The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Pilgrims

By Max S. Thomas © 1984

Issue: January, 1984

Young Georgie Radford had just buried his father on the last day of February 1775. His mother had died five years earlier. Today he was busy sorting out the few possessions he could carry westward to the crest of the Blue Ridge, that wild and unknown land. The rifle and butcher knife were his own and so was the dugout he called his canoe. Besides these, he possessed an ax, two mattocks, a small iron kettle, teakettle, a quantity of powder, some lead for his mold and a few other odds and ends. The whole lot packed in a piece of sail cloth weighed not over 50 pounds. To the lot, he added some seeds such as corn, beans and tobacco.

The land and house, the horse and cows, and Mose, the sixteen year old slave, were already the property of another. Georgie’s father had been sickly after his wife died and all he owned was mortgaged. There was one possession the creditors knew nothing about. For his services in Washington’s army a decade ago in the French and Indian Wars, the father had been given a land grant.

The land grant was recorded on a strip of deerskin. It stated that 500 acres of land was his, located on the southerly slope beginning at the crest of the Blue Ridge. The boundary was in the form of a square and the south boundary was 36 degrees and twenty minutes latitude. Could Georgie ever locate this land if he reached it? He had a metal yardstick in his pack. If he could only reach the land at the spring equinox, he thought he could determine the right latitude by comparing the vertical yardstick with its shortest shadow. All the winter, Georgie had thought about locating his land and he was now sure he knew how to do it.

At sunrise Georgie put his pitiful possessions in his canoe and started up the Dan River. A strong southeast wind was blowing his small sail and, by rowing a little, he was sure he was making three miles an hour upstream. If only the wind held steady for a week, he hoped to reach the unexplored headwaters of the Smith River. He could have made better time walking, but only a wild animal could get through the weeds and rough grass. Georgie knew that if he followed the higher wooded areas he would become lost.

All that day Georgie thought of Mose. He remembered that day last fall when he had first seen Mose at a nearby plantation. He saw the blood streaming from the back of the young black as his master laid a rawhide on his back. Georgie had offered the man only $50.00 for Mose. During the winter, a brotherhood had developed between Georgie and Mose. Georgie wished Mose was with him now.

At sunset Georgie made a campfire to cook several large fish he had caught by his trailing lines. All the afternoon he thought he heard baying hounds in the distance but dismissed this because he was now thirty miles from home and far from either human or dog.

As he was about to eat his supper, he heard a mighty splashing downstream. Georgie walked a little way in the direction of the sound and soon Mose came in sight, astride a log and pushing himself with a pole. A mighty shout went up from both as they saw each other. The powerful young black had made nearly as much speed as Georgie had. Now, he was a runaway. Soon both boys were talking and laughing as they ate the fish. Georgie had regretted that he had not brought along another rifle, hoe and ax.

They took a nap. The full moon made the river light as day and they rowed far into the night. This they did for two weeks.

At the headwaters, they had to leave the boat and walk beside the Smith River. While one carried the pack, the other broke trail. In the dense undergrowth they could only make a mile an hour. In three days, they came to a small meadow and there they rested. Because everything was so peaceful, they named the place Charity. The next day they came to a waterfall they called White Falls because of the white mica in the rocks. It was here that Mose found a piece of graphite. George began to fear he would not reach his land by the twenty-first of March.

It was sundown the next day when they came to a fork in the stream. The whole place was covered with milkweed pods, which Mose called cotton. They decided to name the place In De Cotton, but what George really wrote with his graphite on a large rock was Endicott. The stream was called The Creek or Runnet Bag because they lost a little powder because of a hole in the bag where the powder ran out.

Another day saw them taking a north branch of the creek. Here turkeys were so numerous that the stream was named Turkey Branch. The crest of the Blue Ridge could now be seen, but the going was so rough it was three days before the summit was reached. The knob on the left they called Walnut Knob and the hogback ridge on the right Mose called Georgie Ridge. They had reached the crest of the mountain with three days to spare.

For the rest of the story about Georgie Radford and Mose and their life on top of the mountain as well as other early settlers, read the book, Walnut Knob - A Story Of Mountain Life And My Heritage In Song by Max S. Thomas.

About The Author - Max S. Thomas

Max Thomas was nine years old when he read his first novel. It was a serial, spread out in several issues of “The Toledo Blade” newspaper, and the story was, “The Mystery of the Silver Dagger.” He said his mother read the first couple of episodes out loud and by that time he was so interested, he struggled through and read the rest himself. He said, “That was some reading to cut your teeth on!”

Mr. Thomas is now 75 years young and still living in the same area, Walnut Knob. Through the years he continued his education, becoming a teacher. He taught for 29 years and retired in 1971. His career began in a one room school with slab log benches instead of desks. The blackboard was only one end of the room painted black. This was the school first called Mountain View and later, Barton Spur. It was an ungraded school with students studying at their own pace. As they finished one book, they were “promoted” to another. Two of the books he taught beginning students from in those days were the “Blue Back Speller” and the “Will and Nell Primer.”

At that time he had gone to a mission school for four years and two years at William and Mary. He had a special certificate to teach. It was a temporary permit and didn’t pay as much as a fully accredited teacher. He then went to Roanoke College where he graduated and received a “collegiate professional certificate” from V.P.I. He took extra courses from Radford and home studied to receive certification to teach physics, science, chemistry and biology, among other things. The last years as an educator were spent teaching these subjects at Floyd County High School.

In 1977 he published a book, “Walnut Knob - A Story Of Mountain Life And My Heritage In Song.” It weaves the history of this area together with old stories and tales handed down for generations. Some stories have been changed slightly and combined to disguise the original characters.

The part of the book we are printing is about the area our BACKROADS Tour travels this month. It tells of the very beginnings of civilization in this area. You might want to read this book before you take the BACKROADS Tour. This book is available by mail order from Mayberry Trading Post, Route 2, Meadows of Dan, Virginia 24120 for $4.95 plus $1.50 for shipping and handling.