THE TRIP TO KENTUCKY
THERE were two routes open to the Lewises for the trip west, both of which were in general use in 1807. One choice would have been to go southwest from Albemarle, following the valleys of the Allegheny Mountains to the southwest tip of Virginia, and then cross over the mountains into Kentucky at the Cumberland Gap or one of the other mountain passes. From there, the Wilderness Road led northwest into central Kentucky, where it connected with other trails going further west.1 These so-called roads and trails were appallingly bad, in many places being little more than a blazed footpath or, where “improved,” they were obstructed by stumps and rocks that had not been cleared away. There were no bridges. The streams were crossed by fords, and the rivers by primitive ferries. Paving of any sort, even gravel, was nonexistent, and the surface of the road, which in dry weather was ankle-deep in dust, became a river of mud when rain fell. The best time to depart on this route was early or midsummer, and the worst possible time to start would have been early winter, the time the Lewises chose to leave Albemarle.
The other choice open to the Lewis family was to make the trip by boat down the Ohio River. The roads leading from Albemarle north and then west to Pittsburgh were bad enough, but at least they were superior to those over the mountains and into Kentucky. By this river route it would be a trip of nearly 1,180 miles, 160 miles overland to Pittsburgh and 920 miles by river to the mouth of the Cumberland River in Kentucky. Travelers using the river route to the west usually scheduled their trip so that their boats would reach the falls, or rapids, at Louisville, during the months when the water level was high, and they could float over the falls in comparative safety.2 Usually the water was high from late fall through the spring, and was lowest during the summer and early fall.
The removal of the Lewises from Albemarle on November 20 would have enabled them to reach their departure point on the river by wagon, embark on their flatboat, and float down the Ohio in time to clear the falls on the crest of the winter and spring rise. This same high water would have lessened the