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

 
 
 

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      Cataloochee Trail, located in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, served as a pathway for both Native Americans and European settlers over the Appalachian Mountains. The earliest extant mention of the trail appears in 1799, and refers to the Cataloochee as a “turnpike.” By that point, the Cherokee had abandoned the region, and Col. Robert Love, a Revolutionary War veteran and land speculator, had purchased the land.

      In 1810, Francis Asbury, considered the father of American Methodism, traveled the route, carrying his gospel into eastern Tennessee. Accompanied by William McKendree and Henry Boehm, Asbury was determined to spread Methodism throughout the frontier communities as a circuit rider. His journal records the trials and tribulations the party faced passing over the treacherous, rock-strewn path, oftentimes indicating how close the members came to being killed or seriously injured.

      Asbury, born in 1745 in England, had begun missionary work in America in 1771 on behalf of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. For the next fifty years, Asbury traveled nearly 280,000 miles, preached 16,425 sermons, presided over 224 religious conferences, ordained 4,000 preachers, and helped Methodism outstrip the growth of the general population by nearly five to one. Known as the “Prophet of the Long Road,” Asbury became the archetypal circuit preacher, and was elected the first bishop of American Methodism.

      The “Prophet” visited North Carolina first in 1780, followed by 71 subsequent trips culminating in 1816. In addition to traveling the Cataloochee Trail, Asbury led an 1811 Methodist conference in Raleigh attended by nearly 2,000 parishioners, and preached in the courthouses of Anson, Beaufort, Buncombe, Camden, Chowan, Edgecombe, Gates, Hertford, Lenoir, Martin, Northampton, Pasquotank, and Sampson counties. He died in Virginia in 1816.

      The Cataloochee Trail continued to serve as a route throughout the nineteenth century. A small community developed thereupon by 1850, and by 1900 nearly 200 buildings dotted the cove. In the mid-1930s, the Cataloochee Trail became part of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the local people were moved off their land. Only four structures remain along the trail, one of which serves as a ranger station. In the 1950s, the Boy Scouts of America began offering the Francis Asbury Prize and Medal to any scout who would follow the trail with his father, read a book about Asbury, and write a 1,000-word essay about their experiences.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 50-51—sketch of Francis Asbury by Grady L. E. Carroll
H. C. Wilburn, The Cataloochee Aboriginal Trail and Its Use and Development by White People (1940)
Terry D. Bilhartz, ed., Francis Asbury’s America: An Album of Early American Methodism (1984)
Grady Lee Ernest Carroll, Francis Asbury in North Carolina (1964)
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View from the Cataloochee Trail

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