The territorial ancestry of Patrick County may be traced back to one of the original shires, or counties into which Virginia was divided in 1634, which was soon known as the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight Shire at that time was a large territory extending from the coast, along the south side of Virginia.
In 1652 Surry County was formed by a division of this territory, marking the beginning of a series of divisions which resulted in the formation of Lunenburg County from Brunswick in 1746; Halifax from Lunenburg in 1752; Pittsylvania from Halifax in 1776, Henry from Pittsylvania in 1776; and Patrick from Henry in 1790.
Patrick County was formed from the western half of Henry County by an act of Virginia Legislature, and officially became a separate county in 1791.
The General Assembly’s act reads in part, “That from and after the first day of June next (1791) the said county of Henry shall be divided into two distinct Counties, the new county line west of the line that divides the counties of Franklin and Henry.”
In November 1791 another parcel of Henry County was added to Patrick County and by an act of March 13, 1848, a small portion of Patrick County was added to Franklin County.
Most of the earlier settlers were of Scotch-Irish descent from Pennsylvania. They traveled to Patrick County through the Shenandoah Valley and passes in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Besides the pioneers from Pennsylvania, others came to the area. Most of the settlers were of English ancestry directly from Eastern Virginia, and others came from parts of North Carolina.
Some of the earliest tracts of land in the territory were secured from grants from the King of England by pioneers who came west to escape the spreading civilization along eastern region of the new country where many plantations had taken great parcels of land. A few of the land grants were obtained by non-residents for speculative purposes.
The early settlers of what is now Patrick County were pioneers and the Blue Ridge Mountains were part of their frontier. Life was harsh and travel was difficult. The few scattered roads were rutted and often impassable in the winter. Sometimes trees had to be felled to bypass existing roads and to make new ones.
Because transportation was limited the area had little access to trade goods, settlers had to make do with what they could grow or obtain from the immediate area.
Medical care also was limited and the peoples life expectancy was short on the frontier. Large families were an economic necessity to care for the farm land, the women of a child bearing age married young and often died early.
The population of the area before the first U.S. census in 1800 is unknown. Land office records in Richmond shows there were 809 land grants after the American Revolution from 1793-1867, and 162 prior to 1800.
The First U.S. census of Patrick County in 1800 reported a population of 4,331 persons. At that time the area was sparsely settled, having approximately 8 persons per square mile.
In 1860 a population decrease occurred in Patrick County due to changes in boundary line between Patrick and Henry countries when approximately 34 square miles were annexed to Henry County.
In 1910 the population was 17,195 persons. During the Depression years when people moved in search of employment from 1920-1930 the county lost 1,063 persons from the census.
The area comprising Patrick County was part of Henry County at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, so many men participated in the war and later became distinguished citizens of Patrick County.
Col. Abraham Penn of the Continental Army was commissioned to raise a company from the territory which now includes Franklin, Henry and Patrick Counties. Included in this militia were platoons from the Patrick territory led by Hamon Critz, George Hairston, and John Reutfro. This company was the only organized militia to leave the territory.
The Revolutionary War was a temporary setback to the settlement of the new territory, but the population increase after the war gave rise to the creation of the new county in 1791.
A building was erected on the present site of the courthouse in Stuart on land formerly owned by Same Staples and was used until 1821, when the present building was constructed. The first justices of the peace were Col. Abraham Penn, James Lyon, Jonathan Hanby, Daniel Caslin, Samuel Dark, William Carter, Stephen Lyon, J.L Armstrong, Frances Turner, William Banks and Charles S. Foster.
Any three justices of the peace in joint session could hold court. The first court elected Samuel Staples as clerk and John Cox as deputy clerk.
At the same session, William Mitchell brought forward a commission from the Governor appointing him Sheriff. Thomas Mitchell was appointed deputy.
In 1808, an act was passed dividing the state into 12 judicial districts. The district court established to serve Patrick County was in New London in Bedford County.
The first superior court for Patrick County was held on Oct. 6, 1809 with Judge Paul Carrington presiding.
After the American Revolution, agriculture made steady progress. The Patrick County farm land varied from steep slopes to rich bottom land, and early planters used oxen and mules as well as horses to plow it.
Tobacco became the most important agricultural product and since Lynchburg and Danville were the nearest markets, citizens began to process their own leaf. The largest portion of tobacco was grown or processed by the Reynolds Plant and Penn Co. Hardin W. Reynolds and his sons operated the Reynolds Plants located in Critz. The Reynolds Plant is now known as R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co. located in Winston Salem NC, and Penn Co. became the American Tobacco Company.
In 1834 the town of Taylorsville contained the County buildings, 40 houses, 2 mercantile stores, 3 taverns, a tannery, a saddlery, a tailor, a flour mill and 2 tobacco factories. In 1834, John A. Hairston began erecting an iron ore furnace which was used to smelt ore from the Fayerdale Mines during the Civil War, but it was later destroyed by Union Forces.
Next to tobacco, corn was the most important cash crop in the 1800’s including corn by the gallon rather than the peck. Beans and fruit also were valuable commodities with apples foremost among the fruit.
Patrick County was not a large slave area because the smaller farms of the mountain communities did not lend themselves to vast slave labor. According to the U.S. Census, there were only slightly more than 2,000 slaves in Patrick Co. in 1860.
When Virginia joined the Confederacy the County sent over 600 men into the conflict in organized units. Seven companies were organized from Patrick and sent into the war. And there were individuals who joined the Confederacy that were not in organized units.
Those who remained at home during the Civil War suffered hardships not related to the loss of the men of the family. The County’s economic conditions worsened due to the war and the ordinary necessities of life were scarce. Salt and sugar were practically nonexistent.
Conditions after the Civil War were not much better, but improvements in transportation were noted. Wagon roads were extended, and in 1884 the Danville and New River Railroad Co. constructed a line into the County seat from Martinsville.
The Danville and New River Railroad Co. was incorporated on March 29, 1873 to locate and construct a narrow gauge railroad from Danville via Martinsville, Patrick Court House and Hillsville in Carroll County to some point on the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad east of Christiansburg.
In 1883 the railroad negotiated with the county and reached an agreement whereby the company would construct the line if the County helped finance it’s construction. The county issued bonds for $150,000 which were turned over to the railroad to aid in the cost of constructing the railroad to Stuart.
Actual construction of the railroad began December 9, 1879 when the company began to lay tracks from Danville to Martinsville. In the fall of 1884 the railroad was completed to Patrick County Courthouse.
The first hard surface road in Patrick County was laid in 1925 from Stuart to Martinsville which helped shift the economic demographics from agriculture to manufacturing basis. Several of the factories that were once here are no longer in business including Pannill Knitting Co. which began operations in Stuart in 1937 when it took over the Stuart Knitting Co., Bassett Walker Knitting Co. which began operations in 1964 and closed in 1998.