The Northern Neck is steeped in history, which one can feel just walking along the grassy trails from where confederates once fought, to the birthplace of the Father of our Nation, George Washington.
The Northern Neck rests on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and is surrounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River to the south. It includes the counties of Richmond, Lancaster, Northumberland, and Westmoreland.
In the winter of 1607–1608, the famed Captain John Smith, credited as the first European to discover the region, traveled up the Rappahannock River with the Powhatan Indians, landing in what is now known as the village of Morattico. Originally inhabited by eight Virginia Indian tribes who established villages along its shores, the Northern Neck is one of the most historic regions in Virginia. Smith referred to it as “a place heaven and earth never agreed better to frame man’s habitation.”
The original Northern Neck Land Grant in 1661 was first contrived in 1649. It encompassed all the lands bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. Most of the early development occurred on the eastern end of the peninsula where the Potomac and Rappahannock provided navigable waters. The English built stately homes, many of which still exist. They farmed tobacco for export to England, which became the basis of the Northern Neck’s economy during the Colonial era.
The Northern Neck’s most famous son, George Washington, born on Pope’s Creek off of the Potomac River, called the region “the Garden of Virginia.” Our nation’s fifth president, James Monroe, was born in Westmoreland County in 1758.
The Lee family of Virginia called the Northern Neck home and built Stratford Hall in the 1730s. A son of Thomas Lee, Richard Henry Lee, co-wrote the Westmoreland Resolves, which proposed American independence in 1766 in protest against the Stamp Act. Richard Henry Lee and his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee were the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence.
During the Steamboat Era, from 1813 to 1927, the Northern Neck was home to a network of about 600 steamboats that moved people and products throughout the region. In addition to bringing produce, cattle, and tourists, the steamboats made the Northern Neck more accessible to Baltimore and Fredericksburg, providing residents with entertainment from the James Adams Floating Theater that circulated ports of call throughout the Bay region.
The area also developed a strong seafood industry. Reedville, in Northumberland, was once the wealthiest town in the United States due to its menhaden fishing industry. That industry still remains strong today. The waters of the Potomac River, Rappahannock River, the Chesapeake Bay and their tributaries provide a haven for boaters, fishers and water enthusiasts. A short travel across the Downing Bridge from Warsaw to Essex brings residents to Tappahannock, a center of shopping and industry with hundreds of shops, unique stores, and restaurants that specialize in local seafood and fresh-farmed foods.
The Northern Neck is an area rich in history yet with all the amenities of today’s technology and products. It is a beautiful and amazing place to call home.