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Genealogy of Pittsylvania County Virginia

The area now known as Pittsylvania County Virginia has a genealogy just as the people who first settled there. Pittsylvania County has a parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent county, and is a parent and grandparent of other Virginia counties. This article describes the evolution of county boundries.

Pittsylvania County did not exist as a government entity until 01 June 1767. Until that date, other county governments governed the land and people in the region now known as Pittsylvania County.

1. Brunswick County (St. Andrews Parish) was formed in November 1720 by Acts of Assembly from the great western frontier in southern Virginia and included the far western portions of Prince George, Isle of Wight, and Surry Counties. (The History of Pittsylvania County Virginia; page 32) The boundaries of Brunswick County were not definitely stated, but the Act did state that the initial point of the county was the Roanoke River where it flows into North Carolina and extends west to the Blue Ridge Mountains to include the "Southern Pass”. Using the county lines defined by legislative acts in establishing new counties within Brunswick County, the original boundaries of Brunswick County were generally North Carolina on the south, the Blue Ridge Mountains on the west, and the upper reaches of the James River on the north. The eastern boundary was a straight, north-south line from the James River to where the Roanoke River flows into North Carolina. The county seat is Lawrenceville. The counties of Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Charlotte, Halifax, Pittsylvania, Bedford, Campbell, Henry, Franklin, Patrick, Prince Edward, and part of Amelia were created from Brunswick at various times during the next 100 to 200 years.

Including the Brunswick County of today, the following counties were formed directly from portions of this parent:

  • 2. Amelia County was formed in 1734 from portions of northeast Brunswick County and western Prince George County (b: 1703).
  • 3. *Lunenburg County was formed in 01 May 1746 from the western two-thirds of Brunswick County.
  • 4. Greensville County was formed in 1780 from portions of Brunswick County and Sussex County (b: 1753).

3. Lunenburg County was enacted in February 1745 by the General Assembly and formed on 01 May 1746 from the western two-thirds of Brunswick County.

Including the Lunenburg County of today, the following counties were formed directly from portions of this parent:

  • 5. *Halifax County, b: 1752
  • 6. Bedford County, b: 1753
  • 7. Charlotte County, b: 1764
  • 8. Mecklenburg County, b: 1765

5. Halifax County was formed in 1752 from the western two-thirds of the original Lunenburg County. The first county seat was Peytonsville, which is now in Pittsylvania County. The current county seat is Halifax??. Including the present day Halifax County, the following county was formed directly from portions of this parent:

  • 9. *Pittsylvania b: 01 June 1767

9. Pittsylvania County was enacted by Acts of Assembly in October 1766. The Act divided Halifax County into two counties effective 1 June 1767. The area north and west of a line between the mouth of Straightstone Creek on Staunton River to the mouth of Country Line Creek on the Dan River became Pittsylvania County. The other part south and east of the line remained Halifax County. At the time of its creation, the Pittsylvania County territory included what is now Pittsylvania, Patrick, and Henry Counties; plus parts of Franklin and Floyd counties. Including the present day Pittsylvania County, the following governments were formed directly from portions of this parent:

  • 10. *Henry County b: 01 January 1777
  • 11. City of Danville b: 1928

10. Henry County was formed 01 January 1777 from the western portion of Pittsylvania County. Including the present day Henry County, the following governments were formed directly from portions of this parent:

  • 12. *Patrick County, b: 1790
  • 13. City of Martinsville

12. Patrick County was formed in 1790. Including the present day Patrick County, the following counties were formed directly from the portions of this parent:

  • 14. Franklin County
  • 15. Floyd County

A Short History of the Governments for the Pittsylvania County Area

The first English settlers in 1607 Virginia followed the patterns from England in establishing parishes and counties that served as local units of ecclesiastical and community organization. The Virginia General Assembly usually established parishes and fixed their boundaries at the same time county lines were created or altered. As new settlers arrived and settlements were established farther west, courts and parishes were needed closer to the people. The creation of shires, which later became known as counties, made the administration of justice more accessible to the colonists and helped govern the colony.

The first settlements in Virginia, Charles City, Elizabeth City, and James City, kept courts by 1623. By February 1631/32, enough people had settled in the colony for the Virginia General Assembly to create five new shires:

  • Henrico
  • Warrosquyoake (changed to Isle of Wight County in 1637)
  • Accawmack (now Northampton County)
  • Warwick (now independent city of Newport News)
  • Charles River (now York County)

For the first one hundred years, colonial civilization was limited to the eastern shores of the Virginia colony. The area that is now Pittsylvania County Virginia was well outside the influence of these settlements. The western regions of Virginia Colony only began to be explored around the end of the Seventeenth Century.

South-side Virginia came under colonial administration when Brunswick County was formed in 1720 from the western frontier of Virginia. This vast frontier was largely undeveloped by the colonists. It was so sparsely settled that a court for Brunswick County was not organized until 1732. Grants and patents for land in the Pittsylvania County area were not recorded until the mid 1730s and settlement did not start until about 1738.

As colonial civilization spread westward, Brunswick County was divided into smaller counties to make the courts and government administration more accessible to the colonists. The area, which is now Pittsylvania County, was at different times a part of three older parent counties:

  1. Beginning in 1720, the area was administered by Brunswick County.
  2. Administration changed to Lunenburg County control in 1746
  3. The area that is now Pittsylvania County became a part of Halifax County on its creation in 1752.

In June 1767, Pittsylvania County was established from the western half of Halifax County. The present day boundaries were established in January 1777 when Henry County was created from the western portion of Pittsylvania County.

Parish and County Governments

The county offices were primarily responsible for law enforcement and matters involving the courts. Most other government type functions were the responsibility of parishes. Being an English colony, the Church of England was, by law, the form of worship for Virginia. Parishes were the local unit of ecclesiastical organization and administered by a group of local men known as the vestry. The parishes usually had the same boundaries as the counties and were divided as the county boundaries changed.

The parish vestry maintained records of marriages, births, deaths, and land ownership. The vestry arranged religious services and the building of churches in the parish. Besides religious matters, the vestry also organized the building of roads and bridges, the care for the poor, the marking of property boundary lines, and the collection of taxes as tithables. The vestry maintained property records for the purpose of collecting tithables to pay for the other parish services.

The Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was passed by the Virginia General Assembly on 16 January 1786 which ended state-enforced support for the disliked Church of England. Most of the governmental duties of the vestry were turned over to county officials. However, the parish boundaries continued to be used as geographic designations. Many deeds designated residences by parish and county.

Finding Records for Families in the Pittsylvania County Area

Tracing families that resided in the region of Pittsylvania and Henry County presents some challenges. An ancestor could remain on the same piece of land during their lifetime and have records in as many as five different counties. You may find your ancestor in the records of one county covering several years suddenly disappear from that county and show up in another county, and never have moved from the land on which he was born.

To add to the confusion (and the places you must search), you have to look in both the vestry and county records; especially if you are looking for people living before 1786. Parish archives could now be in county offices, libraries, or held by genealogical and historical societies.

In addition, cities in Virginia are independent and separate from the counties. The cities maintained their own records, so you may find an ancestor disappear from county records to suddenly appear in the city records and still live on the same land. Danville in Pittsylvania County is an independent city and has maintained its own court records since 1952. Martinsville, in Henry County at the border with Pittsylvania County, became an independent city in 1928 and granted in 1950.

Records archived by Pittsylvania County, Virginia only date back to 1 June 1767, which is the date it became a county. For records concerning matters for the present area of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, look in the following county or parish archives:

  • June 1, 1767 to the present, check Pittsylvania County and Camden Parish archives. Vestry books were closed in 1852.

    Note: The area that is now Henry County or Patrick County was originally part of Pittsylvania County from June 1, 1767 until January 1777. For records concerning land and people in these areas, check Pittsylvania County for matters before January 1777, and check Henry or Patrick County for matters after January 1777.

  • 1752 to June 1, 1767, check Halifax County and Antrim Parish archives.

    Note: The first county seat was in Peytonsburg, which is now in Pittsylvania County.

  • May 1, 1746 to 1752, check Lunenburg County and Cumberland Parish archives.

  • 1720 to 1746, check Brunswick County and St. Andrews Parish archives.

  • Note: You probably can not find any records specific to the Pittsylvania County region dated any earlier than the 1735. Specifically, there are probably no records of people in the region dated any earlier than 1738. Settlement of the area did not begin until 1738 and patents for land were not granted until 1735.

Owner/SourceDavid D.

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