In 1607, when the English first arrived in Virginia, the area now occupied by Rappahannock was an uncleared primary growth wooded territory inhabited by Native Americans. At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Manahoacs and Iroquois hunted and fished. As more and more settlers moved into Virginia their economic and, at times, martial competition pushed the native inhabitants west.
Official colonization was possible in 1722 and this opened up the Piedmont section of Virginia. The majority of the early settlers in Rappahannock were not foreign born, but had moved down from northern ports and other regions of Virginia. Rappahannock’s new inhabitants were mainly of English descent from the Tidewater region. Other settlers included Scots-Irish from west of the Blue Ridge and Germans from the north and from the Germanna Ford area in modern Spotsylvania and Culpeper Counties. A few Welsh and French also moved into Rappahannock. The French settlers arrived from Manakin, a Huguenot Colony located on the James River. Amissville, one of the villages in Rappahannock County, was named after the Amiss family from the Colony at Manakin.
Local legend says that on July 24, 1749, George Washington, then a young surveyor, and his two chainmen John Lonem and Edward Corder laid out a town on the east slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains as part of their contract with Lord Fairfax, who owned vast acreages in what was then the frontier. Officially established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1795/6, the town was named Washington, the first town in the new nation to be named after the famous general and president. Today, Washington still has the same grid of streets laid out by Washington and his assistants, a small town in Rappahannock County in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, adjacent to Shenandoah National Park and 67 miles southwest of the city of Washington, D.C. Located on the site of an Indian trading post that served frontier families, hunters, and members of the Manohoac tribe, four of the streets in Washington bear the names of the men who owned land on which the town was founded: Wheeler, Calvert, Jett, and Porter. The Town of Washington is described by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources as “the best preserved of county-seat communities in the Piedmont.”
People from Rappahannock were active participants in the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States. Although during the War Between the States many small skirmishes were scattered throughout the County, the closest major battle occurred in Front Royal, north of Flint Hill. Cavalry raiding was a more typical War Between the States-era Rappahannock activity.
Taking its name from the river that has its source in the small streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Rappahannock became separate from Culpeper County by an Act of the General Assembly in 1833. The five villages, Amissville, Chester Gap, Flint Hill, Sperryville, Woodville, and the Town of Washington have significant historical value. Washington is the County seat. Fondly called “the first Washington”, and somewhat less politely referred to as “little Washington” to distinguish it from its larger cousin, it was surveyed and plotted by George Washington in 1749 and was established as a town in 1796. The villages of Rappahannock were frontier posts or crossroads. Today, these small residential clusters represent a focal point for County residents providing retail services, meeting places, post offices, and church activities. As it was in the 1700’s, Rappahannock’s economy is still agriculturally based with the surrounding villages providing basic services for the farms.
While there are currently no events listed specifically for Rappahannock County, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.