History of Washington County, Virginia
Established in 1776, Washington County is as old as the United States itself. It is named in honor of native Virginian George Washington, who at the time was the commander of the American Revolutionary forces. The establishment of the county precedes Virginia’s entrance into statehood in 1788 by twelve years.
Early Settlement and Revolutionary Period
The area of southwest Virginia that became Washington County was inhabited as early as 14,500 B.C. Permanent European settlement began in 1769 with the arrival of Scotch-Irish, German, and other northern European Protestant colonists. In 1780, troops from Washington County marched to Kings Mountain, South Carolina, where, under the command of General William Campbell, they defeated the British in what became known as the Overmountain Campaign, turning the tide of the Revolutionary War in the South in favor of the patriots.
Civil War and Reconstruction
During the Civil War, many Washington County men were killed or injured in battle. Personal hardship and economic challenges were encountered by those remaining on the County’s home front. In December 1864, Union troops arrived to Washington County and destroyed property and infrastructure while en-route to the saltworks at Saltville and lead mines in nearby Wythe County. After the Civil War, the people of Washington County began to rebuild the local economy, repair infrastructure, and reestablish government.
Historically, Washington County has had an agriculture-based economy. Grains were the main crops before the Civil War, but from the 1850s through 1998, tobacco reigned as the chief money crop. Since the late 1990s, production has shifted to more varied crops and beef cattle. Salt from the operations at Saltville and lumber from the eastern part of the county were also historically significant to the economy.