Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Old Unicoi Trail and Unicoi Toll Road

If you have taken time to stop and read the inscription on the historical marker near the Nacoochee Indian mound south of Helen, GA, you will find information about the trail and the road which was at first a trade route and later became a major vehicular road to bring early settlers into Habersham and other mountain counties formed from Cherokee lands.

The sign reads:

“This is the Unicoi Turnpike, the first vehicular road to link eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and north Georgia with the head of navigation on the Savannah the Tugalo River to the east of Toccoa, the road led through Unicoi Gap, via Murphy, N.C., to Nine Mile Creek in Maryville, Tenn. Permission to open the way as a toll road was given by the Cherokees in 1813 to a company of Indians and white men. Georgia and Tennessee granted charters to the company.”

Historian Chandler in his “The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia” (Vol. 22, Part II, page 245, 1913) states that the Unicoi Road contract drawn in 1813 was not the first venture to set a road into the wilderness of North Georgia.

As early as 1740 the young Georgia colony (founded in 1733) had a trading route from Augusta on the Savannah River overland to Toccoa, and then later into Nacoochee Valley and on to Hiawassee Town. This first route was the Unicoi Trail, mainly a horse route, whereon riders strapped their goods for trade and made their way inland. Both Indians and white traders plied this route. Called “Unicoi” by the Indians, the name means “white road.” It is not known whether the Indians derived the name from the white fogs that surrounded the mountains in spring, summer and fall, the frosts and snows of winter, or because the “white skinned traders” also used the road.

But even before 1840, we have a record of travels on the Unicoi Trail. In January of 1716, Colonel George Chicken, a white Indian trader, travelled the Unicoi Trail. Coming from South Carolina, he probably accessed the trail at Augusta and then went on to the town of Chota in Nacoochee Valley. From there he went over Unicoi Gap to another Indian settlement, Quo-neashee, located near present-day Hiawassee, Georgia.

Colonel Chicken kept a journal of his travels. He wrote that he set out on a Sunday (ye 22 of January, 1716) from Chota at eight o’clock in the morning and went to Quo-neashee. He must have had several in his party because he said they “marched 20 miles” over very steep and stony ground. He wrote of seeing the headwaters of the ‘Chatoochee’ River that runs south and east and “another river” (the Hiawassee) “that rones into masashipey” (the Mississippi). He tells of coming into the village at Quoneashee (Hiawassee) about half after five o’clock in the late afternoon. He thought he had traveled forty miles that day, probably because of the rough terrain. But the actual distance from Chota to Hiawassee town was 20 miles. Even at that, Colonel Chicken had a good perception of the geography, recognizing the headwaters of both the Chattahoochee and the Hiawassee rivers and the directions in which they flowed.

(Next week: More on the Unicoi Trail and Toll Road.)

c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 29, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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