Cumberland County was formed from Goochland County in 1749 and named for the Duke of Cumberland, third son of King George II. In May 1776, the Cumberland Committee of Safety was one of the first to declare independence from the king and “to bid him a good night forever.” The next year Powhatan County was carved from Cumberland, the old courthouse abandoned, and the present Cumberland Court House became the county seat.
Bounded by the James River on the north and the Appomattox River on the south, Cumberland is a long and narrow county. The Willis River, improved for navigation in the early nineteenth century, fed into the James River and on into the Chesapeake Bay, thereby playing a particularly important part in the development of the county. Transportation was even easier from Cartersville on the James River and once an important river port. Settlers along the Appomattox River were less fortunate than those on the James because their streams flowed into North Carolina's shallow Albemarle Sound, making export of their products difficult. The county's only rail line runs at its southern end, where Prince Edward County's Farmville now spills over into Cumberland. Small and thinly populated, this county of rolling hills has long had an agriculture-based economy. A sizeable portion of the county's interior is taken up by the Cumberland State Forest.
The architectural influence of Thomas Jefferson is strong in Cumberland County. His builder Dabney Cosby constructed the county's jail (CB3), Cosby's associate William A. Howard built the courthouse (CB1), and local master builder Valentine Parrish, who worked on Goochland County Courthouse with Cosby, was responsible for the Clerk's Office (CB2) and Ca Ira (CB5). Although the house Jefferson designed for Randolph Harrison was not constructed, Harrison's Ampthill (CB12) clearly shows the influence of Jeffersonian classicism.
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