Harris, Public Information Officer, 804-365-6402
Hanover County was formed from New Kent in 1720. At the time,
its boundaries included what are now Louisa and a large part of Albemarle
County. The dividing line between Hanover and New Kent was based on the
parish lines of St. Paul's Parish, established by the Church of England.
According to Robert Bolling Lancaster in his seminal book, "A
Sketch of the Early History of Hanover County," the famous incident
in which Pocahontas saved John Smith's life took place near what is now
the Hanover/New Kent border.
John Smith's first map of the new Virginia colony, published in
England in 1612, depicted the courses of the Chickahominy and Pamunkey
Rivers into what is now Hanover.
Mechumps Creek is named for an Indian chief who lived in the area
of what is now Hanover County. A brother-in-law of Chief Powhatan, Mechumps
renounced Powhatan and helped the early settlers.
Totopotomoy Creek is named for a Pamunkey Indian chief who befriended
Virginia's early settlers. Totopotomoy was killed while fighting for the
English near what is now Richmond in 1656.
Hanovertown, first settled in 1676 under the name of Page's Warehouse,
was Hanover's first major settlement. When the House of Burgesses decided
to move the State's Capital from Williamsburg in 1779, Hanovertown came
within only a few votes of being named the new capital, instead of Richmond.
Cornwallis burned warehouses and destroyed military supplies at Hanovertown
in 1781. The settlement was still in existence in 1864, when the Army
of the Potomac passed through on the way to Cold Harbor. Only a monument
on River Road remains now to mark the existence of Hanovertown.
Another early Hanover settlement that nearly became the State
Capital was Newcastle, built on the banks of the Pamunkey River in far
eastern Hanover (the Broaddus property) around the 1730s. Patrick Henry's
father, John Henry drew a plat of the village, in 1751. When the capitol
building at Williamsburg burned in 1747, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses
proposed that the capitol building be rebuilt at Newcastle. His motion
apparently failed by two votes. By the Civil War, Newcastle had faded
into oblivion, apparently victimized by the increasing siltation of the
Nearly all of Hanover County's rivers and creeks were given their
current names by 1755, when a map rendered by Thomas Jefferson's father
was published in London and Paris.
Slash Church near Hanover Courthouse is the oldest frame church
still standing in Virginia. It dates back to 1729. Patrick Henry's rector
was the rector between 1737 and 1777.
Fork Episcopal Church in Doswell is one of the oldest churches
in Virginia. It has been in continuous use since 1735.
The South's first Presbyterians met at Polegreen Church off what
is now Rural Point Road. Built in 1748, its members included a young Patrick
Henry. The Church was burned to the ground in 1864 when it was struck
by artillery fire during the Civil War. The soldier who fired the fateful
shot was a member of the congregation.
Salem Presbyterian Church in Studley, Beulah Presbyterian Church
in Cold Harbor, Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Old Church, Black Creek
Baptist Church in Black Creek, Winn's Baptist Church in Elmont and Calvary
Christian Church in Farrington are among Hanover's churches founded in
the mid-18th century that are still active today.
"Old Church" is named after Immanuel Episcopal Church,
established in Hanovertown on the Pamunkey River before 1684. It was moved
in 1718 to the crossroads that now marks the center of the Old Church
The old Courthouse at Hanover Courthouse dates back to 1735 and
is one of the oldest in Virginia. Patrick Henry gained fame as a young
lawyer in its courtroom when he argued the "Parson's Cause"
case in 1763.
Built around 1732, the original Hanover Tavern served as an overnight stop on the stagecoach route between Richmond and Williamsburg during Colonial times. Legend has it that its visitors included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette, Cornwallis, J.E.B. Stuart and P.T. Barnum. The oldest section of the existing building dates to about 1791.
Sycamore Tavern in Montpelier was built around the same time as
Hanover Tavern and was a stop on the stagecoach route from Richmond to
Charlottesville during Colonial times. Among those who stayed under its
roof were Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Patrick Henry organized what is believed to be the first company
of volunteers in Virginia to fight in the Revolutionary War at Merry Oaks
Tavern in 1774. Long gone, the Tavern was located near the intersection
of what is now Ashcake and Sliding Hill Road.
“Rural Plains” near Studley is believed to be the oldest home in Hanover County, dating back to 1670. Sir John Shelton received the property on which it stands through a King’s Grant bestowed in 1609, and it has remained in the Shelton family since. It is the oldest home in the United States in continuous possession of one family. Patrick Henry married Sarah Shelton at “Rural Plains” in 1754. It was damaged by Confederate cannonballs during the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek in 1864. “Rural Plains” was dedicated to the National Park Service in June 2006 as part of a 124-acre historic park.
"Hickory Hill" spans more than 3,000 acres between Ashland
and Hanover Courthouse and is still owned by members of the Wickham family,
who built it in 1820. Trees on the property are believed to have been
brought from Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry as a result of his historic
visit in 1854. General William H.R. "Rooney" Lee, son of Gen.
Robert E. Lee, was captured by Union soldiers on the property but his
younger brother escaped capture by hiding in the plantation's famous box
hedges. The property is the largest still in the hands of one family in
Scotchtown was Patrick Henry's home between 1771-77, while he
was Virginia's first governor. Built in 1720, it may be the oldest plantation
home in Virginia. Dolley Madison, wife of President Madison, lived there
as a young girl.
Hanover County nearly boasted of a native son becoming president.
Henry Clay sought the presidency on three occasions and was nominated
by the Whig Party in 1840, but lost to James K. Polk. Clay is remembered
as one of the giants of the early 19th century for his work in forging
compromises between North and South. "If any president in that era
could have prevented the Civil War, it would likely have been Henry Clay,"
wrote Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
Ashland was incorporated in 1858. Originally known as "Slash
Cottage", it attained popularity as a resort after a mineral springs
was discovered there around 1851 where Randolph-Macon College is now located.
John Brown, the famous abolitionist who was hanged after his failed
raid at Harper's Ferry in 1859, had a connection to Hanover County. Brown
visited the old home known as "Bear Island" en route to Harper's
Ferry and, according to tradition, attempted to incite the family's slaves
to insurrection. The late Lewis F. Powell, the most recent Virginian to
serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, spent much of his boyhood at the same
Doswell was named Hanover Junction at the time of the Civil War,
but was renamed in honor of Major Thomas W. Doswell, who bred thoroughbred
horses that were among the most accomplished in the nation around the
turn of the last century.
Secretariat, the greatest modern racehorse, was born at "Meadow
Farm" on the border of Hanover and Caroline counties.
Katherine Hepburn’s grandfather served as rector at three churches in Hanover County – Fork Episcopal Church in Doswell, St. Paul’s at Hanover Courthouse and Immanuel at Old Church – in the early 20th century. Sewell S. Hepburn often visited Hickory Hill while making his circuit. Hepburn’s father Thomas Norval Hepburn, was born in Hanover County in 1879 and spent his boyhood here, graduating from Randolph-Macon College in 1901. Thomas Hepburn lived briefly in one of the cottages at old Hanover Academy on what is now Old Ridge Road while it was a private residence. The famous actress visited her grandfather in Hanover County as a child and her return to Ashland in 1938 and tour of Randolph-Macon College drew hordes of autograph seekers on what was then an all-male campus.
A Hanover man fired the first shot in the Civil War. Edmund Ruffin,
an ardent secessionist, is said to have been given the "honor"
of firing the first cannon upon Fort Sumter in 1861. Ruffin was one of
the most accomplished agricultural scientists in the U.S. in the mid-19th
century, with his experiments with marl teaching us much about the value
of lime. He was also the longtime editor of the "Farmer's Register",
which at the time was the most widely-read farm magazine in the U.S. He
lived at Marlbourne in eastern Hanover County.
"Signal Hill" received its name when it was used as
a signal station during the battle of Hanover Courthouse during the Civil
Gaines' Mill in eastern Hanover is the site of Gen. Robert E.
Lee's first battlefield victory in the Civil War. Two years later, much
of the same ground was fought over again in the battle of Cold Harbor,
Lee's last battlefield victory.
More than 7000 Union soldiers fell in 20 minutes during the terrible
charge at the Battle of Cold Harbor, the bloodiest 20 minutes of the Civil
Hanover has established two parks around Civil War battlefields
- the Garthright House Park in Cold Harbor and North Anna Park in Doswell.
A third park being established as part of the "Bell Creek" rezoning
case in 2000 is the Totopotomoy Battlefield, which will be accepted into
the Richmond National Battlefield Parks System.
Randolph-Macon College is the oldest Methodist-affiliated college
in the United States.