The trip to Louisiana: an overview

Tuesday morning, Jan. 30 and it is day three of a 1100-mile journey to recreate the possible route used to walk the Louisiana 16 from Virginia to Louisiana in 1834. The distance traveled thus far is about 625 miles from Orange Co. VA to Bristol, VA the first day and on to Huntsville, AL the second. If all goes well, I will sleep close to Pitchlyns, MS (near Columbus, MS) tonight and the fourth night in Natchez, MS. Day five will land me at my destination in Pointe Coupee Parish, LA. Sounds boring and uninteresting, right? You may be correct, but from my perspective it has been just what I had planned.

The route as some may have already learned in a previous column was laid out and published in an 1825 booklet regarding roads and routes in the Untied States. This one suggested a route from Washington to New Orleans by way of Huntsville, AL. I chose it because the others had been examined and this one seemed a more direct route.

A bit of background on the mapping. The 1825 booklet did not use maps! The route was organized by towns and included the distances between them. Oh, and they also told the reader where they would cross a named river; that came in handy.

One challenge has been that some of the towns no longer exist and some that I am seeing are not on the 1825 route. Since other landmarks are present allowing me to believe I am indeed on the correct path, I can only conclude that they (the publishers) did not feel the need to include them all.

Another challenge is Google maps: you can no doubt relate. When I plug in Orange County to Bristol, it will send me across #64 and down #81. “No. no, I want to travel #11 or some other older secondary road.” What to do?

I remembered a mistake I made once when I inadvertently told the mapping guru’s that I was walking, and the route was absolutely not on interstates! It works, though at times is zig zaggy and confusing.

The 1825 routes fail to inform the untraveled individual about the terrain other than the rivers. I was not exactly prepared for the vast mountains of this portion of Tennessee. And I wondered if the person in charge of transporting the purported sixteen slaves knew about the terrain in advance.

My Mini Cooper S with its six gears managed the mountains- and we were on some secondary roads with hair pin curves – with little trouble. The thought of walking that same route was almost incomprehensible, yet I know that thousands upon thousands did just that.



A hairpin curve in the Tennessee mountains. GPS took me on some very strange roads, but then that is what I asked for.


The mountains have followed me to Huntsville, but I am looking forward to the geography getting a bit more level as I head into Mississippi and down river to Louisiana.

For those of you who have been following the saga of Jenny Cook, she did not travel this route. If I am correct that Jenny was “the maid” atop the stage, she would have accompanied her mistress to Louisiana. Their route was very different and will be explored and shared later.

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