Those Who Left Albemarle County and Where they Went
Migration has been a constant theme in American history and citizens of Albemarle County played their part. Local historical records are filled with residents who eventually moved westward in search of new opportunities. One useful reference is a list compiled in 1901 by Edgar Woods in his book “Albemarle County In Virginia” (available from the Internet Archive).
Woods offers this description of early migration away from central Virginia:
“The migratory spirit which characterized the early settlers, was rapidly developed at this period. Removals to other parts of the country had begun some years before the Revolution. The direction taken at first was towards the South. A numerous body of emigrants from Albemarle settled in North Carolina. After the war many emigrated to Georgia, but a far greater number hastened to fix their abodes on the fertile lands of the West, especially the blue grass region of Kentucky.”
He goes on to give this additional detail:
“For a time the practice was prevalent on the part of those expecting to change their domicile, of applying to the County Court for a formal recommendation of character, and certificates were given, declaring them to be honest men and good citizens.”
One great feature of books scanned by the Internet Archive is that they are OCR’d (meaning text in the books is extracted from the scanned pictures). With a little data cleaning and GIS magic we can take all the destination locations and put them on a map.
Here are all the people who left Albemarle and the locations where they resettled. Click a point to see the names of the people who moved to each location.
Some caveats should be stated. Obviously, this map is only as good as the underlying list compiled by Woods. It’s certainly not everyone who emigrated from Albemarle County. In most cases Woods provides a destination county, but in others he only lists a state. In those instances the map shows a single point representing the center of the state. Unfortunately the list does not include any dates so it’s impossible to do any time-based visualization. Spot checks of people on the list showed a date as early as 1786 and as late as 1887.
At first glance the map seems rather…small. Most of the destinations are concentrated in Kentucky and Tennessee and don’t extend beyond Missouri. However, plotting those locations on top of a map from 1822 (John Melish, from the David Rumsey Map Collection) provides some interesting context.
With this perspective it’s clear that the Albemarle emigrants pushed to the farthest edges of our growing country. This also shows how local history can be a gateway to understanding larger historical trends.