The first record of a white man being in
the area known as Powhatan County was in 1608. A band of
approximately 120 men led by Christopher Newport made an
expedition up the James River to a point as far west as Maidens
Bridge. They were forced to turn back because of hostile Monacan Indians who occupied the area at the time.
Very little is known
about the Monacan Indians. They had an open settlement of huts up
and down the riverbank which were abandoned. What is known is
that they were hunters and farmers. That they were farmers is
indicated by the fact that the word "Monacan" is
derived from the Algonquin word signifying a stick or spade.
Between the years of 1699-1705, some five to
seven hundred Huguenot refugees fleeing from persecution in
France settled on the James River near Manakin in the
then-abandoned Monacan Indian villages. They soon scattered
throughout the area, building fine homes, some of which are still
standing in the county.
In May 1777, the Virginia General Assembly
created the County of Powhatan out of land from the eastern
portion of Cumberland County between the Appomattox and James
Rivers. In 1850, a small portion of Chesterfield County was
annexed, creating what today is the 273-square mile county of
In Virginia, there are nine counties bearing
Indian names. Only one, Powhatan, is named for an Indian chief. "Chief Powhatan," father of the famous Indian princess,
Pocahontas, was one of the greatest, and is today one of the best
known of the Indian chiefs.
After the formation of the county, the
first court was held on July 17, 1777, in the home of Littlebury Mosby (1729-1809).
Mosby was an important figure in the history
of Cumberland and Powhatan Counties. Before and after 1777, he
was a gentleman Justice. He was also a vestryman and senior
warden of Peterville Church, a colonel in the militia, a tavern
keeper, and a high sheriff in the county. His home still stands
and is a private residence at the intersection of Route 60 and
Old Tavern Road.
At the first session of the court, plans
were considered for laying off the county seat to be known as Scottville in honor of General Charles Scott, a Revolutionary
War hero and personal aide to General George Washington at Valley
Forge. Two granite markers, which still stand today, were placed
at the south and north ends of the village to serve as meridian
markers. The name of the county seat was changed to Powhatan in
1836 and the present courthouse building was erected in 1848.
Due to the lack of public transportation,
small villages sprang up around the county, each of which served
their immediate areas. General stores were stocked with local
produce, while dry goods were hauled by packet boat (operated by
independent boat companies) on the Kanawha Canal, located on the
north side of the river. Each store was responsible for ordering
its own supplies and picking them up at the river. These goods
were then brought across to the Powhatan side of the river boat
or ferry and hauled by teams or wagons to various locations
through the county. According to a directory from that period, in
1852 there were 16 merchants in the county as well as 13
attorneys and 13 physicians.
An assessment in 1850 valued the land in
the county at an average of $10.12 per acre. The 1852 census
showed the population to be 8,171.