County Heritage

The roots of our nation’s heritage have spread from Jamestown, a tiny settlement along the James River, across the continent and to the Pacific Islands. The history of this County paints a picture of where American began.

For thousands of years before the arrival of the English settlers, migratory hunters lived along the Chesapeake Bay, first in base camps and then in permanent villages along the Bay's many estuaries. They were the ancestors of the Virginia Algonquins and the Powhatans. By the 1600's the several hundred Native Americans of the lower tidewater farmed and hunted near here, and communicated and traded with tribes on both sides of the Chesapeake.
Family Observes Cooking
Into this sparsely settled land came 104 hardy, determined English Colonists on May 13, 1607. They built a fort and small settlement, and farmed and traded with the Powhatans, who were friendly at the start. Soon the English established other settlements on the peninsula, with James Towne as the administrative center or capitol. On July 30, 1619, in Jamestown's Church, burgesses elected from each settlement in the colony formed the New World's first representative assembly. In August, a Dutch ship brought the first blacks to the colony.

Virginia was divided into 8 shires or counties in 1634. James City included what is now Surry County across the James River, part of Charles City County, and some of New Kent County. By the early 1640's, English settlers began spreading up and down the County, establishing generally modest farms and small plantations. Most contained about 250 acres, although places like Carter's Grove and Kingsmill, which came along later, often had more than 1,000 acres. In working small and middle-sized tracts, the early colonists foretold the upper James City County farms of today. The chief crop, tobacco, became the cornerstone of Virginia's economy for 200 years.

Continue the Story of James City County History Below

  1. Bacon's Rebellion
  2. Moving the Government
  3. The American Revolution
  4. The Civil War
  5. Early 20th Century
  6. Growth
  7. Anniversary Celebration
  8. A New Era
  9. Landmarks

Bacon's Rebellion

In the spring of 1676, Governor William Berkeley refused to send troops to pursue Indians from the upper Potomac who had killed more than 300 colonists. Frontier settlers, led by Nathaniel Bacon, took matters into their own hands and fought back. For this disobedience, Berkeley declared the popular Bacon and his men rebels. Bacon then forced Berkeley out of Jamestown to safety on the Eastern Shore, and continued his war against the Indians throughout the summer. Berkeley counterattacked in September, retaking Jamestown, but Bacon returned and forced the governor to flee again. In September 1676, Bacon set the town ablaze, destroying the church, statehouse and many other buildings. The following month Bacon became ill and died, leaving his men without a strong leader. Berkeley then easily put down the uprising and executed many of its ringleaders at Green Spring and Middle Plantation.

Fire destroyed the colony's fourth statehouse in October 1698.

Rich History in Everyday Life

On Route 60 just west of Toano, see Hickory Neck Episcopal Church, where Sunday services are held regularly in its north transept, built in 1774. The Georgian Mansion at Powhatan Plantation is visible from Ironbound Road. James City County's surviving nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century homes, farm buildings, and businesses are concentrated on or near Richmond Road in the upper County towns of Lightfoot, Norge and Toano, and scattered through the older areas along the Chickahominy River. Olive Branch Christian Church and Our Savior's Lutheran Church are 2 fine old churches still in use.

Today, James City County is home to over 70,000 residents and is 144.1 square miles in size. Its residents and visitors continue to enjoy the proud history of this diverse County. We hope you enjoy James City County’s history as well.
Jamestown Church