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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.

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


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

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 Note: This 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.



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