Isle of Wight County

Until 1611, the infant colony remained very much confined to Jamestown and its very immediate area for security reasons. The colonists had ventured into an unknown land with a climate that was hostile at the extreme times of the year. The native population lived a very different life and their friendship and dependability varied according to the tribe, the time and the harvest. And so initially the only administrative unit was Jamestown.

However, from 1611, new settlements were set up further afield, spreading west up-river and east down towards what is now Newport Newes and Hampton. These settlements tended to be sited close to the main river or up creeks so that access to the James River, the main highway of that period, was assured. Routes across land were rudimentary, being little more than tracks and besides on unfamiliar land, the settlers were too vulnerable to attack. In fact, for moving large goods or cattle boats were the only realistic answer. The river acted too as the main route for reinforcement and communication. And so in the early years, most expeditions went by boat.

By 1617 the Virginia colony had been divided into the Incorporations of James City, Kecoughtan (Elizabeth City), the City of Henrico and Charles City. They were termed "the Four Ancient Boroughs," or "Four Ancient Corporations." These 'cities', or corporations, consisted of the town or village with its surrounding suburban territory. These administrative units had been set up to promote a more uniform government of each area. However, from 1617 on, the trickle of private plantation grants began to develop into a steady stream, resulting in a significant increase in the granting of particular patents. By the time of the first General Assembly, in 1619, the four "Ancient Corporations" had been joined by severall recently established particular plantations: Argall's Gift, Flowerdieu Hundred, Lawnes Plantation, Martin's Brandon, Martin's Hundred, Capt. Ward's Plantation, and Smythes Hundred. "Lawnes Plantation", the settlement set up by Captain Lawne on behalf of himself and his associates back in England, was therefore the first in what later became Isle of Wight County. And it was significant enough to warrant representation in the General Assembly.

However, as previously mentioned, this settlement was decimated by disease and Captain Lawne moved to Charles City where he died in November 1619. Worsley and his associates were given till 1625 to restore the colony and were instructed to call it "the Ile of Wights Plantacon".

However, although officially to be known as Isle of Wight Plantation, the area continued under its old indian name for a good many years. What is certain is the total uncertainty of the English over the spelling of the word, 'Warraskoyak', which is in itself a phonetic spelling of the Indian word. There are as many, if not more, spellings of the word than there are letters, as each person struggled to write down the word, using a spelling that equated the closest to what they heard. From various sources, it seems the Indian word continued in common use until around 1638/39 when 'Isle of Wight County' becomes commonly used in documentation.

The Foundation of the County System in Virginia

By 1634, the spread and increase of the population meant that the government and civil administration of territory required a larger unit than the particular plantation, that had suited the needs of isolated settlements. However, now that large areas were becoming settled and connected, the Governor and his Council realised the need for a system similar to the shires of England. With this in mind, the General Assembly agreed to the establishment of eight counties, "which are to be governed as the shires in England". The first eight counties were the four existing Incorporations (Charles City, Elizabeth City( which replaced the "heathen" name of Kecoughtan ), Henrico, and James City) plus four new areas: Accomack, Charles River (York), Warrosquyoake (Isle of Wight), and Warwick River (Warwick). The boundaries of the eight counties were drawn so most colonists could reach their county court sessions, where justices dealt with property issues and criminal accusations, in one day. The boundaries of Isle of Wight County extended from Lawne's Creek on the north to the Nansemond River on the south-east and from the James River on the north-east in a south-westerly direction as far as the Colony's title allowed, for the south bounds were considered to be indefinite.

The boundary lines of the future Isle of Wight County have been super-imposed onto John Smith's map in red. North is on the right of the map. The northern boundary starts from James River and initially it follows an irregular curving path, as it follows 'Lawne's Creek' for a distance before striking off south-west in a straight line.

It is clear that the term Isle of Wight County or Isle of Wight did not come into general use until after 1634.

YearSourceNames used for area/settlements
February 16, 1623/4 Virginia Census"Warwick Squeake"
"Basse Choise"
Jan. 20 - Feb. 7 1624/25Virginia Census"Wariscoyack"
"Basses Choyse
1629General AssemblyWarrosquoyacke
1630General Assembly Warrosqueake
1632General Assembly Warrosqueake
1633General Assembly Warrosqueake
1639General AssemblyIsle of Wight, Hogg Island, Lawn Creek
1640 and thereafterGeneral Assembly Isle of Wight County.
In land grants, the old style "County of Warraskoyak" continues until 1639, from when the official "county of Isle of Wight" is used.

By the 1640's the remaining Warraskoyaks had cut their losses and moved out of the area southwards as they sought refuge from the English attacks on their corn. Faced with superior weapon technology, and ruthless, single-minded destruction of their crops, they realised that confrontation and resistance was unworkable and that, with the continuing, growing influx of English settlers, their chances of mounting a successful holding action was impossible. They were subsequently forced back southwards beyond the Blackwater River, where they were safe for a while from the insatiable English demand for land. The Blackwater river ran from the Chowan river northerly towards the Carolina border up towards Jamestown and once in Surrey county, it veered north west.

In 1644, Opechancanough, the great chief of the Powhatan confederation, attacked English settlements and started two years of sporadic war, but ended up murdered. Fighting continued between settlers and the tribes until 1646, when a treaty was settled by Governor Sir William Berkeley and the new chief of the Powhatan, Necotowance. Article five of this treaty stated : "And it is further enacted that neither for the said Necotowance nor any of his people, do frequent come into hunt or make any abode nearer the English Plantations than the lymits of Yapin the black water, and from the head of the black water upon a straite line to the old Monakin Towne, upon such paine and penaltie as aforesaid." The natives were effectively banned from entering north of the Blackwater River, which today forms the south-west boundary of Isle of Wight County. This river bacame the dividing line.Other tribes were allocated reservation areas, but little is known of subsequent Warraskoyak history, which necessarily enters into the realm of conjecture. Possibly, like the Nansemond tribe, they were accomodated by the Nottoway tribe, whose territory was situated to the south by the Nottoway River.

Being a small tribe anyway, their numbers may not have been robust enough to survive beyond the seventeenth century or they may have been absorbed into the reservation of another tribe. Unlike other more illustrious and larger tribes, who not only have members living today to continue traditions, but also whose tribal name has remained as a place name, the Warraskoyak name has faded away and even the River, beside which they lived, carries the vague name 'Pagan River' - an oblique reference, perhaps, to the previous inhabitants of the area, now lived in by people of English stock.

1 = Surrey County

2 = Isle of Wight County

3 = Nansemond County

4 = Southampton County

5 = Sussex County.

A 1770 map of the James River region, showing the established counties.
A New and Accurate Map of Virginia. By John Henry. Engraved by Thomas Jefferys Geographer to the King. Published London, Thos. Jefferys, 1770.

Isle of Wight County Timeline

1619Warraskoyak - Lawne's Plantation.
1621 Warraskoyak - Isle of Wight Plantacon
1623Warraskoyak - Lawne's Plantation(?), Basse's Choice, Bennett's Welcome.
1634Isle of Wight County

Members of the first General Assembly 1619
Assembled July 30th

James City:Captain William Powell, Ensign William Spense
Charles City: Samuel Sharpe, Samuel Jordan
The City of Henricus: Thomas Dowse, Samuel Jordan
Kicoughtan: Captain William Tucker, William Capp.
(Captain John Martin's Plantation):
Thomas Davis, Robert Stacy
Smythe's Hundred: Captain Thomas Graves, Walter Shelly
Martin's Hundred: John Boys, John Jackson
Argall's Gift: Thomas Pawlett, Mr. Gourgainy
Flowerdieu Hundred: Engisn Rossingham, Mr. Jefferson
Captain Lawne's Plantation: Captain Christopher Lawne, Ensign Washer
Captain Ward's Plantation: Captain Ward, Lieutenant Gibbes