Essex County’s history in written form dates from Captain John Smith’s visit during the winter of 1607-08, when he wrote of the “excellent, pleasant, fertile, and navigable” Rappahannock Valley.
In 1645 Bartholomew Hoskins patented the Tappahannock site, which became known at various times as Hobbs His Hole, Hobb’s Hole, the short-lived New Plymouth, and the Indian name Tappahannock. The port town was to become a center of commerce during the 17th and 18th centuries, establishing a crossroads.
The county came into being in 1692 when Old Rappahannock County, which once encompassed at least 50 modern counties in Virginia and West Virginia, was divided along the river with the north side becoming Richmond County and the south becoming Essex.
During Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, armed men gathered near Piscataway Creek and defeated Governor Berkeley’s cavalrymen. Later they prevailed in the Dragon Swamp, but eventually English warships and troops suppressed the uprising. Frontier patrols, however, were maintained against hostile northern Indians into the early 1700’s.
The British Stamp Act of 1765 led directly to the American Revolution, and it was in Tappahannock that one of the first confrontations occurred.
Leading merchant Archibald Ritchie, who supported the Stamp Act, was labeled as “the greatest enemy of his country.” On February 27, 1766, gentlemen from nine counties gathered at Leedstown to draft the “Resolutions” that led Virginians to disobey Parliament. They also made plans to publicly humiliate Ritchie and the Scots merchant Archibald McCall. These events occurred seven years before the Boston Tea Party.
The Essex Courthouse contains the oldest records in Virginia. James B. Slaughter’s history of the area, “Settlers, Southerners, Americans: The History of Essex County, Virginia 1608–1984,” recounts in detail the county’s 350-year-old story. The book is available at the county administrator’s office.
Today Essex has a population of 9,989 and Tappahannock is one of the largest commercial centers in the region.
The Essex County seat is at 205 Cross St. in the Tappahannock Courthouse Square. 443-4331. Essex County has one town, Tappahannock. 443-3336. The sheriff’s office can be reached at 443-3346.
Essex Public Library, Tappahannock, 443-4945.
The Tappahannock-Essex Chamber of Commerce is at 205 Cross St.
May 2: Hotrods for God Car and Motorcycle Show, Angel Visit Baptist Church, Dunnsville.
May 17: Go Wild! Celebration, Hutchinson Wildlife Refuge Tract, Tappahannock.