Essex County History
Essex County Antebellum Leaders

Essex natives significantly influenced America in the early 1800s by their shaping of Virginia politics and business. This series of lawyers, politicians and businessmen, sometimes called the Essex Junta, filled Richmond's most prominent seats. While James Garnett was progressing agricultural methods and women's education, the Junta was leading Virginia and influencing the nation during this formative period.

A variety of names can be associated with the Junta, but the most influential were Spencer Roane, Thomas Ritchie, and John Brockenbrough. Spencer Roane was appointed to the Virginia Court of Appeals, at 32 years old the youngest ever. He firmly defended the Bill of Rights, including religious freedom and the right to free slaves. His most famous and public battles were against Supreme Court Justice John Marshall on the roles of states and federal government. Due to an act of kindness to a stranger, a new county in western Virginia (now West Virginia) was named Roane and its county seat named Spencer.

Thomas Ritchie, pictured here, was the editor and primary writer of the Richmond Enquirer from 1804 - 1845. The paper was the most popular in Virginia throughout this period. Thomas Jefferson encouraged the establishment of the paper and said, " "I read but a single newspaper, Ritchie's Enquirer, the best that is published or ever has been published in America." Ritchie supported extensive internal improvements to Virginia, public schools and gradual emancipation of slaves. In 1845, President Polk helped to bring Ritchie to Washington to edit the newspaper The Union from 1845-1851.

Dr. John Brockenbrough, along with Ritchie, established Virginia's first bank, Bank of Virginia, and helped to shape financial policies and business develpment throughout the state. His beautiful Richmond home would later become the White House of the Confederacy and is currently maintained by the Museum of the Confederacy. Other Junta members included George Smith, elected Governor in 1811 before tragically dying in the Richmond Theater Fire. William Brockenbrough and Francis Brooke also joined Spencer Roane on the Court of Appeals. Later in the Antebellum Period, R.M.T. Hunter and M.R.H. Garnett played critical national roles in the Civil War era.

Virginians filled the White House continuously for most of the 1800s first quarter. Virginia was one of the largest, most populated and wealthiest states during that time. By their dominant role in state affairs and connections to national leaders, the Junta significantly influenced America during this formative period.


1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985. by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Virginia: Historic Homes, 2002. by Anita and Gordon Harrower and Robert LaFollette (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

3. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 5. The Significance of the Richmond Junta (Essex Junta), by Anne Frost Waring. November 1973

4. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 26. Virginia Governors from Essex County, by E. Lee Shepard. May 1985
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