Gloucester County, Virginia

Gloucester County, Virginia

Gloucester is a county of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the USA. Formed in 1651 in the Virginia Colony, it was named for Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, third son of King Charles I of Great Britain. Located in the Middle Peninsula region, it borders the York River and the lower Chesapeake Bay. It is about 75 miles east of Virginia's capital, Richmond. As of the 2000 census, the population was 34,780.

Gloucester is steeped in history of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It was the site of Werowocomoco, a capital of the Native American group known as the Powhatan Confederacy. It was home to members of early First Families of Virginia and important colonial leaders leading up to the American Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson is said to have composed much of his early work for Virginia and colonial independence at Rosewell Plantation overlooking the York River, then the home of his close friend and fellow student in Williamsburg at the College of William and Mary, John Page. From one of the First Families of Virginia, John Page himself was a famous patriot serving as both Governor of Virginia and in the U.S. Congress; Gloucester County Public Schools named Page Middle School in his honor. As the war came to a conclusion at Yorktown directly across from Gloucester Point, the county almost served as the escape route for the British land forces led by General Cornwallis. A French effort kept British naval forces from assisting him.

Long the domain of Virginia watermen and its fishing industries, Gloucester County is also rich in farmland. It is home to two Starbucks, a Walmart as well as several smaller companies and a regional, family-owned chain of supermarkets which contribute to its small town, friendly, southern atmosphere, such as the stores around the main street area at the county seat, Gloucester Courthouse.

Despite the retention of rural and small-town aspects, Gloucester County and adjacent Mathews County are also considered a portion of the greater Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia, linked by the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge a toll facility across the York River carrying U.S. Route 17 to the Virginia Peninsula area. The zip code is 23061, and the telephone area code 804. Gloucester County is also referred to as the daffodil capitol of the world, and features an annual daffodil parade.

History

Native Americans

The recorded history of Gloucester County, located in the first district of the United States, began soon after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. Prior to that time, it was long-inhabited by the hunter-gatherer groups of Native Americans during the late Woodland Period and earlier. By the late 16th century, the Powhatan Confederacy had been formed in the area. Werowocomoco, a stronghold of Chief Powhatan was located on the north side of the York River, in what is now Gloucester.

Arrival of Europeans

Around 1570, Spanish Jesuits priests attempted to establish what was called the Ajacan Mission across the York River from Gloucester but were eliminated by Natives led by a supposed Christian-convert named Don Luis who was affiliated with a village in current York County (on the gorunds of the current Naval Weapons Station Yorktown) which was known as Chiskiack.

When English settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607, they soon came into conflict with the natives (who they called "Indians") as well. In late 1607, when captured along the Chickahominy River, John Smith was brought to Powhatan at his eastern capitol in Gloucester County, Werowocomoco. According to legend, his daughter, the Princess Pocahontas saved the gallant John Smith from death at the hands of the Indians, and thus, entered the pages of Virginia's history. Some historians question the accuracy of Smith's account of that ceremony, but the existence of Werowocomoco as a capital of Chief Powhatan was confirmed by a later visit when Smith was accompanied by other Englishmen.

Lost Site of Werowocomoco

The site of Werowocomoco was lost during the 17th century, after it was abandoned around 1609, when the chief moved his capital to a safer more inland location. The current site of West Point (a town established at the confluence of the Pamunkey River and Mattaponi River at the headwaters of the York River clearly meets a description in writings of John Smith, and early leader at Jamestown. From there, a distance downstream to Werowocomoco was provided. It was long thought that Werowocomoco was located near Wicomico, which is the site of Powhatan's Chimney, and is about 25 miles east of present-day West Point, Virginia, based largely upon the mileage figure provided by Smith. However, also according to Smith, when Jamestown was established by the English colonists in 1607, it was 12 miles away from Werowocomoco as the crow flies. The long-thought location near Wicomico is much further from Jamestown than that.

A location some distance from Wicomico on Purtan Bay was first identified in 1977 as the possible location by Daniel Mouer, an archaeologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. An associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Mouer collected artifacts from the surface of plowed fields and along the beach. He found fragments of Indian ceramic from the Late Woodland/Contact Period and determined that this area was the "possible site of Werowocomoco.

After years of collecting artifacts at ground level, a later landowner authorized additional archaeological exploration. Between March 2002 and April 2003 archaeologists conducted an archaeological survey of a portion of the property. Initial testing included digging 603 test holes, 12 to 16 inches deep and 50 feet apart, where thousands of artifacts, including a blue bead that may have been made in Europe for trading, were found. There, along with historical descriptions, suggest the farm was the site of Werowocomoco. We believe we have sufficient evidence to confirm that the property is indeed the village of Werowocomoco," said Randolph Turner, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources' Portsmouth Regional Office in 2003.

Two Gloucester-based archaeologists, Thane Harpole and David Brown, were instrumental in the work at the site since 2002 and are involved in the excavations there. Starting that year, the Werowocomoco Research Group began excavations at the Werowocomoco site. The Research Group is a collaborative effort of the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and Virginia tribes descended from the Powhatans. The excavations have identified a dispersed village community occupied from A.D. 1200 through the early seventeenth century. Artifacts recovered during the excavations include Native pottery, stone tools, as well as floral and faunal remains from a large residential community. The Research Group has also recovered large numbers of English trade goods produced from glass, copper, and other metals originating from Jamestown. The colonists' accounts of interaction at Werowocomoco emphasize Powhatan's efforts to obtain large numbers of English objects, particularly copper, during the early days of the Jamestown colony.

It is notable that, unlike some earlier projects, at this site, the archaeologists and other researchers have carefully incorporated ongoing consultation with members of the local Native American tribes, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, who are prominent among the decedents of the Powhatan Confederacy, as such sites which include burial artifacts are sacred to these tribes.

"When I step on this site folks...I just feel different. The spirituality just touches me and I feel it." Stephen R. Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Tribe and a member of the Virginia Indian advisory board

Even through the controversy over years of the purported location of Werowocomoco, Gloucester County has been able to embrace the fact that Werowocomoco and a lot of other significant Powhatan heritage are portions of the county's history. It has been noted that both the newly identified site on Purtan Bay and the site of Powhatan's Chimney at Wicomico, also long-thought to have been the site of Werowocomoco, are each located within an area that the Native Americans may have considered as Werowocomoco. It has been noted in the minutes of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors that the village of the chief in the Algonquian language was not a place name, but more correctly translated, a reference to the lands where he lived, and the lifestyle included frequent relocations of various quarters within a general area.

English Developments

In 1619, the Virginia Company divided its developed areas into four incorporations, also called "citties" (sic). At that time, most of not all of the area which became Gloucester County would have been considered part of "James Cittie", although essentially not settled. Then, in 1634, by order of King Charles I, the colony was divided into the Eight shires of Virginia. York County was originally named Charles River Shire, to be renamed in 1642 during the English Civil War. (The York River was earlier known to the natives as "Pamunkey" (as a portion upstream from West Point still is) and to the English colonists as Charles River, also renamed during the English Civil War).

Early land patents in the area were granted in 1639, but it was not until after 1644 that Gloucester was considered safe for settlement. George Washington's great grandfather received a Gloucester County land patent in 1650.

County Divisions

By order of the Virginia General Assembly, Gloucester County was formed from York County in 1651, and consisted of four parishes: Abingdon, Kingston, Petsworth and Ware. It was named for Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, third son of Charles I, Gloucester County figured prominently in the history of the colony and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Kingston parish became Mathews County in 1791 and the remaining three parishes stayed Gloucester, as the county was split on what is now the Eastern county line.

Farming and Notable People

In the 1600s and 1700s, Gloucester was a tobacco producing area, and many old plantation homes and magnificent private estates remain today in perfect condition. From time to time, these establishments are open to public visitation during Historic Garden Week. In addition, there are fine examples of Colonial architecture in the churches of Ware (1690) and Abingdon (1755), and some early buildings remain at the county seat on the Courthouse Green actively serving the public.

In the seventeenth century, the tip of land protruding into the York River, across from Yorktown, was named Tyndall's Point by Robert Tyndall, mapmaker for Captain John Smith. Later named Gloucester Point, fortifications were built here in 1667, and were rebuilt and strengthened many times from colonial days through the American Civil War. This site is also known as the "Second Surrender" by General Charles Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown.

Following English settlement, Gloucester became home to many colonial leaders. Several other points of interest include Warner Hall, George Washington's maternal grandmother's home, which is now a B&B; the site and ruins of Rosewell, where Thomas Jefferson spent many nights with his friend John Page; and both presidents Washington and Jefferson worshiped (often spotted together at the same service) at Abingdon Episcopal Church. Other notable Gloucestonians include John Buckner, who in 1680 brought the colony its first printing press; John Clayton, world renowned botanist; Dr. Walter Reed, born in the Clay Bank area of Gloucester, conqueror of yellow fever during the building of the Panama Canal; Lawyer and civil rights activist T. C. Walker, though born in slavery, broke those chains and became one of Gloucester's first and most respected, successful African-American businessman; and Robert R. Moton, who successfully fought and lobbied for a Black man to be appointed as an assistant to the Secretary of War.

Guinea

One area of Gloucester County is known as Guinea, which includes the unincorporated communities of Achilles, Bena, Severn, and Big Island. Located near Gloucester Point, the area has historically been the center of the seafood industry of the county, being led by some of the founding families of Gloucester, such as Shackleford, Rowe, and Belvin. While the number of participants in this industry has declined over the years, it still remains the industrious and cultural core of the community. These water-men are known locally as "Guineamen." This term is not inherently derisive, but is often used as such by residents of other parts of Gloucester County. Guineamen speak a distinct, heavily-accented form of non-rhotic Southern Vernacular English, but not necessarily a distinct dialect.

The name "Guinea" is of uncertain origin; a commonly held but false explanation is that this area of Gloucester County was named "Guinea" in an effort to deride the Tories (Loyalists) who quartered Hessian mercenaries in service of the British Crown during the Revolutionary War soldiers who were paid one guinea per day. It is believed the Hessians were attached to General Charles Lord Cornwallis' (of Yorktown fame) army and either occupied lower Gloucester during the closing days of the Revolutionary War or deserted their service fighting for the British. What is known is Cornwallis sent British troops and cavalry (under the command of Colonel Banastre Tarleton) to occupy Gloucester in October 1781, and Hessians may have been a part of that contingency and were sent to secure lower Gloucester due to its strategic importance at the mouth of the York River. However, the area in the upper part of the neck was called "Little Guinea" prior to the Yorktown campaign. It IS quite possible that the marshy, somewhat isolated peninsula now known as Guinea was populated by British deserters, as after the surrender of Cornwallis, British prisoners in Gloucester county were allowed to wander about without confinement or guards, a situation perplexing to General Washington.

Daffodils

The history of the daffodil in Gloucester County, Virginia, is almost as old as the county itself. When Gloucester was formed in 1651 from part of York County the early settlers brought these soft reminders of English springs as they established themselves in the area. The soil and weather conditions were ideal for daffodils. The bulbs were passed from neighbor to neighbor and spread from the orderly beds and burying grounds of the great houses to the fields. Some, such as the hardy Trumpet Major variety, seemed to thrive on neglect. By the beginning of the 20th century daffodils grew wild in the untended fields of Gloucester. It is from this abundance of natural beauty that grew the extensive daffodil industry which earned the county the title "Daffodil Capital of America" in the 1930s and 40s. They also hold an annual Daffodil Festival to commemorate this stapled flower.

Tourism

Battle of the Hook reenactment

On October 17-19 2008, some 2,000 Revolutionary War reenactors (www.battleofthehook.com ) will converge on Warner Hall in Gloucester County to commemorate the defeat of Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion by the colorful hussars of the Duc de Lauzun's Legion and Mercer's Select Battalian of Virginia Militia Grenadiers. A key battle in American independence, the "Battle of the Hook" cut off Cornwallis's supplies and his escape route, forcing his surrender on October 19, 1781. An hour after the surrender at Yorktown, the British and Hessian forces in Gloucester surrendered, marking the final significant battle of the American War of Independence.

Daffodil Festival

As previously mentioned, Gloucester County is known for its daffodils which are a major boost to business each year at the spring Daffodil Festival, for local store owners. The 22nd annual Daffodil Festival will be on March 29th and 30th, 2008.

Black Powder and Paint Festival

Gloucester also has a historic court circle, which is also where the annual Black Powder and Paint Festival is held, at which you can buy high-quality handmade crafts like powder horns, and sea shell jewelry.

Beaver Dam Park

Beaverdam is a combination of a park and a reservoir, where visitors can go hiking, boating, fishing, and picnicking. The park is very large, and is surrounded by trails all around the reservoir.

VIMS

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is the professional graduate school in marine science for the College of William and Mary, the country's second-oldest university which is headquartered in nearby Williamsburg. It is located at Gloucester Point along what would be the county's beach, taking samples and measurements for the Chesapeake Bay, and putting specimens on display. Many people flock to VIMS from the surrounding counties during the Marine Science Day each year.

Schools

Gloucester County Public Schools is the Virginia public school division serving the county. It has nine total public schools, of which, six elementary (grades K-5), two intermediate (grades 6-8), and one high school (grades 9-12). There have been numerous proposals to make the school system switch to year round school like a few neighboring counties, but the board has rejected each proposal. In mathematics and language, advanced courses are offered. In mathematics, attendees can take courses two years before they're required, and in language, students can take "advanced language" which is at a higher level than their peers.

Elementary Schools

In Gloucester county the six elementary schools start class at 8:00 am, and end 3:30 pm. The six schools are as follows:
Abingdon, Achilles, Bethel, Botetourt, Petsworth, and T.C. Walker.
Unlike the middle and high schools, these schools give a group of around twenty students to a teacher for a whole school year.

Middle Schools

Gloucester county also has two middle schools that start at 7:50 am with homeroom and end at 2:25 pm. The schools have block scheduling, and teams (basically a complete division of the grade). The schools' names are Peasley, and Page.

High School

The county has one high school, simply called Gloucester High School (GHS). The school mascot is the former Duke of Gloucester, and their school hours are 7:40 am to 2:40 pm.

Main Street

The county's main street has had a long and vibrant past. As of present Gloucester county has three courthouses, with one now considered historical, along mainstreet. Gloucester's mainstreet is well preserved, even having a barber shop, but the county is conducting a major overhaul of the sidewalk system, which takes away from the old world feel of the street. Every year Gloucester has a daffodil parade along main street, where vendors travel to rack up on the local's love of their past.

Geography

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 288 square miles (746 km²), of which, 217 square miles (561 km²) of it is land and 71 square miles (185 km²) of it (24.79%) is water.

Demographics

As of the 2005 census, there were 38,293 people, 15,663 households, and 9,884 families residing in the county. The population density was 161 people per square mile (62/km²). There were 14,494 housing units at an average density of 67 per square mile (26/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 86.20% White, 8.6% Black or African American, 0.5% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 0.40% from other races, and 1.3% from two or more races. 1.9% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 13,127 households out of which 35.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.40% were married couples living together, 9.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 24.70% were non-families. 20.30% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.62 and the average family size was 3.02.

In the county, the population was spread out with 26.20% under the age of 18, 6.80% from 18 to 24, 30.40% from 25 to 44, 24.80% from 45 to 64, and 11.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 96.50 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.90 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $45,421, and the median income for a family was $48,760. Males had a median income of $35,838 versus $24,325 for females. The per capita income for the county was $19,990. About 6.80% of families and 8.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.70% of those under age 18 and 8.50% of those age 65 or over.

Census-designated places

References

External links

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