Virginia ~ Brief History

Brief History of the State of Virginia

~ as it applies to Coffman research

1610 The first laws of Virginia were called the Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall, and were enacted by Sir Thomas Dale in 1610. Dale’s Code required colonial Virginia ministers to record all christenings, marriages, and burials in registers, in much the same way those events were recorded in England.
1618 The Great Charter of 1618 divided Virginia into four boroughs and set aside land within each borough for public use. The governor and Council were given the authority to allot land to individuals within the boroughs. Two copies of each patent were made; one was given to the grantee as proof of title, and other was retained for company records.
1619 Ministers were required to present the register (see 1610 entry) to the Secretary of the Colony.
1624 Virginia became a royal colony.
16 Feb
First census of Virginia; is a list of the names of persons living in Virginia and the names of those who died since April 1623.
Virginia colony conducted a second census called the Musters of the Inhabitants of Virginia. Taken by household and includes ages, relationships, dates of arrival in Virginia, the name of the ship each person arrived in, and enumerations of weapons, buildings, foodstuffs, and boats.
1627 Sir George Yeardley determined that, as governor, he had the power to issue patents for settlers who met the old company definition of planter.
1631 The House of Burgesses directed that marriage licenses were to be granted by the Governor, although couples could have banns read instead and pay less for their marriage. Marriages in early Virginia was by publication of banns.
1642 The parish clerks were required to submit a monthly list of vital records (see 1610) to the “commander of every monethly court.”. Few, if any of the monthly lists were recorded.
1654 The Privy Council finally agreed to the above and millions of acres were granted to individuals claiming headrights during the 17th century.
1661 Marriage bonds were first required as part of the licensing procedure. The couple wishing a license gave bond to the county clerk that there was no lawful impediment to their marriage; the clerk then issued a license. Every September, the clerk forwarded to the Secretary of the Colony a list of licenses issued. These records were burned in the various fires at Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Richmond.
Population growth by this time no longer depended on immigration.
Saw explosive expansion. The Shenandoah Valley and the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were opened, and settlers poured down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania.
1715 By this time, most land was patented by treasury right instead of by headright.
About 1730 The land which is Shenandoah County was first permanently settled about 1730 by George Bowman and others in a group led by Jost/Joist Hite (1685-1761). The town of Strasburg at the northern end of Massanutten Mountain was probably the first town to be settled. It was laid out by Peter Stauffer/Stover and was chartered by the Virginia Assembly in 1761.
1738 The area that became Augusta County was settled primarily by the Scotch-Irish in the early 1730s. Formed from Orange County, Augusta officially became a county in 1738, but because of the unsettled state of the region county government was not actually established there until 1745. The primary religion of the area was Presbyterian and the early settlers lost no time in forming the Triple Forks of the Shenandoah Congregation. The Tinkling Spring Meeting House, a simple log structure, was the first Presbyterian church in the Shenandoah Valley. Augusta’s county seat is Staunton.
1743 Frederick County was formed by the splitting of Orange County. For ten years it was the home of George Washington.
mid-1700s By second half of the century, the Cumberland Gap was discovered and settlers began filling what would become Kentucky and West Virginia. Both were initially part of Virginia.
March 1761 The town of Woodstock was established by charter while still a part of Frederick County.
1772 The General Assembly renamed Dunmore County as Shenandoah County. Shenandoah County was originally designated the county of Dunmore. It originally encompassed what is today the southern portion of Frederick County, all of present-day Shenandoah County, nearly all of Page County and about one-half of Warren County.

In 1772 when Dunmore (later Shenandoah) was formed, it became the county seat and its name was changed to Woodstock. Woodstock is today the county seat of Shenandoah County.

1777 John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and last Royal Governor of Virginia is recalled.
1778 An act of the General Assembly renames Dunmore Shenandoah. [Will try to find out whether it was 1772 or 1778.]

Rockingham County was formed from Augusta County, named for the Marquis of Rockingham, British
statesman. Rockingham’s county seat is Harrisonburg.

1790 First Federal census taken.
1792 Kentucky, initially part of Virginia, became a separate state.
1831 Page County was formed from parts of Shenandoah and Rockingham counties by an act of the Virginia General Assembly. It is bounded by counties–north, Warren; south, Rockingham; east, Rappahannock and Madison, and west Rockingham and Shenandoah. The county seat is Luray.
1853 Virginia requires its counties to record births and deaths. Registration on the county level continued until 1896. Note that during the Civil War, many counties abandoned registration or at best recorded only a small percentage of births and deaths.

Note: Virginia divorce records from 1 January 1853 to the present are only obtainable from the Division of Vital Records. Earlier records are filed with the clerk of the circuit court or the Virginia General Assembly.

1863 West Virginia, initially part of Virginia, became a separate state.
1865 The burning of Richmond during the Civil War destroys many courthouses which in turned reduced to ashes many many records.
1884 Shenandoah, the southernmost town of Page County, was established.


‘The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy’ edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs & Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.  Unfortunately the old page of, the source of the above information is no longer on the site. And there is not one hint of whether this information was moved to another site or considered no longer of importance.The other source of the above information was a page concerning the History of Town of Woodstock, Virginia ( and they also have removed their history. The site is there but not one bit of history information remains.For Shenandoah county, try this on-line book, A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia by John Walter Wayland. Much of the book is available via this link but not all. But it does have a good section on marriages in the county as early as 1795. Make sure when you use the search that you use all forms of the person’s name.