Tappahannock, the oldest town in Essex County and its county seat, is located on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula along the Rappahannock River.
Established in 1682 by the Act of the Virginia Legislature at James City, Tappahannock is the oldest town in Essex County and is the county seat for Essex. Located on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula along the Rappahannock River, Tappahannock is an Indian name meaning “on the rise and fall of water.”
The town’s historical roots date back to Capt. John Smith first landing there in 1608 before he was driven back by Native American forces that he later made peace with. English Colonist Joseph Hobbs established a trading post known as Hobbs Hole that renamed the town before it was renamed again to New Plymouth. The original name of Tappahannock, which stems from the Algonquian language word “Iappihanne,” was restored in 1808.
British naval forces shelled and seized Tappahannock during the War of 1812 in one of the last English raids before the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814.
Tappahannock was laid out in half-acre squares that still bear the original numbers and its wide and straight streets retain their original names, including Queen, Prince and Duke. Many of its most historical buildings remain intact, including a debtors’ prison constructed before 1769, one of three such structures in Virginia and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Essex County, established in 1692, is named after the shire or county in England or for the Earl of Essex. The county encompasses more than 286 square miles, which includes 29 square miles of water. The Town of Tappahannock is 2.745 square miles.