It is now known that Native American Indians lived in this area for many thousands of years before the European explorers arrived. It is generally accepted that Indian tribes lived in this area for perhaps 12,000 to 14,000 years before the Spanish explorers' and (later) the English settlers' arrival. It is also widely accepted now that our Native American ancestors crossed over a land bridge from Asia into Alaska and migrated South – eventually populating both the North American and South American continents.
In fact, long before the arrival of European explorers, virtually the entire North American Continent was home to thousands of native tribes living in thousands of villages and towns from coast to coast. There were also nomadic bands, but most lived in villages and towns. They planted crops, domesticated many different animals, and actively traded with other villages and tribes –with many of them traveling over well-worn trading routes extending over hundreds of miles.
Native American Indians of our area and those across the North American Continent spoke many languages, were deeply religious, possessed a keen understanding of nature, and had a highly developed sense of art. It has also been found that they realized the depth of the generations that had gone before them.
The Monacan people were the predominant Native American group in Louisa and surrounding counties between the Blue Ridge and the Tidewater region. The Monacan spoke a language that was distinct from that of the Powhatan Indians who the white settlers encountered in the Jamestown area.
While recorded history of these people is scant, they left behind literally millions of stone artifacts which nature has preserved for thousands of years. In our display, visitors will see some of the hundreds of such items found in Louisa County as well as a timeline illustrating when various native peoples were present. One exhibit panel tells about a previous archaeological exploration at Panamint Farm.
Patrick Henry was born at Studley Plantation in Hanover County on May 29, 1736. His mother was Sarah Winston, daughter of Isaac Winston and Mary Dabney. His father was John Henry, son of Alexander Henry and Jean Robertson of Aberdeen, Scotland.
After reading law on his own and passing the bar exams, Henry quickly became known for his brilliant oratory and his defense of the constitutional rights of the citizens, particularly with respect to religious freedom, taxation and suffrage. He was considered a “radical” and a “firebrand.” As a lawyer, he represented the “common man.” As a politician, he was said to have an uncanny insight into the future consequences of the acts of the British Parliament against the colonies and to quickly understand the discontent of the common man and turn public fervor into legislative action.
As the colonies began to openly rebel against British rule, in Virginia, Henry led the way. Henry’s oratory gained its first public notice in The Parson’s Cause, when he criticized the king for disallowing a statute, the Two-Penny act, passed by the General Assembly of Virginia for the good of the colony. He represented Thomas Johnson, collector of the parish levies, against Rev. James Maury, both of Louisa.
Henry’s success at this trial propelled him into the public arena and, with the help of influential friends, he filled Thomas Johnson’s seat in the House of Burgesses, 1765- 1769. In c.1766, Henry moved his family to Louisa. The remains of his home, Roundabout, still exist.
From his position in Louisa County, Henry rode the circuit of court days, Louisa’s being the second Monday. Henry purchased Scotchtown in 1771, served in the House of Burgesses until 1774, was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774, was a Virginia Militia leader in 1775 and became the first Governor of Virginia, serving five one year terms, 1776-79 and 1784-86.
The life and times of Patrick Henry provide an excellent backdrop from which to educate and display the Colonial period and the Revolutionary War period in Louisa as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through photos, interpretive signage, costumes, household artifacts, etc. adults and children can learn about their community’s character during this period of nation building including tavern life, schools, churches and religion and tobacco farming.
The county of Louisa was formed from Hanover County in 1742. At the meeting of the first Court held on December 13, 1742 at the home of Matthew Jouett (father of Jack Jouett), one of the first acts of the Court was to grant permission to Mr. Jouett to "Keep an ordinary at his home in this County by the Court House." Thus began the pivotal point or nucleus of a community to be known as Louisa Courthouse and later to become the Town of Louisa.
The ordinary or tavern, located at the site of the courthouse, served as a place of refreshment and lodging for the Justices and visitors to the monthly courts and also to such travelers who might go through the county on the roads from Richmond to Charlottesville. This, however, was not the only function of the establishment. It served as a gathering place for persons on scores of duties or pleasure bent. Legal notices and newspapers were on file, mail was distributed and the tap room was a clearinghouse for news and gossip. The tavern carried a small stock of necessities which could be purchased. It is to be hoped that Mr. Jouett and his successors served their customers with a more substantial and cleanly fare than that which prevailed in 1782, when the Marquis de Chastellux made his pilgrimage through Louisa Courthouse on his way to visit Mr. Jefferson at Monticello.
In his account of his trip, he records that on 17 April, 1782, while traveling from Willis' Ordinary, which was located in the vicinity of where Bumpass or Buckner are today, he still had about twenty seven or eight miles to ride to the only tavern where it was possible to stay before reaching Mr. Jefferson’s; this being Boswell’s Tavern. He had been strongly advised by M. de Rochambeau, who had traveled the same road two months before, not to sleep at the tavern at Louisa Courthouse, it being the worst lodging he had found in America. However, in his curiosity to see the place and using the pretense of inquiring for the road, Chastellux went in and saw that there was no other lodging for travelers than the landlord's own room. The landlord, Major Thomas Johnson, was a man of enormous girth - to the extent that he was confined to an armchair in which he lived, slept, and ate, unable to arise. Rochambeau described the place as the dirtiest, most shocking, most stinking barracks he had ever seen and that the Major lived with a wretched woman who wasted his property and left him to die of uncleanness and misery. This was the same Major Johnson who opposed the removal of the courthouse to another site in 1787, no doubt due to the fact that he, as a Justice would be unable to attend court on account of his highly inflated condition.
On the night of June 3-4, 1781, Captain Jack Jouett, Jr. made his historic 40 mile ride by horseback from a tavern near the village of Cuckoo in Louisa County to Monticello to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and members of the Virginia Legislature of approach of the British Colonel, Banastre Tarleton and his dragoons, who had been assigned the task of capturing the patriots.
Pulitzer prize winner Virginius Dabney, in an essay for the 1966 summer issues of the Iron Worker, said, in part, “…... Jack Jouett’s arduous and dangerous nocturnal dash, much longer and more difficult than Revere’s, has never been the subject of a ballad remotely comparable in popular appeal to Paul Revere’s Ride. This is the primary reason why his name is almost completely unknown beyond the borders of his native Virginia….”
Captain Jack later moved to Kentucky, served three terms in the Kentucky Legislature, and helped it to attain statehood. His son, Matthew Harris Jouett, was probably named for Jack’s grandfather, Matthew, who owned the tavern at Cuckoo. The young Matthew received his law degree but preferred to be an artist. He studied under Gilbert Stuart in Boston and was described, when he died at age 40, as “an artist of rare genius and of considerable celebrity.”
Louisa played a key part in the Civil War, not only furnishing a Company of men, the Louisa Blues, as a part of the 23rd Virginia Infantry of the Confederate forces, but also as the site of the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Trevilian Station, six miles west of the town limits.
This battle occurred on the 11th and 12th of June, 1864 and was the only major Civil War battle in the county. It took place when Sheridan attempted a raid on the Virginia Central Railroad in an attempt to break General Lee's vital supply line from the Valley. Some 13,000 cavalrymen were involved in the battle, of whom 1,619 from both sides were either killed or injured.
Field hospitals were set up at the Trevilians Depot and at Netherland Tavern together with additional churches, private homes, the Courthouse and other buildings. "Oakland Cemetery" on West Street in Louisa provided the last resting place for 94 marked but unknown victims of this fierce battle.
Museum space will be provided to the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation for use and to display their extensive collection of Civil War artifacts, now in storage or at various members’ homes.
For more information, follow the link to the Trevilian Station Battlefield driving tour.
On April 17, 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union. On the 17th, the Gordonsville Grays received orders to report to the parade ground. Joined by Companies from Staunton and Charlottesville, they departed on the train from Gordonsville to Harpers Ferry. On April 22, Robert E. Lee arrived at Gordonsville en route to Richmond.
Gordonsville and the railroads which joined there were of immense value to the South during the Civil War. The use of railroads during war were an unknown factor at this time, and the Civil War would later be referred to as the first "railroad war."
In March 1862, the Exchange Hotel, was taken over by military authorities and received the wounded from the battlefields for the duration of the war. It became known as the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. Dr. B.M Lebby of South Carolina was the director and its operation continued under his leadership until October 1865.
The wounded and dying from nearby battlefields such as Cedar Mountain, Chancellorsville, Trevilian Station, Mine Run, Brandy Station, and the Wilderness were brought by the trainloads. Although this was primarily a Confederate facility, the hospital treated the wounded from both sides. Twenty-six Union soldiers died here.
By war's end more than 70,000 men had been treated at the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital and just over 700 would be buried on its surrounding grounds and later interred at Maplewood Cemetery in Gordonsville.
For more information visit The Exchange Hotel Civil War Museum
By the end of the Civil War in 1865 more than 625,000 people had been killed. Every state in the nation was impacted by the war, and Virginia more than many. 65% of the battles took place in Virginia , which meant the loss of Virginian men, railroads, crops, livestock, and homes. Confederate money became suddenly worthless, leaving many Southern families penniless and without the slaves they had relied on for labor. Sharecropping sprung up and along with it corruption, scandals, and an unstable economy under President Ulysses S. Grant.
The determination and placement of roads, “bridleways,” “posts of directions,” bridges and the appointment of road surveyors was one of the most important functions of the courts in colonial times.
Each road was opened and maintained by an Overseer (or Surveyor) of the Highways appointed yearly by the Gentlemen Justices. For these purposes, the Justices usually assigned all the able-bodied men (the "Labouring Male Tithables") living on or near the road. These individuals then furnished their own tools, wagons, and teams and were required to work on the roads for six days a year.
In the early 1800’s the Town of Louisa was on the main route or post road which went from Fredericksburg to Spotsylvania Courthouse to Louisa and finally to Columbia, a prominent port town along the James River. This route (roughly Route 208) connected the Rappahannock River and the James River. The Rappahannock and the James Rivers, tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, were the major routes for transport of produce.
Louisa has been the center of the county's business and commerce from its inception. Modes of transportation have been foot, stage, horseback, wagon, car and train. Being an interior county with no navigable streams, land transportation has been vital to the town and county’s growth.
With the coming of the railroad in 1838 the population of Louisa increased and the town and county developed economically. Louisa was an important stop on the railroad. Goods and services were made more readily available in this central location. The railroad was a major employer for the citizens. The Louisa Railroad was one of the first eastern railroads to strike west to the Alleghany Mountains.
The County of Louisa was formed from Hanover County in 1742 and named for Princess Louisa, daughter of English King George II and Queen Caroline.
What is now the town of Louisa began as a courthouse village circa 1757 and grew from its association with the courthouse. The first courthouse was built on the lands of Matthew Jouett. Later, Thomas Johnson owned the land and had a tavern there. In 1787 a petition to change the location of the courthouse was issued. Thomas Johnson used the courthouse as a storage house and the jail as a stable, which made the citizens unhappy. The Assembly decided in Johnson’s favor because he was the county’s Chief Justice. If they moved the courthouse he could not attend meetings because he was too obese to get on his horse.
In 1816 Henry Lawrence owned the courthouse tract. He restricted the sale of every piece of land on the tract. No one who bought the land was allowed to have a tavern, boarding house, stable, or to sell spirits. His tavern was the only one allowed this business. These restrictions remained on the land until 1904. The majority of the town was not out of the hands of a single owner until after 1865.
In addition to the courthouse, which was rebuilt in 1818 by Samuel Ragland, and the jail, by 1835 the town also had a church, four stores, a silversmith, a blacksmith, two carriage makers, two tailors, a shoe maker, a cabinetmaker, a saddler, two taverns, a milliner, two lawyers’ offices, and a physician. After the Town was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly in 1873, a Town Council of seven trustees was chosen and elected annually by qualified Town voters. A Town Sergeant was also elected who was charged to maintain the peace and arrest all offenders within a mile of town limits and to collect taxes. In 1888 a fire broke out and destroyed nearly all the business section of town. The buildings which burned were made of wood and were located on the north side of Main Street. The buildings were rebuilt, mostly of brick, in the followings years. From the 1890s to the 1920s, Louisa was a summer resort with the boarders from Richmond and the Peninsula who came to get away from the summer heat and humidity in the cities. The Louisa Hotel (the Cooke building) and several private homes took in visitors for the summer months.