Before the Revolutionary War the population in North Carolina was expanding. Expansion was not limited to the Cape Fear region. Migration from three directions increased the population of the back country, and other precincts--henceforth designated counties--were formed by mid-century (by 1750): Onslow, Edgecombe, Northampton, Granville, Johnston, Anson, and Duplin. For an animated map that shows the development of North Carolina's counties go to: County Development Map. By the early 1730s land along some of the western streams had also been granted to speculators.
The most dramatic influx of people was from the north, particularly from Pennsylvania via the Great Wagon Road, the name given to a series of heavily used trails through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the Carolina Piedmont. As early as the 1730s Ulster Scots--that is, Scots who had lived for a time in northern Ireland--began making their way southward from Pennsylvania, and their numbers increased in the following decades. Descendants of German families used the same route to locate good lands in the Piedmont, particularly along the Yadkin River. By the end of Colonial Governor Arthur Dobbs's term (1764), North Carolina's estimated population of 130,000 was scattered as far as the Blue Ridge.
For early North Carolina settlers pushing west, Indians were a problem. In the western Piedmont, the Catawbas numbered about three hundred fighting men in 1761, but they were forced into a reservation just over the boundary in South Carolina. The Cherokees in the mountains posed a more formidable problem. Noting in 1758 that the Cherokees had allied themselves with the French against the British, Governor Dobbs chastened the colonists for "their visible Neglect of the original native Inhabitants, by neither attempting to civilize, nor convert them to our holy Religion," and proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer for victory in the war with the French and Indians.
Two years later, Colonel James Grant led British and South Carolina forces to victory over the Cherokees near present-day Franklin, and the parties signed a peace treaty in 1761. The king issued a proclamation prohibiting white settlement of lands beyond the crest of the mountains (Blue Ridge), but it was not until 1767 that Governor Tryon himself participated in a survey of the Indian boundary and proclaimed that whites who crossed the line would "not only expose their Families and Effects to the Depredations of the Indians, but also deprive themselves of the Protection of this Government." In the turmoil of the next few years [decades], whites conveniently ignored the proclamation. "Manifest destiny" was already a part of the European settlement of North Carolina.
The young state of North Carolina faced a problem on its frontier created by white encroachment on Indian land. This was further compounded by the presence of traders, Indian agents, and missionaries. After suffering a crippling defeat by American forces in the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee Indians were confined by treaties to a small area in the southern Appalachians. With reduced hunting grounds, the Indians began to change their life-style by living a more settled life on small farms. Traders and Indian agents helped to introduce them to many of the comforts enjoyed by whites. The legislature abandoned the directive of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 prohibiting settlement beyond the crest of the Blue Ridge--leading to bloodshed on both sides. In 1776 John ("One Eye") Davidson was killed west of the Cherokee boundary determined by Governor Tryon in 1767; and when, in the fall of the next year, pioneer settler Samuel Davidson constructed a cabin at the foot of Jones Mountain near the Swannanoa River, the Cherokees promptly murdered him.
Source: North Carolina Through Four Centuries, William S. Powell (1989) at 239.
However, it was not until after the Revolutionary War that whites became serious about establishing settlements west of the Blue Ridge. For the sad tale of one attempt in 1784 see Death of Samuel Davidson.
Recall that during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War (1760s and early 1770s), Hillsborough in Orange County was considered part of the "backcountry." The region further west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains was the "frontier." The colonial governors of North Carolina during this period were Tryon and Martin.
Near the close of the summer of 1776, he raised and commanded an army of two thousand four hundred men against the Cherokee Indians. After being reinforced by the Guilford Regiment, under Colonel James Martin, and by the Surry Regiment under Colonel Martin Armstrong, at Fort McGahey, General Rutherford crossed the" Blue Ridge," or Alleghany mountains, at Swannanoa Gap, near the western base of which the beautiful Swannanoa river (" nymph of beauty") takes its rise. After reaching the French Broad he passed down and over that stream at a crossing-place which to this day bears the name of the " War Ford." He then passed up the valley of "Hominy Creek," leaving Pisgah Mountain on the left, and crossed Pigeon River a little below the mouth of East Fork. He then passed through the mountains to Richland Creek, above the present town of Waynesville; ascended the creek and crossed the Tuckaseegee River at Indian town. Pursuing his course, he crossed the Cowee Mountain, where he had a small engagement with the enemy, in which one of his men was wounded. As the Indians carried off their dead and wounded, their losses could not be ascertained. Thence he marched to the " Middle Towns," on the Tennessee river, where, on the 14th of September, he met General Williamson with troops from South Carolina on the same mission of subduing the Indians.
In skirmishes at Valley town, Ellajay, and near Franklin, General Rutherford lost three men, but he completely subdued the Indians. He then returned home by the same route, since known as" Rutherford's Trace." The Rev. James Hall, of Iredell county, accompanied this expedition as chaplain.
The uniforms of the officers and men was a hunting shirt of domestic, trimmed with cotton: their arms were rifles. and none knew better how to use them. Many of the hardy sons of the west there experienced their first essay in arms, and their bravery was nobly maintained afterward at King's Mountain, the Cowpens, and elsewhere in the South.
Griffith Rutherford was a resident of Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1748 and 1749. He lived as a close neighbor to his cousin James Rutherford and James' son William. In 1751 his name appears on a deed transfer of one acre of land for a cemetery. At this time, he was associated with William Weakley of Lunenburg County, VA., having witnessed his will on September 23, 1752. Griffith later came to North Carolina influenced by the good climate, soil and relative peacefulness of the Catawba Indians. Another factor which encouraged his migration to North Carolina was the laxity of North Carolina laws in comparison with those of Virginia on the subject of religion. In this way, Griffith and other Scots-Irish passed through the vacant lands in Virginia and made homes for themselves in western North Carolina. As early as 1740, a few families were already located on the Hico, Eno, and Haw rivers in the territory just east of Rowan.
By the year 1745, the Scots-Irish had established themselves in the fertile and well-watered area between the Yadkin and the Catawba. Previous to 1750 their settlements were scattered throughout the region from Virginia to Georgia. The Scots-Irish settled mainly in the country west of the Yadkin. Among these emigrants were Griffith's near kin and friends; the Nesbits, Davidsons, Moores and Rutherfords all originally from the Roxburghshire area of Scotland. Griffith Rutherford married Mary Elizabeth Graham in 1754 in Rowan Co., North Carolina. One of Griffiths daughters, Jane, married Capt. James Cathey, the son of John Cathey and Elizabeth Pickney. His daughter Blanche married Francis Locke of Rowan Co NC. The Grahams and Catheys were kinsman long before they made it to Rowan Co. Another close relative was Capt. William Moore, the "first white man to settle west of the Blue Ridge". Capt. Moore was with his brother-in-law, Griffith Rutherford, when that officer came through Buncombe in 1776 on his way to punish the Cherokees. He was a captain in one of Rutherford's companies. He, along with Griffith, had to leave his new home in North Carolina for the Revolutionary War, in which both served gallantly.
The following is from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical, C. L. Hunter (1877) at 328:
"At the commencement of the Revolutionary war the territory now lying on and near the eastern base of the Blue Ridge chain of mountains, constituted the borders of civilization, and suffered frequently from marauding bands of Cherokee Indians, the great scourge of Western North Carolina. The whole country west of Tryon county (afterward Lincoln) was sparsely settled with the families of adventurous individuals, who, confronting all dangers, had carved out homes in the mountains and raised up hardy sons, deeply imbued with the spirit of liberty, prepared to go forth, at a moment's warning, to fight the battles of their country."
North Carolina Illustrated, 1524-1984, H. G. Jones (1983).
General Griffith Rutherford, Gary Rutherford Harding (2004).
Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical, C. L. Hunter (1877).