The Explorations of Louis Michel

There are some old maps which document exploration of the area by Europeans around three hundred years ago. One old map was drawn by Louis Michel following his explorations of the area in 1707. Michel and Baron De Graffenried submitted the map to the King of England, along with a petition for a land grant in the Shenandoah Valley, in order to settle a Swiss colony. The Swiss colony never arrived.

       The Michel map was accompanied by a key. Translated from the original French by Charles E. Kemper, the map references are:

A - Rocks in the river called Potomack, as far as one can ascend in barques and beyond in small boats.
B - A spring which flows sixty miles from Annapolis (possibly in vicinity of Sugar Loaf Mountain).
C - First hut which was made to sleep in on the trail on their route.
D - A river called Quattaro (the Monacacy River, MD).
E - Mountains of Virginia (The Blue Ridge).
F - Region of the Mesesipi.
G - Mountains of Cenuntua (the Massanutten Mountains).



Michel wrote that the area "contains mountains, valleys and plains. There is land that is dry and barren and where it is difficult to pass through the wild brush-wood. On the contrary, there is good land, where are great forest trees of oak, and where much game abounds. All this country is uninhabited except some Indians. From one hut to another marks a day's journey".


How did Michel determine the course of his journey as he hiked in the vicinity of the present-day Shenandoah River, as far south as perhaps the Woodstock area? Was he following the trails of Indians and/or animals? It is clear from reading literature that early people in the area used trails made by both Indians and animals.


The present-day US Route 11 generally follows the old Great Wagon Road, used by settlers and traders to travel between Philadelphia and Winchester, and to other points farther south. The Great Wagon Road was constructed along the path of the Great Warpath, used by Indians earlier to move along the Valley.


Indians traveled considerable distances in early times. As long ago as 2000 BC, the Valley Indians were cooking in bowls which were made from stone found east of the Blue Ridge, in the Piedmont area. A grave located south of Front Royal, along the Shenandoah River, with a radio-carbon date of 420 BC, contained artifacts made from materials transported from the Great Lakes, Ohio, and Carolina areas. There must have been many trails to follow in vicinity of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


As late as the 1730's, early settlers were traversing Ashby Gap (present-day US Route 50) by following a primitive trail created by buffalo and the Indians.


According to Brown's account, Lord Fairfax, arriving in the Valley on horseback to inspect his lands for the first time in 1736, "descended Ashby's Gap via an old buffalo trail which turned south 'under the side of the mountain', and passed 'behind' or to the east of the Blue Ball...". The Blue Ball is a mountain, still illustrated today on PATC Map 8, located south of Route 50. However, without a doubt, we would be hard-pressed today to determine which road trace 'under the side of the mountain' is the progenitor of the 'old buffalo trail'!



Brown, Stuart E. Jr., Virginia Baron - The Story of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax
Gardner, William M., Lost Arrowheads and Broken Pottery - Traces of Indians in The Shenandoah Valley
Kemper, Charles E., Documents Relating to Early Projected Swiss Colonies in the Valley of Virginia, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXIX.

©Walt Smith

 - Walt Smith