Early History

of

Bedford  County, Va.

(Contributions for this sketch are from Ida Patterson)

(Click Picture to Enlarge)

John Russell.JPG (90245 bytes)The formation of Bedford County, as of other new counties, was due to the fact that many settlers had already moved into her territory and were too far removed from the seat of government.  By Act of the Virginia Assembly in November, 1753, Bedford was formed from Lunenburg  to take effect May 10, 1754. The next year a piece of  Albemarle south of the James was added.  The Assembly named the county in honor of John Russell, fourth duke of Bedford, then Secretary of State of Great Britain.  It also directed that Court meet every fourth Monday beginning May 27, 1754.  This first Court was an important event in the county's  history.  It was held at the home of Matthew Talbot near Forest.   Seven justices, John Payne, William Calloway, John Smith, Zachary Isbell, Robert Page, Thomas Pullen, and Edward Manion, appointed by the governor and council, were sworn in. Also three attorneys, Clement Reade as "His Majesty's Attorney General." William Calloway was presiding justice.  Benjamin Howard produced a commission as the first Clerk of the Court.  The Court continued to meet at Matthew Talbot's until William Calloway built a rude structure in November. In 1766 a more permanent courthouse was built on lot 10, drawn as the courthouse lot. This county court, a judicial body originally with chancery, common law, and criminal jurisdiction, also had power to construct public buildings, roads, and bridges, to license taverns and ordinaries, and perform other legislative functions. It was self-perpetuating and continued in existence until abolished by the constitution of 1869. At the August meeting in 1754 William Calloway donated 100 acres of land for a county seat, which was later deeded in trust for the county to trustees Richard Calloway, Zachary Isbell and Benjamin Howard. At a Court held March 29, 1757, the trustees were ordered to layout the land in half ­acre lots to be sold at one pound, one shilling, and eight pence each, the lots to be numbered and drawn at May Court. The Court named the town New London. The plot of "New London Towne" is in deed book A with the names of the purchasers of the lots.

William Calloway.JPG (126689 bytes)     The little town grew, and during its twenty-eight years as county seat became the commercial, social, and cultural center for a large area. Today New London is little more than a village, important only because of its history and its academy, but to the student of Bedford County beginnings it holds undying interest.

     In 1782 Campbell County was taken from Bedford, and Franklin in 1786. This left Bedford its present area of 774  square miles, averaging about 35 miles east to west and 25 miles north to south.

     When Campbell was cut off and New London was found to be in Campbell it became necessary for Bedford to find a new county seat. William Callaway, Jr., was commissioned by the Court to survey the county and find the­ center.  Next a committee composed of William Mead, William Trigg, William Leftwich, James Buford, Henry Buford, and Charles Gwatkin, was sent to select a place on Bramlett's Road, now Route 297.  At July Court, 1782, the committee reported as their selection a site "in a tract of

     100 acres," owned by William Downey and Joseph Fuqua, which they were willing to donate. The report was adopted and James Buford was appointed to let the contract for a courthouse, prison and stocks. The courthouse built where The Bedford Bulletin office is today was in a grove of oak timber, and no doubt was built of the logs cut to make space.  August Court was held in the new building. A plan, was given, probably in memory of the recent victory at Yorktown.  Gradually the tract was cleared, new settlers appeared, and the new county seat, so favorably situated, grew steadily

Bedford Clerks Office.JPG (89574 bytes)     Court Day, so colorful an occasion in New London, when townsmen and countrymen appeared in their picturesque colonial attire and watched for Jimmy  Steptoe to step from his coach, soon became the important day in the new county seat. A new brick courthouse was built in 1789, another in 1833, and the present handsome structure in 1930, all on the same site.

     The early settlers of the county were chiefly from England and Scotland, with small groups of Irish, Welsh and French. Later many Scotch-Irish and some Germans came from Pennsylvania down the Shenandoah Valley and per­haps over the Blue Ridge. Before the county was formed much land had been acquired by individuals through pur­chase and through grants from the king. It is estimated that from 150 to 200 plantations were already set up by 1754. Among the very early settlers are seen the names Callaway, Talbot, Ewing, Phelps, Anthony, Early, Cobbs, Bramlett, Walker, Woodson, Burks, Markham, Horsley, Tate, Meade, and Pane.

     From the beginning the Indian threat necessitated a county militia. Every white man over eighteen was en­rolled for military service. As early as 1758 there were 300 men of military age enrolled. They were commanded by a County Lieutenant, one of the most important men in the country, who was appointed by the Governor and Council.

     The Callaway’s are said to have been the first white men to raise corn in Bedford County, and William Callaway was the county’s first delegate to the General Assembly, serving for eleven years.

     Somewhat later other names appear familiar in Bedford's story, including Read, Burks, Otey, Rice, Steptoe, Sale, Buford, Wharton, Jeter, Hatcher, Leftwich, Trigg, Wheat, Holt, White, Beard, Davis, Pate, Mitchell and others too numerous to mention.

     Bedford's history boasts of many famous sons, distinguished in many fields. Among these are  Rev. John Holt Rice, D.D. ; Rev. Samuel Lyle Graham, D.D.; Bishop Nicholos H. Cobbs; Bishop James H. Otey; Bishop John Early; Rev. Jeremiah B. Jeter, D.D.; Rev. William E. Hatcher, D.D.; William L. Goggin;  Anthony Rucker M.D.;  Peter Rucker M.D.;  William "Billy" Rucker M.D.; Edward C. Burks; Martin P. Burks, "John Goode of Virginia"; James Steptoe, and many others.

     Much could be written of the social and economic life of this early period, when news brought by post was broadcast to assembled groups, when men with small plantations and few slaves cut the timbers and "raised" a house for a neighbor, when travelers carried their blankets on which to sleep in the taverns, when soap, candles, cloth, and medicine were made at home, and when girls wore sunbonnets and mittens to avoid sun tan.

Bi-Centinneal_Parade_1954.JPG (53874 bytes)     In the rush of events of today's daily living less and less time will be available for consideration of this old past, but reviewing the story of Bedford's pioneers during this bicentennial year has been a rewarding experience. It is a goodly heritage that they left us. Conspicuous among their traits was a deep religious faith. The number and renown of her sons who became ministers at one period earned the county the title of "the preachers' plantbed."  Moral integrity was a quality ascribed to individuals with marked frequency. Physical courage, patriotism, love of liberty, and spirit of cooperation also characterized these founders. "Gentleman" and yeoman worked side by side to overcome danger and adversity. Their spirit still persists. Our pace, slow and cautious, has been steady, and is now greatly accelerated. Year by year it gathers momentum. Bedford County definitely is moving forward.