By Andrew Mackie Yadkin County Historical Society
March 20, 2014
The Shallow Ford on the Yadkin River near the village of Huntsville in southeastern Yadkin County has a long history. It was created many thousands of years ago by forces of nature only recently understood. Similar fords up and down the river, such as the ones connecting Jonesville and Elkin, Barney Hill and Rockford, Yellow Bank Ford at Donnaha may have been created at the same time. In addition a large creek enters the river just above these fords to keep the water moving swifter over the rocky bottom. This is one of the reasons that river fords are not deep. Deep Creek is the one that empties above the Shallow Ford.
Migrating animals, such as deer and buffalo, discovered the fords, which the First Americans (Indians) utilized for 10,000 years. They constructed rock dams in the river to catch the fish easier. One is located just below the Ford. After 1740 most of the Indians left the area and the first Europeans and Africans began crossing the Ford.
With the arrival of European explorers, hunters and trappers, came the first pioneers, who used the crossing for the next 250 years. This is one of the reasons that the Shallow Ford has national significance. It was part of the Westward Movement of the United States.
From about 1800 to about 1900, stage coaches crossed the Ford between Salem and Statesville. From about 1870 to about 1920, farmers drove wagons loaded with tobacco across the Ford to sell at Winston-Salem markets. As recently as the 1940s, farmers drove teams of horses across the Ford to work fields on the other side of the river.
Until about 1920, when the first bridge was constructed, even automobiles crossed the river. Today the second Huntsville bridge spans the river. Most drivers don’t give crossing the river a second thought.
In 1748, several large families crossed the Shallow Ford in search of new land to farm. Enslaved laborers worked the fertile bottoms of the river and creeks. They included Edward Hughes, Morgan Bryan Sr., George Forbush, Samuel Davis, Abraham Creson and William Linville. Bryan owned the most land, so the Shallow Ford Community was known as the Bryan Settlement.
Since some of these families brought enslaved labor with them, the first People of Color arrived in the Yadkin Valley at the same time as the first Europeans.
In the spring of 1752, Squire Boone crossed the Shallow Ford with his family, which included Daniel Boone, then 17 years old. Squire brought his family south from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road, now Route 11, through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. His family was one of many, some of which brought enslaved laborers into the Yadkin Valley.
Ministers from the Moravian Church in Salem crossed at the Ford to visit families in the Yadkin Valley to conduct services, baptize new members, and preside over belated funerals. They recorded their visits in their diaries, which are now published.
Baptist ministers Shubal Stearns, Joseph Murphy and his brother came, too. They held revivals and baptized new Baptists, who established several Baptist Churches in the area, including Shallow Ford Baptist Church, exact location now lost, Joseph Murphy’s Meeting House in 1758, and Dutchman’s Creek Baptist Church, now Eaton’s Baptist Church, Bear Creek.
At least three military engagements occurred at the Shallow Ford. These events add to the Ford’s national value as an historic site.
On Oct. 14, 1780, about 400 British Loyalists crossed the Shallow Ford to travel to Charlotte to join the army of Lord Cornwallis, but an army of American Patriots surprised them with a battle near the Big Poplar Tree. As a result, Loyalist activity waned.
Coming just a week after the Battle of Kings Mountain, considered to be the turning point of the American Revolution, the Battle of Shallow Ford reduced the influence of Loyalists in the Yadkin Valley.
On Feb. 9, 1781, Lord Cornwallis brought his army across the Shallow Ford in pursuit of American General Nathaniel Greene, who crossed the river downstream at the Trading Ford. Several Patriots engaged the rear guard of the British Army. This event was listed as the Battle of Shallow Ford, until more research revealed the 1780 battle to be the real one.
On March 15, 1781, the armies of Cornwallis and Greene met at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which Cornwallis won at great cost to his army. Before the year ended, he surrendered his army to American General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.
In 1792, Charles Hunt, a real-estate developer, established the town of Huntsville, which was ideally located for business, which flourished for the next 100 years. From Forsyth County, three main roads ran to the Ford, the Great Wagon Road, the Cape Fear Road to Fayetteville, and the road to Salem. In Huntsville, five main roads intersected, the Great Wagon Road, also known as the Georgia Road, the Irish Ford Road, now Farmington Road, which ran to the Irish Settlement at Salisbury, the Island Ford Road or Sherrill’s Path, which connected the Yadkin River with the Catawba River, and the Mulberry Fields Road, which connected Salem with Mulberry Fields, now Wilkesboro and points West. These roads were the routes to the during the Westward Movement of the United States. Traces of these roads can be found today.
In April 1865, during the American Civil War, Union General George Stoneman crossed the Shallow Ford on his way to Salisbury to free Union prisoners. His army included 4,000 mounted troops. A few Confederate soldiers fired a few shots at the approaching army, then left the scene. After crossing the river, Stoneman’s Raiders passed through Huntsville and burned down the Red Store, an important commercial business, and made themselves at home at the Bitting Plantation.
Since the Civil War, someone operated a mill at the Shallow Ford. During World War II, metal machinery from this mill was sold for scrap.
Following two famous trips down the Yadkin River, one by the Rev. Douglas Rights in 1930s and the other by Bob Pate in the 1980s, recreational use of the river increased. The river boat access at the Huntsville bridge is named for Pate, who promoted recreational use of the river. Every June, the Yadkin Riverkeeper sponsors a boat trip called Tour de Yadkin from Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in Wilkesboro to Winyah Bay, South Carolina, a distance of 400 miles.
From the time of the First Americans, the river has been a source of food, since shad and long-nosed gar swam upstream to spawn. Turtles and catfish are still caught for food. Water fowl are common too, such as wood ducks, egrets, herons, and the bald eagle, recently sited on the island at the Shallow Ford.
However, the river can be an unforgiving place. Human drownings have been too common and rescue crews pull too many people from the river.