The source of Buckingham County's name is a mystery. Perhaps it was named for Buckinghamshire in England or the Duke of Buckingham. Some contend that it was named for Buck River, now called Willis River, or Archibald Cary's tract, Buckingham, on Buck River. In any case, the county was formed in 1761 from a southern portion of Albemarle County. The James River is its northern boundary, and the Appomattox River touches its southeast corner. Today U.S. 15 and U.S. 60 wind through the county, intersecting near the center. Each road offers pleasing views of undulating hills and deep forests, inscribing in the visitor's mind the rural character of this county. Grains, soybeans, and tobacco, along with livestock, form the core of its agricultural economy. Large tracts of woodland are owned and harvested by timber companies. Welcome signs on slate slabs at the county's borders are appropriate indicators of Buckingham's past and present, representing the importance the quarries play in its economy.
From its early days, Buckingham County has had a large African American population. In the 1790 census, almost 50 percent of the county's population was enslaved, a percentage that increased substantially until the conclusion of the Civil War. The story of Buckingham's black population (and the white one, too, for that matter) is not well documented. Ironically, one of Virginia's most notable historians and educators, Carter G. Woodson, was born in Buckingham County where the site of his birth is indicated by a marker (VA 670, 1.5 miles south of New Canton). A preeminent pioneer in the study of African American history, Woodson was the author of more than a dozen books, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and originator of Negro History Week that has evolved into Black History Month.
Apart from its county seat, much of Buckingham's significant architecture clusters around such places as Arvonia, a town that grew up around the slate industry; New Canton, the James River shipping port for Arvonia's slate; and Gold Hill, the site of one of the largest gold mines in the United States before the 1849 California Gold Rush.
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