By Patrick Farris
The earliest settlers of the area that would become Warren County were German and Scots-Irish farmers who were attracted to the area by the Virginia colonial government, land pressures back in Pennsylvania, and also two political events close on the heels of one another which would lead to an acceleration of the permanent settlement of the lower Shenandoah Valley.
In 1744 the Treaty of Lancaster between Virginia and the Iroquois Confederation saw the powerful Iroquois League cede all land claims in Virginia in exchange for £200. Then, in 1746, the English Privy Council in London set the Fairfax Line between the headwaters of the Rappahannock and the Potomac, settling a long-running dispute between Thomas, Lord Fairfax, the sixth baron of Cameron and the colonial authorities of Virginia as to exactly where his Northern Neck proprietary was situated.
With these legal issues settled, prospective landowners were increasingly motivated to acquire property in the valley.
Soon after these events, the Buck family bought land along what would become the Strasburg Road from Riverton to Buckton, and the Richardson family who, along with the Bucks, bought land stretching south along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River from today's Karo to Bentonville.
Other English, Irish, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Dutch and German families would continue to come between the 1740s and the American Revolution, filling in the bountiful Fork District and the many productive hollows in the area: the Allens in Limeton, the Henrys on Dickey Ridge, the Santmyers in the Fork District, the Pomeroys and Beattys in Harmony Hollow and many more.
Local families such as the Redmons claimed ancestry from Native Americans and very well could have been the remnants of Shawnee who had intermarried with some of the newcomers and remained.
Also at this time Robert "King" Carter bought lands near Lord Fairfax in the northern section of what would become Warren County, bringing more than 100 slaves to the area.
The Spangler family and others would also bring substantial numbers of slaves to work their farms, and in this way Warren County would develop in a similar way to other eastern Valley counties such as Page, Clarke and Jefferson, with a heavier reliance on slave labor than the western side of the valley.
From 1754-1788, the LeHew family lent its French Huguenot name to the town located at the center of this community settled about the Forks of the Shenandoah, the community being known as LeHewtown until the town chartered in 1788 under the name "Frontroyall."
During this time, as the colonization of Virginia progressed, so moved the establishment of counties to cover the vast western expanse which included the forks of the Shenandoah. Orange County, created in 1734, laid claim to this region of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge, including the area of what would become Warren County.
Orange County's holdings west of the Blue Ridge subdivided first into Frederick County in 1738, and then the area which would become Warren County became divided into a northern half remaining in Frederick County and a southern section becoming part of Dunmore County in 1772.
Dunmore County would rechristen itself Shenandoah County in 1778 as the formerly popular colonial governor of Virginia after whom the county had been named became reviled for several provocative actions against Virginians at Williamsburg during the opening days of the revolution.
By 1772, Front Royal had become the southernmost and easternmost town in Frederick County. The line demarcating Frederick County from Dunmore (Shenandoah) County led unclearly from Manassas Gap to the vicinity of Strasburg.
One result of having so many Front Royal residents and others living near this amorphous line was confusion concerning which county individual properties were located, and correspondingly in which county should residents conduct official business and pay taxes.
To a degree, personal choice seemed to play an important role in whether an individual went to Woodstock or Winchester in order to record a marriage, execute a will or transfer property. Residents of the northern Fork District were within Frederick County according to some early maps, however they appear to have used Woodstock over Winchester as their courthouse town, likely due to proximity and the fact that more than one river or creek separated them from Winchester.
Interested in local history? Come visit the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal. Refer to warrenheritagesociety.org for contact information, hours and location.
Patrick Farris is executive director of the Warren Heritage Society.