During the 1500’s and 1600’s, it is likely that small groups of the Saura Indian tribe lived in the area encompassing Martinsville and Henry County. This is supported by artifacts found in archeological digs throughout the county. William Byrd found no evidence of Indians living in the area in 1728, when he surveyed the Virginia / North Carolina border region. The Irvine (now Smith) and Mayo Rivers were named in honor of the Byrd party’s two surveyors.
In the mid-1700’s, the forts of Mayo and Trial were built as part of a line of forts constructed to protect the settlers from Indians throughout the colonies. Fort Trial was on the Smith River, at the mouth of Reed Creek, near the town that today is called Martinsville. George Washington visited both of these remote outposts during his 1756 inspection of frontier forts.
Early roads played an important role in the settlement early growth of the region. The Pennsylvania Wagon Road, following the old Iroquois Indian War Trail, came right through the area that is today called Henry County. Settlers came to the area via that road, bringing with them their knowledge of tobacco growing.
The land that makes up Henry County today was part of several different counties over the years, including Brunswick, Lunenberg, Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Patrick. After Henry County made its final split from Patrick County, Henry County Courthouse was established on June 27, 1791. Later, Henry County Courthouse changed its name to Martinsville, in honor of General Joseph Martin – a longtime resident of the area, distinguished Revolutionary War figure, and member of the Virginia General Assembly.
Patrick Henry lived here from 1778 until 1784. He became the first elected governor of Virginia in 1776. In 1779, he moved to his 10,000 acre Leatherwood plantation seeking refuge after being criticized for letting British forces under General Tarleton overrun Virginia. A two-room brick house was built and he began farming. He practiced law here during those years. In 1780, Henry County, named in his honor, sent him as its representative to the House of Delegates. He moved back to Richmond in 1784 when elected to his fourth one-year term as governor. Today, a boulder and plaque mark the location of his Leatherwood home.
Retrieved from Martinsville Henry County Chamber of Commerce