Big changes have come to — all content is now read-only, and member subscriptions and the Shop have been discontinued.
Learn more

Chat | Daily Search | My GenForum | Community Standards | Terms of Service
Jump to Forum
Home: Regional: U.S. States: Virginia: Bedford County

Post FollowupReturn to Message ListingsPrint Message

Posted by: Vicki Date: May 10, 2001 at 06:05:03
  of 1955

Found the following information on Virginia

This certainly is not -- nor is it intended to be -- a
scholarly work. Rather, it's a lay-person effort intended
merely to set out broadly those socio-politico-economic
factors which,together with geography, were the major
elements in establishing the principal migration routes and
periods within and through Colonial Virginia. It's
intended primarily for those who -- like me -- did not grow
up in Virginia and for those who -- like me -- only found a
need to have a working knowledge of Colonial Virginia upon
discovering that one (or more) of their ancestors _was_ a
Colonial Virginian.
At least two words in that "preamble" need emphasis:
broadly and principal. Hundreds of books, thousands of
theses, and countless articles have been written detailing
each of the elements which drove the settlement of
Virginia; this will only touch upon the highlights. By
being broad, it no doubt will omit many elements which
some/all of you deem significant; I'll stipulate to that in
advance. Moreover, it will only address the _principal_
routes/ movements of settlement. Each of you, I'm certain,
could point to one or more of your ancestors who moved into
or through Virginia by one of many other routes; I hope you
will do so. In short, this will be filled with omissions,
by design; I'll simply try to avoid the "sins of
You will need a reasonably good map of Virginia -- one
that at least shows the current counties and major rivers;
virtually any common road map or atlas will suffice. If
you're _really_ serious,you might want to spring for a copy
of the "Virginia Atlas and Gazeteer" by DeLorme Mapping
Co., on sale (ca. $17) at better bookstores.
* * * * *
A brief, Virginia-unique, glossary:
"The Peninsula"; "The Middle Neck"; "The Northern Neck":
Glance at a VA map and you'll notice three distinct
peninsulas from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, northward.
The southernmost -- lying between the James and York Rivers
and as far up as Charles City and New Kent Cos. -- is known
to Virginians simply as "The Peninsula," just as UVA is
known simply as "The University." The other two are never
referred to as peninsulas, but as "necks" -- as in a "neck
of land." The Middle Neck lies between the York/Pamunkey
and Rappahannock Rivers -- as far up as the eastern
boundaries of Caroline and Spotsylvania Cos.; and the
Northern Neck lies between the Rappahannock and Potomac
Rivers as far up as the lower boundary of Stafford Co.
"Tidewater": As the name implies, this is the portion
of rivers -- and adjacent land --which is affected by
tides; in other words, all territory up to the fall line.
Many Virginians speak of such areas north of the James
River as "Upper Tidewater" and those south of the James as
"Lower Tidewater."
"Southside": This area is a bit more nebulous and
may well depend on who's using the term. Historically, it
was used to describe essentially that area bounded on the
south by North Carolina; on the west by the Blue Ridge; on
the east by Dinwiddie and Brunswick Cos.; and on the north
by the Nottoway River extended to the upper Appomattox
River. Many in Nottoway Co. and even Amelia Co., however,
think of themselves as "Southsiders."

"The Valley": the Shenandoah Valley [see "The Peninsula"
and "The University"].
"Eastern Shore": that part of Virginia on the eastern side
of the Chesapeake Bay --consisting of Accomac and
Northampton Cos. -- and comprising the VA portion of the
Delmarva Peninsula.
"Upper" and "Lower" anything: From the earliest days,
Virginians used these terms in a directional sense to mean
"upstream" and "downstream," and by and large the terms
have held on to modern times. Do not confuse them with
compass directions. For example: the "upper Valley" is
southernmost, and the "lower Valley" is northernmost; this
is because the Shenandoah River flows south to north.
* * * * *
As is generally well-known, the settlement at Jamestown
_was_ Virginia for the first few years. In 1611 a small
settlement was made as far up the north bank of the James
River as opposite the mouth of the Appomattox River. In
succeeding years, small enclaves were established on the
south side of the lower James River, on the northern end of
The Peninsula at the mouth of the York River (then known as
Charles River), and across the Chesapeake Bay on the
Eastern Shore. By 1634, the population of the colony was
slightly less than 5,000, almost all of whom -- except
those on the Eastern Shore -- still lived within about a
30-mile radius of Jamestown. In 1634, the colony was
divided into eight "shires," or counties, to facilitate
administration. These were:
JAMES CITY } all on The Peninsula
WARROSQUOAKE on the south side of the mouth
of the James River
ACCOMACK on the Eastern Shore

From a sociological standpoint it's well to note that
with a very few exceptions the colonists to this point were
exclusively English and middle-class (yeomen, artisans,
craftsmen, soldiers),with a significant number of them in
some form of indentured servitude. The colony was still
a little too rustic and dangerous to attract English
"gentry." A word or two of explanation about indentures may
be in order, here. It's been said that perhaps no more
than 10% of colonists paid their own way to come to VA, with
the remainder arriving indebted to someone for their
passage. Consequently, they could be termed "indentured
persons," in the sense that they were obligated to repay
their passage. The types of indentures varied widely: For
some, it meant indentured servitude, working directly in
the service of another for an agreed-upon period of time --
usually 5-7 years -- with the "employer" providing food,
clothing and shelter; these folks often were called
"servants" but more accurately were laborers of various
types. For others, it was simply a monetary debt that they
were obligated to repay, with interest, within an agreed
time -- essentially a short-term loan. In a few cases, it
was some combination of the two.

The ink was hardly dry on establishing and naming the
original "shires" before changes began to occur. In 1636,
the name WARROSQUOAKE was changed (thankfully!) to NEW
NORFOLK; the following year (1637), it too ceased to exist
and its territory was divided into:
LOWER NORFOLK -- nearest the mouth of James River
UPPER NORFOLK -- farther inland and southward
ISLE OF WIGHT -- a little farther westward on the
south bank of the James. About this same time, an
enclave had been established on the end of the Northern
Neck. That became the shire of CHICKACOAN.
In 1642 came another series of wholesale name changes,
beginning with dropping "shires" in favor of counties; also:
WARWICK RIVER was renamed simply WARWICK
The same year brought the first of several truly
influential Royal Governors: Sir William Berkeley.
* * * * *
The first two years of Governor Berekely's tenure
witnessed two major Indian raids. Although these produced
considerable casualties among the colonists, Berkeley
subdued both, and the ensuing treaty set the stage for a
major period of expansion. Until this time, the colonists
had not penetrated very far westward, not even to the "fall
line" -- or head of navigation -- on the principal rivers.
This is a line running from the present cities of
Fredericksburg (on theRappahannock) to Richmond (on the
James) to Petersburg (on the Appomattox). On the
Rappahannock, in fact, settlement was still well below the
fall line; and farther north, on the Potomac -- where the
falls are just above present-day Washington, DC --
settlement had only extended about mid-way up the river.
In the south, settlement had extended along the coast, but
very little inland from the south bank of the James.
Overall, this situation was as much a factor of
transportation as anything. In those days, virtually
everything -- goods and folks -- moved by water; hence it
was thought not only impractical but also not very smart to
move above the fall line while decent land was available
below. It was beginning to get a little crowded, though,
so incoming settlers -- and land speculators -- therefore
turned their attention northward.
Of 9 new counties formed in the period 1642-1676, 7
were north of the James River -- i.e, in Upper Tidewater:
GLOUCESTER was formed from YORK in 1651.
in 1651 -- the latter being the new name of CHICKACOAN as
of 1648.
WESTMORELAND was formed from NORTHUMBERLAND in 1653.
NEW KENT was formed from YORK in 1654.
RAPPAHANNOCK was formed from YORK and LANCASTER in
1656. [N.B. This is NOT the same as present-day
Rappahannock Co. -- see later.]
STAFFORD was formed from WESTMORELAND in 1664.
MIDDLESEX was formed from LANCASTER in 1673.
The other two new counties in this period were:
ACCOMACK -- re-established from a portion of
SURRY -- formed in 1652 from that portion of JAMES
CITY CO. on the south side of James River.
The establishment of Surry was as much a political
move as a major inland incursion on the south side of James
River. Although growth in population on the south bank
had patented more than 10 miles inland from the river.

It also was about this time that exploration up to and
beyond the fall line began in earnest --in some cases well
beyond the fall line. For example, in 1654 a man named
Abraham Wood explored as far as the New River in southwest
Virginia. This exploration marked the beginning of trade
with distant Indian tribes and fostered early interest in
southwest Virginia and western Carolina.
This also was the period which saw the beginnings of
English "gentry" immigration, owing in no small measure to
the outbreak of the English Civil War. For example: the
first of the Carters, Lees, and Randolphs came in the 1640s,
followed soon after by the first William Byrd and the first
of the Harrisons, Pages, Wormeleys, Burwells, Masons,
Beverleys, Carys, Nelsons, Digges, etc. -- almost all of
whom were Royalist sympathizers, or Cavaliers, and families
which would have a major impact on the socio-political life
of Colonial Virginia. They, of course, did not start
the "patent" system of land acquisition, but they had
the wherewithal to turn it into a profitable business
enterprise. Each colonist who paid for a passage to VA was
entitled to 50 acres of land for each passage paid. If
someone else paid your passage, he who paid gained the
right to the land. These well-to-do but johnny-come-
latelys would pay for entire shiploads of folks and thereby
acquire "headrights" to property. These headrights in
fact, having intrinsic value, became a medium of currency
and were traded like commodities and used to settle debts.
Other than the influx of Cavaliers, the English Civil
War had little practical effect on Virginia. When King
Charles was beheaded in 1649, Oliver Cromwell -- leader of
the Parliamentary forces -- sent a delegation to Virginia
and a "modus vivendi" was arranged. Berkeley stepped down,
but remained in the colony; he was succeeded, in turn, by
three "roundhead" governors selected by Parliament from
among the colonists of that persuasion. Otherwise, it was
pretty much business as usual. With the Restoration in
1660, however, two things happened which had major
consequences for Virginia:
-- While in exile, the future King Charles II had
incurred considerable debts. In one case, he paid off a
debt to a group headed by Lord Fairfax by granting them all
lands between the Rapphannock and Potomac Rivers -- never
mind that a considerable amount of that land already had
been settled and patented to hundreds of others. Suddenly,
those who thought they had acquired the land found that
they were only renters. This, together with later
uncertainties concerning ownership/title, significantly
slowed settlement in far-northern Virginia, and some who
already had settled there moved southward to areas below
the Rappahannock as a consequence.
-- The other matters were economic. To rebuild
the English economy and thereby its strength, the King and
Parliament decided that all goods entering and leaving
Virginia had to be transported on English ships; moreover,
Virginia goods could only be sold in England or to English
merchants. This monopolistic practice -- coupled with some
excellent harvests and overproduction of tobacco -- led to
significantly lower prices. As tobacco was the standard
medium of exchange, this was the equivalent of a currency
devaluation for Virginians. Not altogether coincidentally,
it was at about this time that Virginia legalized slavery.
It became apparent that profit from tobacco could only be
achieved through economy of scale; i.e., large plantations
could be profitable, but smaller farms could not. [It's
essentially what has become of American farming in the last
half of this century.] This -- coupled with some other
policies by the Crown -- together with a renewal of Indian
depredations, set the stage both for the explosive growth
of slavery and for the "First American Revolution," also
known as Bacon's Rebellion, in 1676.
* * * * *
Any good encyclopedia provides sufficient coverage of
Bacon's Rebellion. Albeit short-lived, suffice it here to
say that the instability it created, together with the
economic downturn, helped to bring about a 15-year period of
virtual stagnation in the colony, in terms of expansion.
Immigration nose-dived, in some measure due both to
uncertainties concerning Royal succession in England and
the fact that in 1673 King Charles -- to pay off some other
debts -- had simply given the colony to two cronies:
Thomas Lord Culpeper and Henry Bennett, Earl of Arlington;
all but the Northern Neck, of course, which he'd already
given to Lord Fairfax. By 1681, Culpeper had bought out
Arlington's share and then later traded his rights to the
colony back to the Crown in return for a 21-year annuity
derived from Virginia taxes. So, Virginia resumed being a
Royal colony, but the damage had been done vis-a-vis
immigration. No new counties were created in this period,
and it was a time of consolidation and retrenchment within
existing boundaries.
* * * * *
Sparked in part by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in
England -- the coming of King William and Queen Mary -- the
colony began to rebound in the late 1680s; the price of
tobacco began to rise and immigration again picked up. In
this period, six new counties were formed:
LOWER NORFOLK ceased to exist in 1691, with a
portion cut off to form PRINCESS ANNE and the remainder
becoming simply NORFOLK.
KING & QUEEN was formed from NEW KENT in 1691,
drawing largely from Gloucester and elsewhere in the Middle
ESSEX and RICHMOND were formed in 1692 -- on
either side of the Rappahannock River -- replacing
RAPPAHANNOCK. Like their predecessor county, Essex and
Richmond drew heavily from the lower counties on both
sides of the river. [N.B. In 1833 the name Rappahannock
was resurrected and given to a county well to the west; the
two have no connection whatever.]
KING WILLIAM was formed in 1702 from KING &
QUEEN and drew principally from New Kent and York. Note
that of these the bulk was once again in Upper Tidewater.

The only new county south ofthe James River in this period
was PRINCE GEORGE -- formed in 1703 from that
part of CHARLES CITY CO. lying south of the James River.
It's well to notice that the adjacent area to the south of
Prince George, Surry, had achieved separate county status
fully 50 years earlier. This is a testament to the fact
that the overwhelming growth in that time had been well to
the north. Part of the problem south of the James was a
treaty between the Crown and the Indians which -- from the
standpoint of settlement had long established the
Blackwater River/Swamp as the "de facto" southern boundary
of the whole colony. At the time of its founding, Prince
George encompassed all of Virginia south of the Appomattox
River and west of what is now the western boundary of Surry
and Sussex Cos. The colonists perceived the establishment
of Prince George as a harbinger that the Blackwater
boundary restriction was about to be lifted. Yet, despite
agitation by the colonists -- some of whom went ahead and
had tracts surveyed and submitted applications for patents
below the Blackwater -- the Crown technically upheld the
treaty until about 1710.

A significant event in this period was the arrival --
by invitation of King William -- of a large contingent of
French Protestants (Huguenots) in 1700-1701. They were
given a large tract along the James River, just above the
falls in western Henrico Co. Other Huguenots came on their
own and settled elsewhere in Upper Tidewater, principally
along the York River in Gloucester, King & Queen, King
William and New Kent. The total number to come initially
has been estimated to have been about 1,000. Although
almost a century had elapsed since the colony's founding,
this event marked the first significant influx of folks who
were non-English. Another event in this period was the
recording of Quit-Rents paid on properties in 1704.
[Actually, a similar event occurred at other times, but the
significance of the 1704 Quit-Rent Roll is that it alone has
survived.] It constituted the nearest thing to a "census"
since the earliest days of the colony -- although it of
course named only those holding property. The Roll for
each county then in existence is available -- less those
counties in the Northern Neck, of course, since their rents
were paid to Lord Fairfax rather than the Crown.
* * * * *
This 17-year period presents a mixed-picture of events
in Virginia. It was dominated by the presence, as Governor,
of Alexander Spotswood from 1710 to 1722. On the one hand,
Spotswood was as aristocratic as any of his predecessors
and made no secret of the fact that he had little/no use
for the ordinary citizens -- the "vulgar people" or "meaner
sort," as he termed them. Some say that his views in that
regard were a major factor resulting in the establishment
of _NO_ new counties until the last year of his tenure; no
new counties meant no growth in the size of the
legislature, which was fine with Gov. Spotswood.
Conversely, he was a career military officer, much in favor
of exploration and expansion -- if for no reason other than
to extend the defensive perimeter of the colony, with an
eye toward both the Indians and the French. Initially,
though, he spent much of his time and effort in developing
Williamsburg -- and its trappings -- which not too many
years earlier had become the Capital of Virginia.

Spotswood was instrumental in removing the Blackwater River
as a barrier to southward expansion below the James River,
creating a boom in patents and other land transactions in
the period 1710-22. Most of those involved already were
living in Surry and Prince George Cos., but a goodly number
also came southward from The Pensinsula counties of
Elizabeth City, Warwick, James City, York, and Charles
City. This also had a salutary effect on expansion
southward by residents of Isle of Wight and Nansemond Cos.,
"reinforced" by folks from Norfolk and Princess Anne Cos.
Now the "obstacle" to southern migration became the
boundary with Carolina which, at this point, was as vague
on paper as it always has been on the ground. While a few
Virginians continued to migrate to Carolina, most were then
content to stay in Virginia -- IF they could determine
where Virginia ended and Carolina began and be reassured
that it was likely to remain that way. Spotswood also
was keen on exploiting Virginia's natural resources,
particularly mineral deposits, and invited a large
contingent of miners and those familiar with ore-processing
from Germany and Switzerland. They were settled just above
the confluence of the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers, in
an area which became known as the "Germanna Settlement" (or

Spotswood perhaps is best known for having personally
led a group of "Gentlemen" in an exploratory trip to the
crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716. While they were
far from the first white men to lay eyes on the Shenandoah
Valley and the Allegheny Mountains beyond, they _were_ the
first white men to do so _and_ be in a position to do
something besides enjoy the spectacular vistas. Spotswood
clearly recognized the value of the Blue Ridge as a natural
defensive barrier and promptly set in motion a series of
policies designed to encourage and expedite westward
settlement. As mentioned earlier, at the end of
Spotswood's tenure, several new counties were created:
KING GEORGE was formed in 1721 from RICHMOND and
WESTMORELAND, and drew principally from settlers already
present in the Northern Neck, but also from across the
Potomac River in Maryland.
HANOVER was formed in 1721 from NEW KENT and drew
heavily from both The Peninsula and the Middle Neck.
SPOTSYLVANIA was formed in 1721 principally from
ESSEX and also drew heavily from the Northern Neck, as well
as from elsewhere in the Middle Neck.
* * * * *
Spotswood was followed by a Governor named Hugh Drysdale
whose brief, four-year tenure was rather unremarkable
--although he did manage to get an Anglican Parish named
for himself. Not so with Drysdale's successor, William
Gooch,whose enlightened views and especially long tenure
--almost a quarter-century -- prompted perhaps the
greatest period of expansion and migration in Virginia's
history. So much happened in this period that we should
look at events by section of the colony:
[CENTRAL] Early in the Gooch administration, the same
movement up the Pamunkey River and the lower side of
the Rappahannock River -- which had prompted creation
of Spotsylvania Co. in 1721 necessitated the creation of:
CAROLINE -- formed in 1727 from the uppermost portions
of KING & QUEEN, KING WILLIAM, and a small portion of
ESSEX, and drew heavily from these three counties. The
westward movement also began to pick up greater steam--
sparked by Spotswood's journey to the crest of the
Blue Ridge, the successful "Germanna Settlement," and
the Huguenot Settlement above the Falls of the James.
The following year (1728), saw the creation of:
GOOCHLAND -- formed from western HENRICO and lying
on both sides of the James River and extending to the Blue
Ridge. In the 1720s the area which was to comprise
Goochland Co.had become a real "melting pot." Obviously,
the bulk of the settlers had been there for some time,
while it was still Henrico; but it also drew heavily from
Hanover, Caroline, and the upper Middle Neck, as well as
The Peninsula counties. Goochland's attractiveness was the
fact that it was on both sides of the river. Bear in mind
that rivers continued to be seen as economic life-lines.
Tobacco remained virtually the sole cash crop, but it
still had to be grown in large quantities to be profitable.
It was measured by weight, but ease of transportation
required that it take up as little volume as possible. It
had long been packed and pressed into casks called
"hogsheads," each weighing 500-600 lbs. An iron bar was
then inserted from one end to the other to serve as an
axle. The hogshead was hitched to a team of draft animals
-- usually oxen -- and literally rolled to the nearest
waterway; hence the term "rolling road." Even above its
falls, the James River had sufficient depth for fair-size
boats, on which hogsheads could be transhipped.

By 1734, enough folks had spread westward along the
Upper Rappahannock/Rapidan Rivers to warrant creation of:
Orange Co. also was to become a "melting pot," but for
somewhat different reasons. At its formation, Orange was
the first Virginia county to have definite borders which
extended_beyond_ the Blue Ridge Mountains: essentially all
of the Shenandoah Valley, what is now West Virginia, and
beyond. Orange drew settlers largely from its eastern
neighbors, Spotsylvania and Caroline; but it also drew them
from the adjacent Lord Fairfax Grant to its north --
settlers who saw an opportunity to actually own their land
rather than lease it from the Fairfax family. Orange also
was to be the beneficiary of the first significant influx
of settlers from Virginia's northern neighbors, Maryland and
-- As early as 1727 one Adam Miller/Mueller, of
German descent, moved his family from Pennsylvania through
western Maryland and settled in the lower end of the
Shenandoah Valley, not far from present-day Winchester, VA.
He was soon followed by a fairly sizeable contingent of
his ilk, led by such men as Joist Hite and Jacob Stover.
By the time of the formation of Orange Co., they were
well-established in the northern end of the county, near
the Potomac River. They were only the vanguard of many
more to come, and for a good many years thereafter, ethnic
Germans (including Swiss) were a major force in the lower
-- In the mid-1730s, also, a few Ulster Scots (or
so-called Scots-Irish) from Pennsylvania investigated the
Valley. They reported favorably to their confreres in
Pennsylvania. There was a catch, though: they were
Presbyterian -- or, in the term of the day, "dissidents"
from the Anglican Church. So, one might ask, what about the
ethnic Germans, who were Lutherans? Then as now, the
Anglican and Lutheran Churches were rather closely aligned,
ecclesiastically. Besides, they were Germans and, thus,
different. The Ulster Scots, however, were already British
subjects who had voluntarily forsaken the Anglican Church.
As odd as it might seem, that was viewed as a more serious
form of "dissidence." True enough, the Act of Toleration
-- freeing British subjects to worship as they chose -- was
in place; but that law had been directed at Catholics. It
was not at all clear to what extent it applied to "newer"
religions; moreover, it was not clear how or to what extent
the Act would be applied in Virginia. The Ulster Scots in
Pennsylvania took the precaution of dispatching a
delegation to visit Gov. Gooch in 1738 to inquire about the
prospects of settling in Virginia.
-- The timing could not have been better, for
all concerned. Gov. Gooch was a native Scot; hence, he was
perhaps more favorably disposed toward these folk than
would have been the case with previous governors. For
Gooch's part, the desire of these Ulster Scots to settle in
the Valley was the answer to his prayers. He had been at
some pains to find a way to defend an ever-lengthening
frontier. Here was a group whose fighting qualities were
almost legendary and who actually _wanted_, in effect, to
become a buffer between the Indians and the predominantly
English settlers east of the Blue Ridge. Gooch quickly
assured them that they and their form of Protestantism were
most welcome, before they might change their minds. Within
a year, hundreds of Ulster Scots were streaming into the
Valley; soon it would be thousands.

Likewise early in his tenure, Gov. Gooch recognized
that further expansion to the south and southwest could not
be realized until the issue of the border with Carolina was
settled. He therefore arranged -- with the concurrence of
the Carolina Governor -- a Joint Commission and surveying
party to accurately fix the boundary in 1728. To lead the
Virginia delegation, he selected William Byrd II. This was
a most propitious choice, for several reasons:
-- Byrd had great interest in exploration and expansion --
particularly westward and southward -- following in the
footsteps of his father, the first William Byrd, who made
his fortune in backing trade with the Indians in that area
and hunting/trapping expeditions. Byrd also was not only
well-known throughout the colony, but also in England, and
his views garnered attention on both sides of the Atlantic.
Moreover, Byrd was loquacious and a tireless exponent of
immigration -- particularly if he could find some profit in
it. Finally, Byrd was fond of publishing his views, which
gave them even wider circulation. [N.B. His "History of
the Dividing Line" is generally available and, in my view,
is among about a half-dozen books which are "must reads"
for any serious Virginia researcher.]
-- The men Byrd selected for the Virginia delegation
were known to him and, like Byrd,were largely resident
within a 10 to 15-mile radius of the juncture of the James
and Appomattox Rivers. When they and Byrd saw first-hand
what "Southside" Virginia and the NC border area had to
offer, they not only extolled its promise to all and
sundry, but also -- to the extent they were able -- began
to seek patents on some of the lands they had explored.
Most of the delegation were woodsmen -- ordinary colonists
of the "vulgar" or "meaner sort," as Spotswood would have
termed them. Their views probably carried as much or more
weight with their fellow colonists than did Byrd's.
Immediately (1728), a new county was created:
BRUNSWICK -- formed from the extreme southern portions of
ISLE OF WIGHT and SURRY, and from PRINCE GEORGE -- all of
Prince George lying south and west of the Nottoway River,
extended to the Appomattox River, and then to the Upper
James River. Atleast the county was formed on paper; it
would be another four years (1732) before it began
to function as a county.
Expansion into the area was not as rapid as Gooch had
hoped -- witness not enough settlers in the first four years
to form a functioning county; but that was soon to change.
Large grants in Brunswick Co. were made to many of the more
well-heeled, who then offered a variety of inducements to
colonists who would lease or buy sub-divided tracts.
Settlement increased in the 1730s but still not at the rate
desired. Although a few folks came to Brunswick in these
early days from above the James River, almost all of those
taking up lands in Brunswick in its first decade
(1728-1738) were already resident on the south side of the
Lower James River, i.e., Lower Tidewater. Because of
proximity, they were more readily able to travel to the new
area and see it for themselves before making a decision to
relocate. Finally, in the late 1730s, Governor Gooch and
the Council offered grants of 50 acres for each male
tithable and a 10-year moratorium on taxes. That did it.
What had begun as a trickle was about to turn into a
torrent of new settlers.

As mentioned earlier, the grant by King Charles II to
Lord Fairfax of all lands between the Rappahannock and
Potomac Rivers had tended to restrain rather than boost
settlement from its inception. There was a geographical
drawback, as well: the area was less well-suited to
growing tobacco than other parts of Virginia. Both factors
were about to change, though. On the Lord Fairfax side:
While it's much too complicated to recite here, suffice it
to say that the descendants of the original Lord Fairfax
began to loosen the family stranglehold on the region in the
1730s-40s. On the other side of the issue, colonists
discovered that it was becoming possible to grow things
besides tobacco and still make a living.
When Stafford Co. had been formed in 1664, it was the
most westward county in the Fairfax Grant. Although
Richmond (1692) and King George (1721) had been created in
the interim, neither had been prompted by western movement
of any consequence. It was not until 1731 -- after a
hiatus of 67 years -- that the surveyed boundary in the
Fairfax Grant again moved westward, with the creation of:
PRINCE WILLIAM -- formed from the western portions
of STAFFORD and KING GEORGE. Prince William drew its
inhabitants principally from the lower portions of the
Fairfax Grant, but an increasing number of settlers were
being drawn from areas across the Potomac River in

["OTHER"] One more new county had been created in this
period, but whether it should be included in Central or
Southern Virginia, even today, almost certainly will prompt
a debate -- and for good reason, as we'll see. Hence, I
dodged the bullet by not placing it in either. This new
county was:
AMELIA -- formed in 1735 from western
PRINCE GEORGE and a small portion of northwestern
BRUNSWICK. Amelia Co. was in the same "league" with its
northern neighbor, Goochland, in terms of being a melting
pot -- and for some of the same reasons. The beginnings of
Amelia were the result of the natural westward expansion of
Prince George beyond the falls of the Appomattox River
along its south bank. With the Nottoway River as its
southern boundary, Amelia was blessed with two major
waterways, in addition to a number of sizeable streams in
between. This greatly simplified transportation.
Moreover, like Goochland, the topography was ideal for
agriculture: generally flat to slightly rolling, but high
enough to be largely devoid of swampy areas.
The Amelia melting pot, though, was also a factor of
its centralized location: It naturally attracted folks from
The Peninsula, lower Henrico, and Surry who wanted to move
westward toward the mountains; but it also attracted folks
from upper Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, Caroline, and the
Middle Neck who saw their future in moving directly
southward, and Amelia was far enough inland to reduce the
number of major river crossings. In short, Amelia became
the crossroads of western and southern migration for most
of central/upper Tidewater Virginia.
* * * * *
This 14-15 year period was perhaps the most explosive
in terms of expansion of any comparable period in Virginia
history. In all, 15 new counties were formed -- or half
again as many as had been created in the preceding 135
years! Once again, it warrants discussion by region.
I realize this sounds like a broken
record, but Northern Virginia simply lagged behind in
terms of growth -- events elsewhere in Virginia were simply
too dynamic. I've no empirical data to offer, but I'd
wager that the counties in the old Fairfax Grant might
actually have lost population in this period. Of the 15
new counties formed, only one was in the old Fairfax Grant:
FAIRFAX -- formed in 1742 from northern PRINCE WILLIAM.
To the extent that new settlers came into the
area, many continued to be from across the Potomac River in
Maryland and some from Pennsylvania. Please understand
that I am not suggesting that nobody moved westward in this
area during this period; I'm only suggesting that any
movement/growth was miniscule compared to what was
happening elsewhere in Virginia.
As mentioned in the preceding period, growth
and expansion westward in 1728 had prompted the formation
of Goochland Co. along both banks of the James River and
had drawn a goodly number of folks from Hanover Co. and
both The Peninsula and the Middle Neck. Later, others from
Hanover and adjacent Caroline and from lower Spotsylvania
pushed more directly westward within the bounds of Hanover
-- to the extent that it prompted creation of:
LOUISA -- formed in 1742 from HANOVER, with Goochland
on the south and Orange on the north. Like these two
adjacent counties, Louisa then stretched all the way to the
Blue Ridge Mountains. [N.B. Louisa's conduit to the Blue
Ridge was a narrow corridor known as Frederickville
Parish, giving Louisa a shape resembling a saucepan. Louisa
maintained this corridor only until 1761.]
The principal migration in this part of Virginia
continued to be along both banks of the James River, and it
was so rapid that it soon prompted the creation of another
new county:
ALBEMARLE -- formed in 1744 from all
of western GOOCHLAND on the north bank of the James River
and extreme western GOOCHLAND on the south bank. As one
might expect, the bulk of settlers in Albemarle had
leap-frogged their way along the James River from counties
bordering the river farther east. There were notable
exceptions, however. Albemarle sat astride the major
north-south hunting/trading trail which had been used for
centuries by the Indians. While there may have been little
love lost between the colonists and the Indians, the
colonists did recognize that the Indians knew what they
were doing when it came to getting from one place to
another. Moreover, the colonists believed -- with some
reason -- that the Indians generally traveled from one
_good_ place to another. Consequently, many of the
settlers in the northern part of Virginia who had reached
the northern section of this trail thought it wise to "make
a left" and follow it. Hence, a goodly number came to
Albemarle from Orange and from the western end of the
Fairfax Grant. Albemarle also received a sizeable segment
of Ulster Scots -- "overflow" from the Shenandoah Valley,
or those who simply elected to settle principally along the
eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. Traders and merchants
from eastern Virginia and elsewhere saw Albemarle as a
potential bonanza. The settlers who were rapidly filling
the Valley had to acquire goods and market their crops;
either way, such materials had to transit the Blue Ridge
via the various gaps -- most of which were now in Albemarle.

Speaking of the Shenandoah Valley, it became the scene
of a virtual "land rush" in the early 1740s. While the
majority of settlers were Ulster Scots, a sizeable flow of
ethnic Germans also contined to arrive -- in both cases,
mostly from Pennsylvania, but also from just below
the Susquehanna River in northern Maryland. As had been the
case initially, the Ulster Scots tended to settle farther
"up" the Valley (southward), while the ethnic Germans were
more prevalent in the "lower" (northern) section. An
increasing number of Ulster Scots began to arrive directly
from Europe as the result of "marketing" the area by the
holders of three major grants: William Beverly, James
Patton, and Benjamin Borden. After the "Bonnie Prince
Charlie" episode in 1745, the Ulster Scots were
"reinforced" by an influx of mainland Scots who tended to
by-pass Pennsylvania in favor of coming directly to the
All this settlement activity soon prompted the
need to create two new counties -- the first Virginia
counties wholly beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains:
FREDERICK -- formed in 1743 from northwestern ORANGE.
AUGUSTA -- formed in 1745 from the remainder of ORANGE
lying west of the mountains. It's perhaps well to point out
that, at this time -- and for over a quarter-century
thereafter --these two counties encomapassed virtually all
lands claimed by Virginia west of the Blue Ridge: i.e.,
essentially all of what is now West Virginia, Kentucky,
Ohio, and the western tip of Pennsylvania. It's equally
important to point out, though, that only itinerant
hunters/trappers ventured much beyond the Allegheny
Mountains on the western side of the Valley. I say
"virtually all" inasmuch as expansion due west from
Frederick was such that it warranted creation of:
HAMPSHIRE -- formed in 1754 from FREDERICK.
This was something of an "enclave," though, and it's
boundaries at formation did not change for 32 years. [N.B.
More first-rate reference books have been produced on the
settlement of the Shenandoah Valley than on any other area
of Virginia. Respected authors/researchers such as
Chalkley, Kercheval, and Summers are "must-reads" if you
know or even suspect an ancestor may have transited the
Valley. To save space, I'll only "hit the high spots" from
here on.]
It's important to note that the Valley was NOT the
exclusive preserve of the Ulster/mainland Scots and ethnic
Germans. Some of the more intrepid English colonists from
east of the Blue Ridge also were enticed by these new and
incredibly fertile lands in the Valley. Many who were
perhaps less intrepid were nevertheless drawn westward, but
were content to remain on the east side of the mountains;
in so doing, they prompted the creation of:
CULPEPER -- formed in 1749 from northern
ORANGE. Although not exclusively, of course, Culpeper drew
heavily from the western and southern portions of the old
Fairfax Grant and from western Spotsylvania.
A little farther to the south, westward growth also had
prompted new county creation:
CUMBERLAND -- formed in 1749 from what remained of
old GOOCHLAND on the south side of the James River.
This is an example of what might be termed a sub-division
for political purposes. The western "frontier" had moved
beyond this area over a decade earlier; recall also that
Albemarle had been created five years earlier from adjacent
lands to the west. Originally, "old Goochland" had extended
southward along the west bank of the Appomattox River. A
combination of distance to be traveled to the Goochland
Court House and settlers crossing over the Appomattox from
Amelia necessitated the creation of a separate county.

Speaking of Amelia, its growth since 1735 had been
phenomenal {see earlier for factors). The confluence of
the Appomattox and Nottoway Rivers acted much like a funnel
into southwestern Amelia. That, coupled with some
"spillover" from lower Cumberland, soon necessitated the
creation of:
PRINCE EDWARD -- formed in 1754 from AMELIA.
The growth in that area also had been aided by a sizeable
contingent of Ulster Scots from Pennsylvania who --
eschewing the Valley -- instead founded a settlement in the
Buffalo River/Briery Creek area. A surprising number of
French Huguenots -- both from the original settlement on
the James River and from the lower York River -- seemed to
find their way to what became Prince Edward. [N.B. I
realize that, technically, Prince Edward more properly
belongs in the Southern portion of our discussion, but for
the moment it seemed a better "fit" to insert it here.]
Two more examples of sub-division for political purposes
occurred in this general area during this period. The first
was the creation of:
CHESTERFIELD -- formed, also in 1749, from
southern and western HENRICO. Here, too, like Cumberland,
the westward push had long since passed by, but -- less the
formation of Goochland -- the boundaries of Henrico had
remained essentially unchanged for well over a century! In
the case of Chesterfield, this "internal" growth had been
fueled by the establishment of the market centers of
Richmond and Petersburg.
The second was the creation of:
DINWIDDIE -- formed in 1752 from what remained of
southwestern PRINCE GEORGE.
[SOUTHERN] As noted in the preceding period
(1722-1740), the establishment of the VA-NC boundary
and inducements proffered by the colonial government had
sparked a land rush in "Southside" Virginia. The boundary
matter had an even greater effect on the counties of Lower
Tidewater. Settlers pushed southward in sufficient numbers
to warrant the creation of:
SOUTHAMPTON -- formed in 1749 from the southernmost
portions of NANSEMOND and ISLE OF WIGHT. Many of these folks
stayed only a short time before gravitating across the
boundary to take up lands along the Roanoke River in the
border counties of North Carolina: Edgecombe, Northampton,
and Granville. The same impetus which had been at work
to create Southampton was responsible for the creation of:
SUSSEX -- formed in 1754 from that portion of SURRY
lying below the Blackwater River. It's probably worth
noting that, in terms of population density, the creation
of Sussex likely was long overdue. Recall that settlers
began moving south of the Blackwater River in significant
numbers soon after the "ban" was lifted ca. 1710. Although
interest in southwestern expansion and the consequent
creation of adjacent Brunswick had drawn many settlers away
from lower Surry in the 1730s, sufficient numbers remained
for Sussex to have been formed perhaps a decade earlier.
That it did not happen until 1754, I sense, was a matter of
politics, pure and simple.

Turning a bit to the west: When William Byrd II
chronicled the 1728 survey of the VA-NC border, he noted
that no settler resided "higher up" (further westward) than
the fork of the Roanoke (Staunton) and Dan Rivers -- today,
the tri-border juncture of Charlotte, Mecklenburg, and
Halifax Cos. As discussed earlier, the 1728/32 formation
of Brunswick and other events were about to change that in
a phenomenal way. The land grants and tax incentives
offered by the colonial government produced a flood of
migration from the entire length of Tidewater Virginia and,
to some extent, throughout Virginia. As also mentioned
earlier, first on the scene were those from the nearby
areas of Prince George, lower Henrico, Amelia, and to a
lesser extent, Surry. After 1740, however, they were
joined by those from counties even farther away. Some
historians/ sociologists -- seeking, I suppose, a handy
overarching phrase -- termed this later southward movement
the "Hanover Migration." While it's true that a great many
settlers indeed came from Hanover, almost as many came from
adjacent Goochland, Caroline, the counties of the Middle
Neck, and elsewhere. Soon, their numbers were such that
the creation of a new county was deemed warranted:
LUNENBURG -- formed in 1745/6 from BRUNSWICK. At a stroke,
Brunswick went from being the largest Virginia county east
of the Blue Ridge to its present-day configuration, and
Lunenburg became the largest. It was bounded on the north
by the Nottoway River, on the south by North Carolina, and
extended westward to the mountains and northwestward to
within about five miles of the upper James River at the
mountains. The influx of settlers not only did not slow
down at this point in time, but if anything actually
increased. Only seven years passed before the creation of
yet another county waswarranted:
HALIFAX -- formed in 1752 from that portion of
LUNENBURG south and west of the Roanoke (Staunton) River,
extended to the mountains along the Blackwater River.
[N.B. A different Blackwater River than the one cited
* * * * *
Although it does not relate to a particular county,
the chronology and what is to come in the next item seems to
make this a good time to mention an event which was to have
a profound and long-term effect on Virginia settlement
patterns. In 1750, a multi-faceted gentleman named Dr.
Thomas Walker and several acquaintances set off from his
home in northeastern Albemarle to explore the "southwest."
They traveled along the upper James River, crossing it near
what is now Lynchburg, and continued southward. They
crossed the Blue Ridge near the Roanoke (Staunton) River
gap and again turned southward. Whether it was their
principal objective, or merely a fortunate side-benefit, I
can't say, but in the process they're said to have
discovered a gap through the Allegheny Mountains and to
have become the first Englishmen to view what lay beyond.
Dr. Walker named the place Cumberland Gap.
* * * *
Another area of Lunenburg was quickly filling with
settlers, also -- but in a slightly different way. The
major _water_ gaps which cut through the Blue Ridge
Mountains were those formed by the upper James and upper
Roanoke (Staunton) Rivers. These constituted the trading
life-lines to the upper Shenandoah Valley. "Political
influence" had insured that both sides of the upper James
River at/near the mountains had been retained -- first in
Goochland and then in Albemarle when Brunswick and,
later, Lunenburg were formed. The James River gap became a
mecca for traders and other entrepreneurs, whose ties
extended back along the James to the ports and commercial
establishments bear what is now Richmond. Settlement, too,
on the east side of the mountains naturally had tended to
follow the James. Those not desiring to cross the
mountains tended to continue southward into what was, by
1745/6, the extreme northwestern corner of Lunenburg, where
they merged with those moving westward up the Roanoke
(Staunton) River valley. The population steadily increased
up to 1750 and then boomed with the discovery of Cumberland
Gap to the southwest (see above). Their numbers -- coupled
with the great distance to either the Albemarle or
Lunenburg court houses -- were such that a new county was
BEDFORD -- formed in 1754 from western LUNENBURG
above the Blackwater River.That "sliver" of land (about
five miles wide) along the south bank of the upper James
River which, even then, had been retained in Albermarle --
now in the vicinity of Lynchburg -- was incorporated into
Bedford the following year (1755).
* * * * *
This (hooray!) brings us to the last segment of this
effort. It's anchored on either end by two armed conflicts:
The French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. For
frontier Virginians, an argument could be made that it was
a solid two decades of unbroken armed conflict, with some
years just slightly more peaceful than others -- but that's
another story.
The former had a tremendous influence on the remaining
settlement of Virginia -- as we now know it -- and
migration patterns, generally, in the two decades
preceding the Revolution. [N.B. I'll presume you have a
fundamental understanding of the origins, the course, and
the outcome of the French and Indian War. If not, any
encyclopedia article on the war will quickly enlighten.]
The occasional Indian foray had been a constant annoyance
for those who had elected to settle beyond the Blue Ridge
Mountains, but it was viewed by most as an "occupational
hazard" or "cost of doing business." This changed for the
worse when the majority of the Indian tribes were co-opted
by the French to help forestall further English expansion,
or perhaps even eject the English from North America. The
threat soon became clear to the Virginia colonial
government, which sought additional military support from
England. It arrived in the person of Gen. Edward Braddock
who brought with him two regiments. As a 22 year-old
surveyor and sometime Virginia militia lieutenant-colonel,
named George Washington, knew the northwestern VA frontier
and had already skirmished with the French, Braddock made
Washington his Aide. With some militia elements and his
two regiments, Braddock headed off toward present-day
Pittsburgh to take on the French. It was a disaster:
Braddock was killed and Washington barely escaped with his

For our purposes, two things of consequence evolved
from Braddock's defeat:
(1) The news of the defeat induced a near panic
among a significant number of the settlers in the Shenandoah
Valley, who clearly understood that they _were_ the front
line of defense and mightily exposed. The most westward
Valley settlements were largely abandoned in favor of
consolidation in mid-Valley or back to the foot of the Blue
Ridge. Some even removed back across the Blue Ridge,
whence they'd come. Still others perceived this to be an
excellent time to remove to Carolina, where the Cherokee
Indians were said to be less hostile, if not actually
(2) With county militias less than keen on the idea
of defending other than their own hearths and homes,
Washington sought and received authorization to do two
things: build a chain of forts along the Virginia
frontier, to be staffed by the local militias; and form a
regiment of men to be recruited as individuals from
throughout the colony . . . and paid by the colony. This
became known as The Virginia Regiment. Many of those who
signed up were from eastern Virginia and had never seen the
"frontier." In later years, their recollections and the
offer of bounty lands to the west would prompt their
removal. [N.B. The rosters of the Virginia Regiment have
largely survived; they are a "must check" item if you have
any reason to think an ancestor was in Virginia in or
before 1756.]
As it developed, the bulk of the French and Indian War
was prosecuted well to the north, although a goodly number
of Virginians died at the hands of the Indians in numerous
raids along the frontier. Only a handful of incidents
occurred east of the Blue Ridge. Hence, before long it was
back to business as usual in most areas of the colony.
[NORTHERN] Here, it was even better than usual.
The most western portions of the old Fairfax Grant
wereformed into counties:
LOUDOUN -- formed in 1757 from FAIRFAX.
FAUQUIER -- formed in 1759 from PRINCE WILLIAM.
As had been the case for a half-century, these lands were
largely taken up by descendants of families from the
Northern Neck, or from along the south bank of the Potomac
and its tributaries,and from across the Potomac in
Maryland. The area also was getting a greater share of
new immigrants, following the establishment of port
facilities on the Potomac at Alexandria and Georgetown.
The same southwestward impetus -- the lead elements of
which, in part, had prompted the creation of Bedford --
soon warranted the creation of new counties:
AMHERST -- formed in 1761 from ALBEMARLE.
BUCKINGHAM -- formed in 1761 from ALBEMARLE. These two
counties were, to some extent, mirror images: Amherst was
formed from that part of Albemarle nearest Bedford and on
the west side of the James River; while Buckingham was
formed from all of Albemarle lying on the east side of the
James River. While still a part of Albemarle, the areas
comprising both counties had been well populated and --
like what remained of Albemarle after the sub-division --
had drawn heavily from Orange, Louisa and Goochland on the
north side of the James and from Cumberland on the south
side. As "consolation" for having given up so much
territory, Albemarle concurrently received that portion of
Louisa extending to the Blue Ridge (Frederickville Parish].

The flow of settlers to "Southside" from all parts of
eastern and northern Virginia had continued unabated since
ca. 1740, and showed no signs of slowing. It would seem
that most perceived "Southside" as offering not only
excellent agricultural areas, but also the widest options
for future relocation, as opportunities might present
themselves: i.e., south and southwest to Carolina, or west
to who knew what/where via Cumberland Gap.
In terms of county formation, however, the colonial
government seems to have adopted a wait-and-see approach,
pending the outcome of the French and Indian War. When the
war officially ended in 1763, part of the settlement was an
agreement by the Crown to prohibit settlement beyond a line
generally following the crest of the Allegheny Mountains.
This became known as the "Proclamation Line," and many
Virginians felt that the Crown had "wimped out" and sold
out their chances for settling the promising lands to the
west. Nevertheless, the law was the law -- at least for
the time being. With southwestern expansion beyond the
Alleghenies temporarily "off the table," the colonial
government quickly began to respond to the "Southside"
settlers' requests for additional counties.
MECKLENBURG was formed in 1765 from that part of
LUNENBURG lying between the Meherrin River and North
CHARLOTTE also was formed in 1765 and
also from LUNENBURG -- that portion above the Roanoke
(Staunton) River and westward to BEDFORD.
As in several other cases previously cited, these
formations were not a direct consequence of westward
expansion; the frontier had passed by these areas a decade
earlier. Instead, they were prompted by more pragmatic
considerations, such as population density and distances
settlers had to travel to the Lunenburg Court House.
The formation of the other county created in "Southside"
during this period, however, was a consequence of continued
westward movement:
PITTSYLVANIA -- formed in 1767 from the western
portion of HALIFAX. Recall that, when it was formed in 1752,
Halifax extended between the Roanoke (Staunton)/Blackwater
Rivers and North Carolina all the way to the Blue Ridge.
Even then its western areas were already lightly settled,
and more settlers were moving in -- principally from
elsewhere in "Southside," but also from as far away as
Prince Edward, Amelia, and Albemarle. Then, the French and
Indian War (1754-63) had made settlers wary of moving
beyond the Blue Ridge, thereby creating something of a
"backup" in western Halifax. Consequently, by 1767 the
population density was such that it called for a new
county. As mentioned earlier, the War already had prompted
some migration to Carolina; it's perhaps well to note,
here, that the imposition of the "Proclamation Line"
prompted even greater numbers of settlers to opt for
Carolina -- many of whom departed from Halifax and
Pittsylvania about this time.
With the area between the Blue Ridge and the
Alleghenies generally secure following the French and
Indian War, settlers once again began moving in --
principally southward from Augusta, but also from Bedford
and Pittsylvania. The topography of the area made it
somewhat isolated, and the settlers prevailed upon the
colonial government to create counties to administer the
area more quickly than had been done east of the Blue
Ridge. Thus:
BOTETOURT was formed in 1770 from the southernmost
portion of AUGUSTA.

FINCASTLE was formed in 1772, encompassing virtually all
of present SW Virginia.
Fincastle was the last county formed in the _colony_
of Virginia. By coincidence, while there have been many
counties subdivided since -- and others formed, but lost to
other states -- it filled out the boundaries of Virginia as
they exist today.
* * * * *
As stated at the outset, this is a picture of Colonial
Virginia formation/migration painted with a _very_ broad
brush. Nevertheless, if you've located an ancestor in one
area of Colonial Virginia, perhaps it will provide a clue
about where he/she might have resided earlier. Bear in
mind that explorers and adventurers were a tiny minority
and truly exceptional; most settlers were more
"herd-oriented" and content to "go with the flow."

Luck to you.



Post FollowupReturn to Message ListingsPrint Message
Search this forum:

Search all of GenForum:

Proximity matching
Add this forum to My GenForum Agreement of Use
Link to GenForum
Add Forum
Home |  Help |  About Us |  Site Index |  Jobs |  PRIVACY |  Affiliate
© 2007 The Generations Network