In 1607, when the English first arrived in Virginia, the area now occupied by Rappahannock was an uncleared primary growth wooded territory inhabited by Native Americans. At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Manahoacs and Iroquois hunted and fished. As more and more settlers moved into Virginia their economic and, at times, martial competition pushed the native inhabitants west.
Official colonization was possible in 1722 and this opened up the Piedmont section of Virginia. The majority of the early settlers in Rappahannock were not foreign born, but had moved down from northern ports and other regions of Virginia. Rappahannock's new inhabitants were mainly of English descent from the Tidewater region. Other settlers included Scots-Irish from west of the Blue Ridge and Germans from the north and from the Germanna Ford area in modern Spotsylvania and Culpeper Counties. A few Welsh and French also moved into Rappahannock. The French settlers arrived from Manakin, a Huguenot Colony located on the James River. Amissville, one of the villages in Rappahannock County, was named after the Amiss family from the Colony at Manakin.
People from Rappahannock were active participants in the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States. Although during the War Between the States many small skirmishes were scattered throughout the County, the closest major battle occurred in Front Royal, north of Flint Hill. Cavalry raiding was a more typical War Between the States-era Rappahannock activity.
Taking its name from the river that has its source in the small streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Rappahannock became separate from Culpeper County by an Act of the General Assembly in 1833. The five villages, Amissville, Chester Gap, Flint Hill, Sperryville, Woodville, and the Town of Washington have significant historical value. Washington is the County seat. Fondly called “the first Washington”, and somewhat less politely referred to as “little Washington” to distinguish it from its larger cousin, it was surveyed and plotted by George Washington in 1749 and was established as a town in 1796. The villages of Rappahannock were frontier posts or crossroads. Today, these small residential clusters represent a focal point for County residents providing retail services, meeting places, post offices, and church activities. As it was in the 1700's, Rappahannock's economy is still agriculturally based with the surrounding villages providing basic services for the farms.
Rappahannock County is in the northern portion of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Washington, the County seat, is about 65 miles southwest of Washington, DC, and 120 miles northwest of Richmond, the State Capitol. The County extends north and south 24 miles and east and west about 21 miles. It has an area of approximately 267 square miles. The northwestern boundary is in the Blue Ridge Mountains and separates the County from Page and Warren Counties. The Rappahannock River forms the northeastern boundary and separates the County from Fauquier County. The County is bounded on the southeast by Culpeper County and on the southwest by Madison County.
The County's residents have strong economic and social ties with jurisdictions on all sides, although the western boundary of the Blue Ridge historically has acted to lessen contacts with Page County as opposed to the more direct accessibility of Warrenton in Fauquier County, Culpeper in the County of the same name, and Front Royal in Warren County which while over the Blue Ridge, is nevertheless served by a primary road providing relatively easy access. This in turn has led to a regionalization of many trading activities by County residents, people in the northern portion of the County (Flint Hill, Chester Gap) are more apt to shop, bank and attend events in Front Royal, while persons in the south and west (Sperryville, Woodville) often patronize Culpeper establishments, and persons in the east (Amissville, Washington) tend to favor Warrenton businesses.
Rappahannock County enjoys a temperate, comfortable climate with generally mild winters and warm summers. Basically, the County's climate is controlled by the Blue Ridge Mountain range to the west and the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay to the east. Winters in the County are rigorous but not severe and summer temperatures are moderate.
Although detailed climatological data are not available for Rappahannock County, they are for Culpeper County and the results are generally applicable. While Rappahannock County's temperature is similar to that of Culpeper County, temperatures are generally 2-3 degrees lower. During the 1951-1990 period, the mean temperature was 56 degrees. July was the warmest month with temperatures averaging 78 degrees. December was the coldest month with an average temperature of 37. The number of days with temperatures greater than 90 degrees has ranged from 16 in 1962 to 76 in 1943. The temperature falls below freezing 20-23 days a month during the winter months and reaches zero often enough to average one day per year.
Rainfall is well distributed throughout the year with the maximum in July and August and the minimum in February. Nearly 40 days each year have thunderstorm activity that is normal for the State. The average snowfall is 17 inches a year, but yearly amounts are extremely variable and range from zero to 45 inches.
South to southwest winds predominate, with secondary frequency from a northerly direction. Relative humidity varies inversely with temperatures being typically high in the mornings and low in the afternoons.
The typical growing season (from the last freeze in spring to the first freeze in autumn) is 181 days. Freezes usually do not occur between April 20 and October 18. However, freezing temperatures have occurred as late as May 17 and as early as September 25.
Rappahannock County occupies a topographic position ranging from 360 to 3,720 feet above mean sea level. The lowest point in the County is where the Rappahannock River crosses into Culpeper County. The highest point is the Pinnacle, which is located in the southwestern part of the County on the Page County boundary.
Altitudes in the Blue Ridge province primarily range from 1,000 to 3,500 feet. Most of the Blue Ridge province is well drained, but some small areas of colluvial material at the foot of the mountains are poorly drained.