Essex County History
1645: First Land Grants

By 1645, English settlers had battled winter, starvation, disease and the native tribes to slowly move up the coastline from Jamestown. They had learned there would be no gold or quick fortunes in the New World. Prospering or even surviving would require years of hard work. Growing and selling the tobacco plant to Europe became the source of wealth and medium of exchange. Many would become wealthy and begin the traditions of hospitality and generosity for which Virginia would became famous. Many others would soon come seeking a new life. The roughly 14,000 settlers in Virginia at this time always needed new, fertile land to grow tobacco. The hardiest souls looked to the frontier including the "Topahanoke" area. Bartholomew Hoskins was the first European to patent land in the area that latter becomes Tappahannock. Hoskins Creek bears his name.

Civil War in England during this era caused a flood of new settlers to America. The expanding population created the new counties of Northumberland in 1645, Westmoreland in 1653, Lancaster in 1651 and old Rappahannock County in 1656. By that time, Virginia's population had grown to almost 25,000 but only about 200 resided in the "Topahanoke" area of Rappahannock County. Some of the earliest settlers included John Catlett, Thomas Lucas and Toby Smith.

About this time, planters changed from relying on indentured servants to using enslaved Africans. With slave labor, many Europeans built huge plantations, amassed fortunes and became the most powerful families in Virginia. The combination of tobacco, slavery, plantation life and family legacies became a way of life that lasted for more than 200 years.

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)
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