King William County is located in east-central Virginia on the Middle Peninsula, one of three peninsulas on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The county is bounded by the Mattaponi River to the north and the Pamunkey River to the south which combine to form the York River at West Point, the county’s largest town. King William is bounded by the counties of Caroline, King & Queen, Hanover and New Kent.
The land area of King William County is 273.94 square miles. Located approximately 35 miles northeast of Richmond, VA, King William has a population of 16,354. The county is considered part of the Richmond, VA Metro Area.
The history of King William County dates back to the earliest days of the English settlement of the New World. Prior to the colonial period, present-day King William County and the surrounding regions were parts of the Powhatan Confederacy, which encompassed much of eastern Virginia and included about 30 Algonquian tribes. At the time of the English arrival, the Confederacy was led by Wahunsonacock, also known as “Powhatan.” Powhatan is probably known best for his daughter, Pocahontas who, in 1614, married Englishman John Rolfe. Their marriage helped to secure peace between the Powhatan Confederacy and the English colonists.
In 1607, the English established the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown. In 1608, Captain John Smith’s explorations brought him to the Powhatan town of Cinquoteck, or Paumenkee Town. Some 45 years later in 1653, John West was awarded a land patent of 3,000 acres at this site which he named “West Point.” The region changed many times, with new counties being carved out from the old. For several decades, present-day King William County was part of King & Queen County. In 1701, the General Assembly passed an act which called for the creation of a new county from a portion of King & Queen county. The act became effective on 11 April 1702, establishing King William County as the 24th county in Virginia. The county was named for King William III, king of England 1689-1702.
King William Courthouse
King William County Courthouse was built about 1725. The one-room, T-shaped, hipped-roof structure likely replaced the original wooden frame courthouse structure. The historic building is not only the county’s oldest public building, but is purportedly the oldest public building in use in Virginia and the oldest courthouse of English foundation in continuous use in the United States. The Circuit Court of King William County sits in the historic courthouse.
The courthouse was constructed of brick laid in Flemish bond. It is one of only three surviving Virginia courthouses – the others being Charles City County and Hanover County – with an arcade or a piazza imitating the first colonial capital in Williamsburg. The building is considered one of the finest examples of early colonial brickwork and courthouse design. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which maintains the Virginia Landmarks Register, considers the courthouse to be the best preserved of Virginia’s eleven colonial era court buildings.
In 1840 the courthouse was enlarged and a brick wall was erected to enclose the court green and to keep livestock and poultry away from the buildings. It is one of the few remaining enclosed court greens in Virginia. A jail was constructed in 1890 on the site of the 1800s-era Clerk’s Office that was destroyed by fire in 1885. A new Clerk’s Office was established in the former jail in 1908. The Confederate monument was dedicated on the court green in 1904. The interior of the courthouse was extensively renovated about 1926 and again in 1983-84, the latter an effort to restore the building to more of its original 18th century appearance.
A new courthouse designed to modern court facility standards will be erected on the tract of county property located adjacent to the historic courthouse on Courthouse Lane (State Route 1301). The architecture of the new facility will be compatible with the historic courthouse, incorporating many of the features of the old building such as the piazza, hipped-roof and tall chimneys. The new 27,570-square foot facility will include: two courtrooms, judges chambers and three clerks offices for the Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts; a hearing room; a deed and land records room; a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office; a magistrate’s office; a Victim-Witness Assistance Program office; and a Sheriff’s Office with a dispatcher room, four holding cells and a secured sally port. Completion of the structure is tentatively projected for late 2003 or early 2004. Following occupancy of the new courthouse, the judges of the local courts will periodically perform some judicial functions in the historic courthouse so as to maintain the building’s historic “continuous use” traditions.
Primary Sources: King William County Courthouse: A Memorial to Virginia Self-Government by Alonzo Thomas Dill, 1984; and King William Courthouse – Current Floor Plan with Mechanical Room at Rear of Building by Wiley & Wilson, Lynchburg, Virginia, March 14, 2002.
Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller
Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller was born in West Point, Virginia, on June 26, 1898. He attended Virginia Military Institute in Lexington until he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in August 1918 at the age of 20. He served in the Corps for 37 years, spending all but 10 of those years overseas. His service encompassed four World War II campaigns in the Pacific Theatre, the Korean War and expeditionary service in Haiti, China and Nicaragua. During World War II he fought on Guadalcanal, Eastern New Guinea, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu. His Korean War combat experience included the Inchon Landing and the Chosin Reservoir.
During his distinguished military career, General Puller won 14 personal decorations in combat plus campaign medals, unit citations and medals from foreign countries. He is the only Marine to win the Navy’s highest honor for valor in combat – the Navy Cross – five times. He also was awarded the Army’s highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross. He remains the most decorated Marine in the history of the Marine Corps.
General Puller was the guest of honor or “favorite son” at King William County’s 250th anniversary celebration program on April 26, 1952. He died following a long illness in Hampton, Virginia on October 11, 1971 at the age of 73. He was buried in Christchurch cemetery in Middlesex County, Virginia.
On November 10, 2005 (the 230th Anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps), the USPS issued a set of four different stamps honoring Distinguished Marines: John A. Lejeune, Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, John Basilone, and Daniel J. Daly.