Cumberland County Courthouse located at 1 Courthouse Circle, Cumberland VA 23040; phone: 804‑492‑3625.
The history of what is now known to be Cumberland County began in 1748 or 1749 (depending on source), when territories were split off of Goochland and named Cumberland County, in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, the second son of King George II, and a popular English hero of the day. This initial designation of Cumberland County is not the same Cumberland County existing today in shape or land area, but is the first use of the name Cumberland County. Prior to the formation of Cumberland County and not long after the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, in 1607, the Virginia colony was divided into eight counties or shires in 1634. One of those original eight counties was Henrico. At that time Henrico was a vast area and was reported to have a population of only 419 citizens. Henrico County of that time included territories, that were subsequently subdivided to become other counties, including what was to eventually become Cumberland County.
Ninety-three years later, Henrico was divided into two sections, the north part continuing to be known as Henrico County, and the south part being named Goochland County, after William Gooch, the Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia from 1727 until 1749. Goochland County included an indefinitely defined territory but included what is now recognized as Albemarle, Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Nelson and Powhatan.
After Albemarle was earlier split off from Goochland, what was to be named Cumberland County was split off from Goochland in 1748 or 1749. This initial area to be known as Cumberland County included all of what is today known as today's Cumberland County plus other territories that include today's Powhatan County. This land configuration remained in place until 1777.
In 1777, owing to the "great inconveniences attending the inhabitants of the county of Cumberland, by the great extent thereof," Cumberland was divided into two parts generally corresponding to two existing parishes. Southam Parish, in the east became Powhatan County. Littleton Parish became Cumberland County.
The following year, in 1778, a small portion of Buckingham County was added to Cumberland County by act of the Virginia General Assembly. With this minor adjustment, the boundaries of modern day Cumberland County were fixed, to define what is known today as Cumberland County.
In the early years prior to the development of formal roads, much of the transportation within the County was water based, with the Willis River and the James River being the main links to points west and east and especially to communities on the Atlantic Ocean. Early roads followed the ridges and drainage patterns with the destination being the main rivers. Through this early transportation network, export raw materials and produce and import finished goods flowed. Later, by 1776, the old Buck and Game Trail, later called the Carolina Road extended through nearly the length of the County northward towards the nation's capitol in Washington.
Settlement of what is now known as Cumberland County dates to as early as 1723 when Thomas Randolph recorded a patent for 2870 acres on the Willis Creek. More permanent communities soon followed. Along the main roads, there developed a series of taverns offering travelers food, commodities, shelter and social life. These taverns became the nuclei for the first communities in Cumberland County.
One of these taverns was Effingham, located across from the Cumberland Courthouse building. At Effingham in Cumberland Courthouse, Carter Henry Harrison read one of the first calls for the independence in the colonies on April 22, 1776. John Mayo and William Fleming subsequently presented this statement to the Virginia Convention. This initial call for independence, soon joined by other voices, led to the Declaration of Independence. George Walton, born in Cumberland County, signed this seminal document in the history of the United States.
Cumberland Courthouse, the county seat, dates from about 1748, the date when Cumberland County was split off of Goochland County. This community is in the approximate geographic center of the County and has been an important center of activity throughout Cumberland County's history. Cumberland Courthouse village is an unincorporated area, holding no official local government status, and is only generally defined as the developed area around the County governmental center. This community presently has a population of approximately 300 people. Other notable personalities of the colonial era, including Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and John Randolph, were frequent guests in the tavern in Cumberland Courthouse village. Maquis de Lafayette, noted French military, political and Revolutionary War era leader, also visited this community.
Cartersville, also an important unincorporated village, is located in the northern part of Cumberland County on the James River. Originally the Virginia General Assembly established the site of Carter's Ferry as a village in 1790. The original village was comprised of 27 acres of land formerly owned by John Woodson and served by a main street called High Street. High Street still exists today, as does the thriving small community.
Just one mile to the southeast of Cartersville on Route 659, the small community was established in about 1792, with the opening of a community store. In a thriving community grew. This store, still remaining today, once housed store has been preserved and is currently furnished with antiques and collectables.
Also a small community named Clinton emerged about 1790, at about the Route 60 and Route 654. This community at one time consisted of approximately stores, a gristmill, carriage shop and four blacksmith shops and a post office. Both Tamworth and Clinton are still marked on road maps but are all but few of the older structures still standing.
The largest community in Cumberland County today is the Town of Farmville. established in 1798, is located on the Appomattox River with portions of territories located in both Prince Edward County and Cumberland County. Cumberland portion of the Town of Farmville was reported to be 477 persons, remaining 6,368 persons were located south of the Appomattox in Prince Farmville is also the largest community in Planning District 14, and home University, Southside Community Hospital, the county seat for Prince Edward historic downtown commercial district, many outlying commercial and industrial and a number of significant residential neighborhoods.
Over the past two hundred plus years, Cumberland County has remained a relatively stable population. The census of 1790, the earliest available, Cumberland County had a total population of 8,153 persons. By 1830 increased to 11,690 persons, the "high water mark" of population. By the population of Cumberland County was reported to be 9,017 persons.