Welcome to Chesterfield County!

Chesterfield County traces its past to the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the first English settlers in 1611 to establish the second permanent settlement in the New World. It also is the place of Revolutionary War engagements and major Civil War campaigns, and boasts of many firsts, including the first commercial cultivation of tobacco, the first ironworks and the first commercially-mined coal in North America. Find out about all this interesting history and more!

Chesterfield is a place of incredible beauty - there is so much to see and do. With the James and Appomattox rivers forming much of its borders, there are countless opportunities for boating and fishing. The county is the location of Pocahontas State Park, which is rated among the top 10 campsites in the country, and the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, an 800-plus-acre bounty of woodlands, wildlife and waterways on a 4.5-mile trail loop. Dutch Gap also offers locations for peaceful relaxation in an open-air oasis. The county provides more than 4,000 acres of green space among its 60 public parks and numerous athletic complexes make it an ideal host for sports events and tournaments. Chesterfield County’s central location is just south of Virginia’s capital, Richmond, and is convenient to interstates 95, 85 and 64.

Historic Programs and Activities

Chesterfield County boasts unique attractions for visitors to enjoy ranging from Revolutionary War and Civil War historic sites, historic museums and houses, and a wide range of historical landmarks. It is proud of the many firsts that have been documented here, from the first iron furnace and commercially mined coal to the first hard surfaced road in Virginia, the second railroad established in the state, and one of the last preserved African American schoolhouses in the county. Parks and Recreation manages more than 18 separate historic sites and 5,100 acres of parkland at 59 park sites. Approximately 2,500 visitors each year attend its historical programs, activities and events. Learn more about historical programs in Chesterfield.

  1. Founding of Chesterfield

Founding of Chesterfield

The area that now is Chesterfield County long was inhabited by Native Americans who hunted and fished along the banks of the James and Appomattox rivers. In 1607, when the English arrived at Jamestown, the region formed a border between the Algonquin-speaking Appomattox of the Powhatan Empire and the Sioux-speaking Monacans.

Henricus is Settled

Filled with high expectations of a new and better life of wealth and easy living, the settlers at Jamestown were ill-prepared for the harsh living conditions of the New World. They found severe weather, disease, famine and very little of any value to their corporate sponsor, the Virginia Company of London. Attempts at growing crops failed, wild game was not available and the colonists were forced to scavenge for food in order to survive.

In the fall of 1609, new colonists, including women and children, arrived. That winter saw the colony's population drastically reduced as a result of attacks and a siege by the forces of the Powhatan empire. The period of 1609-10 was known as "The Starving Time."

In the spring of 1610, conditions were so desperate that the remaining settlers had actually boarded ships to desert Jamestown when new ships filled with settlers and fresh supplies arrived.

Sir Thomas Dale, the new deputy governor, was instructed to find a more suitable place. He chose a position on a high bluff above the James River. The location was described as a "convenient, strong, healthy and sweet seat to plant a new Towne in."

The City of Henricus was established there in 1611 and named in honor of Henry Prince of Wales.

The Henricus settlers built a stockaded palisade for protection. This strong position served as the colony's capital during the martial law period from 1611 to 1614.

It was during this period of warfare that, in 1613, Pocahontas, one of Powhatan's daughters, was captured by Capt. Samuel Argyll.

Sir Thomas Dale entrusted her to the Rev. Alexander Whitaker, minister at Henricus. She came to live in his nearby house, learned the Christian faith and was baptized with the name of Rebecca. At Henricus, she was courted by John Rolfe. Their marriage helped establish a peace between the English and Powhatan.

During the height of the Citie of Henricus, the colony founded the first hospital in North America, Mt. Malady, and the first school, Henrico College. Servants were granted land and freedom - the beginning of the first private ownership of land, the future free enterprise system and democratic economy that made America unique throughout the world.

Rolfe, experimenting with local Indian tobacco and tobacco from Spanish Trinidad, produced a variety suitable for English tastes. The tobacco first was commercially grown in the Bermuda Hundred area and evolved as the first cash crop for the settlers.

The Henricus colony flourished until 1622, when Powhatan's successor, Opechancanough, killed one-third of the colony's population and burned the settlement. Remaining survivors moved to the plantations that had been established throughout the area.

Tobacco and Coal Boost Growth

As the region grew, tobacco production and the introduction of other industries helped to expand the colony's frontier. By 1700, several tons of tobacco were being exported from the Chesterfield area and other parts of Virginia each year.

In 1722, coal was discovered in the Midlothian region. This raw material was mined from open shafts, carried by wagons to the James River and loaded onto ships to be sent to England. Some of this coal probably was used in the blast furnace, the first in North America, established at Falling Creek in 1744.

By 1749, there were enough settlers or "tithables" - white males who owned land and property and paid taxes - living in the area south of the James River to support a second church parish. The tithes they paid supported the Anglican Church parish, which caused problems later.

On May 25 of that year, Chesterfield County was created.

Act for Dividing the County of Henrico into Two Distinct Counties

"For the Ease and convenience of the Inhabitants of the County of Henrico in Attending Court and other public Meetings,

Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor, Council, and Burgesses of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the Authority of the same,

That from and immediately after the twenty-fifth day of May next ensuing (1749) the said County of Henrico be divided into two Counties, that is to say, all that Part of the said County of Henrico lying on the south side of the James River shall be one distinct County and be called by the name of Chesterfield County."

This proclamation made by the House of Burgesses in 1749 officially established the boundaries of Chesterfield County. Excerpts from the earlier history of the region are necessary to see completely how the county and its people have evolved.

Playing a Role in the Revolution

In the ensuing years, as the strain between England and the American colonies grew, Virginia found itself in the middle of the conflict. Restrictions on what could be produced in the colonies and taxes imposed on finished goods from England helped to stir up the impending revolt.

Many people in the colony also felt that they were being denied some of the basic rights that belonged to all Englishmen. One was the right to practice religion without persecution, which was granted to all Englishmen by the Act of Toleration passed in 1689.

In the early 1770s this issue became the center of controversy in Chesterfield and other counties in Virginia. In Chesterfield, seven Baptist preachers were arrested mainly for refusing to buy a license to preach. These fees were seen as forced taxes in support of the Anglican Church. One of the most famous preachers was the Rev. John Weatherford. In 1773, he was imprisoned for five months before he was released with help from Patrick Henry.

Chesterfield was directly involved in the American Revolution. In the early part of the war, most of the fighting occurred in New England and along the east coast. Hampton Roads and the Norfolk area were controlled by the British. Chesterfield County supplied men for the Continental Army, while the State Militia and State Navy protected the region from British patrols.

During the winter of 1780, General Baron Von Steuben set up a recruit training center at Chesterfield Courthouse to train Continental Soldiers for service with General Nathanael Green in North Carolina. In January 1781, British General Benedict Arnold led a raid up the James River to destroy supplies stored at the new state capital, Richmond. He withdrew to Portsmouth after burning the city's warehouses.

In April 1781, a larger force under the command of British General William Phillips led an assault through Chesterfield County in pursuit of General Marquis de Lafayette's Continental forces. This resulted in the destruction of a part of Petersburg, the training camp and Chesterfield Courthouse, and the burning of Manchester.

Civil War Brings Action

Chesterfield County's vital railroad lines supplied the Capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Midlothian coal fields provided the raw materials that kept the iron industries working.

In 1862, the Union Navy supporting General George McClelland's attack on Richmond was stopped by the Confederate artillery batteries at Drewry's Bluff. The fort then served as the Confederate Naval Academy for the rest of the war. In 1864, Union Army troops under the command of General Benjamin Butler attempted to capture Richmond by attacking through Bermuda Hundred. The Confederate Army under the command of General Pierre G.T. Beauregard quickly dug in and set up a defensive line of fortifications known as the Howlett Line. The Union Army was turned back and both sides dug in for the remainder of the war.

Creation of the County Seal

In 1870, the first action of the first Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors was to direct a seal to be created, "to wit: a coal miner leaning on his pick under a pine tree with a flowing river at his feet." This was chosen as the County's Seal because it was the first place in the nation where coal was mined commercially.

As a result of the industrious labors of miners, other "firsts" occurred in Chesterfield: Midlothian Turnpike, the first paved road in Virginia, was built in 1807 to carry carts of coal; and in 1831, the first railroad, the Midlothian to Manchester Railroad, was built to haul coal to Virginia's ports.Color image of Chesterfield County Seal

County Thrives in 20th Century

Through the 1900s, Chesterfield County thrived as a mostly rural area. Residents of Richmond sought out the Bon Air area during the summer to escape the heat in the city.

The county saw the growth of new communities and the introduction of many new businesses and industries.

Twice this century, the county lost part of its land, either through citizens' voluntary secession or forced annexation.

In 1926, citizens living in the area on the north banks of the Appomattox River sought autonomy. Residents felt over-taxed and under-represented. They petitioned the Circuit Court to approve a separate town. Emotions ran high when county officials learned of the plans. Garbage pick-up was halted and a half-constructed sidewalk was abandoned. But citizens prevailed and Colonial Heights became independent.

More than 40 years later, the county's borders were threatened again. After several years of court cases in which Chesterfield fought annexation, Richmond gained 27 square miles of the county. More than 47,000 people who once were county residents found themselves in the city's perimeters on January 1, 1970.

Upset by the annexation of so much valuable land and infrastructure, Chesterfield and its residents in January 1981 sought and earned immunity from further annexation.

Between 1970 and 1990, the county experienced tremendous growth. The population grew from 76,855 to 209,274. That growth brought challenges to county government, which strained to provide services.

  1. Firsts in Chesterfield
  1. Timeline of Historic Events
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