The eastern portion of Virginia’s Lower Potomac as been known as the Northern Neck, speculates Miriam Haynie, from the earliest days of settlement. Printed references date back at least to 1677. Of the peninsula, she writes, in The Stronghold, a History of the Northern Neck and Its People of a land that is not quite an island, but cut off from the mainland than a typical peninsula.
Whether farmer, forester or shipbuilder, life was oriented toward the water. So much so, that those whose land was inland were often called forest people, or “of the forest.” Before connected to the mainland by bridges, particularly U.S. Route 301, it truly was “almost as inaccessible as an ancient stronghold surrounded by a moat.”
There is a well-known expression that geography is destiny. In Virginia’s Lower Potomac, to this day there is a pattern of dispersed settlement. Where once were plantations, then small farms are now small business in new landscape economies, such as charter fishing and tourism, as well as the independent small business whose operations range from well-drillers to auto repair. The Lower Potomac is not a land of chain operations.
Then there are the retirees homesteading on large lots. Their economic motivations are not the same as their forbears, but the streak of individualism and community bonds that extend community beyond the confines of a small town continues today.