The Importance of Researching Colonial Virginia Road Orders
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
One of the most important, but overlooked genealogical resources of eighteenth-century Virginia are road orders. Containing detailed references of pioneers within the Church-state society of the Virginia, they can shed light on new discoveries. From showing how active they were in the community, where they lived, and who owned land, numerous facts can be uncovered. For the purpose of this article, we will study examples from the Louisa County Road Orders (1742-1748) published by the Virginia Genealogical Society.
Before one can undertake such a task, it is crucial to understand the role roads played in society. A crucial part of the economy and transportation system, roads were a necessity; however, this isn't the whole picture. Building, surveying, and maintaining roads were essential to everyday life. After being surveyed by officials,1 overseers were appointed to lead a gang of local male tithables in "clearing the said Road and keeping the same in repair."2 Based on this information, it is clear that this endeavor involved whole communities.
This documentation, containing the names of the overseers and of the working male tithables, also shows who lived nearby. On March 14, 1742, the tithables of "Thomas Vernon, James Francis, Beasell Maxwell, James Carney, Andrew Rey, John Cook, John Thompson, and William Oens" assisted Henry Bunch in clearing a road from "Coursey's Road up to Rocky Creek...above Buck Mountain Creek"3 All local inhabitants of Louisa County, Virginia, these pioneers played an important role.
It is even possible to discover clues on who owned land in the area. By studying the related "Louisa County, Virginia: Deed Book abstracts (1742-1744)" one can find that Andrew Rey had already purchased "five hundred twenty-five acres" on March 8, 1742.4 Further research also shows that Andrew Rey appears in court in Louisa County on July 11, 1743 as part of an indenture transaction.5
When studying eighteenth-century Virginia genealogy, one will eventually find out that it can be challenging. Even with access to wills, deeds, business records, tax records, etc.., there can still be pitfalls. However, it is crucial to not overlook necessary documentation like road orders. From revealing where your ancestors lived, along with receiving new clues about their life, they offer several benefits.
Documentation and Suggested Readings:
1. Virginia Genealogical Society, Louisa County [Virginia] Road Orders 1742-1748 (Westminster, Maryland : Heritage Books, 2008), 5.
2. Virginia Genealogical Society, Louisa County [Virginia] Road Orders 1742-1748, 5.
3. Virginia Genealogical Society, Louisa County [Virginia] Road Orders 1742-1748, 5.\
4. Ruth and Sam Sparacio, Louisa County, Virginia, Deed Book Abstracts 1742-1744 (Harbson, Delaware : The Antient Press Collection from Colonial Roots, 2017), 54-55.
5. Ruth and Sam Sparacio, Louisa County, Virginia, Road Orders 1742-1744 (Harbson, Delaware : The Antient Press Collection from Colonial Roots, 2017), 30.