By Kyle Willyard
In the eighteenth century, Culpeper comprised one of the larger counties in Virginia. Formed in 1748 from a part of Orange county, it originally comprised the territory which is now Culpeper, Madison and Rappahonnock counties. Culpeper's rolling hills border the Blue-Ridge Mountains on the West and is drained by tributaries of the Rappahannock and Rapid Anne rivers, which form partial boundaries on the north, south and east.
As early as 1714, there was a settlement in the area that would become Culpeper County. On the banks of the Rapidan River, a village known as Germanna was founded by fifty German emigrants. There is a reference to Governor Spotswood having a furnace and iron manufactory near Germanna in 1724.
In the year of 1716, an expedition was organized by Governor Spotswood for the purpose of finding a passage over the mountains. The party consisted largely of the Governor, his aids and other gentry. The expedition was, for them, a great little adventure. They passed through the future county of Culpeper and amused themselves by hunting deer and bear. On September 6th, they ascended the Appalachians and named the highest mount after their sovereign, King George. After that, they produced a variety of liquors which had been brought for this very occasion and proceeded to drink to the health of the King, Princess, Royal Family, Governor, and anyone else of some importance, with champagne, claret, Virginia red and white wine, cherry punch, cider, Irish usquebaugh, brandy, shurb, rum; etc. (Green, p.41)
The expedition of 1716 was one of the earliest explorations west of Germanna by the English. By the middle of the 18th century, the population of Virginia, which had been concentrated about the coastal regions, was increasing at a rapid pace. Good land was mosfly owned by men of great wealth, who lived on plantations that incorporated thousands of acres. In search of land that was affordable to the poor and middling sort, an emigration westward began.
Great landholders such as lord Fairfax and King Carter had been granted by the King, extensive holdings of land bordering the Blue Ridge and were making surveys and plans for its setfiement. By 1748, there were enough people in those western foothills of the Blueridge that Culpeper could be formed into its own county.
A young seventeen-year-old George Washington, who had just been made a public surveyor by the President of William and Mary College was chosen to help survey Culpeper. He had already surveyed much land in the area while working for lord Fairfax. (Green, p.13)
The French and Indian war soon began and several of Culpeper's residents were distinguished veterans. Among them were men such as James and Thomas Slaughter and also John Field, who had served under Forbes in 1758, and was later killed in 1774 while leading a group of Culpeper Militia at the battle of Point Pleasant.
Daniel Boone for a short while called Culpeper home. During the French and Indian War, Cherokees had went on the rampage on the North Carolina frontier. Daniel and Rebecca took a two-horse wagon and went to Culpeper County near Fredricksburg. The young pioneer worked as a wagoneer, hauling tobacco to the market. He did some hunting and occasionally scouted for Indian sign. (Bakeless, p.31)
After the war, the movement westward increased and the population of Culpeper continued to grow. Well made churches of brick were built, and farms such as Caltapa, the estate home of Major Phillip Clayton, were cleared and cultivated. Small towns sprang up, and goods were transported to the costal towns by way of the Rivers.
Typical of Virginia, much of Culpeper's population was of English decent. But, there was also a large number of German heritage, some no doubt descended from the original setfiers at Germanna. One look over roll books of the Revolutionary and French and Indian Wars will show Culpeper also had a fair amount of Irish and Scotts living there. Some, such as George Hume, left Scotland when their support of the Jacobite rebellions forced them into exile.
In the 1770's, Culpeper, like most of Virginia, was rural and dependant upon agriculture. Its rolling hills were dotted with fields, woods and pasture. Culpeper was a middle ground between the cultured East and the unaimed West. On one side; bustling coastal counties whose large plantations, handsome mansions and towns could rival any in England. And on the other; a great wilderness lay just over the mountains to the west, where only a handful of fortified settlements defied nature and hostile natives.
Culpeper was a mixture of vast landholders and small farmers; of merchants, tradesmen and frontiersmen. There were lawyers such as John Marshall who enlisted in Captain Edward Stevens company of Minutemen, was later at Valley Forge and became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. There were doctors, other professionals, blacksmiths, gunsmiths and craftsmen of all trades. And, there were also slaves and indentured servants. Culpeper was home to a diverse group of people of many different ethical and social backgrounds.
Copyright 1995 by Kyle Willyard
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All images are copyright 2011 by the Culpeper Minute Battalion, or Gary Liming