In 1788 the county was formed from part of Amelia and named for the Nottoway River on its southern boundary. The river in turn had been named for a tribe of Native Americans living farther east and called the Nadaw, or the Nottoway. In this agrarian county, early communities were usually established at crossroads where taverns served as stage stops, informal post offices, and social centers and became important gathering places for the largely rural population.
During the antebellum years, dark tobacco, cultivated largely by slave labor, was the county's main crop. At the height of tobacco cultivation just before the Civil War, 73 percent of Nottoway's population of 8,836 was enslaved. After the war many African Americans left for cities, the labor force went from slavery to a system of tenant farming and sharecropping, and the railroads brought industrialization to the county. Crewe and Burkeville were important railroad boomtowns and Blackstone became a thriving shipping and receiving hub. Not only was work on and for the railroads profitable, but the railroads provided easy transportation for the developing woodworking industry, traditional agricultural products, and new commodities like textiles. Today, with agriculture declining and woodworking and textiles dealt a harsh blow by free-trade agreements, Nottoway's economy is again changing.
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