About 1740, Major Abraham Wood led a surveying party west into the Virginia wilderness. They discovered a previously unknown river that flowed north. They named this the Wood River, but the name was later changed to the New River. Another early explorer to the present-day Ashe County area was Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg, a Moravian leader on a search for a new home for the group. He arrived in 1752. The settlement was later built in Winston-Salem. Settlers began to settle the area around 1770.
Due to boundary changes and formation of counties, Ashe County had at one time been part of Anson County, Rowan County in 1753, Surry County in 1771 and Wilkes County in 1777. The area had also been claimed by both North Carolina and the State of Franklin. Alleghany County and Watauga County were formed from Ashe County.
Grayson County, VA on the north, Alleghany County on the east, Wilkes County to the southeast, Watauga County to the southwest and Johnson County, TN on the west.