Lancaster was the second county on the Northern Neck. The first was Northumberland, formed in 1648 from the Native-American region known as Chicacoan. Northumberland was soon found to be too large to govern, and Lancaster was formed in 1651 from part of it and part of York County, which dated to 1634. In those days, a section of Lancaster was on the other side of the Rappahannock. Lancaster now has a land are of 133.2 square miles and a shore line of 264.7 miles.
Captain John Smith, the English soldier, explorer and leader in the Jamestown colony, was the first recorded European to see what is now Lancaster County. Smith reported that in the summer of 1608 he and small band of followers sailed some 3,000 miles on the Chesapeake Bay. One of the places he is known to have come ashore was at present-day Morattico. There he met with members of the Moraughtacund tribe of native-Americans before continuing on the his explorations.
If you had lived along the Rappahannock shore of Lancaster County in the late 18th century, you probably would have known the names of such ships "The Rappahannock Merchant," "Charming Molly," "The Duke of Cumberland" and a number of others. In those days, these ships made regular trips from England carrying as many as 200 convicts for sale in the Northern Neck. Most would have been young and about a third of them women, some of them married. If not sold to local planters, they were taken about the colony until buyers were found. Some 10,000 criminals were sent to Virginia ports during the period.
Tobacco was the golden currency in early Lancaster. It was so highly prized that you could even pay your debts and buy all sorts of goods and property with it. Late every summer, when the crop was harvested, you could see countless small boats off shore in Lancaster's waters transporting loads of tobacco. One of the county's early court-houses, for example, was build on land bought from George Washington's grandfather for 13,000 pounds of the weed, which in those days was thought to cure colds, evaporate phelgm and be beneficial to the brain.
Well, which was it: "Pitch Penny," "Catch Penny," "Lively Oak," or "Belwood Mills"? According to historian Mary R. Miller, the small community of Lively went under these four different names at various times in the past. The post office settled the matter in 1896, however, when it gave us the name we all know today. Just Lively.
When settlers first began arriving in what is now Lancaster County in the mid-17th century, many brought indentured servants with them. As the indenture system began to disappear, however, more slaves were needed and slave ships began arriving. One spot where many African-Americans began a life of involuntary solitude in Lancaster was just inside the Corrotoman River. Slave auctions were held there at Merry Point, near where the ferry now operates.