Chartered in 1749 and created from Orange County, Culpeper County was named for Lord Thomas Culpeper, Royal Governor of Virginia, 1680-1683.
In July 1749, George Washington, then 17, was commissioned to be the surveyor of the new county of Culpeper. The original territory included what is now Culpeper, Madison (divided off in 1792) and Rappahannock (divided off in 1831).
In March 1765 the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament to help pay for British troops stationed in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War. The act required the colonists to pay a tax, represented by a stamp, on various forms of papers, documents, and playing cards. It was a direct tax imposed by the British government without the approval of the colonial legislatures and was payable in hard-to-obtain British sterling, rather than colonial currency. In protest, on Oct. 21, 1765, sixteen of the twenty members of the County Court of Culpeper, holding commissions as Justices of the Peace, resigned and relinquished their commissions.
An early fight for religious freedom in America occurred in Culpeper County. A native of Massachusetts, Baptist pastor John Leland was persecuted, arrested, and imprisoned for preaching in Culpeper without permission from the Anglican Church authorities. This was followed by at least eleven other arrests of Baptist pastors by 1774. Afterwards in 1788, John Leland and James Madison met just outside of Orange County on the Fredericksburg Road and made an agreement that bore fruit in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Leland agreed not to oppose Madison’s bid to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention if Madison would promise to seek specific guarantees for religious liberty in amendments to the Constitution. One can go to that spot today and visit Leland-Madison Memorial Park.
By 1774, Virginians were half-way convinced for war against Britain. When news arrived in May that Britain was blockading the port of Boston, the Virginia House of Burgesses announced that June 1st would be a day of fasting and prayer. In response, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor, dissolved the legislature. The Burgesses reconvened at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg to organize a shipping embargo and to propose the first Continental Congress. They also scheduled the first Virginia Convention. The Convention was to meet August 1, 1774, to allow delegates an opportunity to obtain the opinions of their respective counties.
Several counties proceeded to draft “resolves” or resolutions asserting their rights while also proclaiming their loyalty to King George III in an often-conditional way. In response, on July 7, 1774, a committee of Culpeper County freeholders drafted the “Culpeper Resolves”. These Resolves, like the many other similar resolutions passed in county meetings throughout the colonies, summarized the feelings of Culpeper citizens in mid-1774. These were convictions that their constitutional rights were being violated by British policies. The Resolves also marked a step forward in inter-colonial cooperation, as more Americans began to realize that a threat against one colony was a threat against all.
The 3rd Virginia Convention in July 1775 authorized a militia unit, the Culpeper Minute Battalion, to be organized. Recruitment and mustering of the 350-man unit began under a large oak tree at “Clayton’s old field” (near present day Yowell Park). Lawrence Taliaferro of Orange County was appointed colonel, Edward Stevens of Culpeper was appointed lieutenant colonel, and Thomas Marshall of Fauquier appointed major. John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was a member of the original militia unit.
On December 29, 1775, Culpeper Minutemen participated in the Battle of Great Bridge, the first Revolutionary War battle on Virginia soil. This battle can be seen as the first strategically important colonial victory over the British. It led to Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s retreat to nearby Royal Navy ships and the elimination of British governance in Virginia.
The Culpeper Minute Battalion was disbanded in 1776, but men continued to serve in the Continental Line and other militia units. Many Culpeper men served during the 1781 Virginia campaign, which culminated with the American victory at Yorktown.
While there are currently no events listed specifically for Culpeper County, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.