SOUTHAMPTON COUNTY COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY
Boykins • Branchville • Capron • Courtland • Drewryville • Ivor • Newsoms
What is now Southampton County was originally part of "Warrasquoyocke," one of the eight shires making up the Colony of Virginia. The shire was renamed Isle of Wight in 1637. In 1749 the portion of Isle of Wight west of the Blackwater River became Southampton County. Later, part of Nansemond County, now the City of Suffolk, was added to Southampton.
There are two theories concerning the naming of Southampton County. The first is that the county was named in honor of Henry Wriothesly, third Earl of Southampton and officer of the London Company from 1620 to 1624. The second and more probable theory is that the county was named for the borough of Southampton in England.
The first courthouse was built in 1752 on the east bank of the Nottoway River where the present courthouse now stands. The courthouse was an addition to the clerk's office, prison and pillory built a year earlier in 1751. The village of Jerusalem grew up around the courthouse, becoming a town in 1791. Jerusalem was re-incorporated as the Town of Courtland in the late 1800s.
Many citizens of Southampton County participated in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Records of the County Court and the Committee of Public Safety from the Revolutionary War period are still preserved in the courthouse.
In 1831, Southampton County was the location of the most serious slave rebellion in United States history. On August 21-22, the infamous Southampton Insurrection, led by the slave Nat Turner, resulted in the deaths of 58 whites and an unknown number of blacks. Turner and his followers were captured, tried and 20 were hanged.
Another significant event was the arrival of the railroad in 1835. The Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad bridged the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers and extended its line across the county. The railroad brought with it people and commerce, leading to the development of the town of Franklin in the early 1840s. Franklin was chartered as an independent city in 1960. In 1857 the Petersburg-Norfolk Railroad (now the Norfolk & Western Railway) was completed bringing about the founding of the town of Ivor.
The Civil War brought development to a halt. The early capture of Norfolk and Suffolk left the Blackwater River as the demarcation line between Federal and Confederate territory. A number of skirmishes occurred on either side of the river and Federal gunboats bombarded Franklin, but Southampton County was spared from any major battles. Southampton County contributed four companies of infantry, one company of cavalry and one artillery battery to the Confederate cause. The county is perhaps most noted for being the birthplace of two leading figures of the war; Union Major General George H. Thomas, nicknamed the "Rock of Chickamauga" and Confederate Major General William Mahone, the "Hero of the Crater." Southampton was also the home of Confederate naval hero James Henry Rochelle, and leader of the Southampton calvary unit, Major Joseph E. Gillette.
Recovery from the Civil War came slowly, but railroad construction finally resumed with the construction of the Surry, Sussex, and Southampton logging railroad in 1886, and the Atlantic and Danville Railway in 1888 (now the Norfolk, Franklin and Danville Railway, a subsidiary of the N & W Railway). The last railroad to be built in the county was the Tidewater Railway, later known as the Virginian Railway. Completed in 1906 this railroad ran through Sedley, Sebrell, Joyner, and Burdette.
For Southampton County, like so many other communities, the First World War meant hearty send-offs for local soldiers, liberty drives, fuel shortages, and parades for the returning heroes. Perhaps the most notable hero was Colgate W. Darden, Jr. He went on his own to Europe in 1916 where he worked as an ambulance driver for the French army. In 1917 he enlisted as a Marine Corps pilot and was seriously wounded in 1918 when the plane in which he was riding crashed in northern France. He was hospitalized for a year but was able to finish his education at the University of Virginia and later served as its president. He also served Southampton County in the Virginia House of Delegates and the United States House of Representatives. In 1942, Colgate W. Darden Jr. became Governor of Virginia.
The Second World War too was borne typically by Southamptonians who once again sent their sons to fight overseas. Some did not return but most did and brought back with them the tools and talents of experience that were catalysts for the economic surge of the 1950s and 1960s. St. Regis Paper Company came to Franklin in 1954 and Hercules Chemical Company in 1955. In 1961, the Boykins Narrow Fabric Corporation began construction of its facility within the town of Boykins. And in 1956, Union Bag and Paper merged with Camp Manufacturing Company, to form Union Camp. In 1999 Union Camp and International Paper merged. International Paper, located just across the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight County, is currently the largest industry in the region.
Agriculture was also booming in the second half of the twentieth century. Cotton and tobacco were replaced by peanuts and soybeans as the chief cash crops. Advances in technology, particularly enhanced mechanization, resulted in increased agricultural production and a blossoming reputation for Southampton peanuts, hams, and watermelons.
The 1960s and 1970s found Southampton County progressing slowly but steadily. The economy remained healthy. And though farm employment decreased, the county experienced a larger increase in industry related employment.
The list of heroes and notable events was made longer during this period as a Southampton County institution was thrust into the limelight of achievement. A series of teams from Southampton High School dominated Virginia's scholastic football scene for the better part of a decade, winning 103 of 108 games in the eight-year period from 1972 to 1979 including state AA championships in 1973, 1976, 1978 and 1979, and runner-up in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977.
Southampton County is proud of her rich heritage and in her role as testament to the spirit of American culture-that much of what is good about communities is inherent in the people of the community themselves. And the community that is Southampton County is just that-a people sharing a commonness of history and culture as well as a concern for the present condition and future welfare of the county. Even today, in Southampton's dynamic society, history is being forged from the experiences of the county's diverse yet common community.
Much of the historical information presented here was adapted from Thomas C. Paramour's Southampton County, Virginia published for the Southampton County Historical Society in 1978.