How Surry County, VA Was Founded

Beginnings in the New World

Surry County, Virginia, was named for the English County of Surrey. County court records begin with 1652, when Surry was formed from the part of James City County that lay southwest of James River. Mr. William Thomas, Mr. William Edwards, and Mr. George Stephens were Surry County's first representatives in the House of Burgesses (the General Assembly) that year.

Samuel Argall, Esquire, "principal Governor of Virginia," set the boundaries of Jamestown by proclamation on 28 March 1619 to include the whole island, with part of the main land lying on the east side of Argall Town adjoining the island, "also the neck of land on the north part, and so to the further part of Archer's Hope; also Hog Island; and from thence to the four mile Tree on the south, usually called by the name of Tappahannock." All settlers within these boundaries were considered members of the corporation and parish of Jamestown.

James City County was one of eight original shires designated in 1634. At that time it extended toward the southwest between Charles City and Isle of Wight (then Warrosquyoake), being terminated later by the boundary with North Carolina. South of the James River it was separated from Isle of Wight county by Lawne's Creek and from Charles City County (later Prince George County) by Upper Chippokes Creek. James City was made the capitol of the colony in 1639 by an Act of the Assembly.

A Map of James City County in 1634. Surry County would later become a derivative of James City in 1652.

A Map of James City County in 1634. Surry County would later become a derivative of James City in 1652.

Conflict Along the James River

The part of James City County that became Surry County was inhabited by the Quiyoughcohanocks, allies of the Algonquian Powhatan Confederacy, when Jamestown settlers visited in 1607. Early settlers reported that they were entertained very graciously during their first visit. John Rolfe's marriage to Pocohontas in 1614 helped to keep peace between Indians and English settlers for a time. Pocohontas died in England in 1616, however, and by 1622 the Powhatans had decided to rid their lands of the English settlers. On Friday, 11 April 1622, Indians living in English settlements all over the small colony rose up and attacked their English hosts, murdering and mutilating them in their homes. At Pace's Pains on the south shore of the James one Indian, a Christian named Chanco , refused to murder Richard Pace, warning him of the impending massacre instead. Three hundred and forty-seven English people were killed then. A list made the following February showed 1,277 people left alive in the colony.

Native American massacre of 1622,  depicted as a woodcut by Matthäus Merian, 1628. Image courtesy of  Wikipedia .

Native American massacre of 1622, depicted as a woodcut by Matthäus Merian, 1628. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Company, A Parish, and A “Castle”

Richard Pace was only one of the settlers on the south shore of James River. In May 1625 The Virginia Company of London listed sixteen settlers in the area that became Surry County. The Virginia Company's development of Virginia did not meet the expectations of the company stockholders or the English government. Sir Francis Wyatt, the last governor under the Virginia Company, became the first crown appointed governor 24 May 1624.

The crown honored patents issued by the Company and granted more lands to encourage settlement. Individuals could acquire one headright by paying the transportation cost of one person into the colony. One headright could be exchanged for fifty acres of Virginia land. Soon headrights were being sold, the system became corrupted, and in 1705 the General Assembly attempted to reform it. The 1705 act explicitly stated that individuals could not claim an individual headright more than once or claim headrights for sailors, and land claimants were required to submit sworn statements verifying their headright lists in county courts.

By 1640 James City County's population south of James River was sufficient to support a new parish, and Lawne's Creek Parish was established. Southwark Parish was separated from James City Parish in 1647, and Surry County was separated from James City County five years later. Soon afterward Arthur Allen built his Jacobean brick house, now known as Bacon's Castle because it was occupied as a fort or "castle" during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676.

Reports to the Bishop of London by the ministers of Lawne's Creek and Southwark parishes in the year 1724 were recorded by Bishop Meade. They were not prosperous parishes. In 1738 Albemarle Parish was created from those parts of Lawne's Creek and Southwark parishes that lay southwest of Blackwater River. The remaining parts of Lawne's Creek and Southwark were united into Southwark Parish. The entire area of Albemarle Parish was incorporated into Sussex County when it was formed from the southwestern end of Surry County in 1754.

Remnants of Lawne’s Creek Parish Church. Images courtesy of  Wikipedia .

Remnants of Lawne’s Creek Parish Church. Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

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