King and Queen County, created in 1691 from New Kent County and named for the ruling monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II of England, extended west to the heads of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers.
Portions of the original county later were separated to form King William and Caroline counties. The boundary line with Caroline was in contention until the line issue was resolved in 1742.
Rural Communities at River’s Edge
Today King and Queen County is approximately 70 miles long, 10 miles at its widest, and bounded by the York and Mattaponi rivers, the Dragon Run and Maracossic and Poropotank creeks. The Trail (Route 14), the main road, connects to Newtown Road in the upper end and runs the length of the county. The Trail refers to The Chiskiack Trail, which is often cited in old documents, sometimes corrupted to “Cheesecake” Trail. This road, as well as many others in the county, were originally paths connecting the numerous towns inhabited by the indigenous people.
King and Queen County contains no incorporated towns or cities and, with a population of 6,600, is now one of the least populated counties in the Commonwealth. The county’s most populous period was recorded by the 1790 census, when the population was roughly 18,000 persons and included both free and enslaved.
Fires destroyed official county records twice, the first in 1828, and the second in 1864, when Union troops set fire to both the Courthouse and the Clerk’s Office in retribution for the death of Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren, a Federal cavalry officer. Every structure in the surrounding community was burned except the building that now houses the Courthouse Tavern Museum.
Rich in Historical Significance
The history of King and Queen County is rich with interesting stories and accomplishments. Read on to learn more, or click here for an interactive map featuring historical points of interest.
Knights of the Golden Horseshoe
In 1716, a company of men that included 10 “gentlemen” (four from King and Queen) and servants, were led by Gov. Alexander Spotswood, their objective being to reach the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Spotswood started the journey in his carriage, crossed the York River at West Point, travelled through the county and stopped at Robert Beverley’s home, Beverley Park, in the upper end of King and Queen. There the Governor traded his carriage for a horse, as the path forward was inappropriate for a wheeled vehicle. After a pause in Germanna to shoe its horses, the party was increased by two companies of rangers and four guides from the Meherrin tribe. The party reached its goal and returned to Williamsburg once again to enjoy the hospitality of the county at both Beverley Park, and John Baylor’s home, Mantua. At the end of the trip, Spotswood presented a gold horseshoe pin to each of the 10 men who became known as the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.
Of Bridges and Taverns
Todd’s Bridge was at the upper limit of navigation on the Mattaponi River from Colonial times through the Civil War. Thomas Todd acquired 1,000-plus acres there and established a trading post with several warehouses, including one where tobacco was inspected, sealed, and taxed for export to England. In time, this crossing carried the stage and the post road, delivering mail and passengers from Miller’s Tavern and beyond to Williamsburg and later to Richmond. Nearby, the Moraticco Race Ground and Bernard Moore’s iron forge added to the commercial value of the site.
Burgess George Washington stopped at Todd’s Tavern on his way to Williamsburg. In 1781, General Rochambeau’s cavalry of 200 Hussars passed by on their way to harass the British encamped in Gloucester. By 1800, Todd’s Bridge was renamed Dunkirk and an attempt was made to redevelop the area. The warehouses were still in use when the Fleet family acquired the property in the 1840s, but the river silting up made navigation more difficult. The bridge was burned by Federal Cavalry units twice during the Civil War. After 1865, use of the crossing diminished. The bridge was kept open for local use until 1918.
The Walkerton Way
Walkerton, the site of the early colonial Fort Mattaponi, is another river ferry town. It once had a tobacco warehouse, two grist mills, a saw mill, stores, a vegetable cannery, and hotels. Steamboats stopped there on their way between West Point and Aylett. The hotels functioned as boarding houses for the cannery’s seasonal staff and as an overnight stay for drummers and salesmen who took the Trice stage from Walkerton to Lester Manor in King William, returning to Richmond by train. Walkerton remains a lively town of 50-plus homes with a post office, fire department, rescue squad, boat ramp, shops, and daycare center.
A History of Education
Education has been of primary importance in the history of the county. The Donald Robertson School, located in Robertson’s Neck on the upper Mattaponi River, operated in the late Colonial period. James Madison, later president of the newly formed United States, is the school’s most well-known scholar. Students there learned mathematics, geography, and classical languages, including Latin, from Robertson, a Scotsman by birth. They also were exposed to the philosophers of the Enlightenment Movement, including Locke and Montesquieu. John Tyler, father of President Tyler, also studied there. Throughout the 19th century, private schools for men and women operated throughout the county, attended by both local and boarding students. A partial list of these schools includes Newtown, Stevensville, Fleetwood, and Aberdeen Academies. Locust Cottage Female Seminary, Green Mount School for Young Ladies, Landon Female Seminary, and Rappahannock Female Institute provided a classical education to young women.
In 1869, the Underwood Constitution of Virginia mandated primary public education for everyone. As a result, many one- and two-room schools were built throughout the county. Few still exist. Church Hill School, constructed in 1895 for Black students closed in 1937. Mount Zion Baptist Church bought the property, maintained the building, and it is currently home to the J.C. Graves Museum, named in honor of the former pastor who also taught there.
The Ruffin Academy, established by Rev. J.R. Ruffin in 1894, was the only high school for Black students in the county. The excellence of the school attracted students from outside the state. This school later became the first county’s public Black high school when it was renamed King and Queen Industrial High School. The school occupied a new building paid for, in part, by the Rosenwald Fund. Among the seven Rosenwald schools built in King and Queen County, only one remains standing — the Green Briar School building owned and maintained by New Morningstar Baptist Church.
Figures Who Made an Impact
Many King and Queen County natives have performed notable public services outside of the county. A few are exceptional:
- Robert Beverley wrote The History and Present State of Virginia, published in 1705.
- Carter Braxton, born at Newington near the Court House, attached his signature to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
- Rev. Robert Baylor Semple, who established Bruington Baptist Church in 1790, wrote History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia, published in 1810. He also was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Columbian College (now a part of The George Washington University).
- Robert Ryland of Farmington was the first president of Richmond College (now the University of Richmond).
- Emma Broaddus of Newtown was a medal-winning nurse who cared for war casualties at the U.S. Base Hospital #45 in France during and after the World War I.
- Elected in 1929, John Garland Pollard, born at Bunker Hill in Stevensville, became the first King and Queen County native to serve as governor of Virginia.
The history of the county may be explored through the exhibits and archives available at the King and Queen Courthouse Tavern Museum. A more complete version of the county’s history may be found in Land and Heritage in the Virginia Tidewater: A History of King and Queen County, published in 1993.