north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     In North Carolina, the early history of the colony is replete with stories of the reliance by colonists upon Indian trade and trading routes, and the consequent establishment of villages where they engaged in bartering. Such routes were well known, well marked, and well trodden. The Occaneechi Path, stretching from Petersburg, Virginia, to the Waxhaws region, was one of a hundred such trails running throughout the state and the southeast. But the Trading Path was the central highway, the most fabled route, the interstate of its day. (Its course approximates that of Interstate 85.)

     Trade was but one facet of the relationship between the original inhabitants of North Carolina and the newcomers of European descent. Early settlers had frequent interaction with Native Americans through the exchange of commodities. Indians often were hired as guides. Major native populations included the Tuscarora, Yeopim, Saura, and Meherrin tribes of the Eastern region; in the Piedmont, the Creek, Pee Dee and Catawba; and, in the western region, primarily the Cherokee. The interaction between colonists and Indians was often friendly and always necessary. However, animosity between the groups can be seen in the Cherokee and Tuscarora wars, as well as the French and Indian War.

     The Trading Path, or Occaneechi Path, was vital to trade and travel in North Carolina in the early eighteenth century. While the path originally consisted of smaller, more obscure trails connecting many Indian towns and villages, the booming fur trade in the late seventeenth century, between the Virginians and Indians, made a well-defined route of travel a necessity. Virginia fur traders would assemble long caravans of horses bearing loads of guns, gunpowder, knives, jewelry, blankets, and hatchets, among other goods, and travel southwest to Indian villages along the journey to the Waxhaws region, in the vicinity of present-day Mecklenburg County. One well-known traveler on the route was John Lawson, who utilized the path on his journey of exploration through the Carolina backcountry in 1700.

     The course of the Trading Path entered North Carolina near present-day Norlina, then passed through Bullock, northern Durham County, Hillsborough, Mebane, Alamance, Julian, central Randolph County, Denton, western Davidson County, Salisbury, and Concord. In Mecklenburg County the path forked, with a spur to Indian Trail and Waxhaw, and another to Charlotte and Pineville.

William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 533-534—sketch by R. P. Stephen Davis Jr.
Douglas L. Rights, “The Trading Path to the Indians,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1931): 403-426
Alan Vance Briceland, Westward From Virginia: The Exploration of the Virginia Carolina Frontier, 1650-1710 (1987)
William P. Cumming, ed., North Carolina in Maps (1966)
Trading Path Association website:      


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north carolina highway historical marker program

The Trading Path, Douglas L. Rights, "The Trading Path to the Indians," in North Carolina Historical Review, (October, 1931) p. 404.

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources