It is believed our area of Appalachia was explored by Jesuit Priests as early as 1606-1609. After the Virginia House of Burgesses decided to populate the western frontier with settlers to buffer French encroachment, people began moving into the Potomac Headwaters. After 1747, Lord Fairfax began land distribution and organized settlement began. The young George Washington was one of Fairfax’s surveyors, working in what is now Hampshire County. Because Virginia’s route to the upper Ohio River valley came through the county, the area became an important gateway to the developing west.
By 1754, armed conflict had broken out between the French and British. George Washington, now an officer in the Virginia Regiment, was the instigator of the conflict. In the next few years, he tried to protect Virginia’s long frontier from Indian attack, but his resources and success were limited. Hampshire County was soon almost empty of settlers. Finally, in 1758 with the fall of Fort Duquesne, settlers began to return and commerce began to increase.
In 1762, Romney was incorporated as the first town in what is now West Virginia. During the trying years of the French and Indian War, Hampshire suffered from enemy attacks. Col. George Washington, Commander of the Virginia Regiment, built a chain of forts in Hampshire County as the northern bulwarks of his western line of defense. During the terrible first half of the French and Indian War, settlers fled to more peaceful areas. In 1787, Watson (later named Capon Springs) was incorporated at the medicinal springs in the south-east part of the county.
By 1786, a state road had been completed from Winchester to Romney. The Northwestern Turnpike was constructed in the mid-1830s, connecting Winchester to Clarksburg via Romney, and eventually on to Parkersburg on the Ohio River. As the frontier of the new nation moved westward, more roads were required to serve the expanding nation.
The far western counties of Virginia were developing as industrial centers along the Ohio Rivers, but Hampshire and its neighboring counties remained rural, agricultural areas. It was during the Civil War that western Virginians began to press for Statehood Virginia was split, Hampshire County became part of the new state of West Virginia. Hampshire’s placement in the new state was a matter of Federal politics and did not reflect the sentiments of the people of the county.
Hampshire County had strong ties to the Shenandoah Valley and therefore its sympathies were Southern.”Stonewall” Jackson, realizing the importance of the B&O Railroad, initiated an early campaign in the County to cut the Federal government’s transportation link to the western states. Because of this strategic location, there were many troop movements through the county and Romney is said to have changed hands 56 times during the war.