Hickey's Road played a major part in settling the frontier of Southside Virginia. The road was in use before Halifax County was cut from Lunenburg in 1752, and long before Pittsylvania was created from Halifax County in 1767.
During the Colonial Period, wagon roads to the outlying areas were scarce. Settlement was being encouraged on the Virginia frontier, with land being given to any settler who built a dwelling house and planted the property. The need for roads was increasing, especially for the transportation of supplies to the settlers. On 5 June 1749, the Lunenburg County Court “Ordered that a Road be laid off and cleared the best and most Convenient way from Stanton River to the Mayo Settlement at the Wart Mountains….”
The road was divided into segments with a person called a “surveyor” appointed for each segment. This man was in charge of seeing that the road was cleared and maintained by a workforce consisting of the “male laboring tithable persons” living in the area, as decreed by law. Joseph Mayse was designated as the surveyor of the segment of the road “from Stanton River to Allen's Creek,” Richard Parsons “from Allen's Creek to Banister River,” Elisha Walling “from Banister River to Smith's River,” and Joseph Cloud “from Smith's River to the said Settlement.”
Where was the “Mayo Settlement at the Wart Mountains”? Land entries, surveys, and early maps of that time show us that “Wart Mountain,” named years earlier by William Byrd II of Westover, is in Henry County and is now called Chestnut Knob. In 1749, settlers were clearing the land and filing land entries north and south of the Wart Mountains, along both branches of the Mayo and their tributaries, and as far west as where the creeks flow down the east side of the Blue Ridge. The “Mayo Settlement at the Wart Mountains” was not a specific community with boundaries. It can be loosely defined as that land in Virginia east of the Blue Ridge and southwest of the Smith River.
Maintaining the road was a big job. On 3 October 1749, the portion “from little Cheary Stone to Allen Creek” was assigned to John Binum. On 3 April 1751, John Saunders replaced Joseph Mayse. By 2 October 1751, the road was divided into still shorter maintenance segments, with William Williams named as surveyor of the segment “from Smiths River to Leatherwood,” Merry Webb “from Leatherwood to the north fork of Sandy River,” Ruben Rey “from the north fork of Sandy River to Bear Skin,” and Richard Parsons “from the Bear Skin to little Cherry Stone.”
In this same time period, an enterprising Virginian named John Hickey petitioned the Lunenburg Court for a “pedlar's licence.” On 1 February 1747/8, the license was granted, providing that he put up a bond for security. Hickey was then living near the present Campbell-Charlotte County line, between Falling Creek and the Little Roanoke. Within a few years after obtaining his license, Hickey and his wagons were traversing the new road to the frontier, taking supplies as far west as today's Patrick County. John Hickey was affiliated with Samuel Gordon who lived in Blandford, now a suburb of Petersburg which is near the confluence of the Appomattox and the James River. It appears that Gordon was Hickey's major “factor” or supplier of goods headed for the frontier.
With the frequent use of the road by John Hickey and his wagons, it soon became known as Hickey's Road, and kept that name for many years. By 1751, the road became so important that it was used as a reference point for land entries and surveys. Hickey's Road is shown on a map dated 27 April 1767, a plan of the division line between Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, by John Donelson, Surveyor. The road crossed Pittsylvania County from east to west in a slightly northeast-southwest direction, and on 26 June 1794, the Pittsylvania Court used Hickey's Road as the dividing line for militia districts. The militia in the South District became the first regiment, and the militia in the North District, the second. A U.S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey map, surveyed in 1924, shows Hickey's Road west of Chatham.
The route of Hickey's Road was not without problems. On 16 January 1755, John Watson and others petitioned the Halifax Court claiming that the road “from Mays's Ferry to John Hickey's” was placed unfairly regarding access to their properties. They demanded that the route be turned and put “in as good Order as the said Old Road.” Watson had land on Cherrystone Creek west of Chatham. Another reason for rerouting the wagon roads is that they became so deeply rutted and worn that a new roadbed had to be laid. The residents about Banister River petitioned for a new road because the existing road was “so bad that Laden Carriages cannot pass.” Another petition stated that a road was “so hilly and broken that it is impassable for carriages.”
Hickey's Old and New Roads can be found in several locations in Henry County, suggesting that perhaps the road looped around as Hickey carried his goods to various plantations. On 6 September 1754, the inhabitants around Wart Mountain petitioned for a road to be built from “Hickeys Road at or near the plantation of Merry Webb the nearest and best way to intersect Hickeys old Road at the Horse penPastures Creek.” This was in Henry County and is the earliest mention of two Hickey's Roads. Another record says Hickey's New Road to Danville. There was a progression of Hickey's Old Roads and Hickey's New Roads, but unfortunately, there are no old surveys for the Henry County area which show the exact location of any of the early Hickey's Roads.
It was in Henry County where John Hickey established his store or ordinary. The first record of his store appears in the diary of the Moravians who traveled south to North Carolina down the Great Wagon Road, then called Morgan Bryan's Road. On 11 November 1753, they bought salt and other provisions from Hickey's Ordinary. “Mr. Hikki, who lives half a mile from here and who has a store, came to meet us and was very friendly.”
Hickey's Ordinary is where George Washington spent the night when he came to inspect the frontier forts, built for defense during the French Indian War. On the evening of 10 October 1756, Washington wrote a letter to Gov. Dinwiddie regarding the three Halifax forts — Mayo, Trial, and Blackwater. Washington purchased nuts and paid for his provisions the next morning. The ordinary was located on a knoll on the southwest side of the Smith River, overlooking the bottomlands. Rather than being on Hickey's Road, it appears that the ordinary was on the Great Wagon Road, unless one of the Hickey's Roads joined the Great Wagon Road at the Smith River near the ordinary.
Today, we cannot determine the exact path of the original Hickey's Road of 1749. Almost 250 years have passed since the decree was issued for building the road. It has been rerouted many times since the original road was laid. Other roads have been laid on top of it and near it. Houses and buildings have been placed on it. The bulldozer has improved the route, and the tractor and plow have helped obliterate the remains. Old road traces can still be found today in some places along the route. Are they the traces of the Hickey's Road of 1749…or 1776…or 1820…or 1870…or 1920?
Using old land surveys and current topographical maps, we can approximate the route that Hickey's wagons traveled across Pittsylvania County. To drive this route today, enter the county from the east on Route 40. Take Route 606 through Mount Airy, then Route 840 back to Route 40. Take a left on Route 927, then take Route 685 to Chalk Level, and travel this road to Chatham. West of Chatham, take Route 612 to the Henry County line.
Clement: History of Pittsylvania County
Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past
Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County
Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County
Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books
Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills
Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills
Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse
Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On
Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina
Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town
Articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.
Copyright © 1997 Carol Baker Wahl.