The English ventured into Powhatan territory many times, and even breached the falls to meet with the Monacans. In 1608 Newport returned from a trip to England with orders from the Virginia Company of London to plant settlements along the James up to the fall line. Captain Francis West and Sir Thomas Dale spearheaded two such efforts in 1609 and 1611, respectively, and their intrusions into Indian territory were met with violence; these skirmishes helped inaugurate the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614).
Subsequent European outposts established prior to the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632) were located downstream from the future site of Richmond. Two settlements named Henrico were established, a fort named Tuckahoe was built eight miles below the falls, and an ironworks was erected six miles downriver in 1619. The English returned to the fall line sometime after 1644, when the General Assembly ordered the construction of Fort Charles, which inaugurated continuous English settlement in the region. The English presence there increased in 1646 with the end of the Third Anglo-Powhatan War. The conflict's aftermath cleared the tribes from the Tidewater lands between the York and James rivers.
From Trading Post to Town
Noting Byrd's control of the tobacco trade, the General Assembly urged him to turn the location into a town. Reluctantly, Byrd acquiesced in 1733, creating Richmond—possibly named after Richmond upon Thames in England—across the creek from Shaccos and Petersburg near his facilities at the falls of the Appomattox River. The location provided a safe port at the falls, lying between two hills.
The General Assembly established Richmond formally in May 1742, noting that it had a population of 250 and sported a town commons along the James River. The bill granting the town's new status also allowed a pair of two-day fairs, continuing Richmond's growing role as a place of commerce. What it did not grant was the creation of a local government, leaving Richmond subject to Henrico County's legal code. This awkward arrangement meant that the General Assembly effectively oversaw the town while the Henrico County Court handled the town's day-to-day affairs. In one example, the Virginia government passed a 1744 law that stopped the construction and maintenance of wooden chimneys in Richmond, but named the Henrico County sheriff responsible for destroying any existing wooden chimneys after the law's deadline passed. In 1752 the General Assembly moved the county seat from Varina to Richmond, finalizing the latter's status as the key community in the region. An act of the same year modestly strengthened the new village's government by naming nine trustees to supervise the construction of buildings, lots, and streets.
Rocky Ridge, sitting on the south bank of the river, received its own Byrd-owned warehouse by 1748. Though Rocky Ridge became established as the town of Manchester in 1769, it had some characteristics of a trading community during the colonial period. The tobacco grown on one Pittsylvania County plantation was taken to Rocky Ridge, where a merchant served as the grower's agent, taking care of the agricultural product and purchasing manufactured goods. By 1767 the village included a forge, mill, landing, canal, eight rental properties, and 300 lots. Richmond annexed Manchester in 1910.
At the end of the colonial period, the gravitational pull created by Richmond's geographic and financial advantages led to the first stirrings of industrial development. A coal region thirteen miles west of Richmond and Rocky Ridge became British North America's first key source of fossil fuels, with ships carrying the commodity to other colonies by the 1760s. In the same decade, wheat began to surpass tobacco as the region's key crop, which led to the emergence of large-scale flour production in 1777 and the long-anticipated use of the rapids for milling.
The Byrd family began divesting itself of its properties at Rocky Ridge and on the west side of Shockoe Creek in 1768. Richmond absorbed Shaccos the next year. In May 1779 the General Assembly moved the Virginia capital from Williamsburg to the town at the falls of the James River, inaugurating Richmond's shift from town to city.
May 21–27, 1607 - Captain Christopher Newport, Captain John Smith, George Percy, and others explore the James River, making mostly friendly contact with the Kecoughtans, the Paspaheghs, the Quiyoughcohannocks, and the Appamattucks.
May 24, 1607 - Captain Christopher Newport and his fellow English colonists, in the words of George Percy, "set up a Crosse at the head of this River naming it Kings River, where we proclaimed James King of England to have the most right unto it."
Spring 1670 - William Byrd I inherits most of the estate of his uncle, Thomas Stegge.
1678–1690 - Landowner William Byrd I develops an international trade network around the falls of the James River.
September 19, 1733 - William Byrd II writes that he has created a new town named Richmond near the informal village that sprouted around one of his tobacco warehouses. He had developed the locality under pressure from the General Assembly.
April 22, 1737 - William Byrd II announces the new town of Richmond, surveyed and with lots for sale, in the Virginia Gazette.
May 1742 - The General Assembly passes "An Act for establishing the Town of Richmond."
1752 - The Henrico County Court is relocated from Varina to Richmond.
May 1779 - The General Assembly votes to move the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Gottlieb, M. S. Richmond during the Colonial Period. (2016, January 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Richmond_During_the_Colonial_Period.
- MLA Citation:
Gottlieb, Matthew S. "Richmond during the Colonial Period." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 8 Jan. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 27, 2012 | Last modified: January 8, 2016
Contributed by Matthew S. Gottlieb, assistant editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography at the Library of Virginia.