

not Received any from McNeill you can tell Neil McBryde

that such is the case”

“You will tell Hugh C McLaurin that his money

is not collected yet nor will it ever be in the

train it is going on in my opinion Danl McCall

could hardly tell me anything about it it had

almost past his Recollection he finally Said Hugh had

better come and See to it.”

Among other preparations a priority was the hiring of a guide or finding someone trustworthy with whom to travel who was familiar with the roads. The timing of their journey likely coincided with the months of the year following harvest, so that they could arrive and settle before beginning the crop in the spring. The family owned a sturdy wagon, which was probably their major means of conveyance. From the letters we know they had a team of horses, a few of which they sold upon arrival to purchase furniture and other necessities they did not bring on their journey. Duncan explains the sale of the horses in his arrival letter.

“I sold the campbell

mare to a man moving up into the purchase took in payment

40 head of hogs 15 of which are grown 25 from fall to

early winter pigs the whole rated at 50 dollars 1 table

3 bedsteads 4 plows 2 singletrees & clevisses 2 hoes all

Rated at 15 dolars and ten dolars in cash making 75 —

I sold Snip to Allan Johnson for sixty dollars credit till

January next horses are dul Sale here this year and I thot

best to Sell low than to keep them having no use for

but 2”

In addition to their guide and companion Hugh R. Trawick and the family of seven, at least one enslaved woman traveled with them. Hugh Trawick would stay near the family in Covington County at least long enough to teach at a school, possibly to make enough money for his return journey or perhaps to settle. In his January 1833 letter to Duncan McLaurin, Duncan McKenzie writes about Hugh Trawick:

“we Started on Saturday after our arrival to see the place (the land they were to rent)

and made choice of one it being convenient to a School

house, a School was made up and Hugh R. Trawick the teacher

at the rate of 18 dollars a year for the first grade 24 for the

2nd grade”

Likely the family began their journey along the Pee Dee River, passing through the bustling port city of Cheraw at the head of the river. Cheraw, South Carolina was named after the Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. At Cheraw they would have begun traveling the Fall Line Road loosely following what is today US Highway 1 to Augusta, GA. By 1832, the year of their journey, this road would have been widened by frequent traffic and maintenance by local people. Traffic on the road would have included migrants driving hogsheads, wagons, buggies, and not least the stage, often carrying the mail. During its use as a military road in the War of 1812, it would have been widened extensively. By 1833 the threat of hostile Native Americans would have been declining. Still, it is likely mean and greedy non-Native American humans also traveled these early roads, though the greatest dangers were probably environmental. 

The Pee Dee River area that they were leaving would have been populated by red maple, oak, sweetgum, black gum, laurel, and hickory. The loblolly pine and longleaf pines were common to the area but not as dominant as the scent of the longleaf would be along the more southern parts of the piney woods, they might have noticed the increase of the longleaf pines especially in Mississippi. Breathing the woodland scents as they travelled along the road, the family might have fallen asleep amidst the hoots of the striped owl all along the Fall Line Road during the autumn of 1832, but they would have had their eyes wide open in daylight for snakes sunning themselves in the road if the temperatures had not yet driven them to hibernate. Rainstorms could make the unpaved and rutted roads difficult to negotiate, though Duncan does not mention specific problems along the way. The crossing of many creeks and rivers could pose a potential problem depending upon rainfall. Black or brown bears, panthers, and white-tailed deer, and turkeys might have been spotted along the road all the way from Cheraw, SC to Covington County, MS. Insects would not have been as much of a nuisance in the cooler fall months. The cool winds whipping up swirling leaves might have been a common sight and would have caused the family to pull their jackets a little closer. The wagon wheels plowing through gathering leaves along the road must have added to the music of the woodland birdsong. Depending on the speed at which they traveled, four young boys likely may have had time to run and play alongside the wagon. Allen, the three-year-old, might have taken an older brother’s hand in these adventures. However, the family had to be awake to the possibility of a passing stagecoach running at top speed, especially when they reached the Federal Road. Duncan makes a positive summary of their travels in his January 1833 letter:

“I met with no accident on the way nor nothing worth Room

on paper we came as Smooth as any that have or will come

over the same Road in the winter Season in fact we

may Say we did not break a String nor make the 2nd draw

people and horses came safe. You know Some of the Road

you have not Seen the worst but thank that provident

hand the bestower of all good for health Strength and

aid of my very trusty fellow traveller Hugh Trawick

we were wide awake to our business”

Passing through the busy towns of Camden, SC and Augusta, GA would have been an interesting diversion from the road and likely an anticipated part of the journey. At Augusta, the party would have continued to follow the Fall Line Road into Columbus, GA all the way across the state through the towns of Milledgeville and Macon. At Columbus, GA the Fall Line Road reaches a junction with the Federal Road, and this is the point at which the family begins their journey on the Federal Road roughly along what is now US Highway 80.

The Federal Road began in 1806 as a postal road, the inspiration of Thomas Jefferson’s grand vision to connect the nation’s small farmers to their markets. This road was widened as well during the War of 1812. In order to provide crossings of the many small creeks, logs were placed across the creeks to create causeways. Maintenance of the Federal Road was in the hands of private citizens, who were required to work themselves or provide labor for specified amounts of time. The roads steadily improved during the 19th century, though traffic slowed somewhat following the widespread use of steam-powered travel and the use of the telegraph. Along this road were a number of inns and taverns accommodating travelers.

The family would have traversed the state of Alabama, crossing the Alabama River at Fort Claiborne and from there to St. Stephens, Alabama, where they crossed the Tombigbee River. Over the decades of the road’s greatest use stores, shops, taverns, and inns sprouted at first to accommodate postal deliverers and later migrant travelers. For Example, one Samuel Manack, born of a Creek Indian mother and a Dutch interpreter father, owned such a store in the early decades of the Federal Road. Manack’s Store was destroyed around 1820, before the McKenzie family passed there, but a recently begun archaeological excavation at the site of his store should reveal information about the use of the Federal Road.   From St. Stephens, Alabama the family likely took the St. Stephens Road to near Williamsburg, MS in Covington County where they were welcomed by Allen Stewart, a friend and earlier migrant from the Carolinas, who had found a place for the McKenzie’s on cleared property near him. McKenzie was informed about the property he rented from former tenant, Alexander Norwood. The property was actually owned by Duncan McLaurin’s son Donald (also Daniel). Donald’s father Duncan McLaurin, who had the same name as Barbara’s brother, was probably a relative from a different branch of Barbara’s McLaurin family, many of whom settled in a number of counties in Mississippi.  

Happily, at Fort Claiborne, Alabama the family encountered fellow migrant families from the Carolinas: the Allen Johnson family and the Duncan McBryde family. Duncan McKenzie writes to his brother-in-law, Duncan McLaurin on January 29, 1833:

“the farm I Rented in company with Allen

Johnson and Duncan McBryde who we overtook on the

Road 65 miles East of Fort Claiborne we were not allittle

glad when we drove unexpectedly on them on the morning

of the 4th instant”

The cost of the trip from North Carolina to Mississippi is also specified in Duncan’s arrival letter.

“no doubt  you wish to know

what my expense was comeing. I left there with

$175 I laid out in blind bridles a hat and other

articles that I can show $13: I had when I arived at

this place $95-75 cts left”

In Duncan McKenzie’s enthusiasm for his new start in Mississippi, his words filled the folio pages so tightly that there was no room left to include messages that Barbara wished to send her parents, brothers, and sisters left behind, especially Effy. Instead of including her messages in this letter, he hopes to receive a visit from some of them. This was wishful thinking, for there is no evidence that any of Barbara’s North Carolina immediate family ever made the trip after 1833. If Barbara wrote them herself, her letters did not survive in the Duncan McLaurin collections. It is possible, and several hints in Duncan’s letters reveal it, that she wrote Effy, who may have kept her letters separate from Duncan’s papers.

“Barbra has many messages to send

to some of you but I have not Room for it we will

wait till we receive a visit from you or Some of


Though Barbara’s words from Mississippi may have been lost to posterity, her sentiments are implicit rather than explicit in the letters her husband wrote to her brother in North Carolina. Duncan McKenzie’s subsequent letters are dominated by farming, politics, local gossip, and news of other Mississippi family and friends.


Christopher, Raven, Gregory Waselkov and Tara Potts. “Archaeological Testing along the Federal Road: Exploring the Site of “Manack’s Store,” Montgomery County, Alabama.” 2 June 1011. accessed 18 October 2017. http://www.pintlalahistoricalassociation.com/clientimages/41954/manacks%20store%20report%20-%20final.pdf

Letter from Duncan McKenzie to Duncan McLaurin. 29 January 1833. Boxes 1 and 2. Duncan McLaurin Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Prewitt, Wiley C. Jr. and Saikku, Mikko. “Environment.” Mississippi Encyclopedia. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson. 2017. p 392-394

Whitaker, Beverly. “The Fall Line Road.” 2006. accessed 17 October 2017. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/FallLine.pdf

Whitaker, Beverly. “The Federal Road.” 2006. accessed 17 October 2017. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/Federal.pdf

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