A road along the Potomac River was, in its beginning, probably an animal trail along a natural ridge that ran parallel to the Potomac River. It developed into an Indian trail prior to the invasion of explorers and settlers. The road, opened after 1722 when the Iroquois signed a treaty with Virginia Governor, went from Alexandria to present day Leesburg, through Vestal’s (now William’s) Gap, and on to Winchester, a total of about ninety miles. It was probably named after John Vestal, a ferry driver in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and has been referred to, at various times, as the Eastern Ridge Road, Keys Gap Road, and, by George Washington, the Great Road, and the new Church road.
Between the 1720s and the early 1820s Vestal’s Gap Road was a principal route from Northern Virginia through the Blue Ridge via Vestal’s Gap to the Ohio country beyond, serving as an east-west corridor for commerce, emigration, and troop movement in Northern Virginia.
It was initially developed and used by planters to transport tobacco to the port at Alexandria.
George Washington’s military missions over the road between, 1753-1755, are well documented. Between 1753-1799, Washington traveled along Vestal Road on various military, business and personal journeys.***** In 1754 and 1755 George Washington pushed to the west from Alexandria, taking a road that led across the Blue Ridge Mountains at Vestal’s Gap from which he looked down on the sweeping curves of the Shenandoah and the valley beyond. Jogging down the steep road to the river, Washington set off through the fertile countryside to Winchester.* In 1770, Washington traveled to Ohio via Vestal’s Gap.****
An unidentified party crossed the Shenandoah River via John Vestal’s ferry and stayed that night at Gersham Keyes, “a fine Plantation…**
General Braddock’s brigade under Sir Peter Halket marched from Alexandria towards Fort Duquesne on the Vestal Gap Road.****
And Vestal Gap Road was the first leg of the French émigrés journey from Alexandria, Virginia, to Scioto, Ohio. Among the émigrés was Louis des Isles.
During this leg of the journey the French met with a “continued series of cold, wet weather, which occasioned very uncomfortable lodgings.” They were also introduced to wagon travel on roads deeply rutted by the many travelers. Some of their wagons were so badly provided with horse teams that the men were obliged to assist them up the hills. They also met with the challenges of crossing mountain chains, the hazards presented by Indians, and the hardship of life in uncharted, virgin territory.
Dying were the tales of American life being an Eden, a land of milk and honey.
This group of mostly elite Frenchmen were totally unprepared for their pioneer adventures. And the “best” was yet to come.
Watch for a description of the next leg of the French émigré’s journey, between Winchester, Virginia and Cumberland, Maryland.
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