It looks like a trip to Virginia’s coastal plain is in store for us next year. As part of the scouting report, I’ve been reading, “Tidewater Towns: City Planning in Colonial Virginia and Maryland” by John W. Reps. His book is dated, (1972) but is absolutely brilliant with great maps and research. Reps has written 14 books on the history of urban planning, a foremost expert in the field.
Around 1680, the King of England directed the colonies to establish 20 towns along Virginia’s tidewater rivers (the James, York, Rappahannock rivers). Previously, plantation owners had picked their own rural spots for their farms and rolled the tobacco hogsheads to the nearest best place on the river.
The British business interests wanted designated ports. Lord Culpeper, Colonial Governor, hammered through the appropriate legislation in the General Assembly. Despite protests, the governor got his wish and the “Act of Cohabitation” and other similar measures were passed.
A handful of these towns had staying power, including Norfolk and Hampton, while about half never got going or faded away. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the ones that did not.
Please be aware Reps notes in some cases, there is only fragmentary information on what happened to these towns.
We’ll start with the northern most towns, and work our way down to the cradle of the new world, Jamestown and the James River.
Location: Stafford County, about 8 miles NE of Fredericksburg.
Reps: On February 11, 1692, 27 lots were purchased by fifteen applicants. Probably a few houses constructed. Act of 1706 designated it as an official port. Courthouse and several homes burned in 1718. 1723, town abandoned.
John Mercer bought the lots in 1726. Built mansion, mill, brewery, glass factory. His fleet of ships used the wharf. Tavern and racetrack built. After his death in 1768, town used as a shipping point until the 1780s. “Eventually faded into oblivion.”
On the Web:
Nice write up by Fredericksburg Markers group. Mercer was George Mason’s uncle by marriage and became his legal guardian.
Location: In Northumberland County, few miles southeast of Hughsville.
No further information in the book.
On the web: None.
Location: Lancaster County, north side of Rappahhanock, about four miles northeast of Urbanna.
Reps: Land not acquired until 1692. Robert Carter one the trustees. Courthouse built in 1698. Town failed, courthouse abandoned in 1771, harbor filled up with silt. Site vacant.
On the Web: shows being an unincorporated area.
Middle Peninsula (Between Rappahannock and York)
Location: 6 miles southwest of Mathews, near Ware Neck.
Reps: Not in index.
Location: Highway 17 bridge, below Tindall’s Point Park. Inlet was a cove on the 1707 map.
Reps: Some development, never rivaled Yorktown across the river, suffered during the Revolutionary War. In 1796, Isaac Weld found only 10 to 12 homes.
Virginia Peninsula (Between York and James)
Location: Ten miles west of Hampton, just east of Fort Eustis.
Reps: Not in index.
The web notes Warwick is an extinct independent city from 1952 to 1958.
Below James River
Location: Below Jamestown in Surry County, south side of James River.
Notable Name Nearby: Cobham Bay
Reps: Failed to survive. Fleeting period of prosperity. Ferry to Jamestown. One ordinary, couple of warehouses for tobacco. No surviving structures.
Wiki: According to the Surry County Historical Society, "today there is little evidence of the town, which became mostly farmland." The society reports that "farmers, while plowing the fields, have run into old foundations, as well as finding locks, broken china, and even a long-barreled pistol."
Location: On Pagan Creek in Isle of Wight County, rubbing shoulders with Smithfield
Reps: Virtually disappeared as early as 1776. Assembly noted: it being a remote part of the county and very inconvenient for trade, now entirely useless to the publick or the said country.
No wiki entry.
Location: Up the river towards Richmond.
Not in index.
Location: West of Norfolk.
No index information.