Northern Neck: Wikis


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Map of Virginia highlighting Northern Neck2.png

The Northern Neck is the northernmost of three peninsulas (traditionally called "necks" in Virginia) on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This peninsula is bounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. It encompasses the following Virginia counties: Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland.[1] The inclusion of King George in the Northern Neck varies among commentators.[2] Historically the grant for the Northern Neck included all land between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers including far upstream of King George. Traditionally references in the last 100 years have not included King George as a part of the Northern Neck but some current tourism material includes King George in the Neck. But as a counter to this, the boundaries of King George and Westmoreland Counties have changed radically since their establishment with significant exchanges of territory. Significant portions of the early King George lay in what is now Westmoreland county.[3] As the Washington and Fredericksburg corridors have urbanized in the last 50 years, King George has become more culturally aligned with the Northern Neck. This has led to some people to include it in the region.[2]. [4] The Virginia Department of Game and Wildlife includes King George in the Northern Neck Birding trail for the above reasons [5]



In the winter of 1607-08, Captain John Smith traveled up the Rappahannock River as a prisoner of the Powhatans and became the first European known to have visited the Northern Neck. [2]

The original Northern Neck land grant in 1661 included the long narrow peninsula bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and, later, by a straight line (the "Fairfax Line") connecting their sources. This grant is significantly larger than the area currently known as the Northern Neck. The original grant was given to a proprietor. Semi-autonomy relative to the colonial government was provided by the proprietarial government until the Revolution. Most of the early development occurred on the eastern end of the peninsula where the Potomac and Rappahannock provided navigable waters. The autonomy and the excellent natural resources that led the richest planters to establish plantations in the Northern Neck. Because of this influx of well-to-do planters an aristocratic society grew earlier than in areas to the south. From this society arose many leaders of the Revolution and the future young republic. These differences created strong antipathies between the regions. [6] Later as the remainder of the mid-Atlantic states became developed, the importance of the Northern Neck would decline and it would enjoy relative isolation. This isolation may be a product of the earlier antipathies related to the differences in society in the Neck and in the regions further south.

A widespread conspiracy was crushed in the Northern Neck in 1687.[7] Slaves in the area planned to kill all whites in the area and escape during a mass funeral. The leaders of the plot were executed.[8] When authorities learned that the this was plotted under the cover of gatherings for slave funerals, they prohibited slave funerals. The next year, the Northern Neck was the site of another attempted uprising, this one led by "Sam, a Negro Servt to Richard Metcalfe."[9] A repeat offender, he had "several times endeavored to promote a Negro Insurreccon in this Colony." "To deter him & others from the like evil practice for time to come," the court ordered the sheriff of James City County to whip him severely, and return him to the Westmoreland County sheriff to be whipped again. Sam would forever wear "a strong Iron collar affixed about his neck with four sprigs." Should he leave his master's plantation or remove the collar, he would be hanged.[10]

Many important historical figures were born on the Northern Neck, including U.S. presidents George Washington (Westmoreland), James Madison (Port Conway in King George), and James Monroe (Westmoreland), as well as the Civil War general Robert E. Lee and signers of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee. Richard Henry Lee was the sixth President under the Articles of Confederation. Also residing in Westmoreland was Colonel Nicholas Spencer, member of the House of Burgesses, secretary and president of the Governor's Council, and on the departure of his cousin Thomas Colepeper, 2nd Baron Colepeper (aka Lord Culpeper), acting Governor. Vegetable and grain farming and a strong seafood industry once ruled the land. During the Colonial period, the Northern Neck was referred to as the "Athens of the New World" because of its collection of rich landowners dedicated to learning, gentlemanly society, and civic duty.[11] This of course was made possible because of the slave economy in place at that time[12]. Reedville claims to have once been the wealthiest town in the United States, due to its menhaden fishing industry. Before the era of modern highways, many passenger and freight steamer routes linked the entire Chesapeake Bay region and connected with the railroads developed after 1830.

During the American Civil War, Northern Neck and in particularly King George County were on the frontier between the Union and Confederate Armies. As such King George was an operating base for spies on both sides. The Union forces controlled the Potomac River and the north shore of the Rappahannock River further upstream for much of the war.

While trying to elude Union cavalry, co-conspirators John Wilkes Booth and David Herold crossed into the Northern Neck in King George County from Maryland on April 21, 1865 after assassinating US president Abraham Lincoln. Booth and Herold landed at the mouth of Gambo Creek, before meeting with Confederate agents, who guided their passage to Port Conway, Virginia. There, they crossed the Rappahannock River to Port Royal in Caroline County. Booth was killed and Herold captured a short distance away at Garrett's Farm.

Colonial Beach, Virginia, a small incorporated town in Westmoreland County located on the Potomac River waterfront, was a popular tourist spot for the people of the Washington area. It offered a beach, swimming, and gambling. Gambling facilities were actually built on piers extending into the Potomac River so as to ensure they were inside Maryland, as the state border runs along the southern low tide line of the Potomac river. With the end of gambling, Colonial Beach declined in popularity as a tourist destination. It and the rest of the Northern Neck, however, still continue to attract dedicated outdoor enthusiasts for fishing and boating.


The region is rich in scenic beauty, with 1100 miles of shoreline containing beaches, marinas, old steamship wharfs and small towns that date back to colonial times. Today small farms, vineyards and wineries are interspersed with retirement communities and rural businesses that share the land. Since the 1970s wine-making has become an increasingly important vocation in the Northern Neck and the United States, government has established the Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace American Viticultural Area as a sanctioned wine appellation for wines grown in the five counties. Significant portions of the Rappahannock River National Wildlife Refuge lie in the Northern Neck. It is also home to five state parks/natural areas. These include Caledon Natural Area, Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve [13], Dameron Marsh Natural area, Westmoreland State Park, and Belle Isle State Park and one national park, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.



In 2004, the Menokin Bluegrass Festival was launched in Richmond County at the ruins of Francis Lightfoot Lee's (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) ancestral home, Menokin. The festival attracts thousands of bluegrass fans every year in a celebration of the Northern Neck's musical and historical heritage. The Richmond County Fair was started in 1889 was dubbed the "biggest Little Fair in the South".[2] It is held the last full week of August in Warsaw. The King George Fall Festival is held the second weekend of October in King George. All proceeds from this event go to support the King George Fire & Rescue. The Fall Festival Committee is made up of representatives from all of the county's community organizations that work together to organize and put on the Fall Festival. Committee meetings are held the fourth Thursday of each month at the King George Fire Station. DECA (an Association of Marketing Students) at King George High School is a member of this committee and prepares and serves the Bar-B-Que lunch for this event on Saturday. The Fall Festival also includes a parade through town, a carnival, a craft fair, a dance, and the Fall Festival Queen Pageant. The King George Fall Festival began in October 1959. Stratford Hall hosts an annual Historical Haunts program. Activities include ghost tours of the Great House, pumpkin painting, various Halloween crafts, picture-taking with Frankenstein and a witch, and an 18th-century fortune teller.


The Northern Neck draws many tourists seeking natural beauty and a quality outdoor experience. It offers outstanding fishing, hunting, and boating, and is renowned for both its historical attractions and seafood. Colonial Beach remains a primary tourism draw for those interested in fishing, boating, and yachting.

Wine lovers may want to explore the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, which currently lists nine wineries, seven of which are on the Northern Neck.

Other popular Northern Neck attractions include Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee and a fine example of a Virginia plantation, George Washington's Birthplace, the Westmoreland Berry Farm, and the Westmoreland State Park with its beautiful Horsehead Cliffs. The historic Christ Church near Irvington dates back to 1735 and is one of the finest examples of an Anglican parish church in colonial Virginia.

Those interested in finding more information on the Northern Neck may wish to visit , an online forum covering the Northern Neck with sections ranging from real estate to kayaking and fishing.

There are ten marinas in the Northern Neck.[2]

The Tides Inn in Irvington is a historic resort hotel..[2] The 106-room Tides Inn, set on its own waterfront peninsula in Irvington on Virginia's Northern Neck, has been a Chesapeake Bay tradition for more than 60 years. A preferred mid-Atlantic getaway for couples, families and groups, this Leading Hotel of the World has is a prominent destination for romance, relaxation, celebrations and corporate bonding. In 2009, readers of Travel+ Leisure magazine, ranked the property the #1 resort in Virginia, and the best place in the US to hold a family reunion.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Official Guide of Virginia's Northern Neck (2007), Northern Neck Tourism Council
  3. ^ King George County Courthouse Wall Map
  4. ^ Northern Neck Tourism Council website
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sectionalism in Virginia 1776-1861, Charles Henry Ambley, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1910
  7. ^ Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 32.
  8. ^ "Slave Conspiracies in Colonial Virginia" by Mary Miley Theobald,
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^ Ibid.
  11. ^ George Washington Birthplace National Monument Introduction Film
  12. ^ Visitor Center Westmoreland Virginia State Park signage
  13. ^ Town & County Magazine January 26, 2008

External links



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