top of page


Of Morattico Waterfront Museum

Ye Northern Neck - Lancaster Lore

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 a 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 near present-day Morattico. There he met with members of the Moraughtacund tribe of native- Americans before continuing on his explorations.

Indian brave of the Morattico

On a still mid-summers night, when the whip-poor-will is fluting its plaintive call, there comes from across Mud Creek (a name old in county records) the voice of an Indian brave of the Morattico—he called it Moraughtacund—tribe. In a voice resonant with the sounds of place-names like Rappahannock, Chesapeake, Potomac and Wicomico—to name a few— he declares. This is my land. Here I, and my ancestors from time immemorial, stalked the wild turkey and the deer. Fish and oysters in great abundance we caught around these shores in water as pure as in the dawn of time. My arrow-heads spend in their flight, are still turned up by your plows. Pottery shards from our camp-fires lie under this sod, and our graves, like primeval log-mounds, litter these woods.      Countless moons ago your Capt. John Smith, in your year 1608 as you say it was, exploring the Rappahannock, stopped just here and befriended my tribe. Yet, if only the compassionate Pocahontas had not twelve moons before beseeched her father to spare Smith’s head, perhaps you would not have taken our hunting grounds, polluted our waters and exhausted our seafood. As his utterance is borne away on the soft night wind, we hear him solemnly repeat: “This is my land….”  --Speaking of the Northern Neck of Virginia, C. Jackson Simmons

From the Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library

The major travel routes in early Lancaster were primarily water ones, since it was easy to deliver goods to and from farms and plantations by way of the many creeks and coves all around the county. However, there were a number of Native American paths that early Lancasterians made use of as well. As time passed, many of these paths became the roads we know today. One of the most widely used was the Morattico Path, which extended from the Corrotoman to the Great Wicomico River. --From the Mary Ball Washington Museum and Library

A brief history of Morattico, Virginia

There are many Moratticoes.  The first is referred to in a 1652 grant to Thomas Brice, as "an Indian habitation called Old Morcticond," an area on the "Nwd side of the mouth of Harrises Cr," which would later become Morattico Creek and then Lancaster Creek.  This "habitation" refers to the general area in which John Smith first met with the Moraughtacund Indians and, with the help of Mosco, one of its members, negotiated a peace with the Rappahannock Indians, who were stronger and more aggressive than the Moraughtacunds and whose habitation was upriver in the Cat Point Creek area.  The exact area of this first Moraughtacund habitation, which came to be known as Morattico, has not been precisely determined, and a recent archeological study of Northern Neck Indian Paths calls the site of the habitation "of indefinite location."


The second Morattico refers to a parcel of land owned in 1706 by Joseph Ball I upon which he had at this time begun construction of a house, known variously as "Morattico Plantation," "the great house," and simply as "Morattico."  This "Morattico" would be dismantled in the mid-1850's by Littleton Downman Mitchell, who then constructed a large dwelling close to the original site. Turn-of-the-century photographs of the Mitchell house survive.  This dwelling, also known as "Morattico," was dismantled in the mid-1930's by its owner L.C. Thrift, who constructed a smaller dwelling close to original one using materials from the second "Morattico" house.  This two-story frame farmhouse now stands on the approximate site of the original "Morattico Plantation."


A third Morattico is the village on the northern shore of the Rappahannock River in the heart of Virginia's Northern Neck, consisting of a post office, two churches, the Morattico Waterfront Museum, an active, though diminishing, fleet of fishing vessels, and scores of dwellings of its residents. Since the 17th Century Morattico has depended for its sustenance and identity on the Rappahannock River.  Now entering the 21st Century, during a time when oyster and crab populations in the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay have shrunk dramatically, Morattico is working to remain a vital and vibrant waterfront community.  The Morattico Waterfront Museum, housed in the old Morattico General Store, is committed to preserving and honoring Morattico's history and, in the process, contributing to the development of its future.  —Bryant Mangum, Historian Morattico Waterfront Museum

Morattico Time Line


John Smith encounters the Morauchtacunds (also referred to as Moraticonds, Maratticoes, and Morattico Indians).  The Maurauchtacunds were a tribe of the Algonquin Nation, presided over by its Chief Powhatan. The village of Morattico takes its name from what is thought to have been one of the earliest, perhaps the first, habitation of the Morattico Indians, who, some believe, had lived in the area as early as 8, 000 B.C.  By 1650 this tribe had moved further west across Morattico Creek (so named for the second Morattico Indian habitation which existed there for a time).  Subsequent moves produced place names in Richmond County that included the name “Morattico.”



Joseph Ball I deeds property which he had purchased as late as 1698 and upon which he had already begun the plantation house to become known as Morattico Plantation, to his son, Joseph Ball II.  Part of this property had been bought from Charles Cale, a relative of whom, Thomas Ives, continued to own land containing Ives Creek (now Ivey Creek), the northern boundary of Joseph Ball’s Morattico Plantation.



Joseph Ball I dies; Joseph Ball II inherits Morattico Plantation.  He lives primarily in England, making periodic trips to Morattico, which is overseen primarily by Ball’s nephew, Joseph Chinn.



Joseph Ball II dies, leaving Morattico Plantation to his daughter, Frances Ravenscroft Ball Downman, wife of Rawleigh Downman II, son of Rawleigh Downman I of Richmond County’s Mt. Sion.  The Downmans move from England to live at Morattico Plantation, whose main house was by this time in a poor state of repair.



Rawleigh Downman II dies at Morattico Plantation, followed in death slightly more than a year later by his wife.  Both are buried in the peach orchard close to the house.  Their son, Joseph Ball Downman, inherits Morattico Plantation.



Joseph Ball Downman dies at age of forty-four, leaving eight children and a soon-to-be-born son, James W.P. Downman, who inherited Morattico Plantation.



James W. P. Downman dies at a young age, leaving neither heirs nor will. 



Surviving siblings of James W.P. Downman petition to have Morattico Plantation divided into eight equal parts.  William Webb completes survey, which results in partitioning of the land.  The map coming from this survey remains one of the earliest documents visually representing Morattico Plantation and the surrounding properties.



George William Downman and Sarah Downman purchase from relatives most of original plantation.  George William Downman dies, leaving his share to his sister, Sarah.



Sarah Downman dies and leaves to her nephew, Littleton Downman Mitchell, nearly four hundred acres, including the plantation house and most of its original acreage.


Circa 1850

Littleton Downman Mitchell, dismantles the original dwelling, now nearly a century and a half old.  He constructs a large, new dwelling, pictures of which survives from the turn of the century and are in the archives of the Mary Ball Washington Museum.  Bricks for the foundation of the house were made in the area of Brick Kiln Cove on Mulberry Creek.



Downman, in the course of the war and in its aftermath, loses everything, and as legend has it, works finally in a nearby grist mill.  Morattico Plantation is purchased on behalf of Mitchell’s creditors and passes for the first time since Joseph Ball’s original purchase of it out of the Ball, Downman, Mitchell families.


Circa 1880

Captain Raymond Sparrow, a Gloucester Point Oyster Merchant, builds a large house on Mulberry Creek, up creek from Morattico Plantation house.[1887 Mitchell dies]



Brothers John S. H. Whealton and John H. Whealton (known as Jack) purchase four hundred and eighty acres that had essentially been the original Morattico Plantation.  The Morattico Wharf was built at what is now the south end of Morattico Road during the Whealton years, serving as a major stop on the route for steamboats running between Baltimore and Fredericksburg until the mid-1930’s.



L.C. Thrift rents Morattico Plantation house and forty surrounding acres, owned at this time by the Whealtons.


11 August 1892

John H. Whealton (Jack) is appointed the village’s first postmaster, and the name of Morattico is changed to Whealton, Virginia, known also as Whealton’s.


23 September 1911

The name of Whealton, Virginia is changed back to Morattico.



L.C. Thrift buys Morattico Plantation house, built by Littleton Downman Mitchell, and forty acres from the bank.[Shortly before, during, and after the 1930’s]S.H. “Sam” Colburn, later with the help of his son-in law, T. C. Slaughter, operates an oyster packing plant on Colbert Point, at the end of the “beach road,” now Riverside Drive, on the approximate site of what was RCV Seafood.  This part of Morattico became during the Colborn-Slaughter years a virtually self-sufficient village apart from the village proper, with, among other businesses, a cafe.  The cove behind Colbert Point, previously known as “House Cove,” came to be known as Colbourn’s Cove.


August 1933

The infamous August storm of 1933 reportedly covered the first floors of all dwellings in the Morattico area except the Morattico Plantation house.  This storm, among other things, occasioned the move of many of Tangier Island’s residents to Morattico at about this time.



L.C. Thrift dismantles Morattico Plantation house and uses some materials from it to construct the two-story frame farmhouse that now stands on the property, close to the site of the original Joseph Ball house and the second plantation house, built by Littleton Downman Mitchell. Editorial NoteThis time line is intended for anyone with a general interest in Morattico and its history. It relies heavily on the definitive study of Morattico Plantation done by Robert N. McKenney and cited in the bibliography. Anyone interested in following the complete, complex narrative should consult his article, “Morattico Plantation--Lancaster County,” Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, xxxviii, no. 1 (December 1988), 4318-4336. For additional sources consulted in the construction of this time line, refer to the bibliography.

Morattico Place Names

Anthony's Cove

Moving east on Mulberry Creek from its mouth at Colbourne's Cove toward its head at Forest Landing, one encounters on the northern shore of the creek, Brick Kiln Cove, Raccoon Cove, and then Anthony's Cove, which is the first water visible from the road looking south as one travels from Litwalton to Morattico.

Brick Kiln Cove

On the northern shore of Mulberry Creek, less than a quarter of a mile from its mouth, Brick Kiln Cove extends in a northwesterly direction back toward Morattico Road. At high tides waters from the cove spill onto Mulberry Creek Road and even onto Morattico Road itself. During Littleton Downman Mitchell's construction of the second Morattico great house in the early 1860's, bricks for the foundation of the house were made in the area of Brick Kiln Cove. Colloquially the cove is referred to as "Brickill," and in recent times it has been occasionally called by the name "Raccoon Cove," which in the early nineteenth century actually designated the next cove upcreek from it. See reference to Raccoon Cove below.

Carpenter's Landing

On the south side of Mulberry Creek, between the mouth of the creek and the mouth of Raccoon Cove on the north side, Carpenter's Landing was used from the early nineteenth century into the early twentieth century as a boat landing. It is noted on Webb's 1835 map and referred to in Richard Thrift's "In Retrospect" (1987) . See bibliography.

Colbert Point

At the eastern end of Riverside Drive, Colbert Point is at the mouth of Mulberry Creek as it flows into Mulberry Bay. Behind Colbert Point, on its northern shore, is Colbourn's Cove or House Cove. RCV Seafood was situated on Colbert Point.
Colbourn's Cove: Until the turn of the twentieth century, at which time S. H. "Sam" Colbourn operated an oyster packing and shell grinding plant on Colbert Point, Colbourn’s Cove was known as "House Cove." See reference below.

Curlett's Point

On the north shore of the Rappahannock and the western shore of Morattico, where the waters of Morattico and Lancaster Creeks enter the river, Curlett's Point is indicated on contemporary maps by the designation "cupola," which refers to the structure atop one of the houses on the point once occupied by Jack Curlett.

Emmanuel Church

Located on Morattico Road, the first church house of the Emmanuel United Methodist Church was dedicated on September 16, 1893, at a location east of the present site. In 1897, the first church building was destroyed by fire, and another building was erected and completed east of the first building around 1898. The church bell, which may still be seen in front of the present Emmanuel Church, was donated in the year 1900.

Frog Pond

On the western side of Mulberry Creek Road is a low lying, swampy area which has been known as Frog Pond, or simply as "The Pond." An artesian well that provided water to many of the area residents from the 18th century until the mid-20th century flowed at the northeastern boundary of Frog Pond.

Frog Pond School

Facing north at the corner of Morattico Road and Mulberry Creek Road was for many years a frame schoolhouse attended by residents of Morattico in the 1930's and 1940's. The colloquial name, Frog Pond School, came from the pond at the rear of the building.
Hunter's Lodge: Originally part of the Downman estate, Hunter's Lodge is a tract of land adjoining Belle Isle.

House Cove

Situated in front of Morattico Plantation and on the north side of Colbert Point, House Cove is formed by the waters of Mulberry Creek. It is pictured on early nineteenth century maps, where it is referred to by the name "House Cove."

Ives Creek

Named for Thomas Ives, a nephew of Charles Cale, who owned land in the Norwood tract in the late seventeenth century and willed some of this land to Ives, this creek branches off of Lancaster Creek on its eastern shore, north of Curlett's Point. This creek is known now as Ivey Creek. It was the northern boundary of Morattico Plantation, purchased by Joseph Ball I. See reference below.

Ivey Creek

This creek flows into Lancaster Creek on its eastern shore, at the approximate confluence of Morattico and Lancaster Creeks, just north of Curlett's Point and the Morattico Bar. Its name, now fixed as "Ivey Creek" on contemporary maps, comes from an apparent mis-reading of the name, "Ives Creek," recorded on Webb's 1835 map. See reference to Ives Creek above.

Lancaster Creek

Originating on the south side of State Route 3, just across the road from Chinn's Mill Pond, Lancaster Creek flows approximately in a southerly direction into the Rappahannock River. Variously known as "the eastern branch of Morattico Creek" and as Moratico Creek (one "t'), Lancaster Creek is the dividing line between Lancaster and Richmond Counties.


The name "Morattico" originated from the word "Moraughtacund," the tribe of Indians that lived on the north bank of the Rappahannock River in Lancaster counties. Their chief village, population about 300, was at the junction of the Morattico River (now the confluence of Lancaster and Morattico Creeks).

Morattico Creek

The naming of Morattico Creek is complex and still open to debate. This body of water is thought to have received its name from the second Morattico Indian habitation, which existed between 1650 and 1670 in what is now Richmond County, on the western shore of what is now known as Lancaster Creek. Early maps contain references to Moratico Creek (with one "t"), which was likely the original name of Lancaster Creek before this body of water became known as the dividing line between Lancaster and Richmond Counties. On William Webb’s 1835 map, there is a representation of "Morattico Creek" which flows in a southerly direction from Ives Creek (now Ivey Creek) around Curlett's Point, and into the Rappahannock River. Even earlier documents refer to the "Eastern Branch of Morattico Creek," which appears to refer to what is now Lancaster Creek. Contemporary maps show the waters of Morattico Creek and Lancaster Creek coming together in a small unnamed bay which flows into the Rappahannock River at the point of the "Morattico Bar."

Morattico General Store

Built in 1901 near the end and on the north side of what is now Morattico Road, the Morattico General Store is a large white, two-story frame structure with porches top and bottom overlooking the Rappahannock River. Its oiled, heart-pine floors, high ceilings, and center-of- the-store kerosene stove evoke images of an earlier era. It has remained in virtually continual operation, now for nearly a century, through a succession of nine owners. Morattico General Store, a local landmark and treasure, was closed in 2003 and is now the home of The Morattico Waterfront Museum.

Morattico Point

On early maps the point of land at the end of State Route 622, now Morattico Road, was referred to as "Morattico Point." This point became the site at the turn of the twentieth century of the Morattico Wharf, a main stop for steamboats enroute from Baltimore to Fredericksburg through the early 1930's.

Morattico Road

Morattico Road (State Route 622) originates on State Route 3, just west of Lively, Virginia. It ends on a point of land jutting into the Rappahannock River, a point referred to on nineteenth century maps as Morattico Point. At the turn of the twentieth century this was the site of "The Morattico Wharf," a main stop for steamboats traveling from Baltimore to Fredericksburg through the early 1930's.

Mud Creek

"Mud Creek" was the official designation of the United States Geological Survey of Mulberry Creek, a name that may have originated in Joseph Ball II's 1742 instructions regarding "Mud's Creek" to his nephew, Joseph Chinn. See reference to Mulberry Creek below.

Mulberry Bay

Mulberry Bay is the body of water on Morattico's southern shore. It is formed by the confluence of waters from Mulberry Creek, the Rappahannock River, and Lancaster and Morattico Creeks, as they flow around Curlett's Point into the Rappahannock.

Mulberry Creek

Mulberry Creek, referred to on Webb's 1835 map and on geological survey maps of the 1920's as Mud Creek (and even earlier by Joseph Ball II as "Mud's Creek") is a tidal stream about two and a half miles long, which enters the Rappahannock River at Colbert Point, approximately twenty-six miles above the river's mouth. Behind Colbert Point the creek broadens north and west into a small bay known as House Cove or Colbourn's Cove from which it proceeds in an east-southeasterly direction to its head at Forest Landing, where once stood a wooden footbridge. On the northern shore of the creek are Brick Kiln Cove, Raccoon Cove, and Anthony's Cove.


A tract of land in both Lancaster and Richmond Counties that was originally part of the original Morattico Tract, once owned by Joseph Ball, Raleigh William Downman, and later by R. H. Chilton (d. 1927). By 1835 the southern boundary of the Norwood tract was Ives Creek (now Ivey Creek). The origin of the name Norwood is unknown, though it has been suggested that Norwood may have been a family name of one of the original owners.

Norwood Church

Norwood Baptist Church is located on the north side of Morattico Road, east of the village proper. It was established in 1893, and the present church was built in 1897 on a piece of property that was part of the original Norwood Tract.

Raccoon Cove

Raccoon Cove is designated on Webb's 1835 map as the cove on the north bank of Mulberry Creek that one comes to just before the creek narrows dramatically on its path toward Forest Landing, at its head. It is upcreek from Brick Kiln Cove.

Riverside Drive

Originating on Morattico Road, just before it enters the village proper, Riverside Drive, known also as "the beach road," follows the contours of Mulberry Bay, ending at Colbert Point, the former site of  RCV Seafood.

The Stream

On the northern shore of Mulberry Bay, this stream flows beneath Riverside Drive to form a tidal pond which extends northward to Morattico Road and is a haven for Ospreys, Herons, and other waterfowl.

bottom of page