In the winter of 1607–08, Captain John Smith traveled up the Rappahannock River as a prisoner of the Powhatans. He was the first European known to have visited the Northern Neck. Northumberland County, Virginia, was originally known as Chickacoan, an Indian district on the Northern Neck, lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1648, this “Mother County of the Northern Neck” was organized and named after County Northumberland, England. The first white settler to make a permanent home in the county was Col. John Mottram, sometime between 1635-1640. In 1651 Northumberland County, Virginia, was officially formed by an act passed by the Burgesses in Jamestown, Virginia. It was later divided into three additional counties: Lancaster, Richmond, and Westmoreland
Steeped in history, it is a land where generations of watermen continue to harvest Rockfish, Blue Crabs, and the ever-famous Virginia Oyster from the waters surrounding the peninsula.
This peninsula nestled between the two above Rivers and spilling into the Chesapeake Bay was part of the enormous 1649 land grant by Charles II, known as the Fairfax Grant. The bountiful waters of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay supported and induced English settlement. The English built stately homes and farmed tobacco for export to England, which became the basis of the Northern Neck’s economy during the Colonial era. Some consider this area as the “birthplace of our nation” with three of the first five American presidents born here along with other prominent families that helped form our nation.
The Northern Neck’s most famous son, George Washington, my 3rd cousin 8x removed, was born on Pope’s Creek off the Potomac River, called the region “the Garden of Virginia.” Our nation’s fifth president, James Monroe, was born in Westmoreland County in 1758.
Captain William Powell, my 9x Great Grandfather, came from Wales in 1607 with Capt. John Smith. He represented James City in the First House of Burgess. He was killed by Indians 1623.
The Lee family of Virginia called the Northern Neck home and built Stratford Hall in the 1730s, of bricks fired from the clay soil on the premises. A son of Thomas Lee, my 11x Great Grandfather, Richard Henry Lee, my 10x Great Grandfather, co-wrote the Westmoreland Resolves, which proposed American independence in 1766 in protest against the Stamp Act. Richard Henry Lee and his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee, my 2nd cousin 9 x removed, were the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence. The last Lee to survive to maturity, Robert E. Lee, my 4th cousin 7x removed, was born at Stratford Hall in 1807.
For hundreds of years, Northumberland remained a county largely isolated from the rest of the state due to the lack of a road network. But in 1926, with the bridge crossing from Essex County to the Northern Neck, with access to the west, growth began in the area.
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