Captain John Smith, one of the original tourists to the area, visited Essex during the winter of 1607-08, when he wrote of the "excellent, pleasant, fertile, and goodly navigable" Rappahannock Valley. On his first visit he did not linger. While he was trying to disembark near what is now the county seat of Tappahannock, the Native Americans drove him back to his ship. Rest assured, present day visitors will not meet with this hostile welcome! Using the river as their highway, people and goods moved along its shores
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.
During Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, armed men gathered near Piscataway Creek and defeated Governor Berkeley's cavalrymen. Later they prevailed in the Dragon Run Swamp, but eventually English warships and troops suppressed the uprising. Frontier patrols, however, were maintained against hostile northern Indians into the early 1700's.
In 1692, the now extinct Rappahannock County split into Essex and Richmond Counties. Still heavily influenced by British domain, the county name of Essex may have come either from the shire or county in England, or as a nod to the Duke of Essex himself (patrons are often generous!). Essex County Virginia today still maintains links with Essex County Council and the people of Chelmsford, Essex, England.
In 1682 a local man, Jacob Hobbs established a trading post in the vicinity of present day Tappahannock, which became known as Hobbs His Hole. The town was comprised of 50 acres divided into half acre squares. Tappahannock's first call to duty was as a port for river traffic. Colonial Charm is evident in a number of private homes still in existence, as well as in numerous businesses still existing in the buildings of that era. Street names such as Marsh, Queen, Prince, Duke, Cross, Church, and Water are original nomenclature. In 1705, the town was once again known by its Indian name of Tappahannock meaning "town on the rise and fall of water."
With the building of the first Downing Bridge to the Northern Neck in 1927, reliance on the river started to change. Until then, the only way to cross the Rappahannock was by ferry from either Tappahannock or Ware's Wharf. The present bridge was built in 1963.